Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Post 41 Northern France.

August the 21st. The family that invited me to dinner last night, all got up to see me off at 6.30am, and Jean-Jacques, their neighbour, made us all a coffee, they wished me courage and l wandered off down the lane with a nice warm feeling in my heart, the sun just coming up. Last week another family invited me to dinner and in the morning also got up at 6.00am to say goodbye.

18 miles to Villemardi, l'm now in flat arable country, huge fields of stubble. The farmers are busy harrowing the fields, l don't think it's very exciting work, driving along at walking pace, perhaps an hour to get from one end of the field to the other, up and down all day long. There is no livestock here, so there are almost no flies, much easier for Tarateeno, l'm really glad for him. When the flies are bad horses constantly fidget and throw their heads around. It's easier for me too. I re-nailed a front shoe on, they've done 721 miles, (1,160km). The hind shoes wear out quicker and l put some partly worn ones on last week. It's about 300 miles to Calais from here.
Huge fields. No livestock so no flies, great.
August 22nd. 16 miles to a nice stop next to a derelict water mill by le Loir near Moree. It is next to a busy road with heavy lorries, but the roar of the water drowns out the noise of the lorries. The roar of the water is quite pleasant.
Stopped by derelict mill beside le Loir, nr Moree.
August 23d. Found a shop that sold horse feed and bought another 25kg. Stopped at the Cafe de la Renaissance at St. Hilaire for a coffee. Chatted to Pascal and he very kindly invites me to stay at his farm, the people in the cafe are very friendly and l'm obliged to stay for a couple of drinks. Pascal has a big farmhouse, one sheep that sometimes wanders in the house and a swimming pool. He cooks a nice meal, several of his friends come round and l play the pipes, the people love hearing the pipes and some are moved to tears, it's very convivial, we drink a bit more wine. Tarateeno is loose in a field, at 5.30am the next morning he leans over the fence and bangs on the side of the wagon with his nose, to let me know it's time for breakfast, quite a nice way to be woken up. I give him his food and go for an early morning swim in the pool. Pascal invites me to stay another day and rest and l'm glad to. We go to the village brocante, (car boot sale) and a magnet draws us to the cafe, well it's a nice way to rest and the bubbly white wine slips down easily, the other people drink cassis, (kir) with theirs, but it's too strong for me mid-morning. The brocante is another excuse for a meal and we sit down with the rest of the village for a plate of chips and merquez sausages. While we're eating Pascal invites me and several people from the village for dinner. Pidgeon roasted over hot coals and sausages from the Cantal and a big helping of mashed potatoes and melted cheese. In the morning, Pascal gets up early and makes me a coffee and l'm soon on my way, glad to have had a rest. 26km, 16 miles and l reach Le Loir, as l cross the bridge a lady invites me to stop in her field of lovely lush grass. Virginie and her family live in a large old watermill. It's noon and l'm soon drinking a large whisky as an aperetif. Lunch is cold chicken and salmon and a bottle of delicious white wine. In the afternoon after a siesta, Virginie takes me to see some horses she looks after. They belong to a person who lives alone in a large decaying chateau, l think how lucky l am to live in the wagon and not the chateau. In the evening we have another nice meal and l play the pipes. In the morning, l set off in pouring rain with Argann who is eight years old, he enjoys steering the horse and we trot along to the next town, where his mum picks him up. Virginie presents me with sandwiches, plums, water, two pain aux raisins, carrots for the horse and a charm for good luck. By mid-day the sun has come out, l soon dry out and l'm glad to be alive.
Hind shoe worn out after 1,218 miles!
