From :

Wagon. A cranky contary female / an ugly female. She\'s some wagon eh?

wagon. wagon - an awful woman. than one is such a wagon!

wagon. a woman thats a bitch. dat ones a right wagon.

Wagon. A cantankerous old woman.. Yer wan's some wagon, I asked her could I feed the seagulls and she lifted me out of it!

wagon. car or other mode of transport. i'll drive my waggon.

Wanderly Wagon. A much loved Irish children's TV program which ran from 1968 to 1982

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Home Sweet Home

The Hotel Restaurant

I left Céreste at 9am and headed for Neuvy-Pailloux near Bourges, about half way to Roscoff, it was a fairly smooth journey, except for me putting Bourges into the SatNav(aka Karen) instead of Neuvy-Pailloux ! So after a wee bit of a detour I arrived, unpacked, and unloaded a very drugged Fionn from the car, gave him and Roxy a quick walk and their dinner. Then it was time for me to eat, and the food was good, but never in a French restaurant have I been served so quickly. The other 2 guests seemed used to it and had gobbled down the appropriate course by the time the waiter came collect their plates, but I was heard to politely say, "I haven't finished yet", between the first few courses. But then another guest arrived, and everything slowed down a bit!

Up early and off again, but this time Fionn on half measures of tranquilisers, which worked just as well! I was well on my way on the A20, when Karen instructed me to turn off, I knew there was some traveling to be done between the A20 and the A10 on D roads so that was fine, but then the dreaded "recalculating" from Karen, and suddenly we were on a single track road heading through some beautiful countryside, good job I had plenty of spare time ! Finally we found the A10 and continued  to Roscoff, it was great to smell the sea again, one of the things I always miss about home.

Took both dogs for a nice long walk, then went and checked the dogs in, it had been a really smooth journey.

That's our Ferry
So, nearly home ! The Brittany Ferries staff were really nice and helpful, a much less drugged Fionn was installed in his kennel, and Roxy and I headed for the restaurant. But not before a short trip the kennel deck for a Roxy toilet break.

Brittany ferries  have the best restaurant of any ferry I have ever been on. Starters and dessert are a self service buffet and the main course is waiter service. Sensational !
A small selection from the huge buffet
Sliced dover sole served with selected Brittany grown vegetables

Just 3 of the desserts

A good nights sleep, and finally home sweet home. Provence I love you, but I love home as well !

Soul Food

Walking along the top of the Luberon this morning.
I was expecting the views.

I was not expecting the small details.
Looking down on two buzzards as they circled high above the valley floor.  Hearing the cuckoo for the first time in years. Wildflowers pushing through everywhere.  Leaves starting to explode on the trees.  Birds all around, singing.
I just sat and soaked it up.
The realisation has been slowly dawning :

I don't want to go home.

My Anne Substitue

So while Anne is wending her merry way across France, I've been keeping busy.

S, who helped keep Flurry going while I was out of action, was finally ready to join us for a hack with her own horse, Ugoline.  Unfortunately, that was on Tuesday, when we were planning a long one - Fani wisely advised against it, as Ugoline has quite a bad chip on one hoof (she's barefoot too).

I offered to go for a short one with S on Wednesday, so we met up at La Florentine, and did the short loop behind La Gardette - about forty minutes.  We were all a bit concerned about how GiGi would behave when her field companions abandoned her, as she can wind herself up into a right old state, and has even been known to jump out of her paddock!  Thankfully, she was fine - she called a bit, but didn't start running around, and was quite calm when we got back.

S was very happy, the hack was very calm and low key, which was just what she needed as she has been fighting a battle with her nerve for some time now.  We met again on Thursday and she was even more nervous this time - the collywobbles are strange that way, they can hit you in any number of completely irrational ways, and in this case, despite all of the good work she's done with Ugoline up to now, she ended up dreading Thursday's hack.
We did another short one, sticking to fields and trails because of Ugoline's chipped hoof.  Flurry was in "safe sensible mode" and led all the way, Ugoline was a little star and the hack went very smoothly.

