“Portugal? Portugal?” guffaws the taxi driver outside the airport at Beziers. He summons his fellow drivers around him to repeat our destination and they howl with laughter at our mispronounciation. We repeat it authoritatively in our best French : “Portiragnes. Portiragnes -plage, svp.” It is the start of our Big Adventure: to walk from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, on my bucket list for nearly thirty years after reading Miles Morland’ s book recounting his grand walk.
Early on Saturday morning, we stand on the beach, the Med behind us, our faces set towards to Atlantic. And so it begins. 530kms to our destination. Will we really do it? The backpacks are on, the water bottles filled, and we stride confidently towards the Canal du Midi. Bikes whizz past, barely missing us; boats chug alongside; butterflies flit on the poppies. We feel confident and content.
The days fall into a rhythm: we rise early, set out by 8, walk quickly when we can. A brief break for coffee if possible, lunch early, arrive at the next BnB early afternoon, where we rinse out sweaty clothes and hang them up to dry while we read, relax, maybe dip in a pool. We’re covering 13-14 miles a day, and it feels great. There is laughter and tears - the fun of our broken French discussing Brexit and books and other banter with our hosts or those we meet at dinner - French and Flemish and Italian and German; and the pain of stretched muscles, a blister, yet another day of rain and mud and uphill stretches.
We cross a nature reserve and see otters; 2 slithery snakes cross our path. Poppies and people; paths going awry. The Canal detours north to maintain levels: we go straight across, over hills and through trees and the path on the map doesn’t seem to exist. We fight through trees and undergrowth, the rain falling softly, and we wish we had never started this walk. Across a field and a German shepherd dog hurls out of nowhere, angry and ferocious, and our hearts race and our hands tremble and we scramble up an impassable bank to escape.
We’ve battled through woods when the path disappeared, paddled through mud and rain in torrential downpours, rested for 36 hours every six days, treated blisters, worked out how to use French launderettes.
We laugh a lot; we chat and we walk in silence at times. And we tell ourselves we can do this. Boaters tell us, “Be admired!” Others think we are crazy to be walking - cycling the whole way is a known thing but walking ....... Bon continuation, they cry, bonne route!
The end of January, when our marriage was in tatters after the stresses of the past years left us broken emotionally, spiritually and maritally, seems a distant dream - or nightmare. We even separated for a few weeks. But now, we are a team, working together to make this challenge work. It’s reviving us, helping us to restore and renew in an even stronger way.
We are now half way to the Atlantic - maybe we WILL make it after all: in every way.
If you would like to help us raise money for the International Justice Mission or People Against Poverty, by sponsoring our steps, please go to:
DAILY UPDATES FROM THE WALK ARE ON FACEBOOK if you would like to see photos.
Join us on pilgrimage in Italy, walking the Via Francigena this coming September? A few spaces still available.