BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
Despite wild children and a mad dog, our trombone-playing Englishman keeps on walking
Sunday 02 May 1999
3pm, leave Leuven; 4pm, my first hill - an emotional moment. 5pm, stop to ask for water. "Come in! Have a drink! Stay the night!" Top marks for Bart. "Meet my wife!" Nine months pregnant. Doesn't look happy to see me.
7pm, wife looks worried. "The baby's coming. Watch the house." They speed off to hospital. I watch the house.
2am, Bart returns. No news. "I'm not nervous!" Talk until 5am. Still no news. He goes to hospital, I set off southwards.
Noon. Cross the language barrier. One village "guden dag", the next "bonjour". Phone rings. Remove phone from case, sock, Tupperware box, plastic bags and rucksack (Me, paranoid?). It's Bart. "She's born, she's beautiful, will you be her godfather?" Only one possible answer.
Namur, gateway to the Ardennes. Two rivers, an imposing citadel and the finest museum in Belgium, the Musee des Tresors d'Oignies. Life-work of a 13th-century goldsmith and genius in small room in a convent. Go there.
Beg refuge at nearby farm. "Sleep in the hayloft." Joined by farmer's sons (10, eight, six) and friends (11, nine). Conversation degenerates into straw fight. Cries of "Au secours!" and "Vengeance!" (Still finding straw in kit a week later.)
Set off south-east. Ten minutes later, ambush! Dog charges from farm and bites me on the calf. Small child applauds. See red. Go for dog with both walking sticks. Dog terrified. Never seen a human foam at the mouth before. Flees. Child sulks. Walk on proudly, stop out of sight to dress wounds. Feel like a proper pilgrim.
More hills; hard work now. Ask for refuge at local chateau. "Ask the Scoots." The Scoots? Enter three boys in Baden-Powell hats: les Scouts. Invited to camp with them and join singsong. All in French. Learn lots of useful words. Few are in my dictionary. Don't ask.
The western Ardennes. Rolling hills and woods leading to the valley of the Ourthe: towering cliffs and ridges, more woods, flowery meadows, hidden chapels. Superb walking. Breathtaking views. Wish rucksack was lighter.
Reach La Roche-en-Ardenne on 23 April. Joined by Bart with first pictures of my goddaughter Manou. I'm as proud of her as he is. Toast her in cafe. Interrupted by barman. "Going to Santiago with that rucksack? That's some penance. You must have sinned a lot!"
For information on the charity trombone walk to Santiago de Compostela, visit: www. netplaycafe.co.uk/bonewalk
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