Friday was our third time meeting up, this time we went out first thing in the morning, which was much more comfortable for the horses as it's now quite warm in the middle of the day.  We took the route Fani showed Anne and I last week, which brought us up and around a small mountain at the back of La Florentine.  We had less than 100M of roadwork, then after that we were going through fields and along forest trails.  We had a very long steep ascent, milled around on top of the mountain for a while and got a small bit lost, then we followed a likely trail back down again and luckily ended up in the right place, crossed the river and returned through the fields to La Florentine.

S was beaming by the time we'd finished - it was a really lovely hack, and neither horse put a foot wrong.  To be honest, I was beaming too.... birds singing, sun shining, frogs croaking in the pond, butterflies flitting hither and yon, a happy, willing horse underneath me - what more could you want?

We arrived back at La Florentine to find a cowboy helping Fani with her young horses.
She has two that were ready to be backed, so this guy, Mark, came along to help her for a couple of days.
After looking after Flurry and Ugoline, S and I sat in the sun and watched them work with the little grey.

Even though he was quite nervous,

Mark and Fani have a lovely relaxed, calm way about them,
and he ended up accepting his rider quite happily.

S is now champing at the bit to do more.  She can't ride on Saturday, but we're planning to go out early Sunday morning, with the YD joining us too.  I can't wait!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Beginning of the End

The car is packed
to the roof
The dogs are ready to go
Roxy looking as cute as only she can
Fionn looking a little anxious and not particularly drugged - I hope he settles!
Bonne Route Anne!

Fionn slept all the way except for toilet breaks, and I'm not convinced he was awake then ! And he is now panned out on the bedroom floor in Neuvy Pailloux. The drive went really well until the last bit, when I went slightly wrong and ended up in an army convoy of learner drivers, 2 huge tanks on low loaders, doing 40kph, for 20 kilometers!

Never mind we're here now, the hotel is dog friendly, so looking forward to dinner and a glass of wine or two.....

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

What a Hack!

How is it possible to be so elated and yet so frustrated at the same time?

I'll explain...

We had the most fantastic hack today.  Weeks ago, way back even before I broke my wrist, I went exploring on foot and found a lovely trail up through some woods to the North of Céreste.  I couldn't wait to ride up there, but at that stage, we were still hampered with the wraps on GiGi's front feet, so we were limited to short hacks only.  We talked about boxing the horses over there, and then CRUNCH, we all know what happened next!

Finally, nine weeks later, we got to ride our horses up through the woods and it was FANTASTIC!  We rode up past the little tree-topped tor that I had seen the very first time I was there, and investigated a couple of trails which seemed to lead somewhere but eventually petered out.
"My" little tor!

GiGi and Anne following up the trail, Luberon Massif in the background

One of the trails that petered out

We back-tracked and continued up to where the cliffs drop away to the valley of the Calavon river.  Just across the valley is the pretty town of Viens - that's another place I want to ride, there is a circular horse trail marked on our map which I want to do.

Flurry admiring the view towards Viens
We rode along the top of the cliffs, through a pine forest.  All of a sudden, we left the uneven, stony tracks behind, and found ourselves on a soft, level trail, carpeted with pine needles.  We trotted and cantered along for about a kilometer, with the horses loving every minute of it!  GiGi had been very lazy until our first canter - when she saw Flurry strike off ahead of her, she threw her head into the air and cantered enthusiastically after him, and stayed quite "forward" from then on.

The horses weren't the only ones enjoying it!  I was beaming from ear to ear as we cantered along - if it was any later in the year, I would have had fly-splatter across my teeth by the time we stopped!  I've been waiting a long time for this!

Hiding the fly-splatter?  No, eating a toffee Carambar!
Eventually, the trail started to descend again, and we decided to dismount and walk for a bit, mostly to give our legs something different to do, but also to give the horses a break. What a wise decision!  The trail became very steep, very quickly, and we carefully made our way down, Flurry obediently following alongside me.  At the very start, GiGi was more concerned about scratching her head against Anne than where she was putting her feet, but after about 50M of serious scrambling descent, she seemed to realise that she should pay attention and was much better behaved.

Looking at the map afterwards, we could see that the trail dropped 300M in about 400M - I think that qualifies as steep!

Eventually, the trail leveled out and we reached a road.  We were pretty sure we knew where we were and thankfully we were right!  We came out near the Prieurie de Carluc, familiar territory to both us and the horses.

