Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Final Blog on Atlantic to Mediterranean Challenge

They made it to the Med!

We are off home now for a bit of a rest - Peter has a boat to build and David has to concentrate on his bee-keeping. A massive thank you to all our generous supporters who propped us up in heaps of different ways and cajoled us with fun messages when the going got tough! To anyone who hasn't yet seen it, the website is well worth a visit - It shows all the many and varied projects that this amazing Trust has supported in such a short time - it also makes sense of why we wanted to bicycle for 330 mls (528kms). Why wouldn't we want to! There also happens to be an omnibus edition of our blog in case you missed any!

Just a gentle reminder that if anyone would still like to donate, 'lines are still open' till 21 June on:

The final total will be on the JWT website by the end of June.

The challenge is out there to others to beat our time from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or to set a new course with a new route, in aid of the Jo Walters Trust of course. We feel fitter (in spite of wonky necks, dodgy knees and bumps and bruises), we did what we set out to do - we made it, Jo!

Peter and David

Peter and David with the JWT banner

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 7 Argens-Minervois to Portiragnes

Monday 20th Day 7 Argens-Minervois to Portiragnes Plage (THE MEDITERRANEAN!)

The weather was really kind for our last day. A bright sunny but slightly chilly morning as we left the little village of Argens-Minervois got warmer and warmer as we made our way along good paths. It was a holiday in France and almost everything was closed including, rather strangely, the touristy things like restaurants and cafe stops. Some of the canals more interesting features were passed including spillways, aquaducts, bridges and even a tunnel. The tunnel was particular interesting. It was 175 metres long, 6 metres wide and 8 metres tall and dug through solid rock in the 1670s. According to our Guide book it was dug through the rock in 8 days!

The tunnel

Mary found us a lunch stop in Capestang and we were soon on our way towards Beziers. We knew we had arrived in Beziers when we came across a canal lock staircase just like Neptune's staircase in Fort William. We shot down hill only to be greeted with steep climb up the other side for our rendezvous with the statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the builder of the Canal du Midi.

Statue of Pierre-Paul Riquet

Next we headed for the sea at Portiragnes Plages, a few kilometres east of Beziers. Mary paddled in the cold Med. while we had a rather disgusting but well earned ice cream.

A 46 mile (74 kilometre) day ended with us basking in lovely warm sunshine and a temperature above 20 degrees for the first time.

The closing chapter will follow soon.

David, Peter and Mary
Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 6: Carcassone to Argens-Minervois

Sunday 18th Day 6:

We have had two days off and were suitably rested at the wonderful Chateau Rives-Blanques. Vicky had to return to work to keep Peter in the style to which he is accustomed. We continue our journey.

Leaving Chateau Rives Blanc

We left Carcassonne at midday along the southern bank of Canal du midi. The tow path was in a surprisingly good condition. There were lots of day cyclists, walkers and children but they disappeared after we left the city. We cycled passed a British Steam launch whose owner was busy sawing up sticks for his boiler and later a crocodile basking on the canal bank.

The crocodile

We had a late lunch in Trebes in the sunshine and were joined by the remaining member of the support team, Mary who had been tracking us on her phone. Then off again with the canal rapidly losing height through a series of locks as we made our way towards Homs. The tow path, initially good, finally changed to slippery mud and before long David had taken several tumbles including one which almost had him ending up in the canal.

As before a road was called for and again we found one. We were very quickly up to speed and following Keith Steel's advice, David tucked himself behind Peter and before long we were tearing along at more than 25 mph! Peter failed to get away! We dismounted our bikes at Argens-Minervois after a 28 mile ride and headed for our superior B&B.

 Peter and David
Friday, May 17, 2013

Day 5: Castelnaudary to Carcassonne

Thursday 15th Day 5

Castelnaudary to Carcassonne

Cold again today as we left Castelnaudary the world capital of cassoulet. The reasonable canal side path eventually turned into a muddy trail again after the previous days rains. This hampered progress and indeed this time it was Peter who fell off his bike. His excuse was that he thought he saw out of the corner of his eye, a cafe we could stop at. No such luck, once again we pedalled on without a stop slipping and sliding all over the place. David eventually went on strike and insisted a road was the answer. Sure enough he found a road and we pedalled our way into Carcassonne for a late lunch with our support team under the walls of the old fortified Cite de Carcassonne.

David and Peter beside the canal

We had achieved 28 miles before lunch. We had arranged to stay with Vicky and Peter's
very old friends Caryl and Jan Panman at their vineyard near Limoux. So we suspended our trip to the Med and pedalled south towards Limoux. David ran out of steam in the hills and as this was not part of the Atlantic to Mediterranean route, he generously agreed to handover his bike to Vicky so that she could do the last bit.

We are now taking a short break. Normal service will be resumed on Sunday when we set off on the last lap of our journey back to Carcassonne for the final 80 miles to the Mediterranean seaside.

David and Peter
Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 4: Grisolles to Castelnaudary

Wednesday 14th Day 4

A day remarkable for torrential rain all day and temperature never exceeding 10 degrees C.

Could have done with waterproof helmets really...

We rode from Grisolles to Castelnaudary on our way south to Carcassonne and beyond. The cyclists (soaked to the skin) and the support team (bone dry) both had to battle their respective ways through the centre of Toulouse. Enormous traffic jams meant that the cyclists won by a mile and soon found themselves in the southern suburbs of Toulouse on the banks of the Canal du Midi. Twenty cold soggy miles later the paved cycle track on the canal finally gave way to thick slippery clay mud. Peter rolled on as usual while David struggled with thin tyres and ended up on his backside in the mud. After that we decided to take to the roads and splashed our way to Castelnaudary after a 58 mile (86 kilometre) voyage.

