Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 33: Châteauvillain to Leffonds

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

You might think of today’s walk as uneventful, just moving through a series of arrow-straight forest trails to our destination at Leffonds. But we did pass through three small towns that Sigeric also visited in 990. All had their churches (locked) with the contemporary Via Francigena logo attached near their front portals. And we came across the ruined abbey at Marmot. Established in the 12 C. by the Augustines as a hospital, what remains of the complex is La Maison-Dieu, a handsome stone building desperately in need of repair, and a few ruins. Then there was the chance encounter with Geraldine, a motherless young boar that was found in the woods and raised by a local family. Finally, there was Dany and Dominique Bégny, hosts at our final destination, Chambres d’hôtes “La Cressonnière.” Late afternoon, Dany set us up in our pilgrim accommodation for the night, a cozy little caravan set in their expansive backyard. That evening we sat with them at their dining room table to share what they call a “pilgrim dinner”, but was a full four-course spread (with ample seconds), wine and an aperitif. Gail, the resident French speaker in our group of two, had a lively conversation with our hosts, lasting well into the night. We concluded with a tour of Dominique’s little museum of eclectic memorabilia: vacuum tube radios,vintage carpenters’ planes, a Canada Dry pinball machine and jars of a raw plastic dating from the early 20 C. And seeming somewhat similar to Bakelite.

Which leads me to think: there is no such thing as an uneventful walk.

Walk Date: Sep 28, 2022

Distance: 28.0 km

Elevation Gain: 521 m

Read on to view today’s photos captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 32: Clairvaux to Châteauvillain

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

We’ve been lucky so far. The days have been mild and rain-free save for one minor shower on the first day. That changed today. It had rained the night before, shortly after we completed our Clairvaux Abbey tour, and continued throughout the night. As we started our walk this morning, the rain had stopped but left our forest trails, which had been chewed up in many places by logging equipment, with deep muddy ruts. At the halfway point, the wind picked up, whipping rain sideways into our faces. All that and an unusually cold temperature made for a chilly experience.

Weather aside, there was much to see on our way as we wound our way through small villages, several visited by Sigeric in 990 on his historic pilgrimage between Canterbury and Rome. And our ultimate destination, Châteauvillain, was a delightful small town with streets and alleys lined with fine stone buildings and several interesting historic sites. There is, of course, a church at its core. L’Église Notre-Dame de L’Assomption may have roots dating back to 1350 but it is now a decidedly ‘newer’ church done in a Classical style with a rare polychromatic interior and a beautiful pipe organ hovering high above the nave. For Gail and me, the building has a special significance owing to its association with the Via Francigena. This and other churches visited today proclaim this connection to the pilgrimage route with a modern iron motif of a pilgrim located near their entrances. Beyond the church, there are ancient fortifications, remnants of the chateau that once dominated the town, as well as a wash house from the historic tannery district with its unique floating parquet floor and chestnut-framed roof structure.

Walk Date: Sep 27, 2022

Distance: 24.3 km

Elevation Gain: 507 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 31: Bar-sur-Aube to Clairvaux

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

Although today was the second half of our two-day “zero day”, we still needed to walk 15-plus kilometers to the day’s destination, Clairvaux. We’ve been aware over the last few days that the landscape is changing from a near-flat terrain to an increasingly rolling one. Today that change was very apparent, starting with a major climb out of Bar-sur-Aube, a rapid descent to the small community of Baroville and then up through hills lined with vineyards. It was a day that put our untested prairie legs to the test…and we survived!

We arrived at Clairvaux and our hotel lodging for the night at noontime and, following a good lunch, we headed to the nearby Clairvaux Abbey—which, intriguingly, is also a maximum security prison dating back to Napolean I—for a tour of this semi-dilapidated, semi-restored Cistercian abbey. To find out more, listen to our discussion below.

Walk Date: Sep 26, 2022

Distance: 17.3 km

Elevation Gain: 450 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 30: Dolancourt to Bar-sur-Aube

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

We try to break our walks into five day cycles with a day off between each cycle, something we call a zero day. Of course, we hope those zero days will plant us somewhere interesting to explore on our free day. Today, is what we call a half zero day, meaning we walked a short distance in the morning from Dolancourt to Bar-sur-Aube and explored the city for the remainder of the day. Tomorrow we will repeat the process with a morning walk and an afternoon to explore our next destination. In other words, our one zero day will be split over two days.

