Most villages or towns initially make themselves known to me with church towers or spires aspiring to heaven. L’Épine did not disappoint – with TWO spires thrusting up into the sky. The spires belonged to an impressively gothic building called (if I remember) La Basalique. (and I’ve just looked it up and it’s full moniker is La Basalique Notre-Dame de L’Épine – and it’s only a small place!). It had fabulous gargoyles – even a bear playing a harp, if my eyed did not deceive me. I took a picture of the entire building, but really it’s too grey for a photograph that does it justice.
It’s chilly and the sky has been chucking hailstones at me – but I thank the goddess that there isn’t the cold wind blowing right into my face like yesterday.
I ride past great ribbons in green, brown, yellow, stretching as far as the horizon before arriving back into an area with woodlands again. I start to look around for somewhere to shelter for lunch as the rain starts to plop – and spot a huge barn that looks accessible. It’s filled to the high roof with hay and straw bales – which is ideal and well timed as the rain gets heavier. I find a plastic sack to sit on, while I watch the drops make rings in the muddy puddles outside.
As I tuck into my cheese and bread, I hear an odd noise, a chittering urrurrurr sound. Then I spot it (and take a very blurry picture) – a baby – what? Pole cat? I think so – as it looks at me, then totters off into the space between straw bales. It’s cute, brown, furry with a squished face, short legs and a runty tail. The baby’s mother and me have the same idea – we’re protected from the elements as it’s pouring down out there. I think I hear the mother making chirring noises from another direction – probably reassuring the baby that she will emerge once I’ve vacated the premises. The baby comes out to quest once more before I go.
It has almost stopped raining by the time I leave, and I continue through very small villages on a practically deserted road with no bars or public amenities, let alone wifi. I’m not sure why I keep heading to Le Chemin, but it seems as good a destination as any.
When I get there, it is another small village. I don’t see anyone around to ask if they know Yann, and after a short while I decide to head for a bigger town to see if I can get wifi to check his response. (Well – that’s not quite true – I do see two men in a garage, and there are lights on in the wood-worker’s studio but I feel shy about approaching any of these as my French is just not good enough). It’s 5pm at this point. As I set off down the road, a white van pulls over – it’s Yann, who comes over and asks if I’m Terri, and I can’t quite believe my luck!
He was just off to post some letters – and has been waiting around for me, just in case I turned up on the offchance. He’s not working at the moment (the past two weeks) as he’s damaged his back and has severe sciatica. He speaks great English – if with a fabulous French accent. He takes me back to his house (not far from where I was mooching) and gives me a whistlestop tour of everything – including introducing me to a great soppy Golden Retriever called Dune (female) before whizzing off to post those letters.
When he gets back – I discover he can ‘talk for England’ – and maybe France too.
He soon tells me the sad and tragic story of his ex-marriage and his two sons. He married a woman much younger than himself but learned to regret it, as she became very paranoid about their neighbours and unhappy with her life with him. They had two sons, who were 2yr and 8yrs old when they split up (I think – and he’s given me permission to pass the tale on). She (and her mother) didn’t want anything to do with Yann when she left and made up stories about him being cruel and violent to her and the children. The children were quizzed and agreed with the stories (and Yann finds this hard to believe, but thinks their mother bullied them into it). The upshot was that he could only see them for supervised visits in an institution (“like a prison” he said), and the younger one, who was hardly old enough to remember him seemed unhappy about seeing him now and the older one seemed inhibited and unable to loosen up so he stopped the visits as being too miserable all round for everyone. He says they have been poisoned with ‘false memories’ of him – that the younger one told authorities that he used to put him in boiling hot then freezing cold water, and he finds it hard that the five year old could supposedly remember such things in such detail from when he was only two years old. That he misses them dreadfully is evident and painful to witness. He showed me their photographs from happier times – of him teaching them to cook, of him teaching them to ride, of them out enjoying the country side and catching frogs. There are climbing frames in the garden and children’s books and toys around the house still. The boys are now 5yrs and 11yrs old and he doesn’t see them at all, even though they live in the next village (his ex wife remarried).
He says there are toys in the garden but the boys are rarely seen outside the home. The step father is seen at the bar though, he couldn’t help mentioning with slight bitterness.
Dune the dog belonged to his wife (though he says his ex wife rarely cared for her, fed her or took her out, to the point where he used to have to try and push Dune away and encourage her to spend more time with his ex wife as she got jealous of their relationship). Dune was left behind – but when she saw the exwife from the car – she wagged her tail happily in recognition. Yann found this a good lesson and has tried to be a ‘good dog too’ – like Dune, in forgiving his ex wife for her behaviour and trying to move on, keep going. It all seemed a tragic waste and terrible for the boys to have lost not only their father but also their grandparents, as the ex wife won’t allow them to see his parents either.
I know it’s hard to be objective when hearing just one side of a story –but I found it hard to credit that a man could be cruel to his children, yet invite strangers into his house, feed them and care for them as hospitably as he did me, and also care for all his animals as well as he does too. Yann has one horse (and one who he is caring for – he is a ‘horse whisperer’ and is often asked to sort out horses with psychological issues), Dune the dog, chickens, a cat and numerous inhabited bird houses set up in his extensive sheds and gardens. Sean would love what he is doing to his old cob house – there is wood everywhere.
Yann fed me and ran around taking care of me and showed me his garden full of veggies, fruits and herbs. He talked of his plans to continue the renovation of the old houses and barns – always so much to do, he said. He was as excited as a young boy himself to show me all his treasures – and I was pleased to see them – paintings, metals found with a detector- coins, lead shot, cannon balls and artillery shells (this place was heavily involved in the wars with Germany as it’s not far from the border). Strangest were a collection of smashed ceramic doll’s parts dug up from the garden.
His friend Jacques – a retired ambulance man (iirc) who breeds Ardennes Horses (one of the oldest breeds of Draft Horses apparently) – came to supper too – as Yann wanted him to take care of his animals while he was away. We had quiche Lorraine – and then tried out some sort of liqueur that Yann makes from the quince in his garden – a great demi john of it.
What was even more interesting from my point of view, is that Jacques turns out to be a spinner! He has a ‘rouet’ called (we worked out) an Ashford Traditional. OH yes. And he had pictorial evidence, as we found on a website called Tricotin, of him at a woolly meetup in Paris. Oh, small world and such synchronicities – I love them.
I was yawning as I went up to bed – and slept the sleep of the dead, not waking until gone 09.30hrs (I was THAT warm!).