Walking without a donkey: France 3

Agon-Coutainville to Regnéville 3.5.17 22kms approx. 8 hrs.

Gallette and cider – last night’s meal.
View from my bedroom window at Agon-Coutainville.
Goodbye to Carla and Nicholas, the Tsubook couple.

I leave Agon-Coutainville at 9.15am and it is quiet as I make my way along the promenade. There is the sound of my feet, and of the sea in the distance. It is low tide and there is a smell of seaweed.

Along the promenade the evening before I leave Agon-Coutainville.

The air is cool on my skin, and I am getting into a rhythm, with a dull, white-grey sky overhead; and swirls of brown, shining water with almost yellow sand to my right. In contrast are the massive stones nearby where they are fortifying the sea wall. It is ‘home from home’ really, reminiscent of Edinburgh / Scotland.

Can you see Nicholas hiding? Also taken the day before.

It is the beginning of this new walking meditation, with lighthouses on both edges of my peripheral vision. There’s a man with a cigar between his lips, his dog trotting along in a blue harness; clear instructions on a municipal sign not to collect too many shellfish and to beware of the right season / size when you do; and a bike cycling over the do not cycle sign.

Quite dull, the day I set out.

‘Doucement’ (gently) says a woman to her wolfhound. There are 100’s of child sounds, like a grounded flock of seagulls, who turn out to be from a sailing school, with its neon orange and white sails.

Sailing school, children playing.

Now the thumb of one hand is hot and the other cold. I think it is something about the details I notice when I am walking.

Historical photo of children on the beach in 1956.

Snippets of my bad dream come in and out of my head. Worries: Will my knees hold out? Is my backpack too heavy? But then it is like someone is holding my hand once again, and I remember this.

The sun starts to come out.

I wasted 10 minutes looking for someone to ask the way. Note to self: look with more care and if in doubt, keep going forward!

As I cross the dunes, a horse and rider cross my path. It’s the first time I have seen someone on his mobile while riding! It is slow walking on deep sand with the smell of the cyprus (or cedar?) trees, and the sounds of crows cawing. The sun is trying to come out, and it is windy. Once again I am reminded of home, this time the links at Gullane.

More detail now I am getting into my stride: a snail precarious on a stalk of grass; swifts or swallows darting across my vision; hearing a cuckoo. There are so many familiar flowers from hillside and garden: brambles, buttercups, veitch, and the sweetest smelling hawthorn, which I suspect is the scent that, in years to come, will take me back to Normandy.

The sweet smell of may. 

There is a bird with equally sweet tweets, intermittently, above my head; and very very loud crickets (or grasshoppers?) which are competing with the chattering mini birds.

The ‘randonnée’ signs I am starting to get familiar with – sometimes tricky to spot.

At the Pointe d’Agon, one rather slow hour later,  there is a soft brown bird with white stripes which flies 360 degrees around me at eye level – you know, those birds which do little, repeated, staccato swoops.

A memorial to the young men lost in the war.

Tightening the straps to stop them chaffing my shoulders, I stride on, fire-engine-siren bird calls to my right;
neat turf, wet to kneel on; and uneven pits of soft-sand bunkers. The world seems to be all a-tweet and I think to myself, I could walk along here like this forever.

The sweet almond scent is continuing to surprise me if I am looking down. A bird whistles at me, challengingly, through an avenue of pines. I can feel my tummy relax.

An oval of standing stones, a modern sculpture.

There are not many insects compared to all the birds: a wispy white flying something, a stubby black fluffy caterpillar, but not much else.

One of the many lighthouses. This one on the edge of the main estuary between Agon and Regnéville.

When I am amongst the trees I can hear the wind, but not otherwise. Here begins the long sweep around the bay, and I could do with a cup of tea.

One of the many attractive signs to help you position yourself.

The tide is way out, so there are beached boats balancing on their rudders; sharp marine grass; and broken shells underfoot. Buttercups totter in the cold windyness. I hear a distant church bell and smell the sheep as they say ‘huh huh huh’.

These signs are getting familiar and give quite accurate indications of distance and time between stages.

Here are the first group of fellow ramblers/randonneurs coming in the opposite direction. In all my walks to Mont-Saint-Michel I do not see a single other backpacker.

This poster shows the different sorts of shellfish.

Washes of miniature, dead crabs, and piles of oyster shells litter the path. Fields of broadbeans are beside me. At noon there is finally sun and butterfly #1.

Now there is a gorgeous odour of cow parsley, scuttling spiders on the clay, and pods of empty cells the size of my hand -dry and papery. Ah, I am stiff now, tireder, and assailed by the smell of dung!

Crossing La Sciene river, after 3 hrs, and a most welcome cuppa (I will come clean: I had to go back for my baton), I then realised my beloved Coquille Saint Jaques shell had broken off and gone forever, but I was given an alternative by the kind hostellier at La Bonne Auberge at the same moment.

I cross and skirt around the mouth of the Est. Pass Tourville sur Siene, and there is a stretch of long wet grass with a very narrow gulley to walk in. Here I suffer my first fall – I think I topple because I am hungry.

Flat, white-ended little birds are bounding through the reeds like rabbits. Carla’s delicious sourdough pizza is a welcome mid-day lunch in the sun.

Now it is time to get the pole out and I hope there are no tics. Yes of course I am lying in my bra – there is no-one for miles around and I am sure I need the money vitamin D.

Hidden by the grass

After my sunbathe when I watch the art-deco black and white butterfly (symbol of transformation), I feel re-energised, taste some wild garlic, help myself to a leaf of wild mint, chew a sprig of fennel (to remind me of last year’s Camino), and enjoy the church with a cock in top.

The lilac and honeysuckle are both out, but the map showed I was actually in the sea, and I started to feel lost. It is now extremely wet underfoot. The smartly coutured ducks cheer me up,  but there is a lot of improvising having to go on on these wetlands.

Nature is wonderful isn’t it? I spot urea coloured dungflies blending in. And there’s time to reflect: it turns out I forget what I have said quite often, though I hear myself denying that I have ; and of course, I realise once again that I have absolutely no idea of the future and how it will turn out.

By 4.30 I am so stiff and glad to arrive at Regnéville. Last night I searched Shiatsu practitioners in Normandy. The lovely Sophie Blondel was at the top of the list and miraculously lived at my next day’s stopping place. I phoned her on the off-chance ( in French btw!) and not only did she pick up the phone,  but she immediately said yes I could come and stay with her in return for Shiatsu.

So that’s what I did. What a star. How amazing to be the sort of person who just says ‘yes’! We had the best evening, what with the session, chats about our work (turns out we share the same teacher in Suzanne Yates), and her adorable cottage.

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