Steps for South Sudan

24.09.20

Steps for South Sudan - Quick Recap

Experienced long-distance walker, Juliet Hill, is helping us to trek all the way from Coventry in the UK to Ibba in South Sudan. The walk is, of course, completely virtual! Juliet has worked hard to map out a route, around 8,494 kilometres, walking many of those herself - and we need your help to add up to that distance together.

How does it work? You can donate ‘trek kilometres’ by walking, running, cycling or even swimming, and letting us know how far you have gone by email (to Juliet at [email protected]) or on Virgin Money Giving. We then suggest donating £1 per kilometre - or getting friends and family to sponsor you. We need both your kilometres and your donations to get us to Ibba.

Donate on Virgin Money Giving here, or give up to £20 by text message: just text the word STEPS followed by the amount you want to donate to 70470 (e.g. "STEPS 5" will donate £5).*

Learn more about Juliet and how Steps for South Sudan came about here!

Update: Thursday 24 September

Distance travelled: 3907km

Today, we pass through a place, which - despite blending into its surroundings - has a dark secret from the past hiding underground. We are in In Ekker, a small village in the southern Sahara, once used as a French atomic testing site. Between November 1961 and February 1966 the French carried out 17 underground nuclear tests - all given code names of precious gemstones.

Unfortunately, these tests created lots of harmful radiation which spilled out across the desert, causing vast health problems for the nomadic communities. These people weren’t taken into account by the short-sighted officials choosing the site for these tests- in the eyes of French government, the tests were held in a completely empty desert.

There isn’t much to see as we walk past now - just some barbed wire (apparently still radioactive - woah!), and the odd sign. You really wouldn’t have guessed that anything had ever happened here.

Update: Friday 18 September

Distance travelled: 3723km

Phew! Today we really worked our legs as we started on a long incline as we slowly crept onto higher ground. We are steadily gaining altitude and are about 150km away from the highest point we will reach in all the countries we travel through in Africa.

Travelling at a higher altitude is hard work and our calves are dying, but there is one small benefit - it's not as hot! It's still boiling to a person used to living in a temperature range of about -5 to 25°C (that's 23 to 77°F), but the coolness it definitely a welcome change.

There was the most stunning sunset today - pinks and oranges strewn across the sky. We had to stop and just stare at it for a while. So mesmerising!

Update: Tuesday 15 September

Distance travelled: 3408km

As we head through the desert, we are mostly surrounded by rock and sand and all kinds of desert life, but occasionally we pass an oasis town. This gives us (and our camels) a day or two of rest and we are able to stock up on supplies. It's always so fascinating seeing these towns and meeting the locals for whom a 45°C day (113°F) is perfectly normal - I wonder what they'd make of a rainy day in Scotland!

Today, we arrived in In Salah, which is just on the side of the Tademait Plateau. It used to be a massively important trade link between northern and central Africa, but less so now due to a developing gas field 100km away. Nomadic Tuareg people still visit and dates are still exported out. This town is another place that has an amazing irrigation system allowing inhabitants to grow palm groves, fruit and vegetables.

Because the desert is constantly shifting, these wells have to be protected by hedges to stop the sand encroaching on them. The sand moves so much that houses are being covered all the time, but as one side is covered by sand another is uncovered - they just work out whose house it was and the family moves! So clever!

Update: Monday 7 September

Distance travelled: 3000 km

Today we have reached another oasis town in the desert! El Menia (or previously called El Golea) is at the beginning of the more southern part of the Sahara Desert where daytime temperatures can regularly reach 45 degrees Celsius. (No. Thank. You.) Despite this extreme heat, date palms grow aplenty around here. It really is a strange sight to see, after just rocks and sand for so long, to suddenly have hundreds of thousands of date palms growing around the town!

Whilst we were here, we climbed to the top of the ancient ksar and saw the most spectacular views of the entire town and even more beautiful sand dunes out to the west.

The majority of people who live here are Zenete Berbers; they are so friendly and love to share their culture with visitors. Tafsut and her baby daughter Illi invited us inside their home to offer us the most amazing tea. We told them we'd just been to the ksar, so she shared with us the legend of the the Moroccan Sultan and the beautiful Sultana who once ruled the ksar. Sipping tea and hearing this wonderful story, we almost felt like we were in our own fairytale!

Update: Wednesday 2 September

Distance travelled: 2839 km

The next place we have stumbled upon after days of walking, seeing the sun rise and set over the same horizon, is a town called Hassi Fehal. We stocked up on some supplies and said hello to a guy and his camel - he was definitely very proud of it and asked if we wanted to have a go riding it!

Last night, we were in our tents sleeping softly when we heard some sort of commotion going on outside - lots of growling and thudding noises. (To be honest it was pretty terrifying, we just kept perfectly still and prayed that whatever it was wouldn't come looking for a human-sized midnight snack in our tent). In the morning, we went to go and have a look and our Berber guide said they were hyena tracks! Whatever it was trying to kill (probably a snake or a big lizard of some sort) seemed to have managed to get away.

Update: Tuesday 1 September

Distance travelled: 2760 km

Today we crossed the ‘river’ Oued Metlili. At the moment it's not a river - just a very dry riverbank. We do have to be careful though, because sometimes flash floods appear around this time of the year, caused by massive thunderstorms. Even a few centimetres of rain can cause huge torrents of water to quickly engorge the channels! Getting caught in one of these floods would be (very) bad news, so we have to make sure we are ready to get to higher ground if we ever see just the tiniest trickle of water coming our way.

