While the real world in February was all about mud, mist, a fair bit of rain and a badly blistered foot, my virtual journey continued. January ended in France, just outside Évreux, heading for Paris. It seemed a long way from my final destination, Morocco, but, as they say, it’s more about the journey than the destination, so where did February take me?
The first place I passed through was Évreux, sitting prettily in the valley of the River Iton. The little town was badly damaged during World War II and most of its centre was rebuilt. It has one of the largest cathedrals in France, originally built in 1076 but burned down, along with the town, by Henry I of France during the Norman insurrection in 1119. There is also an Air Base, used by the United States Air Force until 1967 and now used by the French Air Force.
If I’d been virtually driving, I could have left Évreux on the N13 Autoroute and headed straight for Paris. My rules dictate I can only use roads I could really walk though so my route was more convoluted and took me south of the motorway through the small towns of Guichainville, Fresney, Serez and Épieds. At Garennes-sur-Eure I crossed the River Eure and headed towards Boissets. Whether this would have been the best route or not I can’t tell, I’ve never been this way for real, but I was heading in the right general direction.
The first week of February ended, with 35.96 miles, in the small town of Civry-la-Forêt in the Île-de-France. Paris felt so close I could almost smell it, fractions of an inch on the map but it was actually nearly forty five miles away.
The first place I passed through in the second week of February was the tiny commune of Orvilliers. A few narrow streets of pretty stone houses surrounded by fields. It was the first of a string of little communes one after the other like pearls on a necklace, Tacoignières, Orgerus, Behoust, Garancières and Boissy-sans-Avoir.
These communes seemed to all be leading to Neauphle-le-Vieux and Neauphle-le-Château, two far larger communes so close together they might as well be one place. Iranian Islamic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lived in the latter in 1978 when he was exiled during the Iranian Revolution. When he returned to Iran the following year he renamed a street there after the little town. Hollywood actress Deanna Durban also spent her last years in Neauphle-le-Château.
The next town, Plaisir, was larger still. It even boasts a big shopping mall. Then there was Fontenay-le-Fleury with its pretty little church St Germain, closely followed by Saint-Cyr-l’École where officers of the French army used to train at the École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr.
Each town I came to was larger and grander than the last because I was getting closer and closer to Paris. At the end of the week came a place I have visited for real, the Palace of Versailles. The visit was during my first trip to Paris when I was just nineteen. My memories of the palace itself are hazy, opulent decor and many paintings as I recall, but the gardens filled with statues and ornately clipped hedges have stayed vivid in my mind.
The palace was built by Louis XIII in 1623 and enlarged by Louis XIV, in what was then a small village, much like those I had just virtually passed through. In 1682 Louis XIV moved the royal court there and, after the French Revolution, it became a symbol of the monarch of the Ancien Régime.
The final two miles took me to the Pont de Sèvres, linking Boulogne-Billancourt and Sèvres, and, as week two drew to a close, I crossed the Seine. It was a fabulous way to end the week. I couldn’t have planned my 32.64 miles better if I’d tried.
There were less miles in the third week of February than I’d have liked due to blister healing but, with the River Seine behind me, I was heading into Paris. What I really should have been doing was heading south but I couldn’t walk through Paris, even virtually, without a quick detour to look at The Arc Du Triomph.
After a virtual stroll down the Champs-Élysées to Place de la Concorde, which would almost certainly have involved a coffee stop if I was there for real, I crossed the Seine again at Pont Des Arts. Much as I’d have liked to hang around seeing the sights of Paris I didn’t really want to waste too many precious miles so I followed the Seine as far as Lacs de l’Essonne.
As the river began to meander eastwards I left it and headed south towards Bondoufle, a commune in the Essonne department of Île-de-France. I may have only walked 29.49 miles but Paris was now eight miles behind me and ahead was Orléans.
After Bondoufle I passed through the tiny communes of Vert le Grand and Vert le Petit where I found myself following the River Essonne, a tributary of the left bank of the Seine, named for a Gallo Roman river goddess.
At La Ferté-Alais I might have been able to see the aircraft Louis Blériot used to cross the English Channel in 1909. It is in the museum and still airworthy. The town hosts a world famous airshow of vintage World War I and II aircraft and was once a fortress protecting the French royal estate. Now I’d entered the Regional Natural Park of Gâtinais Français, a protected area, nicknamed the land of a thousand clearings and sandstones.
Following the D449 I passed through the little communes of Vayres-sur-Essonne, Maisse, Gironville-sur-Essonne with its pretty little town hall and Prunay-sur-Essonne where I finally left the river behind.
The week and the month ended crossing a patchwork of fields in Nangeville, a commune so tiny it was merged with the new commune of Le Malesherbois in 2016. After the Bright lights of Paris at the end of last week this really did feel like the middle of nowhere. This week I managed just 25.48 miles. Orleans, where I’d hoped to end the month, was still almost forty seven miles away. Hopefully I’ll get there in early March.
Looking at the map, Morocco doesn’t seem so very far away and I have ten months to reach it. There are an awful lot of miles to walk though and the road will not be straight. This is an ambitious challenge and one I may well fail, but I’m sure I’ll have some adventures and see some interesting places along the way. I wonder where I’ll end up in March?
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