The last fizz of Champagne.

We are all well rested after the night in the quiet house in Trepail Madame Jacqueminet is a generous host we start our simple pilgrim dinner with a bottle of Champagne from the vineyards surrounding us. Her son and granddaughter were there when we arrived and the small black rabbit that Tony thought might be for dinner disappeared when they left.
We descend through the vineyards and through the village of Ambonay. There are quite a few agriculture vehicles and workers in the vineyards. T village is full of Champagne houses and very quiet at 8.30am but has some interesting displays of wine making devices. Again there is a sudden change to arable fields as we leave the realm of Bacchus. A few rather straight boring km see us joining the canal and a very long day relieved at lunch by a group of fellow UK citizens creating a video for a new venture renting canal boats, big ones!
Eventually we enter Challons en Champagne with its 11thC early gothic church of Notre Dame du Vaux after the three valleys the city is on. It is quite different to Rheims and we get our pilgrim stamp from a man in the entrance office who looks suspiciously at us. Just before we get there the thunderstorm that has threatened turns serious and we are pinned in a bar for shelter for two rounds they have to change the barrel but we do not think it was our doing.
Another 3km out of town are relatively painless and rain threatens but does not happen.
Time to cook dinner. We have earnt it. 30km.

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John Barleycorn gives way to Bacchus. 26.5km.

Tim over slept, Tony in backup mode gets us going. We loose maybe 30minutes before getting starting. Ray bought a hat in Rheims having been using Tony’s spare for a week after loosing his. He may appear in several photos.
We leave town on the Ainsle to Marne Canal and bowl along overtaken by runners and cyclists and rollerbladers everyone trying to stay fit on Sunday at least. We look for a café in the small village of St Leonard who comes from Limousine on the other side of France (circa600CE) but he is patron saint of POWs and women in labour, coffee is not high on his wish list. We leave the canal at the village of Sillery the wine from here is mentioned in Patrick O’Brian’s naval novels and did indeed exist as a light white Chardonnay possibly petillant, the Prosecco of it’s time’ it seems it is no more.
Off the canal there and onto roads we cross the A4 autoroute de est and enter a new country. Gone are the fields of barley and potatoes,we are walking through vineyards. Mostly Pinot Noir making various Champagne types including Mumm who own the perching bar in the windmill towards the top of the vineyard. Top is used correctly as the vines are on a southeasterly slope and we are heading SW. Eventually hot and sweating profusely we reach Versenay and an open bar. Madam laments her lack of pression (draft beer) but we are glad of the bottles. She goes on about her lack of customers and the fact that there are three champagne producers with big houses in the village but they don’t live in them. A local who appears to have recently drank a bottle of vintage 2002champagne appears with the bottle, in itself a wonderful creation.
We pass on out of the village past the church where the bells are ringing and the congregation is just leaving across more vineyards and into the woods which are significantly cooler and with some but fewer biting insects than our previous forest path.
There are no campsites in the area but we have now covered over 25km fortunately Betsy phoned a Gite Rural yesterday and booked rooms for us. We emerge from the forest to find the village of Trepail nestling in its vineyards and Ray in the lead is welcomed by madam who is waiting for us
There maybe thunderstorms tonight but we are getting proper washing done for us. Wonderful.

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Rhiems Cathedral. Anointer of kings. Supplemental

We visit Rhiems cathedral. Soaring hieght of stone carving, suberb stained glass old and new. Worth a visit.We visit Rhiems cathedral. Soaring hieght of stone carving, suberb stained glass old and new. Worth a visit.
The unknown butterfly on inspection of the photos by Betsy seems to be a Lesser Purple Emperor.

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Railway versus Canal Butterflies and Leeches!

