Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Post 21 Fifty miles south of Calais‏

After leaving the Foyer de Charite, l headed down the Vallee de la Course, the villages are much prettier, it's a bit sheltered from the wind, l stopped on a small verge just south of Estree, 13 miles, l was really tired. The verge is a bit too narrow, so once it got dark l put the horse in the farmers field, with his coat on it's very hard to see the horse in the dark. I'm not near any houses, l'm glad to be by myself tonight, glad to have a rest from talking to people. Some people are much harder to understand than others. Still l'm making progress. I got up early and got the horse out of the field before it got light. I set off at 8.30am, l found some good bits of dead elm on the way for the fire, l climbed up a hill, an old road called the Chausee Brunehaut. For several kilometres l crossed a windswept plateau, the wind was so strong it nearly bowled me off my feet. It's a cold wind, mixed with hailstones that sting my face, but it's good to be alive and l'm really cheerful.I have two coats on, two cravats, waterproof trousers and a warm hat that covers my ears. A farmer stopped to chat to me and later on caught me up and gave me some hot strong coffee and a bag of oats and barley for the horse. He drives the local breed of cheval de trait, the Boulonaisse. I've seen some, they are heavy, strong looking. While we were talking the wind dropped for a few moments, the sun came out and l heard a skylark singing, the first l've heard this year.
The farmer suggested l stopped at a stables at St. Remy au Bois, it's down in the valley and more sheltered. It's run by a nice young girl called Manon, her partner is a marechal ferrant, a farrier, and they were very happy to put Tarateeno in a stable and give him a big pile of hay. When his coat dries l'll give him a good brushing. In one  village an old lady looked at him and said,  'boueux.' [Muddy].
View St Remy au Bois, 10th February 
It was great to be stopped early. In the afternoon there was 'un petit orage, ' a small storm, with thunder and lightning and hailstones, the squall was so strong it made the wagon shudder violently in protest; lying on the bed writing, it made my bones protest too. It's evening now, the yard l'm in is right in the village next to the church, l'm lying in bed, nice and warm, the wind has dropped away, l can hear the animals crunching their hay, and moving around in their stalls, a horse stamping its foot, there is a donkey, some sheep and some hens, an owl is hooting, a lovely end to the day.
I slept really well, about 8 hours, woke at 6.30am. Lay in bed for half an hour, the cockeral started crowing at 7am and the donkey brayed loudly. I got up, lit the stove and gave my horse half a bucket of oats and barley.
A lovely sunny day, nice countryside, skylarks singing their hearts out, went past the site of the battle of Crecy. I stopped outside a cafe and Raphael, a chevalier bought me a coffee and chatted about horses. The lady from the cafe gave me a packet of meringues, l ate them on the way, rather nice. 21 miles to Yvrench. 3.30 pm. I went by a cafe on the other side of the road. An old lady and three men waved. I continued a few yards, then did a u-turn and stopped outside the cafe. I said bonjour, and explained where l was going and that the horse was tired and l was looking for somewhere to camp. The old lady told me she had  'un petit prairie' on the edge of the village that l could stop in. One of the men showed me the way. It's perfect, l'm really pleased and so is the horse. It's not even muddy, luxury.
