Four days in France: the Randonnee de 4 Jours in Chantonnay

A photo of a man with signposts overhead.IML walker Anthony (Tom) Buykx has participated in 18 of our C2DW events. He has also walked in 20 other IML countries including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and the USA.

A walker for over 60 years, Tom enjoys the IML walks for many reasons including his friendship with other walkers, a sense of achievement at the end of each walk, the experience of visiting other countries and his collection of IML medals and awards.

A member of the Catholic Walking Club of Victoria, a bushwalking group, he has completed more than 20 walks with his club so far this year. An earlier version of this story appeared in the August 2015 edition of the Catholic Walker, the CWCV newsletter.

R4JCV, the Randonnee de 4 Jours en Chantonnay Vendee, is a four-day IML walk around Chantonnay in the Vendee department of France. Chantonnay is a country town (about 8,600 inhabitants) in western France, about 1 and 3/4 hours by train and bus from the historical city of Nantes.

Every year, commencing on Ascension Thursday (a public holiday in France), the town is host to walkers from all over Europe, with a sprinkling of visitors from further away. I think I was the only one from down under in 2015. Earlier this year, at the IML walks in Rotorua and Canberra, I had met a French walker who rekindled my interest in the Chantonnay walks which I had done once before, in 2008.

And so I arrived in Chantonnay on Tuesday, 12 May 2015. Because I had made my travel arrangements fairly late, I had been unable to get accommodation in town. Thus I finished up in a hotel five kilometres out of town, in a wonderful setting on the shore of a lake. In this hotel I happened to meet the same Frenchman again. He kindly offered me transport to and from the start/finish.

Each day there were five routes, three of which qualified as IML walks. I opted for the 21km/day routes. The walks all began well out of town so each morning several buses lined up to take walkers to their starting points. The walkers’ guidebook showed very simple sketch maps of the routes, but they were all so well sign-posted that maps were not necessary.

Alongside the narrower paths and tracks the grass had been cut to facilitate the walking and in a few fields a path had been cut through the growing crop. There was much variety in the countryside here: grassy meadows with cream-coloured cows, ploughed brown fields with young green plants coming up, here and there a vineyard, patches of forest, a lake, a stream. The country is quite undulating, the roads and tracks are often hedged with shrubs and trees, and if not hedged they provide lovely views.

Every six or seven kilometres there was a rest area and/or checkpoint. The rest areas (“ravito” in the local lingo, an abbreviation of “ravitaillement”) were well set up with tables full of fruit, chocolate, brioches (a bakery product that is not quite bread and not quite cake, but very nice), muesli bars and drinks (but no cups!) all for free. Walkers had to provide their own cups, and to promote this the organising walking club sold quite nice souvenir cups for a few euros each. The entry fee was 24 euros.

On Ascension Thursday, 14 May, we started from somewhere south of Chantonnay. It was overcast and there was some rain from time to time. Some of the tracks were quite muddy, but everyone seemed to cope with the conditions. The route passed only one village, and then really only its outlying houses.

In the afternoon, the weather cleared up nicely. By then I had reached the finish in the local park, where walkers received a “sandwich”, a drink and an apple. The local brass band provided entertainment and the local traders had set up stalls to supply more food and drink. There was a happy atmosphere, just like we have in Canberra at the end of each day, but with many more people. I was glad to catch up with several walkers whom I had met on previous IML walks in other countries.

On Friday, 15 May, the buses took us to a point west of Chantonnay. The first part of the walk was along the forested edge of a large artificial lake. There were people fishing in the lake and camping on the shore. Fishing and hunting are popular pastimes in France — along the tracks I often noticed signs advising vigilance in the hunting season.

The second “ravito” was in the grounds of Chateau l’Auneau where the owner had three vintage cars on display. This property and several other areas we walked through were clearly marked as only open for the day of the walk.