The photos capture our morning walk, almost entirely under a heavy sky and dense fog. Our trail dropped us into Bar-sur-Aube, a pretty medieval city. But this is Sunday and, as counterpoint to the pilgrim’s consternation that nothing is open on Sundays, we found ourselves in the midst of a grand fair running the full length of the city’s mainstreet. There were the latest model of Peugeots, Renaults and other cars on display, giant tractors, amusement rides, food stalls and, our favorite, a champagne fair with very local producers sampling their wares in the handsome old market building.

Beyond the fair, Bar-sur-Aube offers an impressive city to explore with twisting narrow streets lined with half-timbered buildings. Its main church, Église Saint-Pierre is an imposing 12 C. structure but it is particularly notable due to the attached halloy. This remarkable 14 C. wood structure, which hangs on the exterior church walls, was the historic home for the city’s champagne fair. Just as religious pilgrims, such as Sigeric, would visit this church on their way to Rome, so too did traders from across Europe setting up stalls under the halloy’s shed roof to ply their wares.

Walk Date: Sep 25, 2022

Distance: 13.4 km

Elevation Gain: 361 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 29: Brienne-le-Château to Dolancourt

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

The landscape and weather has changed significantly. Open farm fields have largely been replaced with forest walks. And it rained, for the first time since our first day on the trail. Not a hard rain but a continuing drizzle, just enough wetness to question a need to don Gore-Tex jackets versus living with a slightly damp shirt.

We arrived in the village of Dienville late morning. The unusual bell-shaped roof of St. Quentin church stood out as we approached the town centre. While it dates to 1784, the rest of the church reaches back to the 15 C. The interior’s Gothic framework contrasts nicely with the intricate black and gold iron screen that surrounds the choir and alter. This is not the first church we’ve encountered with piped-in background music but this was the most eclectic, moving from light classics to Greensleeves to George Gershwin’s Summertime!

Adjacent to the church and arguably more significant is the Halles de Dienville, a stone and timber market hall dating to 1866. It replaces an earlier market structure built in 1536. As pilgrims, it is noteworthy that the route from Canterbury to Rome is built upon an existing framework of trade routes. This is but one more reminder that the pilgrimage route described by Sigeric in the 900s is but one layer of history the modern pilgrim encounters, whether it’s medieval  trade routes or battlegrounds from two World Wars or Napoleonic wars…to name but a few.

Our day ended in Dolancourt and the fairly luxurious digs of Le Moulin de Landon. Oddly, within eyeshot and easily heard throughout town, is Nigloland, a vast amusement park that sits uncomfortably (or dominating) in this small picturesque town. 

We are eating well, it seems with multi-course dinners that included a local Champagne, a pavé of salmon for Gail and andouillette—a truly acquired taste— pour moi. 

Bon appétit!

Walk Date: Sep 24, 2022

Distance: 21.8 km

Elevation Gain: 334 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 28: Montmorency-Beaufort to Brienne-le-Château

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

The first twenty kilometers flashed by. We were in the zone; our strides came naturally as we climbed steep slopes to farmscapes animated with monumentally-scaled tractors moving to and fro across their fields. We lunched under a lone tree along the roadside before attacking the last ten kilometres. Brienne-le-Château appeared suddenly and gloriously with the appearance of the substantially-proportioned Château, which dominates the city’s landscape no matter where you stand. We arrived mid-afternoon, which left enough time to take in the Napoleon Museum, located in the former military school where its namesake world leader-in-the-making got his early education. All that was left was a solid evening meal before retiring to our down-to-earth hotel for a good night’s sleep before attempting tomorrow’s equally long walk.

