Day 31: Pontarlier

Number of kilometres today: 28.4

Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 848

Total steps since Canterbury:  1,201,672

The hills are alive with the sound of cow bells.  No, I am not in Switzerland yet, but the cows in this area wear bells.  It was actually quite useful this morning when I lost my way in the forest.  I followed the guidebook directions and all was going well until they didn't make sense anymore and I found myself on an overgrown path that seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.  Thank God for the tools of a modern pilgrim, my iPad mini and Pocket Earth application with its geolocate function.  The map didn't show any trails in the forest, just a big area of green and some roads surrounding the forest.  I started walking the path unsure of exactly where it would take me but Pocket Earth showed me that I was winding my way back towards the road even if I had to push my way through thistles and spiderwebs.  Then I heard the cow bells and knew that I was close to a clearing which the guidebook referred to. I found my way out and onto a road that was heading in the right direction and when I passed a Via Francigena sign on a tree I knew I was back on the right trail.

It wasn't the only time I got lost today in the forest.  The second time I was happily following my instructions, walking along a gravel trail in the middle of a massive pine plantation.  The guidebook told me at the crossroads to go straight ahead but the gravel stopped after five metres and there was no more trail just the remnants of some bullldozed trees and new undergrowth.  I stopped.  Looked around for signs.  Studied my map.  It didn't show the crossroads but it showed that there should be a trail as instructed by the guidebook.  I decided to back Pocket Earth, picked my way through the muddy undergrowth then trudged through the wet grass in the clearing.  Luckily Red Beasts Mark 2 really are waterproof although I have downgraded them to 98% waterproof as there is also a small leak in the right boot.  I still couldn't make sense of the guidebook's directions and assumed I had lost the trail and would just keep walking to the next town where I could pick up the trail again.  Except I hadn't lost the trail.  It turned out I was still on it.  I just didn't know it at the time.  Life's like that sometimes.

I started my pilgrimage exactly one month ago. I have walked for 30 days with 1 rest day. There is a sweet rhythm to this walking life despite the physical pain and discomforts that arise. Waking, dressing, packing, breakfast, walking, lunch, walking, arriving, showering, washing, massaging, stretching, purchasing supplies, dinner, writing, sleeping.  I wake each day looking forward to leaving, to seeing what the day has to offer, to be out of the towns and cities in wide open spaces with the sky and the trees, the birds and the beasts and the critters.

 Today is also my last day in France.  Tomorrow, if all goes well with walking 37 kilometres through hilly countryside and being able to secure accommodation, I will cross into Switzerland. Switzerland!  Country number three!. In a few days time I will start crossing the Alps and in about a week's time I will cross the Grand Saint Bernard (GSB) Pass.  It will be time for a rest break before then. Although I walk with a bounce in my step for most of the day even up and down these hills and i wake look forward to walking each day, I am getting tired and dare I say it smelly.  I need a day of rest and stillness and to catch up on some clothes washing.

I hope to post some photos soon but I am still without wifi.