Michael’s application to go on a teacher exchange has been refused. By way of compensation he plans a summer holiday tour of France.
It must not be imagined, however, that our young man was an adventurer of the physical kind: for he had never yearned to face the challenges of steaming jungles, scorching deserts, icy wastes and vertiginous heights. He was more an adventurer of the mind: what thrilled him above all was the exploration of the manners, customs, forms and codes of a culture significantly different to his own and mastering the language which gave access to it. He was fully aware that a trip of this kind had to be carefully thought about and planned in detail. Fortunately, Bridgeford had a large Central Library with a well-stocked section of books on foreign travel, and he had devoured all they had to offer on those more frequented regions of France. There were so many things to discover that he’d have to be selective. But gradually a route began to trace itself out in his mind. It was in no way rigid and he had resolved that if along the way he was presented with anything of unforeseen interest he would have no hesitation in deviating from his plan. And as far as accommodation was concerned the choice was simple: his nights would be spent in camping sites and youth hostels. Not only did arrangements of this nature facilitate informal human contact but they had the advantage of being reasonably priced – though he’d have to invest in a small tent, a sleeping bag, an inflatable mattress and camping stove as well as join the international Youth Hostel Association. But as the time came near the thrill of excitement he’d felt at the prospect of new adventure was tempered by the apprehensive realization that this would be his first lone venture into a relatively unexplored country.
And now in his more dreamy moments of leisure he would relive the route he had followed, the things and places he had seen and those memorable little incidents that had happened on the way. The planned starting point in France had been Normandy and, after driving down from the North of England he’d taken the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. From there he’d driven to the historical town of Rouen visiting Claude Monet’s Cathédrale Notre Dame, the Place du Vieux-Marché where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, and the house where Pierre Corneille first saw light of day. He’d then made for that picturesque port of Honfleur before taking the direction of Bayeux where he’d followed spellbound the fabulous tapestry representation of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. And the afternoon had been spent exploring the steep ruelles of that Wonder of the Western World, the Mont Saint-Michel. Then on to Brittany with a first stop in Saint-Malo, the legendary home of pirates and explorers before continuing via Brieuc, Lannion and Morlaix in the direction of that spectacular, most westerly promontory of France, the Pointe du Raz. He’d next taken a south-easterly direction through Concarneau, Lorient, Quiberon to the Loire Valley where he’d visited the historic towns of Angers, Orléans and Tours, and the grand châteaux of Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord and Amboise. And he’d also made a detour to Chinon and had climbed up to the ruins of the castle where in 1429 Joan of Arc had persuaded the dauphin Charles VII to help her in her divinely-sanctioned mission to raise the siege of Orléans and boot the English out of France. After he’d headed south-west to Poitiers, then on to Angoulème and Merignac and down to the Basque towns of Bayonne and Biarritz. After, turning south-east he’d followed the foothills of the Pyrenees through Pau and Tarbes to the spectacular fortified town of Carcassonne and then on to Narbonne, Montpellier, Nîmes, Arles, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille before driving north up the Rhône Valley through Mâcon, Beaune and Dijon, taking in some famous Burgundy vineyards on the way. And then it was north-west to Troyes, Reims, Compiègne and finally back to Dieppe where he took the ferry back home.
And he couldn’t help smiling with fond amusement at an incident which stood out in his mind. It had happened at the very beginning of his trip. From Newhaven to Dieppe there were two sailings per day – a morning and an early evening one. Since he had to drive all the way down from the North of England to Newhaven he’d decided to take the evening one which was scheduled to arrive in Dieppe at around 11 p.m. The problem was that at this late hour it would be impossible to book into a camping site or Youth Hostel. So where could he spend the night? The simple answer was that he would camp in the wild. After driving off the ferry he would head out of Dieppe and after a few kilometres turn down some country lane which would certainly lead to a field where he could pitch his tent. It was true he would have preferred this first experience of camping to have taken place in circumstances more regulated and visible; and he couldn’t help feeling slight apprehension at the thought of spending his first night in France with only a thin stretch of fabric around and above him. He had, however, found some comfort in the self-persuaded view that any danger involved in spending a few nocturnal hours in such an exposed configuration lay solely within the confines of an alarmist imagination. So, after landing he’d driven out of Dieppe as planned and proceeded for a few kilometres in the direction of Rouen before taking a narrow hedge-lined lane off the Route Nationale. He soon came to a gate which opened onto a field. The moon was hidden by clouds and the night was particularly dark, and he could only glimpse the occasional subdued star lurking above. He pitched his tent by torchlight, slipped into his sleeping bag and fell into an uneasy sleep. The sun was just rising when he was woken by strange trampling sounds. He could see great, looming shadows through the east-facing side of the tent. And suddenly its whole structure began to sway. It was with some trepidation that he’d scrambled out – only to find himself submerged by a herd of grazing Normandy cows!.