Number of kilometres today: 36
Number of kilometres yesterday: 36.5
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 819.6
Total steps since Canterbury: 1,161,429
It has been an action-packed couple of days. The rain has returned but after catching up with Jacques in Besancon I now have The Red Beasts Mk 2. I was feeling a bit sad to say goodbye to Mk 1, they have been with me for 780 kilometres supporting me as best they could. But Mk 2, they are very red, very firm, very cushioned and having been christened in 4 hours of rain and mud and wet grass, I can say they are 99% waterproof with just a small leak in the left boot near the small toe.
I proudly navigated my way from Choye back on the Via Francigena trail at Fontenelay along country roads, farm tracks and into the forest to discover it was a hunting reserve and it was Sunday and there were indeed hunters in the forest. Its a little disconcerting walking into a foreign forest alone when you know there are a lot of men with guns in there but as it was the only way through without backtracking and adding kilometres to my day I carried on. I wrapped Kermit around me to be bright and noticeable and I stayed on the path until it made a sudden steep descent that was too much for me and The Devil to make with me still standing on my feet or without dislocating my knees. Instead, we zigzagged into the valley through the trees and undergrowth and cut back onto the trail only for it to disappear 50 metres from the road. I had to break out of the forest by zigzagging through the trees, some standing, some fallen, and literally separate some bushes and squeeze my way out and onto the road. I waited for a car to pass before I did that.
However, I saw two deers in that forest, something I had hoped for ever since I saw the deer crossing road warning signs somewhere back near Guines. They came out of a clearing and paused on the path 50 metres ahead of me before continuing on in between the trees on the other side. I passed a hunter a few minutes later. I prayed that the deer and all the other animals in the woods would be safe.
Today, I learned that the small rope around farm paddocks is not just some rope but actually an electric fence. Everywhere else there has been electric fence warning signs but not here. I picked up the rope so I could pass underneath it and a second later I was zapped. Shocked, I dropped it and instead removed The Devil passing it under on the wet grass before I limboed under it myself. I did this twice, once into the cow paddock and once to get out. Why? Because the path that was meant to be there was blocked off by these fences and there was no other way around without backtracking and adding too many kilometres.
Kindness is good and well in the world. Maybe the more kindness you see and appreciate in the world, the more you see and receive. Jacques is a pilgrim's angel. He picked me up from the train station, gave me the historic tour of Besancon complete with French commentary, a roof over my head, he gave up his bed for me, dinner, breakfast, snacks for the road, a pair of slippers, a pilgrim token for my bag. He escorted me to the hill at the top of Mamirolle to show me which path to walk down as the path split in two. He organised my accommodation for tonight in Nods, where I am staying with a lovely family who have treated me as a family member and have shared a meal with me. Jacques did this out of the goodness of his heart, because he is passionate about the Via Francigena, for "pilgrim solidarity" he told me.
As I ate my lunch, sitting on Kermit on the ground under a plastic shelter in the square of the mairie because there surprisingly was no bus stop in L'Hopital du Grosbois and it was still raining, a kind man came over and took me back to his house for a fresh hot coffee and offered me use of his wifi, bathroom and even to drive me to Nods which of course I declined. The timing was perfect as I was on the verge of a "I hate walking in the rain" breakdown. I don't know what it is about walking in the rain that gets me down, perhaps it is just the discomfort of being hot under Kermit and still getting a little bit wet. Buoyed by caffeine and kindness, I kept going and then I was given my reminder of why walking and rain are a blessing; dozens of horizontal spiderwebs holding glistening raindrops. This I will try to remember for next time.
Whilst I still find rain challenging, I have made my peace with mud. Sometimes life is muddy and you just have to walk through it to the other side. It might stick for a while and it might be messy but it doesn't last forever.