August 28th. Set off at 7am, hind shoes are as thin as razors and will need changing today, l'm hoping to get to a suitable place to do it, it would be hopeless trying to do it in the long grass where l'm stopped. After about half an hour one of the shoes splits across the toe. I'm on a long straight lane traversing two huge muddy fields. There is no verge. I stop and shoe the horse in the road, at least it's flat. A few cars squeeze past and a lorry squeezes past while l'm nailing on. It takes me about half an hour to fit both shoes and in the end l'm quite pleased with the result. I notice the front shoes are worn out too, l'll have to do them today or tomorrow. I'm pretty tired, l give the horse a bucket of feed, wash my hands and face, then sit on the step of the wagon eating a spinach and salmon quiche that tempted me in the boulangerie. While l'm sitting there recovering, a small van stops, a lady and half a dozen little children pile out. They give me a bag of plums from their garden and enjoy looking at the wagon and horse. Soon on my way, l pass a second world war cemetary for German soldiers, more than 18,000 of them, l look at some of gravestones, many of the soldiers were in their early 20s, some were the same age as me. A persistent depressing drizzle sets in, l get to a busier road, the heavy lorries go past at 60mph and cover us in spray each time, l pull off down a lane and stop to rest by a water tower for a couple of hours.
Water tower stop, nr St Andre-de-L'Eure.
The sun comes out, l continue my way on the busy road, l've no choice. I've got a big windy hill to go up, happily l get to the top without any lorries stuck behind me. It's not much fun going up a long hill with a queue of lorries behind you when you're barely doing 3 miles an hour. 4.30 pm, l cross the Eure and  find a suitable verge to stop on just north of Pacy. I've done 21 miles. I tether the horse, then go and fetch two pails of water for him. After a short rest l get on and put new front shoes on the horse. Annoying little flies buzz around mine and the horse's head, but we get the job done without any fuss. I'm bathed in sweat and trembling with the exertion. I don't have a stand to rest his foot on, like a farrier would and the horse is quite happy leaning and resting his leg across my knee, while l finish clinching the nails and rasping round the hoof, it exhausts me. I've barely finished when a lady and two children come to caress the horse, l wonder if they notice l'm about to expire? Happily they don't stop long and l get on and make some dinner. I'm really pleased to have got so far and got 4 new shoes on the horse. Now l can rest.
Gaillon, there's always some grass in towns.
29th August. Got to Gaillon, very heavy traffic, the outskirts of most French towns are very ugly, with large industrial units and superstores, luckily there is usually plenty of lush grass around them and as it was almost mid-day l stopped next to a restaurant, tethered the horse on the grass, got water from the restaurant for the horse, then had my lunch there. I had my lunch and drank a pichet of red wine, by this time it was 1pm and most of the traffic had pulled off the road for lunch, my chance, fortified by the wine, to trot down to Les Andelys. Found a good piece of grass in a car park below the castle and next to the river Seine. Good grass for the horse but noisy traffic most of the night. Glad to leave at 7am the next day. I go to Lyons-la-Foret, it's a small, well heeled town, with nice old half-timbered buildings. They are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation. They are having a sort of re-enactment in a field and lots of French people are dressed as allied soldiers and there are old American jeeps, l ask if l can pull in and rest the horse, l suggest they pretend l'm a refugee. Shortly after l'm sitting down to a meal with them. They are very kind and welcoming. I understand a Scottish regiment liberated the town, but l think the Germans had left already. I've run out of horse feed, so l mong a sack of dry bread from the bakery and mix it with some barley, so the horse is happy. It'll keep me going a couple of days. Later l get invited to drink champagne in the square, travelling has its ups and downs, you never know what will happen each day, l try to make the best of it.

Under the castle, next to the Seine at Les Andelys
I sometimes go past houses in need of attention.
Some houses need renovating.
4th September. I'm back at Crecy, it seems a long time since l came through here on a cold grey depressing afternoon in February and everything was shut. It's a nice sunny morning, I stop and drink coffee and dawdle round the shops. The people are friendly.
I'm excited and looking forward now to the prospect of getting back to England, but l'm also a bit anxious, l'm not quite there yet. I feel euphoric  but also slightly ill and run down, l mentally prepare myself in case there is any delay, so that l'm not disappointed. Since l left England the law has changed and now l need a certificate from a veterinaire that the horse is in good health.

