Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 1 - Canterbury - Dover - 44km

Before anything else - our thanks to everyone who helped to get us here, in particularly Eddie who drove us and our bikes over to Canterbury from home in France - all done without spending an extra kilo of carbon as we were able to beg a lift on his already planned journey.

Good news – The Rotary Club has elevated our fundraising efforts to District Level, which should treble the number of people available to sponsor us. We also came up with the idea of asking Euromayenne (a local society for foreigners settling in France) members to join in. Anyone reading this who has no idea what I am talking about can go to: but basically it involves 3 projects: an orphanage in Togo-Benin, school books in Madagascar and medical assistance in Haiti. PP We regrettably only thought of this fund raising angle 2 weeks before we left and so have not been able to raise anywhere near enough interest. If any of you have the ability to help, even if only by sharing a link to the site then we and more importantly others would be eternally grateful. Contact us or Rotary with your ideas.

We are here and more or less ready for the off. Spent a comfortable and surprisingly cheap (15.00 per person) night in a B&B, with a breakfast that will last us for days - for anyone who knows me - I ate 2 sausages.

A good start - lost outside Canterbury Cathedral and unable to find the North Downs Way, where the VF is supposed to be well sign posted, but after all our travelling we should expect nothing else. No signs and no one who has even heard of either route.

We spend half the day on a tarmac cycle route and then finally stumble on the last section of the North Downs Way, which we follow, over stiles and other similar obstacles that have been put across the path to discourage cyclists. We agree that we will have to go back later in the year to find the real route, then arrive in Dover, too late to take the next boat, but lucky enough to find a hotel on the sea front and Victoria who welcomes dogs, tells us to leave our bikes in the reception area and then offers us a hearty Hungarian meal of fish and potatoes – someone, somewhere possibly up there, must have taken pity on us.
In the morning we get up at 4.00am to catch the 5.30am boat, and find Victoria waiting for us with washed and ironed clothes and breakfast. I am a believer!
We left our first hostel (called Let us Stay and situated on 26, New Dover Road) on Friday the July 6th. Unfortunately our belated efforts to get the UK press interested in the journey and hence help boost the charity coffers have come to nought so far, and so we are alone as we battle through the market day crowds to win free entry to the grounds of the cathedral and have our credentials (pilgrim passport) stamped at the information office.
As Babette and Lao Tsu often remind me, “the first step is the hardest”. In this case no one in the information office has any idea of the direction onto the route, just giving hand gestures that Rome is somewhere to the south, but not letting us know that the cathedral grounds are enclosed with the only route out being through the tourist shop. 2 circuits of the grounds later we find ourselves back in the midst of the Friday market.
I know from the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome (CPR) that the route along the North Downs way has been recently marked, but if it has, then we must be pretty blind or they were all obscured by the market stalls. We couldn’t find a single sign in the town centre and the locals we speak to seem to have no idea about the North Downs Way, much less the via Francigena (VF). It seems that the North Downs Way, like parts of the VF, are simultaneously a car route, a cycle track and a hiking trail, each making their own way in the direction of Dover. Eventually we track down the car route, which leads us to cycle route 16, which in turn leads us to the hiking trail.
BB has mentioned our decision to stay overnight in Dover, which despite the early start worked out really well. Victoria’s place is unmissable (the East Cliff Hotel), the very last hotel on the promenade before reaching the roundabout that precede the Eastern docks. We had a shot at negotiating a pilgrim discount with Sea France – no chance – “we don’t do discounts here sir” only through our call centre. “You mean I have to book ahead? But I had no idea what time we would arrive. Well can we have 2 regular singles for ourselves, our bikes and our chipped, stamped and passported dog?” …In best customer serviceeze “I am very sorry we don’t allow dogs with foot passengers etc”. P &O got the business.
BB The channel crossing is smooth, though less pleasant for Vasco who has to stay below the passenger deck with the cars, in his basket. We break the news as gently as we can, but he quickly understands and gives us one of his “I’ll get you for this later” looks. I worry for the entire 75 minutes, but when we are finally allowed down, he seems calm and asks to be put back in the basket even before we have got on the bikes. When there is a choice between walking and riding, Vaz knows which he prefers.

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