I left the gite this morning at eight-thirty, passed the church, and followed a broad, winding path leading off into the forest. Easy beginning, I thought. Then I clambered up a slippery slope, with mud and rocks overlain by a layer of greasy leaves making my going very difficult. This led to a rutted, boggy track that would have been hard passage even for a four-wheel drive. And then a minor road, up and up, and then a farm track, still climbing, and then a track along a ditch between two fields, neck-high on either side.
Suddenly I saw the Virgin beckoning me across the field to the right. Or was it a departed pilgrim? Or a scarecrow? Or last night's bed linen? But in the middle of nowhere? It remained an unsolved mystery.
An invention almost as old as the wheel is the door or gate. Once man began to live in a hut or put a fence around his beasts, he needed to be able to get in and out. The solution was a rectanglular frame, hinges and a lock. The principle hasn't changed in thousands of years. But the gate will continue to work only if the upright supports on either side remain firm and don't move under the weight of the gate or the settling of the ground. If that happens, the latch will not catch or the door will jam. I noticed an ingenious solution to this problem in the design of the gates I passed through today. The top hinge was fixed to a long bolt and a nut on the bolt could be adjusted to alter the slant of the gate to bring it closer to or further away from the latch. Clever!
I continued to climb up a long, blue-metalled, unsealed road that wound up and up a hill for ever. Finally, I arrived at the summit and came upon a man and two dogs. The man was friendly, and so was one of his dogs, but the other was skittish and darted at my calf as we parted. Didn't bite, just pushed.
This habit of dogs has passed into the language in the expression "nipped at the heels", as has their more aggressive behaviour of "going for the throat". I have had dogs nip at my heels on several occasions, but never have they gone for my throat or any other part of my body. I wondered whether their nipping at my heels was merely a warning to get me on my way without intending to harm, or what remained of an atavistic instinct to sever a tendon to bring down the prey.
The owner was most apologetic at his dog's "nipping" at my heels, and explained that he had recently rescued him from a shelter, knowing nothing of his previous treatment, and was having to work with him to accustom him to other people.
And then down, down, down, all along, out along, down along lee. Five kilometres short of my destination, the GR tried to take me up another hill. But I declined, and followed the road into town, there to find my place at the municipal gite. I'm very comfortable, but all alone again.