This afternoon we came across the most wonderful rock formation - rainbow rocks! Technically, it is a rainbow sediment stratum of the Albian Early Cretaceous (aka a long, long, long time ago). The layers are beautiful colours (and incredibly clearly defined!) - stacks of blue, red, white, orange, green and yellow rock on top of each other. What could be better?

Update: Friday 21 August

Distance travelled: 2703 km

If you think of the Sahara Desert you probably think of endless sand dunes and not much else, but I promise you that is not the case. Today we arrived in Ghardaïa (or غرداية in Arabic/Taɣerdayt in Mzab-Berber), a wondrous city in the heart of Northern Algeria.

Ghardaïa is part of a pentapolis (fancy word) - it, along with four other villages (Melika, Beni Isguen, Bou Noura and El Atteuf), all designed identically. They were built by the ancient Mozabites who invented an amazing system of wells to access the groundwater (that was deep deep deep below the surface). This meant that they could grow date palms and have a fresh supply of water to live off. Ghardaïa is a massive market town with a bustling souk where carpets and date goods are a favourite. Mmmmm dates! We have been having the most incredible dates during our stop off here - so squidgy and rich. Dates are a really important part of life here, not just for eating but also for shade and for wood. Only the dead trees are cut down though as the palms are considered living beings that sustain the inhabitants.

Even though we are in the middle of the desert, the architecture in Ghardaïa is absolutely stunning. There is a similar feel to Algiers with lots of levels of terraces made out of sand, clay and gypsum (a soft white-ish rock for those not geologically inclined). This means the buildings are a beautiful mix of pink, white and red. We spent the night in a wonderful pink house, a bit like you would find in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (also known as Balamory for those of you with little ones!) Our hosts for the night were a lovely family who had lived there for their whole lives. They told us stories of life in the desert and the dad, Igider, showed us all the constellations you could see. It was amazing just lying there staring out at the sky admiring nature's fairy lights.

In the morning he took us to the palace mosque (oh my goodness, this place is a palace indeed!) The precision of the lines and the colours were beyond awe-inspiring.

G

Photo credit: Yves Jalabert

Hiking Around Memorial Park: Tuesday 18 August

A big thank you to everyone who joined us in Memorial Park, Coventry, on Tuesday 18th to help raise awareness for the school and the Steps for South Sudan challenge - and many kilometres of hiking around the park!

2020 08 18 Steps in Memorial Park

Update: Friday 14 August

Hi everyone, I thought I’d take this time whilst we shelter from the heat to tell you about some of our fantastic walkers again:

Firstly, our friends at Evenlode Park have been at it again!

‘On Sunday 19th July, we did our second sponsored walk for Ibba Girls’ School. We met outside St. Mary's Church Lower Slaughter, and then followed the Macmillan Way to the River Windrush before it runs into Bourton on the Water. We followed this along a steep wooded valley and then into some meadows where the river meanders lazily along. Here Lydia was ambushed by a snake (they seem to love her!). It was a grass snake which had to be at least a metre long! Then we went into Naunton where we stopped for a round of soft drinks at the Black Horse Inn. From there we met the Warden's way as it slopes up out of Naunton and followed it along the hilltops until we crossed the B4068 and entered an umbrageous peaceful valley, walking alongside the River Eye into Upper Slaughter. From Upper Slaughter we rode a swell back into Lower! All in all it was close to 15 K (9 miles).’

Evenlode

Secondly, we love that some of you have been donating your everyday steps and some going out on special walks to get in the kilometres in but safe to say this was one of the slightly stranger routes we’ve had - from Farmer Giles! Can you guess where it’s from?

Screenshot 20200726 190217

And about some EXCITING news:

On the 18th and 27th of August from 3-7pm we will be hosting an event in the War Memorial Park in Coventry! We are hoping to get lots of new walkers to help us cross the Sahara and to spread the word about the ‘Steps for South Sudan’ campaign and the school in general! If you live locally and would like to support us now is the perfect time to tell your friends, families, neighbours, hairdressers, baristas, dog groomers etc about the cause and invite them along to take part. Hope to see you there!

PS. If you want to share the stories of the walks you’ve been on just send me a short passage about it and a photo or two if you like and I’ll endeavour to share it with us all

Update: Wednesday 12 August

Distance travelled: 2590 km

Today we have been walking in the Laghouat Province in the Sahara Desert. As it is so hot out here we do most of our walking when the sun is very low in the sky - this means just after sunrise and just before sunset. When it gets too hot we set up a shelter and try to sleep. Walking on sand has been a whole new experience too. (I swear for every step you make you sink into the sand even more!)

As the Sahara is so big and there are obviously no shops around (except the SANDwich shop - ha ha!) we have had food and water deliveries by camel (so cool). Camel caravans are a very common thing here - they can involve hundreds of camels roped together carrying supplies into and out of the desert, led by a tracker. Our guide even told us some exciting stories of finding scorpions inside the packages...

Update: Monday 10 August

Distance travelled: 2509 km

It’s here (drum roll please...)

We’ve finally reached the Sahara Desert! The Sahara Desert is the largest in the world. It spans most of North Africa, 11 countries in total, and covers an area of about 8.6 million square kilometres (I say 'about' because the sand dunes are constantly shifting, expanding and contracting). It is an arid desert made up of sand dunes/sheets called ergs, oasis depressions, shallow basins that are filled in the winter called chotts or dayas, extensive gravel-covered plains called series or regs, plateaus strewn with rocks called hammadas, and mountains that abruptly rise from nowhere. There’s lots more to a desert than sand.

