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.