We arrived back in La Florentine shortly after six - just over three hours after we left - tired but very happy!

So why the frustration?  If I hadn't broken my wrist, we would have done this hack weeks ago.  By now, we would have ridden along the top of the Luberon, trekked via Montfuron to Pierrevert in the valley on the other side of the Luberon, followed the trail along the top of the Gorge d'Oppedette and explored the horse trails around Viens and "Colorado de Provence" at Rustrel.

Today was Anne's last ride before she leaves to drop the car and the dogs home.  When she comes back, we'll have just three days riding locally before we leave to start Le Big Trek.  There are just so many wonderful places we won't get to, so many trips we won't do.

Yes, we're frustrated.

PS.  Here's the Everytrail map.  I'm going to have to tweak my settings again, it's not sampling frequently enough now.

Ride through the bois at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Last Visitors

Wow, what a busy week that was!

It started off on St Patrick’s Day, when the LSH and I seemed to spend most of the day driving to Marseille airport, waiting at the airport and driving back again late at night with our Eldest Daughter and my mother, who came to stay for a week.

Anne was still recovering from a nasty cold, so she suggested that the LSH ride out GiGi with me on Sunday morning.  It’s probably the best part of ten years since we hacked anywhere together, so we jumped at the chance and got up early on Sunday morning so that we’d still have most of the day with our guests. 

We did a short loop around the back of La Gardette, the hill behind Céreste, and were out for about forty-five minutes.   Both horses were very relaxed and the LSH and I thoroughly enjoyed it – we might even do it again sometime!  Unfortunately there was no-one around to photograph the occasion – what a pity!

Allée Royale in the distance
Anne and I rode together on Monday and explored another new route, as mentioned on A Change of Plan - we went out towards Reillanne with the intention of continuing up an Allée Royale (tree-lined avenue, the French do them so well!) and following a trail which comes out onto the back road to Reillanne.
Chateau and Allée Royale
We eventually reached the Allée Royale after about an hour and a half, but I was starting to stress out about leaving my guests alone for so long, so we compromised and tried to cut the ride short, without much success - we ended up riding for just under two and a half hours, plus an hour tacking up/untacking, so my poor mother & daughter were indeed feeling a bit neglected, especially seeing as the LSH had left on a business trip that morning.

The Mammy and the ED at Gordes
I devoted Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday to my visitors.  We did a bit of touring through the usual haunts!  The ED has a few photos, I'll try to get them off her later.

Anne and S, our French friend, were supposed to ride on Thursday but it was a very cold and windy Mistral day, so they decided against it.

So eventually, Anne and I headed out to ride again early on Friday morning.  To our surprise, Fani asked if she could come with us on Ugoline.  She’s been doing a lot of work with Ugoline, but has only hacked her out once before.  Of course we said yes, so that she could show us a new route! Ugoline was an absolute star, she led most of the way and took everything in her stride - not bad for a recently OTT French Trotter! 

We were out for about an hour and a half, and were on the road for only about 100 Metres of that.  The rest of the time, we were scrambling up and down forested hills, crossing empty fields, ducking under branches and even going through someone’s garden (it was ok, they were friends of Fani’s!).  We both forgot to start Everytrail when we left, so we’ve no map to share.  We’ve no photos either – it was fairly rough going the whole time so photography would have been a bit difficult, but we’re going to try to get better at taking pictures on the hoof, or this blog is going to become very drab!  Truth be told, we need our own paparazzi following us - just like Kevin did two weeks ago!

It was one of the nicest hacks we’ve done yet, but it was a pretty complicated route and I suspect we’ll get hopelessly lost if we try to do it on our own.  We may not get a chance to try it again though, as we are rapidly running out of riding days…. we only have three days of riding together this week.

Saturday turned out to be a “full-on” day for all of us!  We did the regular trip to Apt market with our guests, and spent the whole morning wandering around the town.  The mother and the Eldest Daughter bought a few bits and pieces, but they were somewhat hampered by Ryanair’s allowance for cabin baggage and had to restrain themselves.