In order to not get lost on this sandy adventure, we have hired a guide and some of his camel friends to help us out. Our guide has lived in the Sahara desert all his life and knows the dunes like the back of his hand (so impressive). He also gave us lots of tips about life in the desert (which were very gladly received). We always knew this section would probably be the hardest of the trip but I think most of us (myself included) had frazzled-up just at the thought of 40-degree heat (and that's not even the hottest it will get).

Finally, as the sun began to set (stunning) and the stars began to come out (the stars, of my, the stars, I am almost speechless) we started to get a little chilly (never thought I’d be saying that either). Turns out it can reach minus degrees in the night! *shivers*

Update: Thursday 6 August

Distance travelled: 2497 km

Today we walked through the last mountain range before the Sahara Desert - the Ouled Naïl Mountains! They are not the tallest mountains around, the tallest sits just under 1500m (practically a bump in the road compared to the incline up from Algiers at sea level) but boast the most stunningly jagged walls of limestone and sandstone. These mountains are named after the semi-nomadic and nomadic Ouled Naïl tribe who live in parts of the Saharan Atlas and are descended from Arabs that arrived there over a thousand years ago.

We saw some black and red tents in little groups - these are what they stay in when travelling around to rear their cattle.

Despite a few blustery moments we slept so well that evening, each a little excited (and a little terrified) for what the Sahara Desert would bring...

Update: Saturday 1 August

Distance travelled: 2347 km

Heading further into Algeria, we are still having fun in the Atlas mountains. Every day we find ourselves having to climb the terrain for a bit (it's hot and tiring but we get the most magnificent views) and then head all the way back down again. We decided to change things up a bit yesterday by going for a sunrise hike. We did half the day's walking before the sun had even risen. It was incredible to see the sky transform from a star-studded sea of inky blackness as a golden orb burst through the horizon. It was like nothing else I've ever seen! Naturally, the early start meant we could then justify a well-deserved afternoon nap! The remainder of the kilometres were spent trudging along a hot and dusty track. Hey, I never said hiking was easy...

Update: Tuesday 28 July

Distance travelled: 2335 km

Having left the buzz of Algiers behind us, we headed south to make our way through the whole of Algeria. Walking through Chrea National Park was amazing! It is one of the largest national parks in Algeria which sits in the Blidean Atlas Mountains. Because it sits in the mountains it means it is one of the few places you can going skiing in Africa with natural snow (I mean there isn’t enough snow up there right now but how much fun would that be?).

We walked through the park, slowly increasing our altitude, (and gave ourselves a quick pat on the back for how much easier it was to climb than when we were in France) and noticed the trees all around us. We learnt that it was actually an ancient Atlas cedar forest but also included holm oak, cork oak and pine trees (that’s one for all you tree lovers out there). The forest was lovely and dense but perhaps the MOST exciting part was that it is one of the few habitats in Algeria that supports the Barbary Macaque (yes you read that right, monkeys!) You don’t get that in the UK or France now do you. Sadly these beautiful friends are endangered but we think we might have seen one. We definitely heard them anyway.

After an awe-inspiring day we were ready for some food so found a wonderful café serving all the traditional dishes – some ended up being quite familiar – couscous, tagine (but 1000 times better than you’ve ever had it!) and some new – bourek (fried spring rolls), mhajeb (flat bread with onions and tomato sauce) and slata mshwiya (roasted pepper with tomato sauce and olive oil). They say you can tell so much about a culture through their dishes and the spices and flavours in these warmed my body as much as the friendship from the locals warmed my heart and soul.

Update: Tuesday 21 July

Distance travelled: 2324 km

Algiers! WHAT a city! Getting off the boat we were greeted by a colourful hubbub of smells, sounds and smiles against a background of white. The buildings tumble down the hill to the shore, with the glaring sunshine heightening the contrast of white and blue. We have had such a great time exploring and treating ourselves. Algiers has an amazing heritage, and we began in the Kasbah, a UNESCO world heritage site which is a maze of corridors and alleys, with street vendors selling all sorts of wares including many I'd never seen before. Next up were the Ketchaoua Mosque and the Notre Dame d'Afrique Basilica (so so beautiful!).

We had lunch in the el-Hamma botanical garden (and if you know me you know I LOVE a botanical garden and this one was so good), before an afternoon of education about the French rule in Algeria from 1830 until 1962. The Maqaam esh-Shaheed (Martyr's Memorial) stands high above the city, honouring those Algerians who fought for their independence, and as we stood under its soaring palm-leaf-shaped arches, some of us were reminded again of our own white privilege. As we set off across Africa, we will resolved again to strive to be anti-racist in everything we do and to amplify the voices of those who have been - and continue to be - ignored and abused in the past. Our distant destination in South Sudan is one small but meaningful way of putting this resolve into practice.

Algiers

Photo credit: Omar-Malo, photograph of Algiers on Flickr

Thank you to our supporters

Hi, Juliet here. We have had lots of fantastic walkers take part in this challenge so I thought I’d introduce you to a few of them and let them tell you about the actual walk they went on. First up meet our friends from Evenlode Vale Churches.

‘Our youth group, 7 of us and Biggles the dog, walked 13 kilometres starting in the beautiful town of Stow-on-the-Wold. We walked through Lower Swell, down an old Roman road towards Condicote, then on through Donnington before finishing back in Stow. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had the excitement of seeing a grass snake too!’

Thank you for your walk and for donating your 'steps' to our campaign, I hope you had a wonderful time!

