Five Days Walking in France – Day 2: La Palombière


Our second day’s walking was around Agonac, a small town about a 20 minute drive south-east, and the morning fog hadn’t yet lifted, so we couldn’t see much of the countryside as we headed down there. But we knew it would, as the sun rose and warmed the day. Der had been up and out on the porch when I’d come back from Aldi with the baguettes rustiques first thing that morning, watching a watery dawn rise over the glen beyond, brightening the trees – the same trees the sun had reddened as it set the evening before, the darkening slowly pushing up its soft and tired red light until finally it was only a thread at the treetops and then it was gone.

And sure enough, by the time we parked opposite the school where the young children were at their fabulous raucous play, the sun was high and hot and we knew we were in for a scorcher, that we’d be feeling real heat on our old bones that day. And so it was. And as we passed the children running and skipping, John quoted from Joni:

I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free

Poor old Joni, she’s not well at all. We talked about her.

We walked up through Place du 11 Novembre 1918 as the map directed us and out, up, into the countryside to join up with the boucle we’d chosen. And all the time the sun was rising and the sky was bluing and the dew on the blades of grass was melting to nothing away, and the ditches and the little bushes and hedges were gossamered by spiders’ magical intricate sunlit webbing. Dermot asked how many spiders there must be in the world to create so many fantastical nets, and it was a good question that morning, looking all around us on the brow of a small hill. We stopped to photograph one and John remarked about the incomparable poet Leonard Cohen’s incomparable line from Marrianne: I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web/  is fastening my ankle to a stone.


So we talked about Cohen as we walked and his years of depression and how he was a better poet than Dylan and then we talked about Dylan winning the Nobel Prize and then we came to the palombière in an open wood with tall trees. We’d seen one of these the day before too but didn’t know what it was for, except that it has something to do with doves or pigeons. It was full of mechanical devices to lift birds (wood pigeons, as it happens) up above the tree line, and their wings are clipped and their eyes are covered and their feet are tied to a little platform, and they just stand there to attract other wood pigeons, who can then be trapped by hunters, who wait in covered dens.

So far, so horrible, but what struck me the most was that just at the time we arrived, the sun was driving down long and very distinct beams of light through the trees, light like you would see in an old biblical film heralding the arrival of God, as bright as sunlight can be, and transforming the mossy tree barks and the green leaves on the sweet chestnut trees and the brown leaves on the ground and the ground itself, into a magical and stunningly transfixing sight. As if nature had to provide a vision of breath-taking beauty, a beacon, to compensate for the tawdry and transgressional hunting – or so it seemed to our eyes, anyway – to claim back the place for itself, to reassert its primacy.

We had a fantastic walk: through long rolling hills and dales; past a tobacco farm, with shed after shed of long, browning leaves drying to be readied for smoking; beside fields of blackening and drooping dying sunflowers, still in the ground, their seeds being readied to be crushed for oil; by huge tracts of ploughed land, some of it still opened to a dark rich brown and some of it already sown with winter corn, the little green shoots pushing up through the rich soil. It’s a fertile place and well managed too. The farmhouses are large and old – these people are here for the long haul, they’re not going anywhere. While the villages we drove through every day were depopulated and sad and boarded up and smelling of the past, the land of the Dordogne was still producing, and the countryside was still as purposeful as it was beautiful.


We ate lunch in a suntrap beside a working farm overlooking some fallow fields. I think it used to be an old orchard. There were the remains of blackberries and haws in the high bushes behind us. Bees buzzed around, it would have been a great July day in Ireland, we rested and ate in the heat, glorying in the wonder of it all. Then we lay back in the long dry grass and closed our eyes for a moment. Maybe we were still thinking about Marianne and her spider’s web, maybe not.

But what a fucking writer, what a fucking song.


Come over to the window, my little darling,
I’d like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy
before I let you take me home.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you’ve gone and changed your name again.
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
to wash my eyelids in the rain!

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.