Today, Maundy Thursday, we reached Reims, city of coronation of many French kings with its fabulous cathedral. The city was almost completely destroyed in the First World War with further serious damage in the Second, and has been completely rebuilt, pretty well as it was.
For us the last few days represent several landmarks. We passed from our second French Departement, Aisne, into Marne. We are now roughly half way between Canterbury and the Swiss border. We saw our first vineyards since leaving Kent (growing cultivars for Champagne of course); and we heard our first cuckoo of the year! But…we are missing out on the first day of the fishing season on many of my favourite Wessex chalk streams!
So why are we doing this pilgrimage, and why are we raising money for the Wessex Rivers Trust? Well, I guess we’re doing the pilgrimage both for personal and spiritual reasons. As we explained to a Moroccan shopkeeper in Auchel, it's a bit like doing the Hajj: something worth doing once in your life. Furthermore, for many years we’ve whizzed past on the motorway on our way south for holidays by car, without stopping to visit all the interesting places that we’ve been walking through this time. There have been the changing landscapes, the varying approaches to farming, the former coal mining areas, not to mention the WW1 Western Front which we’ve been following for much of the last two weeks. We’ve visited many military cemeteries along the way, and yesterday we came upon a line of trenches in a hilltop wood, much overgrown but definitely recognisable.
So why are we supporting the Wessex Rivers Trust? Well I suppose as its first director, I have a certain personal investment in it, but above all it's probably about my passion for the chalk streams and the need to protect and preserve the unique habitats they are. I grew up in Kent where I had the good fortune to enjoy fishing the Stour, meanwhile neighbouring rivers like the Darent were being reduced to a mere trickle by over-abstraction for water supply and others like the Medway were being heavily polluted by industry and sewage. For many years I’ve enjoyed fishing on the chalk streams of Wessex: the Wylye and the Itchen in particular. But it’s not just the fishing, it’s the total immersion in the river habitat; the intellectual and physical engagement with the ecosystem that happens when I’m in or beside a river. And that is what I'm so keen to protect for future generations.
So that’s my passion. What about that of Julie, my wife? She’s had a lifelong interest in matters medical, and her last job as a lawyer, before retiring, was for the Salisbury District Hospital which is why we’re also raising money for the hospital’s Stars Appeal.
Our progress southwards can be followed through our blog at salisburytorome2020.com, and if you feel minded to contribute to our charities there is a Just Giving link on the site too.