The ED had challenged her Dad to walk from Apt back to Céreste – a distance of 18km according to the signposts on the road.  They were following the VeloRoute (bike trail), and unfortunately hadn’t realised it’s actually 22km and also quite hilly in places!  Weatherwise, it was the best day of the week so far, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky and the temperature was about 20C.  They took Cookie the crazy terrier with them and said goodbye to us in Apt.

Anne and I left my mother sunbathing in the Courtyard of La Bell Cour and went off to make another attempt at the Allée Royale route.  It was hot, it was sunny, and both horses were a bit shocked at being asked to work!  We tried a little canter to wake them up, but they remained steadfastly placid - well, I'm not going to complain about that!!

Anne and GiGi trying to look like they're meant to be here!

We eventually arrived at the entrance to the Allée Royale and headed purposefully up it.  We expected the trail to follow the Allée and then continue behind the Chateau up towards Reillanne.  Do you think we could figure it out?  No way!  As we were tromping across the lawn beside the swimming pool, I was pretty convinced we were doing something wrong, and as the track entered a field of newly sprouted corn and meandered off into the distance I became even more convinced.  We’ve both seen the other end of the trail, where there is a signpost saying “Private Land, please stick to marked trail” but there was absolutely nothing marking any sort of trail that we could see.

So, somewhat abashed, we turned around and nonchalantly strolled back past the swimming pool, past the heap of poop Flurry had left in the garden and back down the Allée Royale praying (well I was anyway) that no-one would come out yelling at us for trespassing.  Thankfully, no-one seemed offended at our presence – a car followed us down the Allée, but the driver just ignored us and headed off up the road!

As we exited the Allée, I heard from the LSH.  They were still at least an hour outside of Céreste and he was concerned about the ED – she seemed a bit burnt.  Could I come and pick them up?  Um, no, sorry, I wasn’t going to be back home for two hours or so!  All in all, they ended up walking for over four hours in the hottest part of the day.  They made it all the way, eventually, and the ED wasn’t actually burned, just flushed!

Meanwhile, Anne and I ended up following mostly the same route we had done on Monday, although we took an alternative route at the end of it.  We ended up passing a horse, donkey and goat all in the same paddock.  Flurry was a little suspicious of this strange ménage-a-trois, but as far as GiGi was concerned, it was totally improper, especially when the horse-eating monster (donkey) started braying!

Other than that, and failing miserably to find the damned Allée Royale route, it was a pretty uneventful hack.  We were out for three hours and we both felt it in our knees, ankles and butts.  

Note to self: Get off and WALK every so often you idiot!!

On Sunday, the we changed to Summer Time, but we also had an early start to get The Mammy and the ED off to the airport at Marignane for a 10am flight.  Having waved them off, the LSH and I went to Reillane to take down his exhibition photos.  He's definitely sold two, and is hoping that another two or three will sell as well.  He's donating any money made from the sale of the photos to Le Big Trek, so that's another little boost for our fund-raising efforts!

PS.  Strictly speaking, we have one more visitor coming - the YD is coming for a week while Anne is away to help me ride.  I still can't even pick out a hoof, let alone do up my Renegades.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A Change of Plan

Circumstances are conspiring to make us reconsider our original plan for Le Big Trek.  Martine’s wrist injury has prevented us from doing as much exploring and fittening work (on both horses & riders) as we would have liked.  In addition to this, we’ve agreed with the owners of La Belle Cour that we’d stay on an extra week – this seems to give us an opportunity to make up for lost time and do more long distance and exploratory treks in Provence. 

The final thing that has given us pause for thought was GiGi’s behaviour in Reillanne recently.  She has little patience for standing around, and she has a long history of working herself up into a right old state in the horsebox if it is standing still for any length of time.  Anne has had concerns about her and the ferry crossing right from the start, and GiGi’s general state of hysteria in Reillanne made us all stop and think about the wisdom of a five to seven hour crossing with the horses in a trailer.  So it is looking like the horses will once again travel with the professionals - enquiries are ongoing.  In terms of Le Big Trek, this is giving us a different final destination to aim for - whereas we were originally aiming for Le Havre, with the intention of taking a ferry to the South West coast of England, we’re now planning to connect with a transport company South of Paris.  This means we can finish the Trek anywhere in the middle of France, we just haven’t worked out exactly where yet.

