Friday, 3 October 2014

Post 40 Les Pyrenees to north of the Loire

I decide to head north, l want to go to a horse fair in the Cotswolds. It's in October, maybe 900 miles, l expect l can make it.
North of Lannemezan l stop by an old communal washhouse or lavoir. It's a beautiful spot. There is a very faded notice, ' Il est rappelle que le lavoir  est strictemente reserve au lavage du ligne et ne doit etre souille pas le nettoyage de tripes de cochons. Le Maire.' There aren't any bits of tripe floating in it. It's a hot day and there is no sign about not swimming in it, so l have a lovely deliciously cool bathe.
Lavoir for washing clothes only!

The horse is fed up with the flies around his head so l lend him my Armani shirt to wear. He's pleased. It suits him, he can keep it. Later on l sit in the cool of the washhouse and play my pipes.
Tarateeno wearing my shirt
5pm the next day l get caught in a storm, the sky suddenly darkens, dramatic streaks of lightning, huge claps of thunder and the heavens open, l pull up a track and find some grass at the end if it. By the time l've unyoked and tethered the horse l'm soaked. I don't mind, just glad to be off the road. I've done another 20 miles. I'm tired and fall asleep. About 8pm l wake up, the storm has passed, it's stopped raining, there is a group of horses and a very bedraggled donkey looking over the fence and greeting Tarateeno.
After the storm a group of horses came over

Another day. l stop beside the Chapelle de Bretous. It's a beautiful spot with a well that is miraculous for healing deafness and rheumatisme, after drinking it l soon feel like an 18 year old. The clover is good and the horse is happy. I've been travelling fast and he is starting to look 'un peu efflanque.'  Some French Gypsies invite me to stop with them. Really nice to have their company, they spoke French very rapidly with a strong accent.  l played a few tunes on my pipes and they played guitar and sang. Later they grilled chicken and pieces of pork belly, delicious, we drank bottles of gris from La Camargue and the local red wine, rich and strong, then drank coffee and Armanac. A lovely end to the day. In the morning their cockeral awoke me a la bonne heure and l left. l stopped at 9.30am  on some nice clover near to a church. There was a funeral going on. I had a walk round the village and watched the fish in the river. After the funeral one of the mourners chatted to me and invited me for a glass of Armanac. I must be in Gascony. The Armanac I'd had the night before was rough and fiery, this was smooth and velvety as it slid down my throat. I declined a second glass though. When l went back to the horse, the lady whose husband had died came and talked to me. She said she was really glad l'd arrived during the funeral and that her husband had been a keen horseman and would have liked it. She shook my hand and thanked me.
It's really hot. August is always a bad month for flies, the horse is fed up with them. There are some huge flies, a type of Clegg, the locals call them Taons and the horse loathes them, they torment him in the afternoon and early evening.
3rd August. I've done 118 miles this week, good going, I'm pleased. I've crossed the river Garonne and the Dordogne, now near Perigeux. l stopped one night with an English couple, they gave me steak and chips, they told me they were keen to sell up and move back to Lancashire. In the morning Stephen got up early and made me a fried English breakfast, really kind. I wished him luck and perhaps l'll run into them one day on my way to Appleby. I stopped in a small village and put a shoe on the horse, another English couple came and chatted to me, they were hoping to sell up and move to Devon, l gave them the old horseshoe and wished them luck. I'm glad I'm not stuck somewhere l don't want to be, trying to sell a house! Other times l meet English people who are happy living here. 500,000 young French people live in England, they weren't happy in France, or at least thought they would have a better chance in the UK.
 After l fixed the shoe on l carried on until l came across a circus in the middle of nowhere. The Magic Rock Circus.
The Magic Rock Circus
They have lots of horses that they do tricks with, l rather fancied the Ardennes heavy horse. The people were really friendly.

