Hello again! It’s been a long and exciting second summer for me (the first summer having been the Busking Tour, followed by a bit of Cumbrian July winter). I’m back in Cumbria, at the parental landing pad. I have internet here. It’s nice… but I’m not here for long. Tomorrow I’m off WWOOFing again, a bit closer to home, in Grasmere. Which suggests perhaps, dear reader, that I haven’t quite had enough of my nomadic, almost cashless existence. I say almost, because I hear there’s a pub down the road from my next stay. But I’ll tell you all about that in a couple of weeks!
Let’s think all the way back to August, when I took the train all the way from London to Toulouse in the first leg of my voyage, where my film-maker friend Patrick met me. I’m not going to give much away about the film yet, but I will show you this lovely view from the little chapel on a hill where we were filming:
Those are the Pyrenees over there… I’m always so excited by entire fields of sunflowers. I think it’s because I always had such difficulty trying to grow even just one or two as a child in windy weatherbeaten salty coastal Cumbria. Our poor little garden…
So, that was in the departement of Gers. Two things I noticed in Gers (after the sunflowers): 1) There are lots of expat Brits. You can tell cos when they speak French it’s easier to understand, like. 2) Everywhere you go there is free alcohol to taste/drink lots of.
I wonder if the two are related…? Hmm…
That was a lot of fun. And then I started WWOOFing! Everyone had warned me that it would be hard work… and at my first farm, it was. I knew before I went that they expected 8 hours of work, which exceeds the WWOOF guidelines by quite a bit, but since there was really not much else to do there it was all right, even though the temperature was above 30 degrees most days. So I got myself some freckles and muscles (I think I heard that song once in Dublin..?) and after two weeks was ready for anything. Which was absolutely brilliant, since the next farm, to the north of Toulouse, only asked 4 – 5 hours per day, with afternoons completely free and with bikes to borrow. Luxury!
Here’s a nice misty morning scene from ferme numero 1:
There are orchards and greenhouses under all that mist. Donkeys too! My right foot was given the amazing opportunity to weigh one of the donkeys whilst we were ploughing the field with him. Pretty hefty!
At ferme numero 2, between Montauban and Moissac (got your maps handy?) the work was almost entirely fruit related, picking apples (there’s a special french word for the bags you use to pick apples with in France, it’s really French, they call them “picking bags”…), picking figs (which is the best excuse for climbing trees that I have ever had), picking grapes, and the mysterious science of “ciselage”, which is trimming all of the less pretty grapes off each bunch. Many happy hours can be spent listening to Radio Nostalgie and ciselaging. But they’re happier hours if it isn’t Nostalgie. Nos – tal – gieeee!
Here’s the view from the top of the grapes. All that flat bit is brilliant for novice cyclists like me.
It was a pretty magical place, with a pond right outside the house, with frogs and toads singing all night, nestled between hills covered with fruit trees, and with clapped out old vehicles and ancient farm machinery becoming part of the earth here and there.
But wait, there’s more!
A la ferme numero 3, they had goats, for making goats’ cheese, which was categorically yummy. Say hello:
This is Vanille. She’s a lovely kind goat, and acts a bit like a dog:
She became my photographer’s muse during my afternoon goatherding time… especially whilst doing silly things, like eating mistletoe:
While I was at this farm, the only English I spoke was to the goats… we had some pretty off the wall conversations. They’re very droll, these goats.
I also learned how to make goats’ cheese and yoghurts, which, being both edible and fattening, was really exciting. Yum!
So after 8 weeks of rural WWOOFing I had met some really great people, some of whom I’m sure I’ll see again some day. I’d also spent pretty much my entire summer outside, which was brilliant, I’d learnt a whole load of practical skills (like how to catch goats – 3 in one hand!), and my French was getting pretty alright. Yeah!
On the way back to England I stopped off in Paris, where I had my first ever solo couchsurfing
experience, which worked out wonderfully. I absolutely love how you can arrive in a city where you don’t know anyone, and armed with an address and telephone number, you know exactly where you’re going, and you get there, your host is super generous and welcoming, you have tea, and everything is brilliant. Except for the foie gras you’ve been carrying around for 8 weeks without realising it should have been in the fridge.