After my return to the park I watched a local folk dance group, mostly senior citizens, go through their elegant paces. I met up again with my French friend, but now to say “au revoir” because he had to be home over the weekend. To get back to my hotel, and for transport on the Saturday and Sunday, I had already put the hard word on the driver of a busload of Belgian walkers and he readily allowed me to travel with them. Yes, walking unites us — “nos jungat ambulare” is the motto the IML.

On Saturday, 16 May, we commenced our walk somewhere northwest of Chantonnay. In anticipation of a forecast sunny day I had bought sunscreen in town, but it was overcast all day. The day’s route was through gently undulating farmland with fields of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and canola. It was very open country and I did not mind the cloud cover. There were two villages on our route, but, as the other day, we did not go through them, only their outskirts. I think it might have been nicer to walk through the village centres, to see their streetscapes, squares, churches and Saturday busy-ness.

At one point we came to and walked alongside a railway line until we had to cross. it. A marshal was stationed here to guide us. There were two ways to do it, he said, but one of them was illegal — over the embankment and rail track. The other was through a culvert under the line. There were steps to get into and out of it, but with only about 1.2 metres [four feet] from wet floor to stony ceiling it was not easy to get through. I was not the only one to knock my head painfully.

The day’s entertainment in the park was provided by a dance group from Barcelona, a city only fairly recently admitted to the IML. There was also a stall where one could sample Spanish goodies, sausages and wine, a good promotion for their walking event.

On Sunday, 17 May, we had our first perfectly sunny day which was wonderful. We were taken east of Chantonnay and started walking at Lake Rochereau. The water was very still with lovely reflections, including those of Chateau Launay. After crossing a tributary flowing into the lake we made our way up to the chateau and the first “ravito” for the day in a barn in its grounds. Once again we skirted the outer parts of a village, this one Sigournais, and eventually we walked back through the centre of Chantonnay to the finish. There were many family groups walking the shorter distances this day, obviously enjoying a good Sunday outing.

At the finished I received a medal and a certificate and had my IML passport stamped. [Note: In all IML events the participant has to walk every day of the event. Most IML walks are run over two days, but some take place over three or even four days.] On the lawns of the park there were signs in the shape of old mileposts showing the names of other IML towns and their distances from Chantonnay. Of course, Canberra and Rotorua were the most distant. This afternoon the local pipe band (bagpipes are not exclusively Caledonian) made themselves heard, albeit not quite like the Scotch do it.

The following day I travelled to the other side of France for a six-day walk in the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border. [But that’s another story ….]

A photo of Lake Rochereau in France.

Lake Rochereau

Czech walkers to visit Canberra

Six overseas walkers from the Czech Republic will be joining our walk this March. Most of the group are members of IVV and/or IML.

Their visit to Canberra will come towards the end of their 19-day tour of Australia, after seeing the sights in and around Cairns, Alice Springs, and Sydney.

Two members of the group will receive IML awards at Sunday afternoon’s ceremony. Walk group leader Jiri Nasinec will be awarded the Pan Pacific walker clip for walking in eight different Pan Pacific countries. Maria Blahova has earned the Pan Pacific clip and also the Global Walker clip for walking 10 different walks in the European region as well as participating in eight different Pan Pacific events.

Jiri is a member of the Novy Bor walking club. “Every week, from spring to autumn, there are walks for people in many places in the Czech Republic,” he says, adding, “We regularly walk in our country and also in different countries. We have done almost all IML walks.”

Tourists travel to Novy Bor to visit the many small glass factories where they can watch artisans blow, paint, cut and engrave glass. The Luzice Mountain region is also popular with hikers and skiers.

Meet our walkers: Yvonne Morris and Jamie Stewart

Man and woman standing near a blue banner in the Czech Republic.

Yvonne and Jamie at the Czech Republic IML walk held in Brno last September.

At this year’s Canberra Walking Festival awards ceremony Yvonne Morris and Jamie Stewart will receive the gold IML medal for completing 21 IML walk events, including seven Two Day Walks in the national capital.

In addition to Australia, the couple has walked in China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States.

