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      September 2012 > Hooked on walking in France (vol.I)

Hooked on walking in France (vol.I)

Walking holidays in FranceTerry Cudbird went on an Inntravel holiday in the Queyras, French Alps. He liked walking in France so much he decided to take off on his own for 4,000 miles! This is the first half of his story...

Part one:
"Ten years ago I was sitting with my wife Lizzie by the Lac de Roue (left) in the Queyras Park in the French Alps. A light breeze ruffled the surface of the water and the reeds growing out of the tree-lined banks. Enticing mountains rose on the horizon ahead. We were half way through a walking tour organised by Inntravel and just north of the old fortress of Château Queyras, which blocked a gorge like a cork in the neck of a wine bottle.

I could have sat looking at the view all afternoon, except for the knowledge that we had a few miles to cover before our next comfortable hotel. I mused out loud about the possibility of doing a lot more walking on the Grandes Randonnées (national trails) in France. Lizzie observed – “You’ve got the time. Why don’t you get going before you become decrepit?”

Walking holidays in FranceIt was by that lake that the idea of walking around the circumference of France was born. I had already done some shorter excursions in France – a tour of the Luberon, a trail across the Alps of Northern Provence, the Stevenson trail in the Cévennes. It took me a few years longer to formulate my plans and free myself from full-time work. I walked again with Inntravel in Spain and also enjoyed the exhilaration of climbing across the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

Finally in 2006, I set out on my big project, starting in the Pyrenees and progressing through the frontier regions of France anti-clockwise: Languedoc, Provence, Alps, Jura, Alsace, Northern France to the Channel, Normandy, Brittany (right), the South-West and back to the Pyrenees.

Sixty percent of it I walked on my own. Lizzie joined me for stretches with one or two friends. I took some time off for rest breaks. From time to time I had to return home to help my parents who were suffering from dementia and needed the support of their only son.

Walking holidays in FranceI got the idea of walking around the shape of the hexagon which is France (left) from reading stories of past travellers and thinking about the Tour de France cycle race. Why not do something similar, if a bit slower?

Once I got the idea in my head it became an obsession, even when I was battling against wind and rain or plodding through an industrial estate. I had planned my route very carefully, researched accommodation in hostels, B&Bs and small hotels and got packing a rucksack down to a fine art. Once on the road, I could not let myself down.

Looking back a number of factors kept me going: the opportunity to improve my French and make lots of French friends; an interest in French history from my days as a student; but above all the enormous freedom of the open road. The clunk-click of the buckles on my rucksack was like a liberation: the freedom to dream my own dreams and escape the complications of everyday life.

I am quite convinced that walking is good for mental health: it relaxes the body and de-clutters the head. Walking on your own you observe more, talk to more people and learn to take them as they are…"

To be continued…

Terry Cudbird’s book Walking the Hexagon is published by Signal Books priced £12.99 and available from good bookshops, Amazon and Terry's own website. [Inntravel customers' discounted price of £9.99 – simply select 'Inntravel' under 'Customer type'.]

Walking holidays in France

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