We do know that we’ll be officially starting Le Big Trek from Céreste on April 12th, heading North on the GR4 towards Sault.  We think it’ll take us three days to get that far (we're taking Sundays as a rest day), so we will stay in Céreste, using it as a sort of “base camp,” until the 16th, when we’ll relocate to Sault for three days. 

The terrain from Céreste to Sault is similar to what’s around us here, but after Sault, the GR 4 goes straight up and down Mont Ventoux, 2000M, which we feel is a bridge too far for the horses!  The GR 9 does a gentler loop through the hills to the North of Ventoux, before it rejoins the GR 4, so that looks like a good option.

We’ll stick with the GR 4 as long as possible and we’re hoping to ride through the Beaumes de Venice area – Facebook friends will remember the tales of being lost in the Dentelles with Karen the SatNav last year - we think it’ll be more pleasant on horseback!

GR4 De Mondragon (Vaucluse) à Simiane-la-Rotonde (Alpes de Haute Provence)

EveryTrail - Find trail maps for California and beyond

After crossing the Rhone valley, the GR 4 heads up into the Ardeche.  At this point (probably about 10 days into the trek) we will box the horses to our next trail – not yet decided, but we’re considering riding through Beaujolais, Burgundy or the Loire.... there might be a bit of wine-tasting done en route as well!

This week we've done two new hacks, one of them brought us up near a little chateau with an allée royale which is just below Reillanne.  Here's the Everytrail map for it :

Allee royale

EveryTrail - Find trail maps for California and beyond

The other one brought us through the forests and hills just beside La Florentine.  No Everytrail map and no photos this time, but it was absolutely the nicest hack we've done so far!  Fani came with us on Ugoline - it was only Ugoline's second ballade ever and she led the whole way, like a pro!  Flurry seemed to be happy to have someone else on "point duty" and stayed switched off and mellow for the whole hack.

Our plan for the next week is to do a couple of serious treks during the week, before Anne leaves Céreste on Thursday.  It's hard to believe, but the end of our trip is looming and Anne is taking her dogs and car home at the end of next week.  Roxy will be going to the Guide Dog Centre to start her training and Fionn will be going into kennels at Paws a While, where he will be well looked after by Philippa!

Sorry for the lack of photos in this post!  We've been too busy riding and looking after our visitors to take many nice horsey ones - we'll try and make up for it next week.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tears and Rain-Farewell to Sam

In early February I fostered a cat who had been living wild in the village for a while. A lovely American lady had adopted him for a short time but he terrorised her cats, and rather than have him euthanized she brought him back to Céreste and let him go again, where he found his way to me. I rang her to tell him I could foster him until I had to go back to Ireland at the end of March, and set about the process of getting him and my dogs used to each other. He's a very sociable cat, so every time I met him out on our walks I would pet him and let the dogs sniff him, no problems there, so I bought some cat food and tempted him into the house. Where he took refuge on one of the chairs which I had covered with another chair to keep the dogs from hopping up on it. A convenient safe place for him !

Sam Hiding
He went off investigating.

and the dogs and Sam quickly became friends

He quickly had us all dancing to his tune, the way cats do. I had hoped he would use the kitchen window as his cat door, but although he would go out that way, the jump back in was too high for him, so he would go out that way, and a few minutes later work his way back round to the front door !
There were many times when I got up at night to go down and break up a fight on my doorstep, and let him in !
As he got more used to us he would follow me and Roxy on our walks, even crossing the main road. He would tarry, investigating this or that, and then suddenly there would be a whoosh, and there was Sam running between Roxy's legs.
All this time the lovely American lady, Leah was trying to find him a permanent home, and last week she succeeded. But first he had to have vaccinations, a blood test, a microchip and get his passport. Leah was to collect him Saturday morning to take him to the vet. She dropped a cage off beforehand so I could get him used to it, and I fed him in the cage from then on, but he was very suspicious.

Saturday morning early I put food in the cage and tried to close the door, but quick as a flash he was off, and dived behind the kitchen unit. I'd forgotten to close off his favourite bolt hole, and there was no way he was coming out. So plans had to be changed, and it was agreed he would go to the vet Monday morning and then straight on the train to Paris to his new home.

Sunday dawned dark and threatening, the first rain for months was forecast for that afternoon.