Walk

Update: Wednesday 15 July

Distance travelled: 2170 km

We left sunny Marseille and are now on the ferry crossing the Mediterranean Sea, waving goodbye to southern France and watching the land slowly fade away. The rhythm of gliding through the waves with the sea breeze in our hair is making us feel at peace, especially watching the sunset (it is one of the most glorious sights watching a sunset with absolutely nothing on the horizon – one moment it’s there and the next it’s gone leaving a sky of pink and gold in its wake). It is around 10.30pm now and going to be a long night so we had better get some rest in our bunks.

We are so excited to dock tomorrow and put our feet down on Algerian soil for the very first time. Salam’alikum Algiers! We can't wait to see what this wonderful country has to offer. Algiers, the capital of Algeria, is known as ‘The White City’ and is said to be absolutely stunning. We are definitely going to have to explore!

Update: Tuesday 14 July

Distance travelled: 2073 km

We’ve made it to our two thousand kilometre mark! What an achievement! Having enjoyed a mix of hot and steep walks in the countryside between Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, that hot fragrant smell of pine forests in the summer is so emotive for me. If I smell that randomly on a walk I’m instantly transported to any hike I’ve been on – I can feel the dappled sunlight on my closed eyelids, the sound of birds chattering around me, the warmth and the magnitude of pine trees towering above me creating a canopy and the soft earth covered with pine cones and needles crackling underneath me as I take step after step.

The Sainte-Victoire mountains looked incredible as we saw them from multiple different hilltop villages on our route – each a jumble of red-rooved houses peppered along the mountainside. The influence of the famous painter Cézanne is obvious (he’s the one who painted loads of still life and big landscapes from around here) the colours and scenes he painted stand as beautifully in real life (and you can totally see why he spent so much of his time here!).

We stay outside of Rognac tonight and we can definitely smell the sea from here. 31 km left and we’ll be sitting at the port ready to sail away!

Update: Tuesday 7 July

Distance travelled: 1966 km

Hello everyone! Sorry that we haven't sent you an update for a few days, we just got into the rhythm of walking so peacefully through France and haven't had a chance to update you all on our progress. Today, we arrived at the Pont du Gard, an amazing Roman bridge. It was built in the first century and is 275 metres long, 30 metres longer than London's iconic Tower Bridge. Its architecture is just incredible. It is almost like bridges on top of bridges. I have included a photo below.

We are also now only 142 km from boarding our ferry to Algiers – we had glimpses of the sea from the mountains and now we can’t wait to actually get there! But for now, we will carry on past Nimes and heading for Aix-en-Provence to hopefully enjoy some wonderful food markets and sunshine.

Pont du Gard

General campaign update

Hello to everybody already supporting this mammoth journey of ours! We just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who has already donated, we literally couldn’t have done it without you. As we near the end of our European leg we are realising more and more how much further we still have to go and how many steps that is going to take.

So we are putting a call out for more walkers, and for this, we need your help! Do you have groups of friends who don’t know about this? Or family who would like to get involved? What about work colleagues or members of your community (especially those who do lots of walking without realising – dog walkers, I’m looking at you!) Please help us spread the word about this and help us inch nearer to the end goal of Ibba, South Sudan.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and we hope you have a wonderful day.

Update: Monday 29 June

Distance travelled: 1894 km

Hello lovely supporters! We're now within 100km of the Mediterannean coast and within striking distance of the border with what is still known culturally as 'le Midi' - the South of France to you and me - and we've decided that the lure of the Mediterranean is so strong we're going to branch out and get across to Africa as quickly as possible. So... we are striking out to Marseille now - only 218 km away! - and taking the ferry across to Algeria! Hopefully we'll be able to cross the famous Roman aqueduct the Pont du Gard tomorrow (89 km away), and then we can stride into Provence and inhale the calming fragrance of lavender fields on the way to the bustling port city of Marseille.

Some of us have never been to Africa before, so travelling through 7 of its 55 countries - of which South Sudan is the newest - will be the adventure of a lifetime! Why not join us as we head towards the 'White City' of Algiers and step out onto African soil?

Anyway, for now we are in a lovely forest near Les Vans (no vans to be seen though?) and have had a wonderful day walking and looking at maps to see what we can get excited about on the way south!

Update: Saturday 27 June

Distance travelled: 1839 km

We had a great walk today on some higher ground – and even (almost) along a ridgeline between Suc de la Lauzière, Suc de Séponet and Mont du Vivarais. The views were absolutely stunning and as it was a clear day you could see for miles and miles. We saw some tiny dots at the summit of Mont du Vivarais and realised they must have been people. We also met some day hikers on this last section of the GR7 – they were wonderfully friendly. Tonight, we are staying a couple of kilometres outside Sagnes-et-Goudoulet, past the river crossing of the river ‘La Padelle’. The camp spot we picked out sits at the highest elevation we have camped at so far, and as it was so hot today, we really hope it isn’t too chilly tonight!

Update: Friday 26 June

Distance travelled: 1800 km

Wow, it was a hot day for walking!

The only way we are managing to hike through this heat is to jump into any and every river/pool of water we pass (our favourite has been the river Lignon du Velay)! We have quite a hilly section ahead of us, so we are praying for a big thunderstorm to clear this weather. I absolutely love thunderstorms for some reason (call me unusual I know) – there is something so exciting about the flashes and bangs that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

We are camping tonight near a village called Les Vastres (which every year holds a cabbage festival, such a shame we are a month too early). It sits below Mont Mezenc and near lots of other mountains, giving us splendid views to enjoy as we walk (and watch the sunset behind too). So magical!