Apart from one bakery l haven't been past any shops for 5 days and my wagon will soon be like old mother Hubbards cupboard. The horse, of course is pleased, as it's less weight for him to pull. I'm deliberately keeping to small back roads and avoiding towns. There will be plenty of nice small towns to go through further south. I expect l'll go by a shop in a few days. I doubt if l'll starve. When the French army retreated from Moscow in 1812 they had difficulty finding shops. They bled their horses and made black pudding and also resorted to more desperate measures. In the days before the battle of Crecy, the English were also short of food, it was autumn and they subsisted on berries.
Pollarded willows and mistletoe on the poplars
I'm settling into travelling in France, the roads are lovely and quiet, not much traffic. I met a horsedealer, we chatted for quite a while, he said times were difficult . I asked him about horsemeat prices, he told me one euro a kg, live weight, it's not very good compared to a bullock. A horse like mine would fetch 500 euros for meat. The reason l'm interested, is that will be the lowest price for a horse at a sale. I liked talking to the horsedealer, he didn't mind my slow, awkward French, we both had a common interest. I asked him if there was a boulangerie in one of the nearby villages, he said there wasn't, but to look out for the vanette. I saw it soon after and bought a baguette, the lady gave me two pain au chocolats and didn't want any money, that was kind of her.
The horsedealer rang his son who lives further down the road and he had coffee ready for me! I'm getting used to it. He also gave me some firewood and more barley for the horse.  I did 9 miles and saw a wide verge, near a trough for water and some firewood, it was just starting to rain so l stopped. Just as it was getting dark l got invited to a farm a few hundred metres away. I thanked the farmer but said l'd stay where l was, we chatted anyway.
The next day l did 17 hard miles, into a strong cold wind. This is hard work for the horse as the wagon catches the wind. I was tired too. A man called Eric let me stop in his field at Selincourt. He invited me in and made me a nice cup of 'liptons' tea. We chatted for ages, he knew about horses and told me the names of different parts of the harness in French, l also learned some more phrases. He was painting parts of his motorbike in the kitchen. He asked which direction l was going and then rang a farmer called, Jean-Pierre and arranged for me to stop there the next night. So the next day l stopped with Jean-Pierre. His wife made coffee, then we went to the neighbours and had more coffee. For someone who doesn't drink coffee, l think I'm managing quite well. Jean-Pierre took me to a stud for trotting horses, nearby. Very interesting. Then he took me in his huge tractor to show me his sons computerised milking parlour. Later on we had dinner. I've been invited to dinner 3 days out of 8, curiously 2 of the meals have been vegetarian. I've been averageing 13 miles a day, very good for February.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Post 20 France