They learned about the IML Walking Association during their first Canberra Two Day Walk in 2009. “When we saw the list of countries holding IML events we realized we could combine our love of walking and our desire for travelling,” Jamie explained. “Wonderful!”

About this time, Yvonne reconnected with a school friend who now lived in Arlington, Virginia, USA. The following year they visited the friend and participated in the US Freedom Walk Festival. “After each day’s walking we showed her the photos and maps of where we had walked,” remembers Yvonne. “It was a magical holiday.”

Their next walk was in Rotorua, New Zealand, where they met a new friend from the Arlington walk. The first page of their IML passports was complete.

After deciding to walk for the IML Pan Pacific Award, the couple made many new friends in Korea, Japan and Taiwan. “Walking overseas is more than being ‘just another tourist.’ It is about making new friends, catching up with old friends, being outside in the countryside and sometimes rain,” explains Jamie. “Everyone is friendly and helpful, even if we don’t speak each other’s language.”

Their walking adventures began 10 years ago when the pair trained for three 100-kilometre Oxfam events. “During the training we discovered the joy of walking,” Yvonne remembers. “We found that walking was bringing us closer together as we left the mundane chores of day-to-day life at home.”

They decided to search the web for other long-distance walking events and found our Aussiewalk website.

The Melbourne residents enjoy visiting Canberra in the autumn. “It’s good to leave everything behind for a couple of days,” says Yvonne. “We love walking around the lake.” They walk the 30 km Loop the Lake route on Saturday and the 20 km route on Sunday.

Because Yvonne is a medical scientist shift worker with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the pair rarely walk together during the week. “We know that we can walk the distances,” notes Jamie, an account supervisor with RGIS, an inventory service provider.

The Canberra Two Day walk is an accredited event of the IML Walking Association, an international organisation that promotes walking as a worthwhile and healthy recreation by accrediting specific walking events in its member countries. The IML motto is “May walking bring us together.”

Meet our walkers: James and Jean Ohl from the United States

Photo of a man and a woman on either side of a whale sculpture in Mystic, CT.

The Ohls in Mystic, Connecticut.

“We wish we had discovered walking before we retired,” say the Ohls, whose retirement plan is walk their way around the world.  They are visiting our city for the second time this month.

So far they have completed IML/IVV walks in Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, England, France, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Vietnam as well as in the USA.

Their walking adventures started in 2005 when they attended a walk in Vancouver, Washington [state].  They went to meet the Mayor but also met Australian Max Riley who introduced them to the IML and IVV walk programs.  After encountering Max at several subsequent IML walks, they finally decided to visit Australia in 2010.  The Ohls appreciate the relative flatness of the Canberra walks.

Back at home, they are members of the Vancouver USA Volkssporters, the All- Weather Walkers and the Columbia River Volkssport Club.  All of these groups offer traditional events and seasonal walks throughout the year.  The Ohls complete at least two 10-kilometre walks each week as their minimum requirement for IML events is 20 kilometres per day.

They are also in the process of walking in each of the 50 states, a challenge offered by the American Volkssport Association. In their spare time they enjoy reading, cooking, and, of course planning their next walking trip!

OAMs awarded to Harry and Kathleen Berg

A photo of Harry and Kathleen Berg with GG Quentin Bryce.

Harry and Kathleen Berg with Governor-General Quentin Bryce in September.

Did you know that Harry and Kathleen Berg have received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to recreational walking?

The honour was announced last Queen’s Birthday (June 2013) and presented in September. 

The Bergs were nominated for their exceptional commitment to promoting the health and social benefits of walking as well as to encouraging international friendship and understanding. After experiencing multi-day walking events in Europe, Harry and Kathleen established the Canberra Two Day Medal Walk in 1992. Their aim was to promote walking, to provide a healthy, enjoyable recreational activity and to encourage walkers to achieve a personal challenge. They also sought to encourage international friendships. This aim was notably advanced in 1997 when the Canberra Two Day Walk was accepted into the IML Walking Association.

