Monday, 21 July 2014

Post 37. La Garrigue and the Circus Roulotte

When l first got to La Garrigue, l found it a strange, unfamiliar environment . After a few weeks l'm getting used to it. I enjoy the heat, it's in the 30s a lot of the time, l like the dramatic thunderstorms. l've learned more about the plants and the creatures that live here. It's a land of scrubby holm oaks, micocolier, acacia, olive groves, grapevines, fig trees, small fields of wheat, dried up river beds, rocky outcrops, huge cacti.......
The people are kind and friendly. I'm starting to understand a little more more French. There are some lovely small medieval towns, l've been travelling around  St'Hippolytes du Fort, Sauve, Quissac and Sommieres, I like the sound of the names. l've not been going far and l've started to get to know a few people. I've enjoyed going to the markets, brocantes and vide greniers, [like car boot sales]. At Sommieres vide grenier there were quite a few rusty old rifles and shotguns for sale, all sorts of knives are for sale. People love nice knives here, they use them for slicing saucisson and other food whilst on picnics, not for stabbing people. I've enjoyed sitting outside cafes in the shade drinking Perrier tranche, while the horse stands in the shade under a plane tree or mulberry, eating a bucket of cereal and having a drink from the fountain.
Crossing dried up river at St. Hippolytes du Fort
I stopped one day for lunch in Quissac. Whilst there l met a very kind English lady called Nella. She invited me to come and see her Lusitano horses and her circus roulotte.
A few days later l went there. I stayed for two weeks.
Next to Alphonso's circus roulette
Her circus roulotte is very comfortable and spacious. People come and have holidays in it. I read some of the comments in her visitors book and people have had a lovely time staying in it, but Nella is very kind and hospitable and it would be hard not to feel welcome and happy there. You can look at her blog,
Living room in circus roulotte
I also enjoyed seeing her horses. I quite fancy having a Lusitano horse, Nella told me they are the horses of kings, well why not then, they come from Portugal, no good to pull a wagon though.
The bedroom in the circus roulotte
Nella organised her farrier to come and shoe my horse. Antoine, the farrier, made a lovely job of fitting the handmade shoes l'd had sent out from England. He was interested in how the shoes were made and told me to come over to his forge a couple of days later and he'd make me some more spare shoes. I rode my horse over and watched Antoine forge me some heavy shoes. He made a lovely job of them. Outside it was very hot, in his forge the heat was incredible. I shall be interested to see how many miles l get out of his shoes. I tried to pay him for the shoes but he wanted to give them to me as he liked what l was doing and wanted to help me on my way.
I made myself a hammock out of a piece of tarpaulin. It's nice having a siesta  in it. Cooler than in the wagon. There are peaches on the trees now and some of the figs are ready. I can pick them on my way. It's July, the grass is all burned off here by the sun, l need to head quickly to fresher greener country, so the horse has enough to eat. I went down to St-Guilhem-le Desert and stopped at Aniane. Very hot and dry, 35km, 22 miles. I stopped in the town on some rough grass. In the evening there was a free outdoor concert in the square nearby, the band was really good, they played tango music and people danced really well, a nice end to the day.
Holly Fast asleep in my hammock

The next day l did another 22 miles and stopped by a decaying old church, l tethered the horse on the rough grass beside it. Later in the day a choir turned up and sang beautiful renaissance music, the sound of it drifted through the broken windows of the church and uplifted my spirits, the horse listened too, l think he liked it. Did another 12 miles today and stopped beside the river, L'Orb, it's fast flowing and comes down from the Montagnes Noire, [the Black Mountains]. Most of the rivers are dried up in this region during the summer. It's a good spot for a night, but the grass is very sparse. I'm feeding the horse about two kilos of good quality hard food a day, he's looking well. I also give him salt.
Paddling in L'Ord,  4th July
Saturday July 5th. Very hot did another 20 miles, l went through a small village at 8am, a man stopped to talk to me, he was kind and gave me a bottle of wine made in the village. l have wrapped it in a piece of wet cloth to keep it cool, l shall try some later, if l have a visitor l can share it. In the next village l chatted to a man and he gave the horse water and gave me a nice cold glass of coke, his neighbours came out to talk and we had a good laugh. I went up the road a 100 metres and a man spoke to me in French with a  Northern Ireland accent. He warned me that the local people were unfriendly and didn't like strangers!
At the next village some friendly children came and chatted, very good for my French, their mum came over, she was friendly too and told me the spring water was good. Cold and delicious. Later on l stopped on some rough dried up grass between some vineyards, a man on a moped came by and stopped, he was friendly, chatted, bought a copper candle holder off me and asked if he could come back later and talk more as he was interested in what l was doing. He came back with a large bottle of cold beer and three eggs for me and we had a lovely evening chatting. I shared the bottle of wine with him and it was good. Not everyone is kind and friendly that l meet, but l have the feeling that they might have been if l'd handled the encounter better.
In the last week l've travelled 90 miles west towards the Pyrenees and am near Carcassonne. It's great to be travelling fast again. Suddenly l'm out of La Garrigue. Tonight I'm stopped beside the river L'Orbiel, it's flowing fast and l'm next to a weeping willow. It's much greener here and good grass for the horse. I feel a sense of achievement spending time getting used to, and travelling through such a dry arid region, the horse is well and is looking great. At first he was uncertain about some of the strange vegetation, huge aloe veras and the different sounds of the insects, but soon got used to it. I'd be interested to go back to the Garrigue in winter and see how it looks.