We walk. The Bean and me and HB2, when he is here makes three. There are 340 marked PR (petit randonnees) across le Cantal and I have set myself the ideal of walking all of them. In keeping with the rest of France these are marked walks, mostly circular and varying in length and difficulty. The simple colour coding system tells you if it is easy (blue), longer and more difficult (yellow) or very long and varying in difficulty (green). One weekend recently we decided to drive to the far north east of the departement (a drive of about 1.5 hours) and do a nice long green walk. The duration was estimated as 4.75 hours for the 14.5 km. We packed a picnic of cheese and bread and tomatos and set off. The day was glorious – sunny, hot and with a fair scattering of the fluffiest white clouds dancing across the bluest of blue skies.
The walk was glorious too … and along the way we three became four. About 5 km into the walk having marvelled at a tiny Roman bridge, failed to find a museum founded by two young boys aged 11 and 16 in the 1990’s housed in a pain four they restored themselves, and nattering contentedly whilst watching The Bean foraging and ferreting as she does, we entered a petit hameau.
As we exited the village it could not escape our notice that a young and very boisterous German Shepherd dog, ears yet to stand upright so probably no more than 8 months old, was running along beside us. We stopped and shooed him home. We walked back up the road to encourage him but, oblivious, he continued out of the village. After a kilometre we were concerned – he was haring in and out of fields, he was very very happy, joyous in fact, but he clearly was not clear about where he lived. Let me put this in to context – this is a huge and rural area … houses are scattered and he did not appear to belong in the hamlet we had traversed. The Bean was getting fed up with being carried to prevent canine fisticuffs so we decided to release her and let them bond or not. At this point I named the dog Boomerang for not so subtle reasons. We spoke to him in French – he was quite forgiving of our accents but he obviously had absolutely no notion whatsoever of discipline.
An hour later, so three hours into the walk, we decided it was time for lunch. The puppy sat nicely on the other side of the track on whose grassy verge we had plonked our behinds and watched intently as HB2 wielded the Opinel (as essential a French accessory as a mobile phone to an adolescent, this is a wooden handled foldable knife which comes in a huge variety of sizes … the blade on ours is about 3 inches) to cut cheese and bread. What lovely manners I murmured – he clearly knows not to disturb his humans when they are eating. The words barely vapourised in the air, he leapt up and floored me and I, like a beetle on my back, was helpless to fend off his face-licking. ‘Non’ bellowed Two Brains at which the dog fell back looked around and seized up my spectacle case before bounding up the path and lying down with his trophy triumphantly pinned between his front paws. We hastily finished our peturbed picnic and packed up. The dog surrendered the glasses case and off we set again.
The day was hot and of course got hotter as hot days always will, so when we entered the sweet and tiny hamlet, no more than a farm, a couple of houses and the remains of a church now welded to a barn, we were gently fatigued. Actually we failed to notice the welded church as we searched for the table d’orientation so that we could regally survey the landscape laid out below us. We found, we surveyed and we assumed l’ancien eglise must have succumbed to the elements at some point because it was no-where to be seen. Assume, as our youngest daughter regularly reminds me, makes an ass out of you and me. And as we walked on now following yellow markers (we had been following green and then green and yellow together which is not unusual – the paths often link for a while) and occasionally consulting the book for reference points the terrible truth began to dawn. We, The Bean and the adopted dog which showed absolutely no sign of fatigue were on a different walk. And the walk was taking us in entirely the wrong direction. In this terrain it is not a simple matter of backtracking so we took the decision to continue in a circle back to the village with the viewing point. And from there try to find our own walk. That this meant in total a deviation of 6 km with a stray dog seemed perfectly reasonable to our heat-shrunk minds. And so it was that this raggle taggle foursome made its way back into the village and joy of joys there, beside the welded church which we had failed to notice before which was indeed (as the book told us it was) opposite a table d’orientation (not the one we had found earlier but one looking in the opposite direction – so we have now regally surveyed the entire 360 degrees of landscape laid out before us in this lovely spot), joy of joys in addition there was life – there were people. Real people. A woman coming out of her milking parlour, two little girls of around 6 years old and a smaller little boy and, as it turned out, the most joyous of all – Granny! The imposter dog disgraced himself by hurling upon the children with us shouting – ‘he’s not ours – he’s following us’. But as deranged as this must have sounded these lovely people helped us. Granny really. The younger woman did not understand a map which is entirely reasonable given that she knows perfectly well where she is and doubtless can find her way anywhere necessary with no problem at all. They clearly thought us mad to be wanting to walk but Granny showed us the way, even tipping us off for a shortcut and with much waving, sighing relief and many thanks we continued on what would be the last 5 or 6 km of our epic journey. The dog was still with us – Granny had advised us to find the mayor in the town and pass the problem to him. We felt rather bonded to Boomerang by now and agreed that if we were by now in our own house with a garden (the search is on) we would keep him.