The Association has strict requirements for events to be recognised by the IML. Through its award system, walkers are encouraged to participate in IML events around the world. IML walks are held in 26 countries throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Canberra Two Day Walk, now known as the Canberra Walking Festival, attracts hundreds of walkers from across Australia and overseas. Participants choose walks of various distances from 5km through 42km (marathon). Ample time is allowed for walkers to enjoy the sites of Canberra, and even our local walkers find something new to see.

Many walkers return each year because they enjoy the varied and attractive courses, the social atmosphere, the quality of the organisation and the opportunity to meet and interact with overseas walkers. Many international friendships have been formed and Australian walkers have taken the opportunity to renew those friendships by taking part in IML events overseas.

The Canberra Walking Festival has been very successful in supporting the IML’s motto: “May walking bring us together.” Our event has received consistently positive feedback from our overseas participants. In addition, the event has done much to promote the health benefits of walking for all ages, as well as promoting programs with similar aims, such as those managed by Heart Foundation Walking. All this did not happen without a lot of hard work by Harry and Kathleen!

Harry’s personal contribution has included:
–Founding President of the Canberra Two Day Walk Association (the organising committee of volunteers) and occupying that position for 15 years followed by active membership on the committee since then.
–Creating and maintaining a database of participant information.
–Processing all registration and preparing start cards.
–Developing, measuring and mapping walk routes; preparing detailed directions and signage.
–Preparing the Control Centre and all equipment for the events. 

Kathleen’s personal contribution has included:
–Secretary of the Canberra Two Day Walk Association and maintaining an active membership on the committee since then.
–Managing the 50+ volunteers needed to run the event.
–Guiding the planning of the event and related activities, including obtaining government approvals.
–Dealing with overseas inquiries; providing accommodation and travel advice.
–Assisting overseas walkers during the event to ensure their stay in Australia is enjoyable and rewarding.

Over the past 22 years, the Canberra Two Day Walk has been enjoyed by nearly 10,000 walkers. In addition to the Canberra Walking Festival, the Bergs have introduced Internationaler Volkssport Verband (IVV) walks in Australia. IVV walks are available in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale and Wodonga. Harry and Kathleen regularly host overseas groups wishing to undertake IVV walks in Australia. Their promotion of IVV walks here has encouraged many Australian walkers to take part in IVV walks overseas.

Footloose in Fulda

Fulda2Mark, one of our new AussieWalkers last year, recently completed his first IML walk in Fulda, Germany. While overseas, he also took the opportunity to do some IVV walks. He related his adventures to family and friends as follows:

“I am trying to sleep on the floor of an indoor basketball court in Germany, but there are about 80 others here trying to do the same and some have successfully transitioned to snoring before I can attain unconsciousness. Next to me is a Japanese couple who hold hands in their sleep and at my feet is a 79-year-old Belgian and his friend from France. I am here to walk 84km in two days across the countryside surrounding the historic southern city of Fulda.

“Organised by the IVV which roughly translates as the international people’s sport and the IML (international marching league), wandering or walking is a popular activity in Europe with smaller events of various distances and durations occurring each weekend. I have never walked these kinds of distances or attended this type of event, so I am nervous. I am the only Australian here and somewhere in my travels I have lost my sleeping mask which would be most helpful right now, but I do appreciate the earplugs I still have with me. I turn over and try to get comfortable on the unfamiliar and noisy air mattress I have brought with me.

“We wake soon after 4am and I pick my way through the sleeping bodies to the communal showers. I am not sure if breakfast is provided but find that it is as are small snacks throughout the walk as you reach each checkpoint. I have some time before we are ready for breakfast so I finish reading Walking by Henry David Thoreau. He advocated long walks in the afternoon in unvisited directions, usually west, from his rural setting — I am not sure that what I am about to undertake is what he had in mind.