4th February.My first day in France, cold and windy but the sun is out. I feel glad to be here. Driving through Calais l noticed a group of refugees camping on a piece of ground near the docks. They're anxious to get to England, even if they have to hitch a ride under a lorry.
I don't speak much French, l wonder what reception l'll get? I yoked Tarateeno up and moved the wagon a few yards away from the cliff and turned it around so the back was facing the wind. There is no shelter here and the wind is getting stronger. Across the sea the sun is shining on the white cliffs of Dover.
Tarateeno eating grass
A French man came and talked to me about the wagon, l was glad he didn't speak English and l managed to slowly find the words l wanted. Later a young woman asked if she could take a photo and asked a few questions in French, l managed to understand and give her simple answers.
I went to bed early as l was tired, l slept a couple of hours but the wind became so strong in the night that l could only doze fitfully. I got up early, moved the horse to fresh grass and lit the stove. I set off at 8.30am and headed inland. It was a good journey, very little traffic. After 3 hours l stopped on a wide verge, 9 miles, [14km] the grass is good and there are dead sticks in the hedge to burn on my stove. It's a quiet road just north of Marquise. I feel elated that my first day has gone so well. I oiled some harness, found some firewood, got the woodburner roaring away, played my pipes, then lay on the bed and read books.
A wide verge near Marquis, February 5th
6th February. Went into Marquise, market day, managed to park and buy some provisions and buy some stamps from the post office. Walked 22 kilometres, [13 miles] mostly into the rain. Happily the wind has dropped to a light breeze. I walked past a speed sign in a village, votre vitesse, it registered 5 kilometre per hour. The villages in this area have been unremarkable and there are very few people around. At 4pm l hadn't found anywhere to stop so l asked at a farm if l could stop the night, a really kind young couple made me welcome despite a slight language barrier, l can understand little of what the farmer says but can understand his wife more. I gave them a Christmas pudding as a present, a delicacy from England. I bought some after Christmas as I thought they'd make good presents. The lady was pleased and l explained how to cook it in a Bain Marie. They've invited me to dinner at 9pm after they've milked their cows. Earlier l had a coffee with them in their kitchen. Coffee is like poison to me but it was very good coffee, they gave me milk and sugar and l quite enjoyed it, l didn't like to refuse. I've been busy this evening studying my maps to decide which route to take. I'm really encouraged with my progress so far.
The dinner was delicious and l enjoyed chatting to the farmer and his wife. It's great that none of the people l've met so far speak any English. Walking along the road l practice speaking French, planning for various scenarios that l may encounter. I've been invited to breakfast and have promised to play my bagpipes to the children.
I woke up at 6am to the sound of heavy rain, l think it's rained most of the night. It doesn't get light here until 8am as there is an hours difference. It does mean that it's still light a 5 pm, which is good. The farmer starts working at 6.30am, he finishes milking at 9pm. They told me it is a small farm and they have to work hard. When they cut the hedges with the tractor a machine chops the branches into little pieces and collects them, these are then used as fuel to heat the house. What a good idea.
I had a good nights sleep and in the morning  I let the two young children have a look at my wagon and played them a tune on my bagpipes, which they enjoyed. They went to school and l had breakfast  with their dad. His wife gave me a pot of apple jelly, lovely, and some chocolate sponge cakes she'd baked. The large fierce dog adopted me and was ready to accompany me across France , but the farmer called him back. I did about 6 miles in drizzly rain, then decided to stop in a small picnic area at the top of a hill. There was plenty of firewood, despite several days of rain the firewood burns well. Although it is wet on the outside it is lovely and dry under the bark. It is ash. The secret is to get branches that have not been lying on the ground, as these will be wet through, but to get ones that are hung up in other branches.
I was just sorting out the firewood for my stove, when a man called Thierry came over. He invited me to stay at the nearby Christian community, he told me the grass is better and there is plenty of it. The horse will be pleased. I moved there a bit later on. Much more grass and the sun has come out and with it some daisies. The first l've seen this year. I've been invited to dinner again. It's a Catholic community, called the Foyer of Charite, which might translate as The Hearth of Charity. I attended the mass at 6.30pm and it was very moving. When l get the opportunity, l like to take part with other people and get an insight into their lives. I listened to a story about John the Baptist, l could understand some of it and a good chance to listen to more French being spoken. Afterwards l had dinner with them. Simple but delicious food. Home-made creme caramel for pudding, one of my favourites.
They asked me why l was going to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. It's hard to articulate, but it's because l'm finding something on the way, a little wisdom, the seeds of redemption, but also pleasure, good company, adventure..... ]. When l get there l'll probably go somewhere else. The destination doesn't matter. In the last 10 years l've walked more than 13,000 miles, [ ambled really ] and l've enjoyed having plenty of time to think. Don't ask me if it's meaningless, it's a question for you.
They told me some other good places to visit . After the meal they asked me to play some tunes on my bagpipes, they were very appreciative. I've had a peaceful rest here and met some kind people. It's lovely hearing the church bells.

