22nd April. I'm in a wild mediterranean landscape between the hills of the Cevennes and the Camargue. Fig trees, grape vines, olive trees, scrubby Holm oaks, Acacia and Thyme thrive here. I stopped at St. Hippolyte du Fort and fixed a shoe back on the horse, they've done 300 miles and the nails are starting to break. I'm stopped on some grass near a supermarket and a busy road, it's ages since l've stopped somewhere noisy. The ground is hard and it's difficult to bang the tether pin in. The people are friendly and stop and chat to me. In the morning l stroll over to the supermarket and get a few bits, l don't need much. I'm out of practise at shopping.
Noisy stop, handy for supermarket
I carry on to Pompignan. On the way a young Frenchwoman stops to chat, invites me to lunch and organises a field for me to stop in, really kind. She cooks a nice Canelloni for lunch. After lunch I'm tired and have a siesta and don't wake up until 2am! Heavy rain wakes me and lasts for an hour, afterwards the scent of the flowers is beautiful. The sound of crickets and frogs croaking is incredibly loud. This is another somnambulant village but it does have a cafe and a bakery.While l'm at Pompignan, l hear of some people near Lasalle, who have two mules, but need help to learn how to use them, so l go there.
Nr Pompignan, 22 April.jpg
It's a smallholding and about ten enthusiastic young people in their twenties are living there and trying to learn how to live off the land, most of them, l think come from cities. It's really nice to have their company and help them with the mules. One mule has an injured leg, so we leave him to recover. The other mule is pushy and ill-mannered at first, but soon learns to behave himself. We make good progress and the best mule is soon learning how to pull things around. They are lucky to have found such a good mule.
The hills here are full of sweet chestnut. In the autumn, harvesting the chestnuts is an important part of the year. Pedro the mule will be able pull large quantities of them back down the hill to the farmhouse. The chestnuts are sold by the kilo to a cooperative. The mule will also be able to bring back large quantities of firewood. Most of the houses in rural France appear to be heated by firewood, in the colder parts the carefully stacked firewood is impressive. A lot of people in France work as wood cutters.
Pedro was ill-mannered, but he's getting nice now
8th May. I've been stopped at the smallholding for two weeks and been showing some of the people here how to train the mule each day. The mule has really improved and can now be used for a variety of jobs. [It's not hard to train an equine to do simple jobs around the place. Ponies that have been 'outgrown' can easily learn to pull a cart or drag back firewood].
Xavier, Pedro and Sara and Leon
Yesterday we used the mule to 'harrow' a piece of ground. That was a real success. The fields are tiny, terraces carved out of the steep hillside. We have got no suitable bridle or bit for the mule and because of the small fields and inexperience of his handlers, it is easier to have one person leading the mule and another one steering the implement for cultivating the ground. Although this is a bit inefficient, it's still a lot quicker than digging the ground by hand and the two people have to work as a team and help each other. It's more about quality of life here than being very efficient, but as they learn more they will improve.
Panniers are good to carry things
In southern France much of the land was cultivated using one or two mules and there are quite a lot of suitable implements lying around that are still serviceable. In Britain the available horsedrawn equipment is generally only suitable for heavy horses. It is possible in France to buy new equipment too, which is handy and some vineyards and farms still use mules.
Leah and Xavier using a harrow
Yesterday we prepared some ground to sow some maize, it was hard work for one mule, so we finished the job with my horse. As well as maize they are growing chick peas, vegetables, fruit, some barley for beer and some oats. The farm has a good spring and a good stream, the ground appears to be very fertile and l don't think the young people will have too much trouble managing. They are resourceful. They killed two goats this morning and a ram to eat.
We have improvised some of the harness, using car safety belting. That works well for the traces. I'm really pleased how the young people are now getting on and using the best mule to do various jobs. They are pleased too, so tomorrow l shall head south down to La Camargue. It's been a real pleasure to stay at the farm and l feel like the horse and l have had a good rest.