Update: Tuesday 23 June

Distance travelled: 1765 km

Phew, it is HOT today! We had a brilliant, if not tiring day, up and down some slightly more mountainous paths. There are still lots of farms and pastures around but we are definitely seeing more ascent and descent changes in our day. Despite the heat, we had some lovely trees to shelter under and a gentle breeze when we got higher up. Passing through lots of little villages, we saw lots of pottery shops and other little artists' galleries. We wished we could have bought a lovely mug or bowl but we didn’t really have room in our bags (and it would have probably got smashed anyway). We will have to come back another time when we aren’t carrying everything we need on our backs.

We are camping today in a village called Saint Bonnet le Froid. There are spectacular views – we really hope it’s a good sunset because this view would be wonderful if there is!

Update: Sunday 21 June

Distance travelled: 1721 km

… and breathe! We’ve had a wonderful few days staying in a guesthouse, relaxing, organising and cleaning. Lots of us needed to get new equipment like new shoes or walking poles so we decided the best thing to do would be to have some ‘zero’ days (walkers' lingo for sitting about all day eating and drinking to give your body a break). This also meant we could do some serious cleaning (top tip: if you walk past someone on trail and wonder what that strange smell is, and its deodorant, you probably smell pretty bad).

Today we ended up just outside a village called Le Planil. It lies in the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat – amazing hillsides covered in green pastures, beech and fir tree forests and orchards. It’s so pretty and is the start of our journey through numerous Parc naturels for the next few hundred kilometres.

It’s going to be so much fun, why don’t you invite someone to join us!

Update: Tuesday 16 June

Distance travelled: 1683 km

Not much to report today, we had a lovely peaceful walk north of Saint Ètienne (which is apparently the snowiest city in France so good job we’re not hiking in the winter!) with lovely views of the Alps to the side (especially Mont Blanc). We’re only about 100km away from Switzerland here (anyone fancy a little detour?): many of us are dreaming of skiing right now – especially in this heat.

We camp tonight just outside Saint-Christo-en-Jarez, a town that has existed since at least the 9th century and faces Mont Pilat. We will have a lovely dinner looking at the spectacular scenery around us and sleep at the feet of mountains (or snoozing giants depending how you view them)- amazing!

We’ve had some great donations from teams of two people recently – one person doing the walking and one person doing the donation – so if you would love to get involved but are unable to walk for any reason or aren’t in a position to be able to donate, then why not team up with another person and become the dreamiest of dream teams?!

Update: Monday 15 June

Distance travelled: 1641 km

Just a short walk today as we are having the afternoon off to … HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY (wahay)! It’s Ibba Girls’ School’s 6th birthday today so we are spending the afternoon celebrating – games, music and food (we managed to find a tiny little patisserie, so naturally we bought treats for us to enjoy). We have enjoyed some Lyon delicacies such as praline tart, bugnes (tiny little donuts sometimes called ‘angel wings’), coussin de Lyon (marzipan and curaçao chocolate bites) and cervelle de canut (fromage frais with herbs). Yum.

Luckily it was a beautifully clear morning today so we were treated to glimpses of the Alps as we walked. It’s starting to get more mountainous as we enter the Rhône-Alpes region; time to get the quads really burning (the views totally make up for it though)! We were near the foot of Mont Boussuivre today, it was wonderful to look up and see its peak so high above us.

We camp at Violay tonight before we set off for another great day tomorrow.

It is fantastic that we are here after six years; why not send us a donation as a birthday present so we can continue for another six (and more!)? Find out how you can help Ibba Girls' School celebrate.

Update: Sunday 14 June

Distance travelled: 1618km

Hi everyone, it’s me Juliet again (surprise surprise)! We have covered such a long way in the last few days so I wanted to thank everybody who has donated to get us this far (thank your toes for me too)! Tonight we are stopping between Ronno and Saint-Appolinaire in the middle of a lovely forest. The terrain has stayed pretty similar for the last section – a mixture of lush forests, fields and scrub – but there has been a constant supply of new faces. Lots of hikers out for the day (or two) and even more cyclists enjoying the excellent cycle paths (isn’t it nice to see so many people outside having fun).

Unfortunately, lots of our walking shoes have begun to break slightly or lost their ankle support so we will definitely be taking a little off-trail trip to an outdoor shop once we get nearer to Lyon (in about 50km or so) to pick up some more shoes, gas and whatever else breaks before then…

Talk soon

Update: Saturday 13 June

Distance travelled: 1416km

Another bumper day today! We flew past Dijon, stopping only briefly to see the Museum of Fine Arts inside a spectacular 14th-century palace (incroyable, génial and chouette all apply!) and the Palace of the Dukes and Estates of Burgundy (again stunning), and to sample some of the famous export (the mustard, of course!). Talking of famous exports, Gustave Eiffel (of tower fame) was actually born here.

We are well into the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region of France and enjoying the green rolling hills and medieval villages we pass (we could even be back in Surrey). The sun has peeked out from behind the clouds, which definitely helps our moods.

Tonight we are camping just outside Arcenant in a field with lots of space so we can all gather in a circle. We have got into the routine of doing some stretchy yoga each night (to try to prevent any injuries, but it’s also a nice way to wind down as a group) and share our favourite moment of the day and something we feel grateful for. It’s a great way to recognise and remember the privileges we carry and help us clear our minds for the next day - why not try it yourself?

Update: Friday 12 June

Distance travelled: 1285 km

Another great day here in 'walking land'. The most momentous occasion today was swapping trails. We left the Via Francigena at Langres and swapped over onto the Grande Randonée (GR 7). This will take us all the way to Tarifa in Spain (our most southern point in Europe and where we will travel to Africa from!)

