First of all, apologies to all our English language readers and followers – after a day’s riding, followed by pitching camp, preparing a meal and then spending up to 1½ hours writing up the blog in French, adding photos and finally uploading to the net (not always easy and at times completely impossible), preparing an English or Dutch translation becomes rather less of a priority!
We had provisionally marked Tuesday 5 September as the departure date but with six weeks ahead of us, this was not a must. In the end, with all the preparations, not just for the expedition but also for everything we would be leaving behind for six weeks, we were ready to depart mid-afternoon of Wednesday 6 September.
Within about 500 metres, the first of our problems manifested itself! Everything was thought out beautifully and we considered the load for the pack-horse to be well distributed and securely fixed…but we were wrong. The load very rapidly started to list and the bag of stakes for the electric fencing deposited itself onto the road! A little further on, there is an almost deserted car park which where we decided to readjust and re-secure the load. The bag of stakes still posed something of a problem and, having attachment points free on my cantle bag, we attempted to attach them there. Fleur, however, was not happy with this arrangement, and as they shifted slightly, she flew into a panic and departed at high speed towards “home”. Such was her panic that she lost her footing in a turn, fell – losing a water bottle – and took out a road sign! When recovered, only a couple of hundred metres further up, she was a little shaky, slightly bruised and had several contusions on her legs. Happily they were only surface wounds but, nevertheless, we returned home (600 metres!) to clean them up.
Finally, with a rebalanced and better secured pack, we hit the road again just after 17:00. This time without incident.
Our route was familiar, taking us to Toulouse following the Garonne river, along the dyke from the Pont de Blagnac to the crossing at the Pont-Neuf.
From there we continued on the left bank below the dyke as far as the lyceum Joseph Gallieni, just within the confines of the Toulouse Peripherique, underneath the flight path into Toulouse Blagnac and in view of Rangueil hospital where I was operated on just five months earlier.
Prior to our departure, as part of the preparations of the equipment, we purchased a new girth for the pack. Initially we had decided upon an anatomically formed girth but on the advice of the saleswoman, we finally bought a more conventional model. After just three hours, it had already started to chafe Hévéa’s elbows and was clearly totally unsuitable for six weeks of intensive use. As a result, the start of day two was dominated by a slightly nerve-wracking journey from the river, along a major artery, across the Toulouse-Pau motorway and railway-line to reach Equestra, a large equestrian store, happily not too far out of our way. This naturally caused no end of surprised looks, and undoubtedly a torrent of photos on Facebook, with the motorists we passed.
At Equestra, we were superbly assisted – girths and extenders were put at our disposal to try and we finally purchased a soft-edged girth and two strap extenders which served for the rest of our expedition.
Having left the river to reach Equestra, we were obviously obliged to take a similar route to return to our planned course, with yet more surprised motorists… And the horses behaved perfectly. Not once did they put a foot out of line, not once did they blinch* despite the hundreds of cars, vans, buses and juggernauts that passed so close by.
We were finally on our way (we hoped!) and our route along the Via Garona, following the Garonne, led us on this second day to Muret. There, we found a nice quiet stretch of grass, under the bridge, which served us perfectly for the second night. Although we were very close to a main road, the night was very peaceful -certainly compared with the night previous.
Day three, and a little deviation, this time planned! Shortly after Muret, the Via Garona leaves the banks of the Garonne and rises -relatively gently- some 140m. At times the trail is narrow and steep but the biggest problem we faced was the section blocked to all motorised vehicles…
…and horses! Luckily, this time at least, a way was found through the trees.
At lunchtime, we arrived at the church of Saint Amans (the one in the Haute Garonne -there is a Saint Amans in the Ariège near Pamiers). Shortly after arriving, another couple came up the hill and sat themselves in the grass and soon started to sing.
When they finished, we invited them to join us for a piece of bread pudding and asked them if they would like to sing for our blog -the film you see above. In talking to them, we discovered that he regularly visits Fenouillet to play percussion and so knows our friend Pascale; and she shares accommodation with a girl from Solihull!!!
Leaving Saint Amans, we slowly descended to river level again, crossing at Noé to the left bank. There we pitched camp with the knowledge that the night would bring rain…
*blinch: See A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner – Chapter Nine in which Eeyore finds the Wolery and Owl moves into it