A couple of years ago, I got it into my head to take our younger son James with me on a donkey-trekking expedition in the Pyrenees. Heres the story of what happened:
Day One The Donkey Farm
The signpost in Seix said it all: Gite dÉtapes: Habitation des Ânes [Wayside Hostel donkeys live here]. Id rashly offered a few months earlier to go donkey-trekking in the Pyrenees with James, our sixteen-year old, to celebrate the end of his GCSE exams. At the time it had seemed an idyllic prospect strolling gently through the mountains to the clop of donkey-hooves, the sun caressing our backs as we meandered through the woods and by the streams. The reality was a little different.
A few likely key-words in an internet search-engine (donkey .. Pyrenees .. hike) took me to the website of Francois & Clodine, proprietors of Pyrénées-Ânes. With accompanying illustrations of smiling children on friendly-looking beasts, they offered a range of asinine options from a day to a fortnight. I opted for a week, sent a credit-card deposit, and settled back to day-dream.
Little further information was forthcoming, but I reckoned that I knew enough to manage. The site had included outline itineraries, and asked for a maximum of forty kilos of baggage, in soft bags. James & I enjoyed the trip in anticipation, buying dried food and extra camping gadgets (a weakness shared by both of us).
James went to France ahead of me, taking the train to Biarritz for a week with a French friend, Virgile, and his family. (Theyd enjoyed an exchange the previous year: James had been entertained at Biarritz, following which we took Virgile to Wolverhampton albeit by narrow-boat.) With our other two children also away, Liz and I had an indulgent week on Mull, ostensibly to test our camping equipment.
On the appointed day Liz & I crossed over to France, and began the drive south, accompanied by our eleven-year old, Rosie, and her cousin Gemma. They were planning a week at a friends house an hour from the Pyrenees while the two of us were in the mountains. We spent a night in Orleans, and were in good time the following afternoon to meet James at Toulouse station, before travelling on together to our friends home.
The following day was spent checking and packing our camping gear, before we set off for Aunac and the donkey farm.
to be continued ...
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