Our final kilometres on the Via Francigena were quite something. Langres is a spectacular walled city, made up of 3.5 km of ramparts and 12 big towers. We spent a moment exploring the town (and were mightily impressed) before we headed on with our eyes and feet set for the south.

We have already seen some beautiful chateaus hidden away in forests and near fields along the GR 7. We are outside Pierrefontaines tonight, camping in the forest wondering what wild animals we may see.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Update: Wednesday 10 June

Distance travelled: 1224 km

Wow, what a day. We walked through the deep forests of the Haute-Marne region, passing more remnants of Roman roads and even an archaeological tomb too. Walking through the forest is so atmospheric – the oak trees tower above you quietly watching everything, the leaves flutter in the breeze and the sun streaming through the foliage covers the forest floor in shadow and light.

We even had time to stop off at Bar-sur-Aube (unfortunately not that kind of bar) which used to be an important place for trade between the North and the South. Traders came from Flanders and Italy to exchange oriental spices, silk, textiles and raw products from northern Europe.

Tonight we are camping outside a tiny village called Mormant. We have loved walking along the Via Francigena but realised today we only have 36 km on it until we change trail (time flies eh?) I wonder how quickly we can get there?

Update: Monday 8 June

Distance travelled: 1137 km

We had another good day of walking today although we are getting slightly tired of the same old porridge every single morning. But it’s easy to carry, high in energy, doesn’t spoil, and keeps us going for ages. To try to spice things up a bit we’ve set up a challenge to see who can come up with the weirdest (but tastiest) toppings! Let’s just say it got interesting…

In this section, we stopped off in Lesmont to walk on the remains of the actual Roman road that links Reims to Langres – and what the original pilgrim Sigeric would have walked on (how cool is that?!). We also visited Brienne Castle where the young Napoleon Bonaparte studied in military school - so much interesting history. Today’s walk was especially beautiful (I love lakes) as we were walking near a regional natural park, the Parc naturel régional de la Forêt d’Orient, where three large reservoirs regulate the flow of the Seine and the Aube.

Anyway, we are stopping today a little before Amance for some well needed R&R!

Talk soon

Update: Saturday 6 June

Distance travelled: 1084 km

We are once again in Champagne plain. We met a really passionate winemaker today who told us all about the right types of grape to use and the process of making the perfect champagne.

We also visited (during a sneaky off-trail trip) the Lac du Der. It’s the largest artificial lake in Europe (so cool right!) and was built to regulate the flow of the river Marne to prevent it from flooding Paris. Now we are about 6km outside of Outine, in a village called Bailly-le-Franc. It was very rainy today and the ground quite soggy but thankfully we have been invited to sleep in the church this evening (thank you, kind church people). We had quite a surprise when we arrived – it was the most beautiful half-timbered church (apparently they are very common around this area) with so many fun decorations.

We hope the weather cheers up a bit tomorrow as waking in the rain isn’t much fun. Do head over to Twitter for an additional, fantastic and thought-provoking commentary by Friends of Ibba Girls' School trustee, Martina Yanga, on the walk with us.

Update: Friday 5 June

Distance travelled: 1029 km

Hello everyone, we hope you are well! We are now crossing what is known as ‘ Land of Chalk’. It was once used as a building material but nowadays is sent to the pharmaceutical industry (to be used in all that clever science stuff). We also set off following a new river today – the river Fion. There are lots and lots of mills around and fields and fields of wheat and barley waving in the wind (fun fact: to tell the difference between wheat and barley, barley have the little tufts of green coming out the top whereas wheat doesn’t). We are stopping just outside Saint Amand sur Fion today which is said to be one of the most beautiful villages in France (lucky us).

Today we met some girls on their way to school and we had a chat (in our very basic French). They thought what we were doing was so cool, but it also made us think about all the girls in Ibba we were doing this for. We weren’t just walking for a fun holiday (well it was fun and did feel like a holiday) but there was a really important reason behind what we were doing. We definitely walked quicker this afternoon, motivated by the thought of classrooms full of girls realising their potential in the world!

Update: Wednesday 3 June

Distance travelled: 1013 km

Today was a well-deserved rest day. We found ourselves relaxing on the banks of the Coole (it was pretty cool!) and lost track of time wandering through the Domaine de Coolus – a natural area rich in heritage value fauna and flora. We camp in St-Germain-la-Ville tonight and are hoping for clear skies for some more stargazing. It was quite drizzly today. We are hoping the sun will come out to dry our hiking boots or tomorrow morning is going to be a bit wet and cold...

Update: Tuesday 2 June

Distance travelled: 1000km

Oh my goodness we have done it! The first 1000 kilometres are in the bag. We are so incredibly proud of ourselves (mainly our feet) to have lasted this long (and to have raised over £1320 along the way.) We left the woodland and started walking alongside the canal that hugs the River Marne. Passing pond after pond after pond (and at each one searching for our beloved frog princes) we found out that these are old gravel pits in order to make sure buildings can be built with local materials!

After such a momentous day we are going to relax in one of the many parks here in Châlons-en-Champagne (more champagne anyone?) and explore the Notre-Dame-en-Vaux church and cloister – another stop on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed pilgrimage route we are walking.

Sitting in a beautiful park, with the sun streaming through the trees we can’t help reflect on the recent weeks; we’ve lost count of how many baguettes we’ve eaten our way through, how many moments have made us remember the pure joy of life, or how many starlit skies we’ve camped under and even the memories of walking down the Oxford Canal have become slightly hazy. But all of these are the signs of a great hike, and we are definitely ready for the next 1,000 kilometres!