It was on this last part of the journey that I realised that he had clearly been a commando in a previous life. He took to leaping up high banks and running ahead of us only to explode down on us again when we least expected it. This was very funny except when we were walking high above a small river and he decided the best approach was to divebomb The Bean and see how funny she would look bouncing down the sides of what, in my tired, vaguely emotional and borderline delirious state seemed to be a very steep ravine. We put him on her lead (perfectly adaquate for her, this slender piece of leather looked more than faintly ridiculous on the overgrown puppy). It was clearly a new experience and took all of Two Brains strength to keep him vaguely steady. At the end of the path, relieved that we were coming into the last village before our destination, we let him run again. We were just congratulating ourselves at how clever we were to train him a teeny bit in the hours (and by now it had been 5 hours) he had been with us when he bowled us the googly of the day. At the entrance to the village was a huge, very old and very deep water trough – the sort that entire small herds of cattle could take their fill at when moving from field to field or field to barn for milking. The sort that appear in Constable paintings of rural idyll in the 18th Century. Rambiggles the divebombing commando dog went over to look, braced himself and leaped in. Being steep sided he could not get out. That in itself was bad enough but I should tell you that the water was gloriously embellished with hugely swollen cowpats across its entires surface … how, why, I know not. I prefer to keep it that way. Sighing the sigh of the resolute and exasperated, Two Brains walked over, hooked the dogs collar and pulled. I held my breath so hard I think I may have turned blue because Two Brains can’t swim. Images swam infront of my tired eyes of me, anchored by The Bean, having to pull the pair of them out. Or me diving in and shouldering them as The Bean hooked them out. I was well and truly scared. I am happy to report that none of this came to pass and the dog was liberated. And liberally drenched us with stinking water as he shook himself dry.
Onwards to our destination and we sank onto the tailgate of our car, changed our boots, ate biscuits and wondered what on earth to do … Sunday night is not the night to find a mayor and we didn’t feel like ringing 112 and declaring an emergency. Lights from the Auberge called us like moths and we walked in – it was quite a chic establishment and we looked and probably smelt like something you would cross the street to avoid, but thankfully the lady in charge was sweet and accomodating and took control. Dog was fed, shut in and the Mayor informed in the morning. We have since heard that he has been returned to his rightful owners. For how long is a dubious question – this dog is in dire need of a high fence, a strong lead and Barbara Woodhouse (or for those of you not old enough to remember her … Dog Borstal!)
PS: The necessary PS. So touched were we by the lovely attitude of the family high up on the rounded hill who helped us that the following week we returned with a box of sweets to thank them. The look on the face of Granny and the children was enough to warm my heart for the rest of my life. We chatted for a while – she said she was pleased to have helped us, that she could no longer walk where we had walked but she used to and is sad those days are behind her. She told us she had been to our part of Cantal and that she liked Saignes (about 10 km from us) because of its beautiful Roman Chapel. The children, dark limpid eyes fixed earnestly on the tin with its sweet delights to come, listened, smiled and waved us off as we drove away. I am certain that they thought us dotty but they didn’t judge us, had never expected to see us again in their isolated spot where they have lived and will live out their lives, and will live in my memory for the rest of my life as an example of who I would like to be.