Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Post 38 Les Pyrenees

Now that  l'm out of La Garrigue l notice how quiet it is without the Cigales making such a noise. [Cigales are a large insect and like grass hoppers rub their back legs together to make a noise and it's incredibly loud]. l can hear skylarks and buzzards again. It's really green here and the grass is lush. The horse is content. At Montreal l stop in a grove of walnut trees, a lady with her little grandson brings me a bottle of beer, they chat and look at the horse.  I head across country on peaceful roads, in the distance the mountains are rearing up 10,000 feet.
Out of La Garrigue near Carassonne
11th of July. A hind shoe comes off the horse going through a village . I stop and fix it back on, a kind man who keeps bees, telephones Le Maire for me and arranges for me to stop at Rochefort- Les- Cascades, a lovely spot by some waterfalls. The grass is good and there is a spring for drinking water. I'm quite tired after walking 12 miles and fixing shoes on tires me out, but as soon as l've stopped some Dutch people come over and chat to me, they are nice to talk to and buy two of my pieces of copperwork. Everytime people come and chat to me is an opportunity to sell something.
I'd just sat on the bed to rest, when l hear horses coming. It's a Frenchman with two horses, one he rides, the other carries his belongings. He is camped on the other side of the hill but has come to water his horses, [l'm not sure why he didn't camp by the water]. He comes and chats to me, he's been travelling for 3 weeks and knows all about it. He starts to tether one of his horses too close to mine and this is dangerous, so l get him to move it further away. The other horse he leaves loose, l warn him that when the loose mare goes to see my horse she may get tangled in the chain. He tells me that will not be a problem. A few moments later the mare goes over to my horse, my horse chases her off and she catches her legs on the chain, luckily neither my  horse or his mare is injured. Anyway we chat about travelling with horses. I notice that the mare he is riding has a saddle sore. I ask him if he's read Aime Tschiffleys book Southern Cross to  Pole star. [In the 1920s Tschiffley rode two horses from Buenos Aires to Washington, about 10,000 miles]. The Frenchman says he hasn't but says he knows the book, he's also adamant, despite not reading the book, that Tschiffley rode south and not north. I find this a bit frustrating, so l suggest that we have a bet and whoever is wrong gives the other his horse! Suddenly the Frenchman is not so sure of his ground and not quite brave enough to shake hands on it. Shame l would have liked his mare.
While we are talking a small group of young foreign exchange students comes to look at the horse and wagon. They come from Russia, Albania and Serbia, they are nice to talk to, they are a bit fed up, they were dropped off by a minibus some hours before and there is nothing here except a waterfall. I'm glad of their company, they're still enthusiastic about their life ahead, whereas the Frenchman [who is 38], for the moment, is burdened by his disappointments and failures.
The Frenchman is a bit disparaging about travelling with a wagon because l have to use roads, whereas he can use bridleways, though he does concede that it looks a more comfortable way to travel. He asks me how long it takes  to get ready in the morning, he is surpised when l say 5 minutes. He tells me it takes him one and a half hours! Some years ago l talked to a man who'd been a mule driver in the British army in Burma during the second war. He told me that as part of their training they had to be able to load the mules up in pitch darkness within a few minutes. [I didn't mention this to the Frenchman]. The mules arrived by ship from South America to India. They were unbroken. The  mules were trained intensively for 6 weeks, by which time they were expected, literally, to be bombproof and ready to use. The methods the army used were sensible, practical and efficient. The army produced manuals on how to do things and these manuals are a useful source of information today.
4,511 feet. Snow on the mountains in distance
13th July. Climbed 17km, [10miles] up to the Col de Pegure, 1,375 metres [4,511 feet]. It was quite a climb but the horse was fine. We ambled up. Plenty of places to pull over, a couple of times l stopped and gave him a five minute rest, during which he happily ate the grass. [If the horse stands listlessly without eating, he is either very tired or tired and thirsty]. I listen to his breathing when l go up a long hill, so that l know how he's doing. At 990 metres l stopped at a cafe and had a coffee for 15 minutes. Further on l stopped at a spring and the horse drank a bucket of water and l sponged him down. At the top the views are great and there is snow on some of the mountains. I'm really pleased to get up here and just near the top is a lovely stop with plenty of good grass. After a rest l get on with some tinsmithing in the sunshine. It's lovely and peaceful up here, birds singing and the gentle sound of bells on the cows, drifting up from the valley, 2,000 feet below. In the evening it feels strange being so high up, I'm several miles from anywhere, there's the sound of a light breeze in the trees, the sound of Tarateeno crunching the grass and the jingling of his chain, apart from that, nothing. During the night heavy rain wakes me. I lie awake listening to it, wondering where l should head next, where ever l go from here will be lower down. As the crow flies l'm less than 10 miles from Spain.