We are going to continue into the Marne and Haute-Marne regions of France, so why not contact your friends and invite them to join in the fun!

Update: Monday 1 June

What a long day

Distance travelled: 964km

We are nearly at the 1,000km mark (whaaat?!) and can't wait to celebrate. Thankfully we're in the right place to do so as we're in champagne country. The grapes may not be ripe yet, but the champagne bars have been allowed to reopen.

It felt quite eerie passing the national necropolis in Berry-au-Bac, where nearly 4,000 people are entombed, and we've seen some amazing churches. The huge Gothic Laon Cathedral was visible for miles, St Martin's in Martigny-Coupierre was entirely rebuilt after the first world war and boasts amazing art deco stained glass, and of course Reims Cathedral's famous rose window is part of what gives it its well-deserved UNESCO world heritage status. All this stained glass looks brilliant in the bright sunshine!

We have set up camp near Villers-Marmery, near an amazing stand of twisted beech trees called 'the Faux', and are heading off for a glass of fizz!

Update: Saturday 30 May

Some days I forget a few of us haven't showered in a week

Distance travelled: 787 km

Hi friends, me again!

Today we reached Trefcon after some lovely kilometres through mostly farmland. This meant we got to see lots of wonderful old farmhouses and different coloured and sized fields (just like one big patchwork quilt). We even saw a horse-drawn carriage as well as lots of horses gallivanting about.

There have been many little lakes and ponds appearing around us and have become the perfect place to have a sneaky afternoon dip. We are definitely very much into the rhythm of walking and have reached the point where our minds seem very quiet and aren’t constantly busy with the worries of everyday life (although we did have a very long conversation about our favourite biscuits and which were most appropriate for dunking – serious stuff you know)!

We are camping tonight (lucky us) – I really hope no one camps on a cowpat...

Update: Thursday 28 May

The further we walk, the bigger our smiles get

Distance travelled: 759 km

We’ll be staying near the small village of Bouchavesnes-Bergen tonight. We passed so many small villages today, all in the same typical French style but all with their own unique touches – so pretty. Despite all the beauty, we have been finding out lots of historical facts during our walk in this area. Most prominent are the stories of The Battle of the Somme in WW1. We’ve walked past many military cemeteries, French, British and German. It seems strange to remember all that happened here as the sun shines and the birds chirp happily.

We also walked through Arras and went to marvel at the belfry, it’s classified by UNESCO to be a World Heritage site and was absolutely stunning.

We’ve had lots of new walkers to the team so I just wanted to take the chance to welcome you all!

Update: Wednesday 27 May

‘Cows spend a lot of time on their feet. I bet they have great calves.’

Distance travelled: 641km

Today we (almost) made it to Amettes and will be camping. The stars are supposed to be especially good tonight so we will be doing some stargazing (that’s if we don’t fall asleep first).

We have been spotting lots of wells along the way today – they are super famous here – and we have to say the water does taste better. The heat has been quite trialling recently (but we’d rather that than rain!) so we have been very grateful for any spots of woodland to shelter in or even any rivers to take a sneaky dip in. That’s the great thing about swimming on trail when it’s hot, you can put your soaking clothes back on and they are dry almost immediately (plus it definitely counts as a shower right?)

Unfortunately, both a rucksack and a shoe broke today within about 20 minutes of each other. It’s nothing gaffa tape can’t fix but we might have to get some extra ones sent to us if they carry on being troublesome.

Update: Tuesday 26 May

Ahh, what a fine country France is! It seems so long ago that we were making our way through the UK. We woke up this morning to stunning views of the White Cliffs of Dover, glistening blue sea and sky with a perfect white haze sandwiched inbetween.

We continued on the Via Francigena today. The Via Francigena follows the footsteps of pilgrims who walked from the ‘British Islands’ (UK) to the ‘Eternal City’ (Rome) in a time before the year 1000 (that is definitely before any of us were born!) We have been following waymarkers (the symbol for this trail is a tiny pilgrim) and have decided to give each a name as we pass them.

Leaving the coast (and the smell of the sea) behind we headed into the Boulonnais hills (only to be surprised with even better panoramic views of the sea). Zsófia spotted a magnificent windmill on the horizon and another, and another, and before we knew it we had fully committed to a ‘who can spot the windmill the quickest’ competition. A special highlight was eating lunch around the ruins of St. Louis’ chapel in Guémy!

We stopped a little outside Tournehem-Sur-La-Hem today ready for long night's sleep and are looking forward to what France will bring us tomorrow.

Update: Monday 25 May

‘Bonjour et bienvenue en France!’

Distance travelled: 515km

We did it! We are well and truly on French ground and officially in country number 2. We left sleepy England early this morning as we knew we had a mammoth day ahead and wanted to be extra sure we would make our Dover-Calais ferry crossing. As we walked through the Kent Downs, we got to wander through numerous beautiful tiny villages, each with their pretty (and frankly not so tiny) churches and yet more beautiful green.

Arriving in Dover (luckily with time to spare) we had our tickets ready and were eager to get on board. Many chugs later (is that the technical term?) and after a group photo or two (some of the group did look distinctly green by this point), they announced we had arrived in France. Ruth practically squealed with glee but we all had to admit we were bonkers excited…

Now that we are in France, we will be following the ‘Via Francigena’. It is first and foremost a pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome, but more about that later.

