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Pilgrim's trip to India ends at Calais as 'peace walk' is lost in translation

James Macintyre
Saturday 01 March 2008 01:00 GMT

A British "community pilgrim" who planned to walk from the UK to India penniless and in the name of peace was forced to turn back in Calais after locals accused him of being a "freeloader".

Mark Boyle, 28, a "free economy" campaigner who believes in bartering to replace money, set off from Bristol in January with the lofty ambition of reaching the birthplace of his idol, Mahatma Ghandi, some 9,000 miles away.

The plan was for Mr Boyle and two followers he picked up on the way to offer physical work and their friendship in exchange for accommodation, sustenance and general good will.

But the love-in came to an abrupt and very premature end when it became clear that there was a language barrier and that the French didn't quite get the point.

"Not only did one not speak the language, they also see us as just a bunch freeloading backpackers, which is the complete opposite of what the pilgrimage is really about," Mr Boyle wrote in his blog at

"That really scared us, and given that we now were pretty much out of food, hadn't slept in days and were really cold, we had to reassess the whole situation."

The language barrier was the predominant problem, according to Mr Boyle. "We spoke to a few people who were willing to talk and they said that France would not go for this unless we could speak fluent French, which none of us could.

"The advice was to make a beeline to Belgium, as folk said they would be more likely to want to speak English." Sadly, Bruges – the nearest Belgian town – was 105 miles away.

Mr Boyle, who quit a senior role in an organic food company in July to concentrate on the "Freeconomy" movement, explained that they were unlikely "to be helped by the French people". "Deflated, we sat down and thought about what on Earth we were going to do – head off on a three-day hike to Bruges with practically no food and hope the situation got better, or to call it all off," he wrote.

On arrival in France, the hostility was not immediately clear. "After spending a night sleeping in a French toilet we arose full of spirit. The world was our oyster and we were ready to commit as many random acts of kindness as they could handle," Mr Boyle wrote at one point.

But soon Mr Boyle and his companions – armed with little more than a bar of chocolate, a tin of soup and a bag of nuts – were forced to buy tickets back to the UK, around where Mr Boyle has now vowed to transfer his "peace walk".

Mr Boyle wrote that this week "has been one of the toughest of my young life". He added: "I hope you understand the decision I had to make and accept my apology for letting you all down."

His original aim was to walk between 15 and 45 miles a day through France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, before ending the mammoth journey in Porbandar, the west coast Indian town.

But Mr Boyle has now modified his ambition. "I will leave Brighton, on the south coast of the UK ... on foot with the same passion I had the day I left Bristol," he wrote. "Whilst walking in the UK I intend to learn French and to hit the continent again."

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