Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Night Walk in France

In France it's the season for dousing yourself in mozzie repellent, sticking on your walking shoes and heading out on a night walk divided into 'étapes' which roughly translates to 'stages', at the end of which you will find food and drink supplied by local artisans to tempt you on your way and (if you choose the wine option) destroy any sense of direction you may have.

So, a couple of nights ago we set off at 8.00 pm, with the sun still blazing down in a clear blue sky, wandered through forests and down country lanes amongst some dazzlingly verdant countryside on our second ever night walk.

Happy and springy.

There were seven of us, including three teenage boys temporarily detatched from Playstation heaven, four adults delirious with well-being, and a golden retriever snouting around for new scents and dead things to roll in.

Etape one was disappointing.  A bit of baguette (yesterday's?) with a smear of pâté, served by a teenager who didn't care or know what it was made of.  My vegetarian friend was in for a night of lean pickings.  Still, in an atmosphere of bonhomie and crossed wires we tucked in, slurped the offered wine, patted the long-haired donkeys and crossed the drawbridge to enter the Château de Nieul-les-Saintes, down into the dungeons and out the other side, bemused and impressed, off on the next part of the walk. My husband gazed back at the stone walls in an ecstasy of renovation dreams.

About an hour later, it was time for the entrée (étape two) - a delicious potato salad with cornichons, egg and ham, slathered in homemade mayonnaise .  Second helpings were available to shy, mumbling teenagers.  Unwanted wine was passed on to Al (my increasingly giggly husband).

Fields of ripening corn and humming grass tracks, dingly dells and open country, teenage banter and jolly japes (turning the arrows to point the other way was a favorite). Of course I turned them back again, being a sensible grownup, not to mention frightened of appearing in the local press the following day next to a photograph of those unlucky walkers lost forever in the forests of department 17).

Etape three (for some reason) was a very nice cup of sangria (cleansing of the palate?). 

By this time it was coming up to ten thirty, and dark.  My friend Martin was worried we'd gone the wrong way and missed the main course.  The boys hoped for chips.  I let them.

The stars were out and we named constellations.  The distant sounds and torches of groups of walkers ahead and behind made me think of  elfin soldiers marching.  Sticky in the very warm night air, my husband commented on the difficulty of washing before plumbing systems had been invented.

A blast of vicious barking from a hunting kennels silenced us all and made my blood run cold.   We passed by as quickly as we could, eventually finding ourselves in a huge field of hemp.  Visions of The Beach.  Would we be shot?  Was it worth stuffing our pockets?

Ahead, coloured lights announced the arrival of étape four.  Hay bails, Hawaian chicken and more wine.  Vegetarian option - Hawaian chicken without the chicken.  Went down a treat.  Scarlet the dog was very happy.

Our fellow walkers were becoming (just as we were) increasingly jolly.  A gentleman with a head torch pretended that he was a gynecologist, suggesting an intimate investigation of the woman sitting next to him (his wife?).  There was lots of polite nodding and good-humoured spluttering.

The twelve kilometre walk was beginning to seem like a bit of a fib and, sure enough, the man at the chicken counter confirmed that we had already walked fourteen and had 'around' another three to go.  Martin's blood blister (he was wearing sandals) was beginning to throb.

I mentioned to Al that the teenagers hadn't yet complained about anything.  Very odd.

Etape four was a nice bit of Brie.  And more wine.  Al's grin, now edged with something like panic, was as wide as it could go.

The boys decided to run headlong into the dark, sans torches, until they fell over.  Great fun.  We adults admitted to being stuffed and claimed not (under any circumstances) to want dessert.

Etape five was apple tart and icecream.  What would you have done? 

The entertainment provided along the way had built to a crescendo, with five burly locals (one dressed as Snow White) putting on a medley of songs by the Bee Gees.  My husband was in seventh heaven.  Debbie and Martin (both professional singer/songwriters/musicians), were charitable, but eager not to make a night of it (sticks in the mud - I would have loved to stay and make a fool of myself).

We made our way out of the jolly gathering and eventually found the car.

I drove home (sober, with a car full of people making hilarious random comments).

It was 1.20 am when we got home, so I persuaded the teenagers that they could watch Forrest Gump another time and saw them pass out one by one on their beds as they protested.

Beautiful France.  Beautiful night.

Happy days.

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