The next day l wake up in a cloud. It's a problem sometimes when high up. I have a long descent to 300 metres, it feels very low down. It's hot and humid, l stop beside a lovely lake and have a delicious swim and wash some clothes. In the evening a young Frenchman stops nearby in his truck, which he travels in. We get chatting and he shares a couple of his beers with me. Good company and a chance to speak a bit of French. Early in the morning l have another swim and go on my way. I go up a short steep hill and nearly at the top the nails shear off a front shoe. Happily it's still early and there aren't any flies about. I hate having to fix shoes on when it's hot and flies are all buzzing around my head. I'm hot when l'm finished, and wish l could have another swim.
Field of Tabacco in Haute Garonne
For a few days l travel in the Haut Garonne, it's flatter, l go past fields of tobacco, it took me a while to realise what it was. It's really hot. I try and set off at 6.30am while it's cooler and before the flies get bad. Each day l try and stop in the shade, preferably next to a river. One day l stop on a village green under some trees to have my lunch. A man comes over and asks what l'm doing and tells me he's Le Maire, (an oddity of thr French language is that if Le Maire happens to be a woman, she is called Madame Le Maire). l shake his hand and declare l'm enchanted and explain l'm having my lunch while the horse rests. Lunch is a sacred time in France and Le Maire is happy and wouldn't dream of disturbing me and tells me where l can get water. A bit later on a man in his 60s, wearing faded blue trousers comes over and invites me to stay at his farm on the edge of the village. He's called Pierre and is very kind. He's got seven sheep and an old Massey Ferguson 35 tractor. His pastime is clocks and he's got lots of them. He lives alone in a big house, like so many people in rural France. In the evening he cooks a large piece of steak, we share it, it's very tender and goes well with a bottle of red wine. After we've eaten he offers me a  glass of homemade liquor, but l decline as l've drunk enough, he's keen for me to taste it though, so he dips a large sugarlump in it and gives it to me. It is delicious l have to admit. In the morning it feels like there is no enamel left on my teeth, but l think that was the sugar.
Miniature pony comes to say hullo.
18th July. I thank Pierre and say goodbye, l'm glad to have stayed with him. It's hot and humid, for a while l travel beside the river, l go through a village, a lady offers me coffee. l go past a supermarket, l should do some shopping but it's too much effort, l'd rather be on my way. There is a big hill to climb, when l get to the top there are good views of the mountains. At the gateway of a farm there is a family standing, watching, two little girls and their parents. I stop and chat and the children give the horse some bread. Their mum asks me if l'd like some vegetables, she comes back with some courgettes, a white cucumber and six eggs, then she goes back and digs up some potatoes for me. I thank them and go on my way, they were pleased l stopped. By 11.30am l've done 15 miles, l stop on some grass beside the river Ger at Pointis-Innard. A lady comes along and chats and tells me Gypsies used to stop here.
I rest and have a wash in the river. It's too hot to do much else. In the evening a lady turns up on a bicycle with a pot of delicious hot vegetable soup, a bottle of red wine, a piece of sponge cake, a jar of marmalade and a nougat tarte with macarons and raspberries. Good luck l didn't go shopping. 
I go back into the Pyrenees, just south of St. Bertrand de Comminges. I rest a couple of days. I stop beside a lake. A very small pony comes to say hello. In the evening l photograph a flying saucer land in the lake. It made quite a noise, the horse carried on eating.
Saucer lands in lake next to me, so took a photo
I go to the market at Montrejeau. Live poultry and rabbits are being sold to eat. I watch the customers feel the birds for plumpness, then the lady ties the hens legs together with a piece of bindertwine and the pleased customer goes off with the birds slung upside down held by the string. There is a horse butcher. He has nice pictures of horses in his booth.
Horse butcher at market in Montrejeau