|It was goodbye to Champlitte . . .|
|. . . as I crossed the Salon once more.|
|I had now entered Franche-Comté, and these dome-shaped bell towers (called clochers comtois), roofed with enamelled tiles, are typical of the region.|
|A stripped-down landscape of earth and sky . . .|
|Another clocher comtois . . .|
|. . . and another lavoir, either in Delain or Dampierre, I'm not sure which . . .|
|I turn right to Savoyeux — no chance of gong wrong here. And just look at that sky!|
|Woodland in the valley of the Saône.|
Passing through an extensively wooded area not far from the river Saône, I began to seek out a suitable place for a wild camp, as I knew there would be no accommodation until Besançon, and that was 50 km distant. I was in a good mood and had had an enjoyable day. This felt like the very heart of quiet, rural France. The Saône valley had been very green and pastoral, with many wild flowers — stitchwort, scabious, campion, spurge — and lots of cattle. I grew used to their behaviour. Young bullocks tended to stand completely motionless, sizing you up with great curiosity. Then, when you'd almost gone by, they'd charge boisterously. Luckily a fence or gate always intervened. Walking through the woods, it occurred to me how nice, how properly wood-like these woods were, with their spaced-out trees, and gaps and glades, and plants growing among the leaf litter — unlike the closely-packed forests earlier on the route, where the light never seemed to penetrate.
Anyhow, just before the small hamlet of Saint-Reine, I found a narrow path leading off left from the road on the edge of the forest. I followed it for a short while to a clearing, and soon found a suitable camping spot on soft ground. Perfect! As the evening sun went down, I put up my tent, made something to eat and wrote in my journal. I was very content. A bite from an insect which had managed to get down my trousers didn't put me off. And even a visit from an enormous, orange slug — which had decided to explore my food bag — failed to dampen my spirits. I pushed it some distance away from my tent with my walking pole.
Towards dusk the shadows lengthened, the wood grew darker and, well, not scary exactly, just more mysterious. I snuggled down in my sleeping bag and zipped up the tent door. Then the noises began. The barking dogs from a nearby farm were fine and homely — as were the snorts and grunts of cattle in the field beyond the woodland boundary. There were some incredibly loud cracking and crashing sounds as pigeons flew back to roost, settling themselves down in the trees above my tent. After that, as proper darkness fell, everything went silent for a while. I strained my ears. Soon I heard rustlings and scufflings in the undergrowth — probably foraging mice and other small woodland creatures. Every now and then there was the soft tread of a larger animal, perhaps a fox or a deer. Then the heavier, measured footfall of something even bigger. Surely those weren't human feet I could hear? Occasionally there was a strange, skittering noise which seemed to come from just outside the tent. What on earth was that? I figured that all sounds are amplified when you're lying on the ground in a night-time forest, ears alert. Perhaps even the nocturnal ramblings of slugs and other invertebrates resound like the deafening howls of African mammals at this time of night?
Then the bellowing started. From deep within the forest came an unearthly moan, which began softly, rumbling and grumbling for a few seconds, then swiftly developed into a full-throated, thunderous roar. What alien creature was this? Was a bear coming my way? Should I have hung my food bag from the branch of a tree instead of leaving it in the tent porch? I had a sudden, irrational fear that bears had a special predilection for pilgrim baguettes and mouldy French cheese. The roaring began again in earnest, booming and echoing from the heart of the wood. I kept very still in my sleeping bag. I could feel my heart pounding. My nerves stretched to breaking point and all my senses were in overdrive. Suddenly I remembered a radio programme I'd heard on rutting stags and the hair-raising calls they make. Yes, that was it — this was a stag practising for the autumn mating season! Of course . . . (Later I wondered if it might have been a wild boar.)
I went to sleep eventually, but, as usual when camping, I kept waking up every few hours to adjust my position. In the morning I noted that the slug had returned with a partner — both were stuck to the side wall of my inner tent. At dawn I packed up and left, taking care not to leave any trace of my presence. It had been an interesting night. In the hamlet of Sainte-Reine, just beyond my campsite, I disturbed two dogs lying in the road. They got up and came rushing towards me, barking. A farmer's wife appeared in an open dressing gown to control them. She was so astonished to see me that her mouth fell open, and she had to quickly adjust her wardrobe . . .