 Sunday the 7th September. I reach Calais! I have to go to the stables of Natalie Aloo on the east side of Calais. Near the docks l go past dozens of homeless refugees that have no paperwork and hope to come to Britain. Their washing is all hanging on the fences drying. Some look listless and depressed, but brighten up when they see my horse and wagon. I stop and chat, they are really nice, friendly, and some speak good English. I admire them, they've had a much longer tougher journey than me and are faced with a daunting amount of uncertainty.
Near Calais, man travelling with tractor!
Feeling tired and worn out l reach the stables. Natalie is also anxious when she sees me and my tired, lean horse, but says l can stay and she will organise the vet to come and she'll try and help me. The Irish Army show jumping team are in the yard with their gleaming lorry and horses, en route to Italy, they give me a nice friendly welcome.
I spent Monday morning brushing the horse and cleaning the wagon to keep myself busy. Finally at 4pm, Florent Dumont the veterinaire sanitaire arrived and gave Tarateeno a certificate of good health. Then he very apologetically told me that l must now make an appointment with the ministry of agriculture, the nearest office, 60 miles away in Arras and go there with the certificate sanitaire from him so l could get another piece of paper stamped and that l had 48 hours from when he stamped the certificate to get this done and begin the next stage of the journey. He very kindly explained this carefully to make sure l understood and told me he'd help make the appointment for me. Unfortunately the office in Arras was shut so l'd have to wait until the next morning. I had heard of the Kafka-esque French bureaucracy and how it stifles France. It takes poor Florent much of the next morning on the telephone to organise an appointment for me between 2 and 4pm. I'm warned that the papers must be in perfect order or the lady in charge will say, 'non.' There is one train leaving from Calais that will get me there in time. Natalie takes me in her car at top speed to the station and l get on the train with one minute to spare. I have to change trains on the way and arrive in Arras at 10 minutes to four. I'm glad l don't bite my nails. The taxi gets me to the prefecture at 5 minutes to four. I rush into the building and to my dismay see a large queue of people. Glancing round the foyer l spot two ladies chatting, who obviously work there. I go over and wave my stamped documents and tell them l have a very important meeting with Madame....... ..... One of them immediately takes pity on me and leads me through the labyrinthine building to the office of the lady l must see. When l get there a formidable looking woman glares at me and immediately says, 'non.' I tell her l'm very tired and may l sit down. Then l patiently discuss what the problem is. In fact there isn't a problem it's simply she isn't very familiar with filling in simple forms or using a computer, [she labouriously types with one finger]. After half an hour, with help from me and much cursing  she triumphantly beams at me, sighs with relief, stamps the forms and hands them to me. This done she relaxes and her heart melts. She offers to do a Google search to check the train times for me, l hurriedly thank her and say no! Then she kindly takes me and shows me the way out of the  building, l thank her, shake her hand and leave. Outside l quickly ring John Parker International and arrange to be collected the next evening. What a relief!
I had a lovely walk through the centre of Arras, sat outside a cafe and had a coffee, bought some chocolates for Natalie to thank her for her kindness and patience. I felt so glad that was over. Quite a funny end to my journey in France.
Since February l've done 2,048 miles in France and l wouldn't have missed it for anything. I feel a real sense of achievement.
Leaving the yard of Natalie Aloo.
At 6pm Fred Parker arrives with the trailer, we just finish loading the wagon onto it and the lorry arrives for Tarateeno, it's on its way back from Croatia with some other horses. I'm glad we're all going together. A nice calm crossing, by 10.30pm we're back in Hythe in the yard of John Parker International. The yard is full of members of the British Eventing team on their way to Spain or somewhere. I feel l've represented Britain too and done my best.
In queue for ferry, Tarateeno in blue lorry.