We know it will be hot by afternoon and it is very humid we have to get to central Rhiems (pronounced Rams to Tim’s confusion). Once again an early start is needed. Fortunately the boulongerie in town only 200m away opens at 6.30. Tim is waiting, coffee is ready on his return.We are away by just after 7. A short loop through town and we are on a track at the side of the railway line
A route found on the net by Tony takes us straight across the fields and using the straight lines of the railway and canal. At one point we pass marked trig point on our map at the enormous altitude of 82 m above sea level. It really is very flat around here.
Along the canal which seems to see little commercial traffic we are puzzled by a field as we approach it, it gradually becomes apparent that it is a field of white poppies. Ray who visited a legal opium poppy field in India is sure they are not opium poppy and we presume that they are a commercial crop of poppy seed for baking.
We sit at the side of the canal. Betsy who seems to be a leech magnet finds what looks very like a baby one crawling on her. It is removed before feeding commences. She had two ticks removed yesterday. Where we joined the canal path we found the only café of the day and inspite of its exhortations and possibly own brewed beer. We have coffees ,it is only 10.30.
Along the canal we see clouds of butterflies mostly whites of several species but also Commas and a new one to us possibly a Poplar Admiral. The canal takes us eventually to the edge of Rhiems and it gets hotter a slightly desperate wander through the streets gets us not soon enough to a bar and an apartment near the cathedral. And we are glad to finish the main walk for the day.

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Le Chemin des Dames or How the other half travel. 16km.

We leave the great little campsite on the farm at Azielles soon after 8am. We do not have a big day but we have an assignation planned for around midday. The route today is totally tarmac as we have to cross the autoroute and crossings are limited. But there is a nice little village with a café only 6km away just right for coffees. This is in Corbeny where the Chemin des Dames commences. This is a road along the east-west ridge between the Aisne and the Alliete rivers. This is an important military and strategic point and several battles have been fought in the area for control in several different wars from Napoleon to WW2. But before this in the 18thC two daughters of Louis XV travelled the route frequently between Paris and the home of LoiusXV ex mistress so the Count of the area had the road surfaced to make it more comfortable for the Daughters of France. How the other half travelled.
We soon enter our destination, Guigincourt and almost immediately are accosted by not two but four Ladies travelling in a Bentley convertible. This is our appointment with friends doing a rather different trip in the area, visiting various Champagne houses and averaging 2-3bottles a day as apposed to 20km. A café is nearby and they lower their standards to drink several glasses of local beer with us. It was good to see Sue, Lindsay,Jude and Iris as we had really not been sure whether this plan to meet would work out.
We stagger down to the campsite where Tony and Ray have enough Joi de Vivre to perform on the trampoline on the site to the delighted aplause from local children.
We shop for dinner and the day collapses in a heap and a cooling in the pool.
Appropriate to the area is one of the most moving war memorials of the trip, and there have been a few.

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Of Mosquitoes and Raspberries. Laon to Aizelles.25km

An early start is indicated as we have about 25km to do. It rained in the night and the tents are wet we have heavy packs with food as there appears no shop in the village at our next campsite. On the plus side the day starts cool and cloudy with no rain till later.
After a brief bit along roads round the hill of Laon we plunge into a wood. The track is interesting, muddy puddles in big holes and much wet foliage. But worse are the plague of mosquitos. Walking fast and slapping as you go means rapid progress though hard work for those with a pole in each hand! Eventually we emerge into a little village and stop to catch our breath relatively unmolested.
A café in Brugeres provides two rounds of good large café au lait that seems needed after which we fairly zing along for a few km. Lunch is in Arancy beside the old church where overhanging raspberries provide a welcome addition to the pilgrim diet We go off piste for the last 5-6 km across woods and fields in heat again relieved by a fountain (eau non potable) untilwe emerge in Azielles next to the camping a la ferme Tony has been heading for. Congratulations on a great bit of route finding.
Reviews of this camping were a bit iffy. The sanitaries are interesting, handles for the shower cubicles are obtained from the office and are the only way to open the doors as should be obvious the system works in both directions and transfer of the handle to the inside should be performed before closing the door. Ray failed to follow this simple procedure and had to yell for release! It is a very quiet peaceful site

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Better Laon than never!.