Excuse us now whilst we inhale as much baguette, cheese and local seafood as possible (and maybe even some frogs' legs, although one of the group advised us that they are mainly eaten in the Dombes region, the bit near the Jura mountains) and bed-down in a slightly shabby (we’ll call it shabby chic) motel just outside Calais. We want to get some sleep so we can properly enjoy the view back to the Kent coast tomorrow as we walk along like the cliffs of Les Deux Caps tomorrow in this spectacular weather.

Update: Sunday 24 May

Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll be amazed where you can find yourself

We walked another wonderful 53 km today. The wind was a welcome (and cooler) change to the heat, that was until we had hats flying off heads. Properly in Kent now, we found ourselves walking slightly north to cross the River Medway – Anna, coming from a small village said it was the biggest expanse of water she’d ever crossed (wait till we cross the channel!)

One thing that struck me today was how wonderful it’s been watching everyone share their skills so far in this trip. We’ve had lessons on map reading, tree identification, bird calls, stargazing, blister avoidance techniques and we have even informed on the best way to eat a Jaffa cake (chocolate first, cake next, then let the jelly sit on your tongue until you feel this air of happiness engulf you).

We are staying in a farmer friend’s field tonight in Hollingbourne and have been promised fresh eggs in the morning (that’s if we can manage to collect them ourselves).

We all hope you’ve had a great week, we certainly have.

Update: Friday 22 May

‘We’re walking on sunshine woah’

We’re in Otford, Kent (no, I didn’t just say Oxford with my mouth full of potato salad…)

Today we had a bit of a rest day; we continued walking along the North Downs Way for a short while, then we gave ourselves the afternoon off. After pitching our tents in a small woodland (which had lots of cool wild mushrooms growing out of crevices in the trees), some of us went for a wander around this picturesque village. We happened upon a lovely lady out selling fresh strawberries and cream (yummy!) so bought some and naturally devoured them within seconds.

Unfortunately, we had some nasty cases of sunburn on a couple of people today (always remember the sun cream, kids) so we will have to keep an eye on that and hope it heals quickly.

That’s all from me for now, hope you’ve had a good week, and let's hope we cross the channel this weekend!

Update: Thursday 21 May

If in doubt, have the extra spoonful of peanut butter…

We are now a few hundred kilometres in and our bodies are beginning to get used to all this walking. Walking such long distances each day can take a toll on your body but as long as you fuel it well (I have eaten so much peanut butter I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked down and my hands had turned into peanuts) and take things at a sensible pace we know we will be alright. Plus is there anything that can’t be remedied by singing the ‘Sound of Music’ at the top of your lungs?!

We arrived in Caterham this afternoon after an action-packed day on the North Downs Way National Trail. We passed Windsor Castle hoping to be invited in for a spot of tea with the Queen, sadly to no avail, she must have been out walking the corgis or something. The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty was well, outstanding, and the green rolling hills and the bluest of all skies made us start to think about all the different types of environments we will walk through.

With our bodies and minds strong and excitement at an all-time high, we are ready to face whatever the trail may throw at us!

Update: Wednesday 20 May

‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step’ – Lao Tzu

53 kilometres later and another day is in the bag. Starting the day in Oxford we happily trundled down the Thames Path with the Thames River by our side. The countryside seemed to be alive today, with little lambs hopping about and swallows flying low over wildflower meadows filled with colour. Now, as you read this we are a few km outside Reading in a lovely village called Pangbourne. It was thought to be the inspiration for the book ‘Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame so we have been especially eagle-eyed and tried to spot our very own Frog and Toad.

We also met a lovely farmer, Bill, who invited us to camp in his field for the night. Feeling like this deserved a proper 'camp-out'; we enjoyed baked potatoes, beans and hot chocolate around a campfire. The marshmallows were toasted (and fingers burnt by those a little impatient for them to cool) and we might even throw in some ghost stories for good measure before we snuggle into our sleeping bags and do it all again tomorrow.

We can’t wait!

Update: Tuesday 19 May

One step, two step, three step, four step

What busy walkers we have been! Today we completed the Oxford Canal Path (wowzers!) and continued our journey south on the Wey Navigation Path for a short while. In our virtual world, pubs are still open, so we can take a slight breather at the Trout at Wolvercote, a favourite of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, before we bed down for the night in a nearby Youth Hostel.

Our wonderful day was spent winding in and out of beautiful North Oxfordshire fields and woodlands on the approach to Oxford, enjoying the view of spires as we crossed Port Meadow.

We mustn’t forget the new friends we met on the way, including Ig and Nic on their canal boat in trendy Jericho, and many dog walkers. They couldn’t believe we were walking all the way to South Sudan and wished us the best of luck!

Update: Monday 18 May

Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start...

Hello, Juliet here. And we’re off! Our walk to Ibba has started! We have managed to walk 30km so far, putting us near Rugby. We left FIGS HQ in the SE of the city and after walking into the city centre continued along the Coventry Canal path and then on to the Oxford Canal Walk; our first official trail (how exciting!).

The last few days have been lovely; the sun has been shining, the birds are singing, and the smell of spring is in the air.

Thank you to everybody who has walked and donated so far! Please spread the campaign between your friends, family, work colleagues and local communities – anybody who you think you would be up for going on a walk/run (even a stroll around the block helps us) and donating some money! You can give as much or as little as you like, one-off, regularly, or whenever you go for a walk. We really need your support in order to support the students of Ibba Girls’ School!

Don't forget to share your part of the journey on social media to inspire others to join the trek and keep updated on the FIGS website, on Facebook or Twitter.

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