I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Day 23: Châteauvillain To Saint-Loup-Sur-Aujon (1)

Châteauvillain's Porte Madame, one of the town's original 14th-century gateways. At first I thought it was locked, but it was open. I went through and immediately took a wrong turning — completely my own fault, not the guidebook's for a change. I meandered along quite happily for several kilometres. I was walking through a huge deer park called the Parc aux Dames, and every now and then I caught sight of small herds of fallow deer in the distance. I fell into a kind of dream, half expecting to see Oberon, Titania and Puck dancing in one of the woodland glades. This idyll was abruptly shattered when I arrived an exit gate at the far end of the park. It was not, however, the gate I should have reached — the Porte des Bonshommes by the riding school. The gate I'd come to had obviously not been used for years, and was well and truly locked. 

I hate retracing my steps, so I struck out round the perimeter wall, reasoning that it would lead me eventually to the correct gate. After a while I realised, from the position of the sun, I was following the wall in the wrong direction, so I returned and took a clockwise path. What seemed hours went by. The vegetation grew thicker, and trees and bushes barred the way. The ground became more uneven, and there were lots of little gullies to negotiate. Just as I was beginning to doubt my map reading skills, my scouting abilities and, indeed, my very sanity, I emerged from the woods by a stream. There was a bridge. I crossed it. I could see the riding school. But, unfortunately, a tall, green, metal gate lay between me and freedom — and, you've guessed it: it was locked. What to do? I could have continued my trek around the wall in the hope of finding another exit, but I was getting tired and cross. I was beginning to feel like one of those prisoners in the abbey at Clairvaux. There was nothing else for it but to climb the gate — but it looked impossible. It was about 7 or 8 ft high, completely smooth and had no handholds. However, next to the gate was a stone wall — yes, the very wall I'd been shadowing for so long. Again, there seemed at first glance to be few handholds, but when I examined it more closely there were several cracks and weak points, and these I enlarged with my fingers. I held high my backpack and perched it on top of the wall. Then I tried to haul myself up. It's a good thing there's no video of this, else it could have been quite embarrassing — though you would all have had a good laugh. At one stage I swear I was hanging downwards. But in the end, after countless attempts, I managed to lever myself to the top by facing backwards with my feet pushed against the bars of the gate. It sounds impossible, I know, but somehow I did it. Now it was child's play. I edged my backpack along the wall, shuffled my bottom after it, then, with legs dangling, jumped to freedom. I felt exhausted and relieved — and also strangely elated.

Escape! But into yet more woods . . . This is a Maison Forestière.

Crossing of the ways. Which path should I take?

Many towns and villages had displays of flowers at their entrance and exit.

The church in Arc-en-Barrois.

Who's looking at you? The bovine police. Go back to prison immediately!

6 comments:

Zach said...

Great photographs! I'm starting to become very fond of cows (thanks to your awesome photos).

Ruth Mowry said...

What an adventure! I get an almost nauseated feeling when I simply miss the exit and have to drive to the next and turn around, so your anguish this day resonates. You would think there are worse things than being trapped in a park, but when you have somewhere to go, it becomes hideous.

You had me at "14th-century gateway" by the way.

George said...

Such are the challenges of pilgrimage, I suppose, and I trust that you experienced great spiritual growth as you were perilously suspended on that gate in search for your freedom. Sorry, but I felt so much empathy for your plight that I did in fact chuckle a bit.

Susan Scheid said...

You are intrepid. And I love those cows!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, all!

Glad you found it amusing, George! What I didn't emphasise enough was the great feeling of satisfaction I got afterwards — from solving a problem, or triumphing over adversity, or something like that. It's probably a boy scout thing. (Though I was never a boy scout. I was too much of a loner and could never get to grips with those toggles or woggles or whatever they're called.)

dritanje said...

Such a great tale of getting lost and wall scaling! I know the feeling of having triumphed over seeming insuperable odds - such elation. And they make the best stories. Glad I'm not the only one who gets lost, and takes wrong turnings.