Seize the Day

Posted by Jenny Gray on 24th May 2016

Jenny and Robert Gray Walking in Pyrenees10

It’s funny how ideas come to you. In the bath, up a ladder, in the queue at Tesco. In our case, the germ of a life-changing plan took root in a traffic jam on the M25. We had always enjoyed walking and, to the amusement of most of our city-based friends, were at our happiest when trudging through wild countryside in, mostly inclement weather. We completed the coast-to-coast walk twice, the first time being about twenty years ago when technology for walkers had not progressed beyond leather boots and wool jumpers with leather elbows that weighed enough to sink a ship, especially when soaking wet. The second time was about 10 years later and light-weight boots, moisture wicking layers and breathable waterproofs had made their wallet-emptying debut.

Anyway, back to this germ. We had done some walking in France and in an attempt to block out the trauma of shopping in Tesco; I started to muse on the possibility of walking the length of France. What! I hear you say. Is she mad? I spoke this idea out loud to Robert and during the rest of that day we discussed how this might come about. First problem. We were both gainfully employed. How would a six-month sabbatical sound to our employers? Second problem. Assuming problem one was sorted, what about the practicality? France is at least 1000 miles in length. Backpacking was out of the question – I had experienced trying to stand up with a rucksack that weighed more than Robert and that was without the kitchen-sink and my hair-dryer! Staying in B&Bs was also financially unviable, even if we opted for the French equivalent of Youth Hostels (have you ever tried a Youth Hostel?). So, Dear Reader, this is how we overcame all these problems and spent the happiest, most freeing six months of our lives…

Problem one – I decided that, at 59, I would take early retirement. I was working as Head of Operations at a major publishing house and when I said that I was going to retire, they went into some sort of hysterical over-reaction which was only calmed slightly by the fact that I said I would give them six month’s notice. Just as an aside, it’s really very liberating continuing to work somewhere for six months when you’ve handed in your notice. I had worked there for over 20 years and the last six months gave me a unique opportunity to give them the benefit of my advice on how they should run the company without danger of being sacked! I have to admit that I spent a great deal of those last months planning our trip! Robert was freelancing, also in publishing and rather fortuitously, they agreed to welcome him back on his return to the UK. So that was problem one sorted.

Problem Two – this was rather a brainwave, albeit an expensive one. We bought a motorhome. It was a medium sized second-hand one, which we named Harvey (RV – recreational vehicle – get it?). The plan was that we would drive in a horse-shoe shape around France, staying in places for a few days and walking on those days. We kept a meticulous note of our mileage.

Just to finish this tale – we walked 1100 miles, stayed in 44 campsites. We drove 4200 miles in Harvey. We ate our own weight in French bread and cheese and travelled through the most beautiful scenery. But most of all – we experienced true freedom and we learned that dreams in a Tesco check-out queue can become reality and give you memories that last for the rest of your life.

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