Walk Date: Sep 23, 2022

Distance: 30.3 km

Elevation Gain: 471 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 27: Au Milieu de Nulle Part to Montmorency-Beaufort

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

This should have been a straight-forward walk through farmland and accomplished in a matter of four or so hours. Instead, it took the good part of a day owing to the unexpected encounter with three spectacular half-timber churches in three separate villages. The first was located in Outines, just a short distance south of our morning start. Built near the end of the 16 C., the Saint-Nicolas Church suffered structural problems right from the get-go. It took a major restoration project in 1979-1986 to finally solve the problem. Next came the Church of the Exaltation de la Ste-Croix in Bailly Le Franc. Be sure to listen to our tour of the church, below. The third church was the Église Saint-Jacques et Saint-Philippe in Lentilles. Arguably the finest of the three churches, its association with Saint-Jacques (Saint James in English) holds special affection for pilgrims on the Via Francigena or Compostela routes.

Walk Date: Sep 22, 2022

Distance: 23.1 km

Elevation Gain:275 m

Read on to view today’s photos, a soundscape captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 26: Vitry-le-François to Au Milieu de Nulle Part

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

Au Milieu de Nulle Part. In the Middle of Nowhere.

That’s the name of our destination today. Yet, those who look closely, who walk the gravel paths, will find themselves in the middle of everything. Take today’s walk. We left Vitry-le-Françoise expecting a quiet, long walk through rolling farmland, all fallow or bare earth or planted with sugar beets. We got that, of course, but we also discovered war memorials. One, situated in the middle of a farmer’s field, far from any reasonable access point, commemorated a World War Two RAF Halifax bomber that crashed here on August 5, 1944. Later on, high up on a quiet gravel road, was the Mont Môret memorial. It is here, on September 6 to 11, 1914 that a crucial World War One battle was fought. It’s estimated that 3,200 French soldiers died on these rolling hills and a further 10,000 we’re injured during that five day siege.

In a moment of complete serendipity, we came across a group of Italians from the European Association of Via Francigena Ways, walking in the opposite direction on the route in order to complete a public relations film. Expect to see Gail and me in Via Francigena television ad!

Though our day ended in a place called Au Milieu de Nulle Part, it is anything but. Our lodging for the night is a cozy wood caravan set in the woods. We’ve enjoyed a massive meal prepared by our host. It’s near midnight and time to crawl into our bed alcove. Not bad for the middle of nowhere.

Walk Date: Sep 21, 2022

Distance: 32.8 km

Elevation Gain: 495 m

Read on to view today’s photos captured along the route and an interactive map.

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Walking The Via Francigena: A Day in Bar-le-Duc

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Today is a non-walking day, what through-hikers would call a zero day, a day to relax and wash clothes. For Gail and me, a zero day is an opportunity to explore an interesting place.

Today, that place is Bar-le-Duc.

Read on to view the day’s photos and soundscape.

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Walking The Via Francigena, Stage 25: Vitry-la-Ville to Vitry-le-François

This “Walking The Via Francigena” series of posts follow us, David and Gail, as we continue our walk along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome. In the fall of 2019, we completed the first leg from London to Canterbury, known as the Chaucer Way, and onward to the small town of Tergnier, France on the Via Francigena. A pandemic got in the way but now, in 2022, our trek is underway once again, this time taking us from Tergnier to Besançon over 23 walking days and 580 or so kilometres.

Notes from today’s walk:

The weather was decidedly fall-like as we left Vitry-le-Ville early morning. It was a cool 4° C. Dense fog hid the landscape, revealing its secrets slowly as we made our way down farm roads. Eventually the fog gave way to clear blue skies as the temperature slowly climbed to a comfortable 19°. Most of the day was spent trekking through gently rolling farmland, often sharing our gravel paths with massive tractors, and the villages rich with half-timbered houses. As usual, dogs barked from fenced yards. We would try to greet them all but a chance encounter with a lovely whippet and her human companions spurred a lengthy conversation. Our largely rural meanderings ended suddenly at Vitry-le-Françoise, a fairly gritty city at first glance but blessed with a substantial neo-classical church, La Collégiale Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which opens onto the equally impressive city plaza, Place d’Armes.

Oddly for a city this size, nearly every restaurant was closed this Monday evening. However, we were able to cobble together a reasonable take out meal from a kebab restaurant and an odd coupling of ice cream and a bottle of Mumm’s champagne from a frozen food store.

Walk Date: Sep 19, 2022

Distance: 30.9 km

Elevation Gain: 463 m

Read on to view today’s photos captured along the route and an interactive map.

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