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.