Peter and David
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Day 3: Agen towards Toulouse

Tuesday 13th Day 3

Today was the least cold so far, temperatures are reported to have reached the mid twenties!
We departed Agen across the magnificent Napoleonic aqueduct that carries the canal over the Garonne river and continued our journey south east along the Canal Lateral a la Garonne towards Toulouse. We stopped for a picnic lunch supplied by our fantastic support crew who spend their days driving around trying to keep up with us, responding to our numerous requests for medicaments, massages and battling with the Office de Tourisme to try and book the next nights chambre d'hôte. Without their efforts Peter and I would still be sleeping rough in Arcachon.

Here are the support team hard at work

A highlight of today's ride was coming across an ingenious, experimental boat lift that involves the use of two enormous diesel locomotive engines to push a pool of water containing a boat up an inclined trough. The Montech boat lift is not deemed to be a failure but still remains unique!

Our support team led us astray today for a culture moment at a beautiful Romanesque cloistered church in Moissac. This delayed us slightly but we still managed a 52 miles (83 kilometres) and we are now more than half way through our journey.

Thank you for all the messages of encouragement from our "adoring public".

Finally a message to the upside down photo lot, the right way up lot think you should take more water with your whisky.

David and Peter
Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Day 2: Langon to Agen

Monday 13th May - Day 2

Today we made our first 'barely a stop' for one cup of coffee between Langon (where we joined the Canal lateral de la Garonne) and Agen.

Today's ride was a mere 63 miles (101 Kilometres) and was achieved in spite of much complaining by DP that PMD refused to stop or reduce the hectic pace.

Finally as the landscape flashed by in a continuous blur DP was allowed one stop for one cup of coffee.

Peter cycling the towpath

Peter by the Canal

Peter and David
Monday, May 13, 2013

Atlantic to Mediterranean Cycle

Our next few blog posts are hopefully going to be updates from the intrepid pair Peter Duke and David Parson who have just set off to cycle across France in aid of the Jo Walters Trust. They have set off, and below is the first update. We'd like to wish them a following wind and conveniently spaced vineyards.

David writes...

Starting at the very beginning: on the Atlantic beach:
Left to right: Mary and David Parson, Vicky and Peter Duke

As we set off on our big bike ride, we remember Jo who would just have become 31 and whose example was the inspiration for this expedition. She would always rise to a challenge and hopefully so will we!

Yesterday evening navigation turned out to be the biggest challenge! We left the Atlantic coast near Arcachon bound for our B&B some 10 miles distant. 20 miles and 2 hours later we made it.

So today while Mary and Vicky were dipping their toes in the Atlantic and climbing the Dune de Pyla, the largest sand dune in Europe, we took the route verte down the disused railway line from Le Teich to Langon on the Garonne. The highlight was a contretemps with a large wild boar!

We achieved 55 miles (88 kilometres), not bad for day 1.
After Day 1

Our apologies to those who felt our photo appeared upside down - it was fine when it left here!

David and Peter
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Funding an Art Teacher in India

Hi everyone,

The Jo Walters Trust is really keen to find ways to communicate with people who are interested in what we do and we felt that a blog might enable us to share information and opinions to a wider audience, not just those who follow us on Facebook. To kick off, +Kirstie Duke, a trustee of the Jo Walters Trust has written a post for us about our most recent grant which has funded an art teacher for a very deserving school in India. Kirstie has explained more about how this grant will be spent and why we felt it was important below. 

Kirstie teaching an English lesson

I am personally extremely excited to announce a new grant made by the JWT, to the truly deserving 'Sarita Convent School' in Gwalior, India. All of the wonderful fundraising you have all been doing has now provided the school with an Arts and Crafts teacher for the school year, July 2013 to May 2014. At the moment, they have a period dedicated to 'art' but they have never had a teacher for this, so the children just continue doing normal work or colouring in pictures during this period.  I thought it would be a really great thing for them to be able to offer proper art lessons to the children, not every one is academic, so good to give them the opportunity to find hidden talents and explore their creative side! 

I have been fortunate enough to have just spent six weeks teaching English at this wonderful school, living with the family who have devoted both their home, and their lives, to the cause of educating the poor in their area.  Sarita is the most wonderful oasis of a school.  From the busy street outside housing a cacophony of vegetable sellers, tuk tuk's, men on bicycles, sacred cows and beautiful bare footed children, you wouldn't envisage the calm of a big airy school to be lying behind the gates!  The school building, which is also home to the family that established it some 19 years ago in 1995, is educating around 1,400 children from nursery age right through to the final 12th year.  Having spent time living intimately with the family in their home and from immersing myself in the school life, I found it all a most humbling experience.  No one is turned away from the school, if there is a child that needs and wants an education, the school will always do everything they can to make it happen.  These are the children who have so little, and the least that they deserve is the opportunity of a decent education.  Many of the parents struggle to pay the very minimal school fees which are asked (3,500 rupees p/a or £42) and, year on year, the school has to find ways to absorb this debt.  Whilst many schools would take the view that without fees being paid there is no place for the child in the school, Sarita is a school with a big heart.  If they, as a family, have to sacrifice certain wealth that would come by operating in this way, they consider it a small price to pay.  Better to have a full school brimming with laughter than a half empty school by denying the faultless children the gift of learning.  I feel very passionately that bringing an Arts and Crafts teacher into the school will give the children their first opportunity, within this environment, to express themselves creatively in a class.  Education shouldn't all be about heavy books and rulers!  ... We will keep you up to date with news and artwork from the classroom!

Kirstie with the Children of Sanita Convent School