“After a breakfast of German breads, salami cold cuts and salad we gather outside in the rain to board buses to our drop-off point. This event is popular with army units with the units from Germany, USA, UK and Denmark prominent, but there were others also (as one of the US soldiers said, “We used to shoot these guys.”). They congregate in groups of various fatigue uniforms with backpacks, boots and banners. I met a slim, quiet guy from the Netherlands who admitted that these events had become his addiction. He said he had given up smoking and drinking and now spent his weekends at these events and his spare time in training for them. He showed me his badges from 100km and 160km events. He had walked 160km in 29 hours straight but wanted to achieve ‘centurion’ status which means walking that distance in under 24 hours.

“After a long drive we arrive at our starting point and disembark. The rain has settled in and we walk through it all day, the tracks becoming sodden, muddy and slick. The army units unfurl their banners and head off but among us are the speedsters like my Dutch friend who carry and wear little but lycra as their focus is on their finishing time; I just want to finish without embarrassment.

“Gradually the sun rises but never with much conviction to reveal the lovely German countryside we are walking through. On each of the two days we became a long strung out stream of walkers of various speeds and ability as we walked through forests, between cultivated fields, and visited villages.  On the second day the gaits which had been comfortable and smooth were noticeably more lame and painful for some.

“Over 1,000 people from more than 26 countries participated in this event. Over the two days you could choose to walk 84, 63 or 42 kilometres. The youngest walker was six years of age and the oldest in his late eighties. At the end of the event the successful participants are recognised with certificates and medals of participation. Those who have achievements such as attending several hundred such events or bringing the largest teams are also recognised. The reward I was promising myself was a warm (although shared) shower and a German beer in this season of Oktoberfest.

“I am one of those guys who likes to pack for contingencies and so rarely pack light. Of course usually when I get home I find several items brought around the world and back again that did not get used. I knew the weather in Germany at this time of year was uncertain so I had prepared for both sun and rain. I had a light spray jacket that offered no resistance to the persistent rain and by the end of the walk I could only have been wetter if I had swum. At one point as we negotiated a narrow muddy path I saw an opportunity to get ahead of a group of walkers so I tried to walk past them on a sodden mound of clay only to lose my footing and end up sideways in the mud — embarrassed and with a strain to one ankle that took a while to walk out.

“So my wet weather gear was not up to the mark. At the checkpoints I noticed lots of comfortable-looking German men in Jack Wolfskin jackets and was very envious. I did not realise that the company is based in Frankfurt which is the largest city close to Fulda. The beautiful but expensive jackets are apparently popular for city work wear as well as for hiking.

“In my pack I had a second pair of shoes — an extra weight to carry but I felt better for having the option of changing shoes and finished with no blisters. I started each day in hiking boots and changed to sand-shoes halfway through each walk. As I was walking alone my iPod was a great assistance. At first I listened to podcasts but then changed to streaming music and each new track gave me new energy.

“As might be expected the second day’s walk was more difficult, but not only because it took already damaged bodies and pushed them the same distance for a second time. The course for the first day started at a high point 42km out from Fulda and we walked back. On the second day we walked in a loop starting and finishing at the same point with a steep climb up a forestry track in the early section. On the second day it was not raining but there was a heavy fog and mist all day and as we neared the end of the walk we got a glimpse of our base before turning away for a further 7km loop, another climb and painful descent before we eventually made it back.

“I am very pleased I did my first international event as it was not something I was confident I could finish but I did both walks in good time. I have a certificate and medal (which looks very military) but my main achievement is a sense of self accomplishment and once my feet feel better I will be up and ‘marching’ again.

“The IVV also organise self-guided or permanent walks where you follow the map or instructions, answer questions at a few points to show you have covered the ground and then are recognised as having completed the event and the distance. We have some of these walks in Canberra and I was able to do four in Germany during my visit.

