La Grande Randonnée

To celebrate the debut of his seventh decade, Vic Heaney decides to walk from his current home in the French Pyrenees to the town where he was born in England. A distance of a mere 1900 kilometres, or 1,100 miles, in 70 days. The second reason behind Vic’s Big Walk is to raise money for research into pancreatic cancer, which killed his first wife. With the whole-hearted support of his second wife Gay, who plans his route and drives the campervan in which they spend their nights, Vic sets off to walk the length of France and almost half the length of England.

La Belle France has a vast network of hiking trails through glorious countryside of hills and valleys, waterfalls and tumbling streams. On websites and in brochures you see images of tanned and joyful GR hikers striding out in groups beneath cloudless skies.  But, when you are walking a very long distance in a relatively short time you have to opt for the shortest route, and unfortunately that doesn’t always mean the most scenic. And contrary to what the tourist brochures might suggest, mid-summer in France isn’t always hot and dry. Vic has set himself a strenuous schedule that means he had to walk every day. He’s pretty fit for his years, but its still a physical challenge. And then there’s the coffee problem. Unlike England, a far smaller country where even the remotest village will usually have somewhere you can find a cup of coffee and something to eat, you can walk all day in rural France without finding anywhere, and even if you do there’s a fairly strong possibility that it will be closed for no apparent reason. And for vegetarians like Vic and myself, meal choices, if you are lucky enough to find somewhere open, can be rather restrictive.

Written in the form of a diary, Vic’s Big Walk records his journey as he trudges, scrambles, and sometimes just ambles along, undeterred by rain, roads that lead to nowhere and campsites operating on the lines of prisons. He meets friendly people (but never on the  beautiful hiking trails!) who instantly donate to his cause, others who promise to but don’t. People happy to stop and chat, and others who ignore him.

I so much enjoyed this read. His easy and chatty style, spiced with his dry humour, carries you along effortlessly, and I could totally relate to his highs and lows, triumphs and frustrations. having done something similar myself. I was SO pleased when he got lost even with the benefit of GPS! 🙂

Chapeau, Vic. A tremendous achievement.

All the proceeds from Vic’s book sales go to Pancreatic Cancer Research. If you would like donate, there’s a donation button on Vic’s blog

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