15km Suzy to Laon campsite.
Well the wild west theme site is actually a very good site. We get evening meal and breakfast there and head off on Tony’s route to Laon. It is brilliant soon we are on a ridge above the surrounding area and soon followed by a path of iffy quality a the base of an escarpment.
Through the woods here is well supplied with insects and we soon meet a predator doing his best to decrease the numbers. Betsy believes him a frog but declines the true test Ray and Tim believe him a toad as he waddled off and declined to hop.
We are soon on the final stretch of road and cross a main dual carriageway to see the road into the campsite is now wired off (high quality fence too). We start twalk round it adds over a km this is bad psychology and we are hot and bothered when we get to a pitch.
The town and cathedral are. well worth a visit, the cathedral in particular is cool and free of bling. But has much wonderful stone carving in and out. On the way back we have some very good expensive beer and see the gate threw which Roland, whose sculpture we saw in Roncesvalles, left to fight the Moors in 778CE after argument with his uncle Charlemagne.
In the campsite we meet for the third time our French walking friend who may come to dinner if he understands Ray’s invitation.

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If you knew Suzy? Or the last chance saloon.

The hero’s Tony and Ray walked into town 2km and back to shop yesterday and so we had home cooking rather than sausage and frites from the restaurant on site. It was however very good for breakfast providing croissants coffee juice and jam for 5euros. A good new Municipal Camping only open 2years, which is good to see.
After that we walk off to see Suzy a small village where there’s a current campsite with a restaurant so no need for shopping or carrying food as no shops in Suzy. Rain is forecast for an hour or two and duly materiallises. Well done BBC and Norwegian weather. We don rain wear under Picardy roses of which there were plenty. But we have dry tents packed and it brightens up later. Meanwhile it is cool walking. Though the picnic table in St Nicholas was not quite ready for us.
Ray spots some more orchids at the roadside at the start of the days ascent, about 100m but we are not used to it and the temperature is rising now
The only. possible downside is the site is themed as wild west, reception is the saloon our emplacement is Moonville opposite is Cisco. We wonder what we will be fed this evening.
More news tomorrow when we have a short walk to the city of Laon.

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Quiet flows the Somme. And the St Quentin Canal. 21km

We are sitting in the slowly cooling evening in a campsite on the river Somme and Saint Quentin Canal. The day was 30km and Betsy although considering playing a joker and getting a taxi walked the whole distance.
THE NEXT DAY
We leave what must be one of the best little villages and campsites in this part of France on the Somme. Facilities modern and immaculate. A small open till 7pm on Sunday shop 50m down the road And a café just before leaving the village.No wonder it was gone 8 when we got going.
Another holely church spire. Similar but smaller than yesterday they appear to have Steeple moths!
After a few km across fields with burgeoning windfarms and an acreage of sugarbeet sufficient to produce diabetes in a large part of the population of Europe we get to the railway and follow a track next to it before joining the St Quentin Canal again for more km into the town of Tergnier which,at least the part we saw has little to commend it. Except a fine modern campsite on a lake with an artificial beach. Ray goes swimming it is allowed and there is a lifeguard.
On the way we see several heron along the canal but no hares in the fields.

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The Roses that bloom in Picardy

Today the team, now unsupported by Jane and Ann in the car, set off from Peronne through Picardy, which no longer exists it is Haut France. A goodly number of roses are seen on the way along with Painted Ladies and Tortoise shell butterflies. But first we follow an old railway track a good route overhung with trees and shady with dank puddles and lots of mosquitos and horseflies. We hurry through! But the green tunnel goes on and those using two sticks are at a disadvantage having no free hands.
A fruit eating tent drying stop in the churchyard at Cartingy a very nice little village without a café.
We make Trefcom by 12 and have a first lunch, distances are awkward we have now done 17km and the next campsite is another 12-14 km but there is a gite here in this small village. The team go for it.
We spot a double cock spire in the distance it should be Etreilers which is doubtfuly open it being Sunday.
After some more hot road and some cooler trees we get to the beating heat of Etreilers opposite the church the cafe/bar/pmu (pmu is the French national betting shops) thanks to the French punters and the trotoir racing it is open. Trotoir is horse racing pulling an ultralightweight chariot about as close to ancient Rome as it gets.
The last 7km are unpleasant in 25deg sunshine but we arrive in Serancourt le Grande to find not only a very nice campsite with a special pelerin area but a small supermarket open on Sunday afternoon in rural France. It must be M.Macron we have to thank!

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