“I did two in Berlin with the first around the historical sights of Berlin and very easy to follow. They had placed yellow dots on sign posts along the way and there were English instructions which took me from the zoo, around Tiergarten, along the old Berlin Wall, and past the site of Hitler’s bunker, so I saw many of the sites I had wanted to see in Berlin. There is a an outdoor scavenger hunt called Munzee where participants put stickers in public spaces but hidden behind signs and under benches and these can be scanned by smartphones for points. Berlin is Munzee crazy as these stickers were everywhere so even though I could not use the mapping function on my phone while overseas, by keeping my eyes open I could capture Munzees as I walked.

“The second walk in Berlin was in a different area. I had a bad start as to get there I had to catch a train and when I arrived I found that I had left my instructions behind in the hotel room and I could not find the starting point, so I had to return and return again. This walk took me around the Alexandrplatz area including along the river and past the bear zoo. The bear is the symbol of Berlin and there are some in a small park there. The instructions for this walk were not so clear but I completed it successfully.

“In Frankfurt, the first walk I undertook was from the Goethe Institute so the route followed the history of Goethe and noted the monuments around Frankfurt associated with him. There was a lovely map with long explanations of Goethe and the monuments and the forest I walked through, but unfortunately they had run out of the English version. I had to dumbly follow the map and so I ended up walking the route backwards, but it was a lovely, varied walk through a beautiful city.

“The second walk in Frankfurt started from a corner store at the end of the tram line. The proprietor spoke no English but I eventually got a map of very poor quality and no English instructions. All I could make out from the map was a photo of direction indicators. I started walking and found I had headed in completely the wrong direction so I returned to the start and tried again, heading off at 90 degrees to my original course and I found the way markers. The path was well-marked once you were on it. 

“As I set off I noticed a strange-looking guy taking photos. He saw me taking photos of the way markers and started doing the same. He spoke no English and I noticed residents giving him cautious looks. I tried to shake him off but he kept following me. I tried to walk faster and chose a longer route than I had planned in order to lose him but he caught up to me. I was quite worried about this strange fellow who was pursuing me and then when we got to a checkpoint in the walk he pulled out an IVV card and started filling it in! He was another walker following the trail, not chasing me. So we walked together and he showed me how to answer the checkpoint questions. That was a strange and painful walk as it followed my 84km exertions and I thought I was being pursued by a mad man. I am sure I looked like one myself when I boarded the tram back to Frankfurt sweating, limping and without the correct change for the tram fare.”

Meet our walkers: Walter Swensen from Norway

Walter will be joining us in Canberra for the fifth time this year. “I like to walk in Canberra partly because of the temperature but also because I love this city. It’s hard to explain why, but I do, and it’s nice to come back again once a year,” he says.

As usual he plans to walk the marathon on Saturday, followed by the 30-kilometre route on Sunday.

No stranger to Australia, Walter lived in Sydney between 1980 and 1991 where his two daughters still reside. He also has a half-brother in Cairns.

In Norway he is the leader of the Tromso Turmarsjhelselag walking club. The club sponsors a summer and winter series of weekend walks, including a Christmas walk on Boxing Day. Club members participate in walks throughout the city and country, including a set of nine different walks totalling 120 kilometres in and around Tromso, “the capital of the Arctic.”

But the cold weather doesn’t deter Walter who regularly walks 20 to 30 kilometres each week of winter and “about double I think” during the summer.

Walter, an IVV and IML walker, has also participated in IML walks in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, Holland, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan. A sheet metal worker and welder by trade, Walter is also a keen photographer.

For more info about Tromso:

The Russians are coming!

Members of Russian Walking Club MV-TUR celebrate their success at a recent IML walk.

Members of Russian Walking Club MV-TUR celebrate their success at a recent IML walk.

Eighteen walkers from Walking Club MV-TUR in Vladivostok, Russia, will attend this year’s Canberra Walking Festival.

Members of this club have participated in IML walks in Austria, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, and Taiwan.

We have welcomed international walkers to every one of our past 22 events. Usually we have from 30 to 70 overseas walkers. The country most represented has been the Netherlands, followed by Germany and Japan.

Our first group of Russians walked in 2010. Our highest number of overseas participants was 212 in 2004, when the IML general meeting was held in New Zealand.