Sunday, 18 November 2007

Sunday Stroll

We've finally done the walk we've been saying we'd do since we moved in over four months ago: down the track past our garden to the derelict cottage; then along the edge of Serge's field, now with neat rows of what to our uninformed eyes look like cabbage seedlings, struggling and turning brown with the lack of rain; right along the bottom of the ploughed field (choice between long grass at the edge, amazingly still damp after nearly two months of no rain, or hopping from clod to clod in the field), to the stone bridge over the stream; then back left along a grass track that follows the stream.

This is new territory for us. Suddenly we are passing the gates of the farm which until now has only been a group of buildings and a few tatty polytunnels on the far side of our valley. We look back across the stream between the now bare branches of elder and hazel and see our own farmhouse from a new angle, nestling in the hillside.

We walk towards a small copse of close-planted trees - all long bare trunks and straight lines. Neat white rows as we look straight on and then as we walk past, neat white rows again on the diagonal. The French like nature to be neat and tidy.

The track, wide and well-cleared, turns to the right up towards the woodland that has been just a promise there on our horizon - cool, green and inviting on hot summer days and now golden and misty. We are somewhat startled to see in the book we have purchased that our short saunter is part of a longer four-hour stroll through the wood and up to the old ruined chapel beyond. We will just about manage an hour's worth. We walk up through the wood, kicking the bone-dry leaves and speculating about finding mushrooms (too dry now, but it's going to rain next week, so maybe then). It is so quiet. We stop. And listen for the sound of birds and wonder if we are being watched by deer and wild boar.

At a cross-roads in the woods we turn back towards our farmland. Deeper into the woods can wait for another day. The book warns us of a palombíère - not quite as bad as bears, but to be avoided on Sundays after lunch when it's hunting season and Frenchmen have been drinking. We hear palombíères are large, opulent tree houses to which grown men retire for weeks at a time to shoot wood pigeons, drink wine, bond with their friends and keep away from the wife - but that may just be a malicious English rumour.

We recross the stream and walk slowly up the grassy track through our neighbour's ploughed farmland, listening to the silence and revelling in the solitude: no farm machinery at this time of the year, just the trill of a distant skylark and the clack of a startled pheasant.

We breathe in the crisp cold air and, as we climb up to the farm, we look back across the autumn-tinted woods to the distant chapel ruins on the hillside beyond. And we know why it is we have come to live in France.

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