Liverpool to La Salette - Days 3+4

Day 3 - Gale force winds and rain from Dartford to Dover made this the slowest and most unpleasant morning's riding of the whole trip. Things brightened up literally and metaphorically in the afternoon as I got the ferry to Boulogne-sur-mer where I was met by a French friend.

Two years ago, during my 16-day cycle to Santiago de Compostella, I made 4 new friends during the last week from the Pyrenees to Santiago. Here’s a quote from my blog for that ride:

“I bumped into one particular group of four French pilgrims - who were mixing hiking with passages by car - a total of seven times between the Pyrenees (on the border between France and Spain) and Santiago, including in Santiago itself amongst the thousands of August pilgrims and tourists who flock there daily. Though each of these encounters was by chance, by the end it did seem to all of us to be far more than just coincidence that brought us together.”

Here they are during one of those accidental meetings at Portomarin.

We’ve been in regular contact ever since then, with them inviting me to come and stay if I ever got the chance. Both couples live 25 or so south of Boulogne. Once I’d arranged to stay with Christian (far left) and his wife Marie-Brigitte, Jean-Marie (far right), himself a keen cyclist, offered to ride to the port and then accompany me back to Christian’s house where I spent a lovely evening (with great French cooking!) with my four friends. Both couples are hoping to come and visit me in Liverpool at some point in the next 6 months. I look forward to being able to return the favour and welcome them here.

Jean-Marie meeting me off the ferry at Boulogne-sur-mer.

Day 4 - The next day, I rode over to Jean-Marie’s house to meet him and we rode together for the next couple of hours, which was very kind of him and gave me much appreciated company. He took me along quiet cycle tracks away from the main road which gave us the chance to chat about all sorts of things. You know how sometimes in life you meet people and you feel that it is a God-given encounter, a grace-filled blessing? Well, I felt that in Spain when we met for the 7th time in Santiago itself and Christian told me his full name... Christian Frère, ie. “Christian Brother”!!!! And what am I? :-) The founder of my congregation was Fr. Jean-Marie De La Mennais... Jean-Marie!! “Hmmmm, something going on here,” I thought. And although they are not practicing Christians, so did my 4 friends.

The morning ride with Jean-Marie added a fair few extra kms to what was already going to be my longest day of riding, but it was worth it for the pleasure it seemed to give him to show me round his native countryside and for the enjoyment we both got from each other’s company.

Jean-Marie and myself as we parted company.

Later that day, during (surprise, surprise!) a long period of heavy rain, I had a front wheel puncture in a bend on a descent on the way into the small town of Gilocourt. Fortunately, I managed to keep control of the bike despite the wet road surface. I pulled in to change the inner tube. A gentleman then came out of his house to offer me the chance to do the job under shelter and have a drink. I ended up spending a good while chatting with this lovely man. Another of those blessed encounters.

In the end I arrived at my destination, Jouarre Convent (east of Paris), at about 7.30pm, where my former Canon Law lecturer from my 4 years study in Paris, Père Achille Mestre (Benedictine monk) was there to welcome me. He currently acts as Chaplain to the nuns at Jouarre, on top of his Canon Law lecturing in Paris and various other related duties. In 1996, I did a 3-week retreat to prepare for my final vows in his monastery in a gloriously picturesque part of the southern French Alps, l’Abbaye de Ganagobie.

Père Achille
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