Walk #36: Claire

With: Claire (born 1977)

Date: 5 November 2016

Where: Saint-Étienne-d'Albagnan, France

I first met Claire when Emily asked if I could host her in London. Then she hosted me last autumn in Montpellier, then I hosted her at La Fumade, then she hosted me in Montpellier again! Each time we've had really interesting conversations, mostly about travelling by bike (Claire was the person whose coaching helped me start to grasp how not to feel terrified when wild camping) and occasionally about relationships.

During her brief visit to La Fumade - she rode up from Montpellier for the weekend on her recumbent - we planned to have a walk up the hill behind the house. Unfortunately it was the weekend and the woods were full of hunters with guns and dogs. Claire said several walkers and runners have been shot in France by (sometimes drunk, sometimes unrepentant) hunters, so after seeing their sign 'Beware of animals running across the track' (which we felt should probably have said 'Beware of potentially drunk, unrepentant hunters') we decided to walk down the road towards the village instead. Since there's never any traffic on that road (well, except the hunters) nobody passed us.

As we walked we continued several ongoing strands of conversation about places we like in Europe (we both love ex-Yugoslavia and agreed that France and Greece are two of our favourite European countries). Claire recommended some travel books which I subsequently ordered for my Kindle: 'The Way of the World' by Nicolas Bouvier, and 'The Snow Leopard' by Peter Matthiessen.

Once in the village we discovered a footbridge across the river I hadn't noticed before, and stopped at the tiny village shop to get milk and a ridiculous postcard that looked like it had been there for 50 years. All the bread had been 'reserved'. For reasons I cannot recall, Claire taught me the idiom 'occupe-toi de tes oignons' - which means 'mind your own business'.

Heading back up to the house we had to stand aside for several 4x4s-worth of hunters on their way down to their weird clubhouse, which seems to have a pit in the grounds presumably for burning carcasses. Claire is vegetarian so wasn't super happy to see that.

We also bumped into the people who own the neighbouring gîte, which meant Claire could ask them on my behalf about the tame but apparently wild black cat who'd adopted me. They said they thought she'd been abandoned and they'd been feeding her, but couldn't take her to wherever they normally live because they have other pets. So I continued to enjoy her company for the remainder of the month and then said a very tearful goodbye before leaving her to fend for herself during the winter.

Thank you Claire for coming up to visit and for the brilliant conversations we always have! Looks like our next one might be in Latin America, eh?!