Post 19.John Parker International‏

I stopped in the yard at John Parker International for a couple of days and rested. I put my horse in a stable and dried him out and gave him a good grooming. Everyone was very friendly an helpful. There was plenty of good hay. On Tuesday the horse went on a lorry that was going to Portugal with some other horses, the wagon went on a trailer and Fred Parker took me in the pick up truck that was pulling the trailer.
Leaving the yard at John Parker International
The sea wasn't rough and we had a good crossing.
Fred took me to the village of Escalles and dropped me off by the cliffs at Cap Blanc Nez, Fred was very careful and professional loading and unloading my wagon. After Fred had gone l sorted out the wagon and after a short while the lorry with my horse arrived. It was good to see him again and he was glad to be back on his tether eating grass.
Escalles, unloading the wagon
I'm really pleased l asked John Parker International to take me across the channel, they were very efficient, professional and kind, they also organised the export licence for the horse. It was very easy and relaxing for me, and didn't cost a lot. It was interesting chatting to Fred, he told me they'd even moved Zebra and camels. They also fly horses all over the world.

Tarateeno unloading in France

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Post 18 Romney Marsh.‏

31st January. Good journey through pretty little villages, crossed the Otter Channel near Wittersham into Kent. Went across Romney Marsh, very flooded, stopped on some grass near Ham Street. I got there at dusk, just in time. 20 miles. I would have liked to stop earlier as the horse and l were getting tired but there was nowhere. The rain stayed off until half an hour before l got there, sharp cold rain that stings your ears. The wind got up again and l put a rug on the horse. The wind howled and shook the wagon all night.
Romney Marsh, Kent, Plenty of water
I woke up at 7.45am and lit the stove. The wind has dropped and the sun has come out. I haven't seen it for days. The batteries are almost out of power, but they are quickly recharged by the solar panel. I got the stove roaring away, opened the back windows and aired my mattress and bedding. The horse sunbathed and l hung up his rug to dry. By mid-day it was clouding over and time to be on my way. I went up onto the hills via Ruckinge to Aldington. Just 5 miles. I took a picture of the church at Ruckinge. Some of my ancestors are buried there, two of them, brothers, were hung on Penenden Heath near Maidstone, for thieving. The judge said it was a sad day for him, [he also had a few other people hung that day]. This area was well known for smuggling and my ancestors did a bit of that too.
Church at Ruckinge 1st February
I'm stopped on some rough grass on the edge of the green at Aldington. A parish councillor called Trevor came and knocked on my door. I lent out of the window, smiled at him and said, 'hello, how are you'. He said he was fine and enquired if l had permission to stop here. I said,'no'. He said he'd had several phone calls from villagers asking what was going on, l said, 'l expect you have.' He was friendly and re-assured when l said l was going in the morning. He remarked on how warm and cosy my wagon was.
A short while later a very indignant old man came over and banged loudly on my door with his stick, he demanded to know what l was doing and did l have permission? I smiled at him and told him l didn't want permission. [Why and from whom would l want to ask permission [and probably be refused] on a cold wet wintery afternoon when l'd already given myself permission]. I'm only taking what l need, the crime is when you take more than you need. He was angry and said 'we don't want want your type here.' He wanted to know my name and address, so the council could send me a bill for the damage to the grass. I smiled and told him he'd better go away or l'd give him a bill, wished him good afternoon and shut my window. He went, disappointed that his mission had been a failure.
A few minutes later another man came over, he knocked gently on the door and said ,'hello' and enquired how long l was stopping for, l smiled and said until the morning, and he said, 'Oh that's alright.' He was friendly and after chatting went away happy, a bit later on he and the first man came back and politely asked if they could come and take photos in the morning. They turned my visit into a good experience and were glad to meet me.
Oast houses, near Wittersham, Kent
It's unusual on a wet cold wintry day that l get anyone come to me. People normally stay in doors keeping warm. It's 5pm now, dark and raining hard, l doubt l'll get any more visitors.
I went to The Walnut Tree pub for dinner, the food was quite good. The landlord was hospitable and let me sample the beers. The local ales are strongly flavoured with hops. Hops were grown all around here and there are many old oast houses, but l believe that most hops are now imported from Poland. The hops are grown up poles of coppiced Chestnut. This area has many woods full of chestnut that is coppiced to provide the thousands of hop poles that were needed. Nowadays, much of the chestnut is used to make paling fences and attractive post and rail fencing. Chestnut lasts about 25 years before it rots. When the hop poles were too old, they were made into charcoal, which was then used to dry the hops in the oast houses. The oast houses have a cowl at the top and these turn according to the way the wind is blowing for ventilation. Hops are very soporific and l'm falling asleep.....
In the morning Trevor and his wife came over and said goodbye, another man asked me if there was anything l needed and another man brought me some biscuits his wife had baked. I went along an old Roman road high up on the downs with good views over Romney Marsh and the sea. I thought l might be able to see France but couldn't. It must be 30 miles away.
Tarateeno in stable at John Parker International
Stopped in the yard at John Parker lnternational. They are going to take the horse in a lorry and the wagon on a trailer to Calais for me. They are professional horse transporters. I've put my horse in a stable and he can dry out, then l can give him a good grooming, so he looks clean when l get to France.