So off I set with Roxy for our morning walk, and of course Sam came with us.

I kept him indoors for most of Sunday, and Monday morning , with all bolt holes blocked off, I put him in the cage. Leah collected him at 9:30, and I said my tearful farewells to him in her car.

He was a gentleman, all through the vet's, the car journey to Aix, and the long train journey to Paris. The last I heard he was hiding behind the furniture in his new home, but I know that in a couple of days he will have settled in and started to organise his new family to his ways.

Au Revoir Sam, it was great to be your friend for a few weeks.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Adieu, Cast!

Finally, after seven long weeks, it was time to say goodbye to my cast and have the pins in my wrist removed.  I'm not usually nervous about medical procedures (unless I know it's going to hurt like hell) but I was in an absolute blue funk as we drove in to Apt hospital early on Tuesday morning - I've no idea why.  The LSH knows better than to try to cheer me up when I'm like that, so the 25 minute drive passed in gloomy silence.  

Here's the x-rays, taken at week 5 :
That one that's going diagonally
gave me no end of grief
I waited in the day ward for what seemed like years, but was in fact only two hours, attempting to read a trashy novel, until eventually I was wheeled away and parked outside the sterile unit.  My cast was removed before I was allowed in there, which was just as well, considering the amount of horse filth it's been exposed to, and my wrist was exposed in all its puny, pale, peely glory.  A good scrape with a Betadine soaked swab later, it was deemed sufficiently sterile to be allowed into theatre and in I went.

All the staff (bar one slightly dour nurse) were being very kind as they hooked me up to various machines and drips, making valiant attempts to speak to me in English.  Good job, too, I was so nervous that I'd pretty much forgotten all the French I've ever learnt.  Stupid, I know, but we can't control these things.

Anyway, there I was, attached to the drip, which had something in it to relax me, maybe Valium.  Whatever it was, I was watching the ceiling spinning around overhead and feeling pretty mellow when the  nurse asked my weight (in French).  I made sure beforehand that I knew my weight in Kilos - I'm about 58kg.  I have no idea what on earth possessed me to say, most emphatically, "cent cinquante huit" (one hundred and fifty eight).  Surprised, the nurse asked me to repeat - apparently I don't look like I'm 348lb/24 stone!  This time I helpfully listed off the digits, with attitude, UN, CINQ, HUIT, although maybe a little slurred.  At which point the anaesthetist intervened.  I think he's spent time in the US, because he speaks English with an American accent.  He assumed I was giving my weight in pounds, a reasonable assumption, after all why would anyone just stick a random "hundred" in front of a number?  Doing a conversion in his head, he told the nurse I was 72kg.  At this stage I couldn't keep my eyes open, let alone speak, so I drifted off to lala-land blissfully unaware...

Well, I have never been so completely wiped out after a General Anaesthetic before.  I can only assume I'd been given enough knock-out juice for someone 25% heavier than me.  Maybe I'm wrong, maybe they did actually refer to my chart (which most definitely said I'm 58kg) and I was wiped out because it was my second GA in seven weeks.  I'll never know.  I spent the rest of Tuesday sleeping, on and off.  I tried to walk the dogs and generally do useful stuff on Wednesday, but my body just didn't want to know about it.  I ended up falling asleep on the couch late in the afternoon, waking up in time to go to Anne's flat for dinner and then going home and falling asleep again.  Thursday was a bit better, then on Friday I was beginning to feel human again (see below). 

Apart from this, I can only praise the French medical system, they've looked after me really well.  The local nurse is calling TO THE HOUSE every two days to change the dressing on my wrist!  I'm supposed to go for physio too - twelve sessions of it.  Not sure if that's covered on the EHIC card too, but I can always claim it back off my health insurance!

The very nice surgeon gave me a cert for work and sports.  Hmm, no heavy lifting and no sporting activities for 45 days?  Ok, the LSH has to do all the carrying, and I'm not allowed do tennis, gymnastics, boxing or climbing then.  Horse riding is a form of transport, not a sport, right?

Back in the saddle three days after surgery.  Woohoo!
I was moderately sensible and only rode for 15mins or so... I could have kept going but I decided to behave!

@Helen W, thanks for your suggestion about a skate-boarding wrist guard - it works a treat!