Interior of Vickers trailer, used as changing room
They were not performing that night, but it was lovely watching them practising, later we ate a meal and some people played music, another lovely evening, if l'd been 30 years younger l would have stayed.
Old Vickers trailer used by the circus
They had an old Vickers caravan that had come from England years ago.
Jumihac-le-Grand aire de Camping 6th August
At Jumihac-le-Grand, I stop in the aire de camping car, (these places are provided for camping cars in many villages and towns and are free. If they have good grass I stop in them). Sometimes people ask if my wagon is a camper van, I reassure them, “bien sur, mais Anglais.” It’s right next to a lovely chateau. The village has everything I need, a tap, a WC, two cafes, a grocers, bakery and plenty of good grass for Tarateeno. I shall stop here a day and rest, the horse needs it. When he’s working hard I give him hard food, he’s eaten 20kg this week and he gets a salt lick. Although I often stop out in the wildest remotest places I can, it makes the travelling more varied and interesting to stop in towns and villages and meet more people. I get a chance to have a good look round. If the aire de camping doesn’t have grass, I sometimes find some next to a cemetery and cemeteries always have a tap, although most of the flowers are plastic. French cemeteries are depressing granite and gravel monstrosities and have none of the charm of an English village cemetery.
13th August. I've travelled 300 miles in the last 3 weeks. There has been plenty of rain in this region and there is a flush of grass. Last night I dreamt there as a storm, I woke at 2am, it wasn’t a dream, heavy rain, thunder and lightening, it didn't stop raining until 8am. Went into Bussiere-Poitevine brought 50kilos of granules for the horse, I don’t really want the weight of it in the wagon, but it’s not easy to find places that sell horse feed and being in France the place will often shut anyway. If it’s not the two hour lunch break, there is a host of other excuses for not being open. If the shop is open its likely to be expensive, as my friend Xavier said “Ca coute la peau des couilles”. (“it cost the skin of my balls”.) Luckily this is a flatter region of France so I can take the extra weight. Hopefully the weight will soon be on the horse and not in the wagon.
6 miles and I find a lovely spot to stop, the horse can have an easy day. After a stormy night horses sometimes look a bit “hagridden”. I spent the afternoon sweeping out the wagon and tidying and playing my pipes in the sunshine.
Beside the Cher at Blere.
19th August. 5:30am gave the horse a Kg of hard food and watered him. Set off at 6:30am. Nice watching the sunrise, stopped in a village and brought a croissant and a pain au raisin for breakfast. Got to the river Indre at 10:30am rested two hours, tethered the horse on good clover and gave him another Kg of food and got water out of the river for him. I had a coffee in the café. Carried on through nice open, fairly flat arable farmland, another two hours to Blere and stopped beside the river Cher.
Stop by sewage works, railway line and main road.
good grass doe the horse, gave him another Kg of food, I sat outside the café and drank a Perrier tranche. Rested two hours and set off at 4:30pm, got to Amboise at 7pm, it's a busy ton and lots of traffic, I felt like the pied piper as the cares all followed me across the river Loire. I found some grass tucked away between a sewage works, a railway line, an electricity substation and a main road. not my best stop and it's noisy, but by 7:30pm and after 26miles it's the best I can do. the horse doesn't care, he's more interested in the next Kg of food, 10:30pm moved the horse to fresh grass and to where i can see him through the window and gave him another Kg of food, (5Kg total) and a drink and I'm ready for bed. It was a long day and I'm tired, but pleased to have got this part of the journey done. Hopefully tomorrow will be an easier day. Woke at 3:30am, it really is noisy here. Goods trains throughout the night. Read until 5:30am, fed the horse.
6.45am beside the Loire at Amboise.
Set off in dark at 6:30am, (the days are getting shorter), I couldn't get away quick enough from this terrible place, got to a big verge with good grass at 7:30am, pulled over, tethered the horse, boiled some water in my kelly kettle, made some tea and went back to bed. slept for an hour and felt better. Carried on 8 miles through lovely country, on the way I stopped and asked a kind lady on a dairy farm if I could have some water and barley for the horse, she and her husband were really nice and gave me several kilos of barley. late I pulled over by an old derelict cottage. After a while the owner came along, was really friendly and invited me to come and have dinner with his family. I moved the wagon down to his farm, a lovely peaceful place, shortly after, I was eating delicious homemade saucisson and merguez, the best I've eaten in France and drinking lovely wine, made in the village. After aperetifs the family proudly showed me to pigs they were fattening, they were also called Saucisson and Merguez and will be ready to eat next month. Later we ate duck and chicken and ratatouille and drank more wine. Everything came from the farm. What a contrast from the day before.

Nice bit of clover in hamlet of Bay, nr Ladignac.