Walking the world
- Country: France
- Continent: Europe
- Route: Saint Malo – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port
- When: 3 February – 4 March 2020
- Season: winter/spring
- Distance: 888 km (5331 in total)
*Our expedition is on hold at the moment due to covid-19. This is footage from just before the world closed down for the global pandemic.*
We cross the English Channel over to France. We continue hiking south along the Atlantic coast from St Malo to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where we jumped onto the French Camino and crossed over the Pyrenees into Spain. France is the 7th country on our expedition and we pass the 5000 km mark on this stretch!
From the ferry port of Harwich
Trails and paths and resources used to create our route through France:
FRANCE (part 1)
We entered France via ferry to the picturesque village of St Malo. While only separated by a slim channel of water, the feeling here is quite different. We have just left the last English speaking country on our journey until we get to Australia (!), so of course, the language is different. But the ‘different’ feeling is more than geography or the extra hour of daylight or the new struggle to pronounce the places we walk through. It is a palpable cultural difference. The roadsides are nice and clean, the old stone buildings and homes are well kept and people greet you with a cheerful ‘bonjour’ as we pass. The hospitality is amazing here too! We have already met two spontaneous trail angels who have invited us into their homes in our first week here in Bretagne. Oh and let’s not forget the bread! Every village has a boulangerie, or two, filled with the most amazing bread we could ever ask for—for cheap! We might just live on bread and cheese on this stage…
FRANCE (part 2)
This week we picked up the South Atlantic Coastal Trail, or the GR8, heading south. It was an amazing feeling to reach the coast. All of a sudden our new world consists of golden sand beaches, sometimes weaving in and out of rocky coves, and sometimes stretching out for miles on end. The powerful sound of waves crashing onto the shore accompanying our steps on the extremely well-constructed trail. It is a beautiful footpath making our progress quite fast and very enjoyable. We also manage to find lovely camp spots nestled under the weathered pine trees among the dunes. Weather is cooperating as well. Mostly sunny and with average temperatures in the lower teens we are back in shorts again—in February! Life is good!
FRANCE (part 3)
Most noticeable this week has been the arrival of spring! Sure we have seen signs here and there before and there are daffodils glowing like sunshine all along the roadsides… but this is different. Everywhere we look we can see nature waking up from the winter slumber, cherry blossoms and magnolias being the most prominent. It is a beautiful sight! Temperatures have been hovering in the low teens all week so we are back in shorts too. We haven’t seen much of the coast this week though. There is a break in the GR8 trail through this section and you just have to make your own way through. It has been a bit of a navigational nightmare stitching together bicycle paths and back roads while dodging a maze of farmed wetlands. The extensive drainage and canal network force us on long detours inland in search of bridges passable on foot. Today we finally catch the ferry from Royan back over to the coast where we should pick up the GR8 trail again.
FRANCE (part 4)
Bouncing on and off the GR8 trail we mostly end up following the Soulac pilgrim trail. This part of the Atlantic coast, just east of Bordeaux, is quite desolate. The only infrastructure around here is a string of campgrounds, one after the other, all locked up and abandoned for winter. We follow windswept beaches for hours without seeing a soul. This introduced a new concern into the daily logistics… finding water! Surrounded by sand dunes there are no natural water sources here. Since campgrounds and tourist shops are all closed, water taps are turned off as well. Even most public toilets marked on our maps are closed. We are forced to jump a few fences, now and again, hunting for water. On a beautiful quiet Le Gurp beach, we reach the 5000 km mark of this journey! Whoot! We write our little celebration message in the sand among eerie WWII concrete relics covered in modern graffiti and street art. It has been a few weeks since we last saw a shower, so when a very wet storm swept in we decided to take a rest day. We found an affordable AirBnB with a sweet old lady in Andernos-Les-Bains who took well good care of us—even folded our laundry! The coastline here is pretty much a straight shot all the way down to Spain. While this is a welcome change to the maze-like route from last week, the endless straights can be rather mind-numbing. We are making good headway though.
FRANCE (part 5)
The weather this week sure has been an adventure in and if itself. The wonderful spring preview we have enjoyed recently has given way to very wet winter storms. While not too cold, it has been very windy and raining a lot—every day—all week. Like… you are completely soaked through in 2 minutes regardless of what you are wearing, type rain. We are still pushing on though, aiming for a very small weather window for the crossing over the Pyrenees into Spain before the next snow. We prefer taking advantage of the times in a day with less rain—meaning a bit of night hiking. It can be quite peaceful to walk at night though. Everything stops. It is quiet. No cars on the road. In France people even hide behind heavy shutters most of the time, so whole villages can look nearly deserted. A bit eerie.
We are thru-hiking the French Way, or simply “the Camino” next. This is the famous pilgrim trail running 800 km from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, but more on that, next time.