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Randonnées can encompass relatively short walks or major routes of several hundred kilometres. You might decide to take in the surroundings of your favourite local village or walk part or all of the Camino de Santiago. Whatever your route, there are basic principles to bear in mind.

Jenny Michell and Keith Pantlin describe themselves as a pair of ageing but energetic Australians and have been walking around different parts of France for nearly 20 years. “For us” they say, “the joy of walking in France is not so much in the wilderness areas but in the settled agricultural parts, with their farms, villages and historical ruins. This part of France is fabulous as the villages tend not to be spread too far apart.”

Jenny Michell and Keith Pantlin

As a pastime, randonnées are not only healthy but they are very relaxing. “One thing we notice about the long duration walks” Jenny adds, “is how our thinking changes. After the first few days we settle into a very simple, peaceful frame of mind, in which we appreciate little things like a drink of water, a rest under a shady tree, or a conversation with a farmer.”

Every year, they use Géoportail, the website of the IGN (Institut Géographique Nationale) to map out a route of about 700 kms in a month, i.e. about 23 km a day. Planning is an essential part of the trip and involves much more than looking at paths and roads.

Jenny explains “The best months are April to October but whatever the length of the walk, you need to take into account the daylight hours, the opportunities to stop and eat or take photographs and, of course, access to water.  We have had a few close shaves when an expected bar or shop didn’t materialise on a hot day but cemeteries always have a tap for watering flowers. If staying overnight, bear in mind that you won’t want to be setting up camp in the dark.

“The important thing is not to carry too much. Around 7kgs each is plenty for a long distance walk where you will need a tent, sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses and a change of clothes. Whatever the duration, you should always carry a plastic poncho in case of rain.”

Apart from travel light and take enough water, top tips for a safe, enjoyable journey include buying boots on the big side and wearing extra socks to stop blisters. Take two credit cards, visit the Tourist Office for up to date information, trust your compass and believe in your route, beat the heat and set off early, be aware of half-day closing as well as opening hours on Sundays and Mondays and, last but not least, go West or you will have the sun in your eyes all morning.

A wide variety of maps are available from the website. The shorter tracks are known as Promenades et Randonnées (PRs), with Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRPs) being the longer tracks which loop around a particular area. Long distance walking tracks, the Grandes Randonnées (GRs), are nearly always on ancient cobbled roads, farm tracks, canal towpaths, abandoned railway lines or forestry tracks.

First published in the March/April 2019 issue of The Local Buzz

Images: Jenny Michell and Keith Pantlin