It is the encounters with people that make life worth living.
Guy de Maupassant
There is much to be said for walking the Via Francigena in a more leisurely way. Namely having a one hour nap at lunchtime, arriving at your destination in the early afternoon, enjoying a refreshing glass of Grenadine with your host and then spending the rest of the afternoon basking in the late summer sunshine doing precisely nothing. This is exactly what I did today!
There was an autumnal chill in the air and frost in the fields as we headed out of Châteauvillain this morning. For most of the first hour or so it was barely above freezing. In fact it was so cold that I lost all sensation in my fingers for quite a while.
I think the last couple of days walking have taken their toll on my body. Of course, ealing up at 5am to complete the previous day’s blog may have contributed to my feeling of general lassitude, a feeling which over powered me during most of the morning’s walk. I felt very much like a zombie, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other and following Georges’ footsteps.
As we walked through yet more woodland, Georges pointed to some grass patches beside the path which had been dug up by somebody or something. “Sangliers” he said knowingly, “they are after mushrooms and chestnuts.”
Recent estimates suggest that there are as many as two million wild boars in France. That number is increasing due to milder winters and the decline in popularity of hunting. I’m sure Mme Tordeux-Bremard would have strong views on the subject!
At midday we stopped at a small clearing in the forest. While Georges ate his lunch I inspected my boots. After over 1,000 km, there were definite signs of wear and tear. On the heels of both boots, the lugs had completely worn away leaving the exposed foam underlay visible. The big question is how long they will last before they fall to bits! Maybe there will be an outdoor shop in Besançon where I can purchase a replacement pair. On the Via Francigena, comfortable boots are a pilgrim’s best friend.
With this thought in my mind, I lay back on my rucksack in the warm sunshine,closed my eyes and promptly fell asleep for an hour. If George’s hadn’t woken me up and reminded me that our destination at Mormant- Leffonds was still 15km away, I would probably have slept the rest of the day in the forest clearing!
Rejuvenated by my kip, the walk to Mormant passed fairly quickly. Eventually we emerged from the forest and made our way across open farmland to the tiny hamlet of Mormant.
Nowadays little remains at Mormant apart from some ramshackle farm buildings and a wire enclosure which contained a rather friendly looking wildish boar. It swung its tale enthusiastically as I took its photo. I later learnt from our hosts that her name is Geraldine and was adopted by the family in the village, 10 years ago when she was a young wild boar!
600 years ago, there was an Abbey at Mormant that was controlled by the Order of Templars.
The Maison-Dieu at Mormant was founded in 1120 and was a house of hospitality for pilgrims. Managed by the Augustinians and the beneficiary of many endowments, Mormant then passed into the hands of the Templars, a religious military order, charged with protecting the pilgrims along routes that led to holy places. After being accused of heresy by the king, they were arrested and later executed. Their heritage was handed over to the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, who were also monk soldiers, who later went by the name of Knights of Malta.
We eventually arrived at the small village of Mormant-Leffonds and made our way to ‘La Cressonière’, known to VF pilgrims as ‘The Gipsy Caravan’. We passed a notice board advertising dog agility lessons, a pleasant change to the usual signs warning potential intruders of imminent death or disembowelment by fiersome four legged fiends lurking behind a fence!
We were welcomed at La Cressonière and shown to the famous ‘Gipsy Caravan’. This was infinitely superior to its UK equivalent – the Shepherd’s Hut! The Gipsy Caravan came equipped with a couple of beds, shower and loo facilities as well as coffee making facilities and a TV! We were in clover!
Dominique, the propriétaire, invited us over for a welcome glass of Grenadine and told us a bit about the history of ‘La Cressonière’.
‘La Cressonière’, which means the place where cress is grown, has been developed by Dominique and her husband into a luxury gite d’étape boasting sauna and spa facilities as well as a veritable menagerie – doves, Indian runner ducks, dwarf hens, a draft horse and a pond ( where cress used to be grown) where you can now idle away the time fishing for roach!
Dany and Dominique, the proprietaires of ‘La Cressonière’ provided us with a sumptuous supper which began with a delicious salad, progressed to a hearty spaghetti bolognese, moved on to a selection of cheeses and finished with a mouth watering creme brulée made with duck eggs.
Conversation over supper flowed freely- from Dany’s involvement with the Communauté d’Emmaűs ( a charity set up in 1949 whose aim is to integrate into society disenfranchised people who are looking for a place to live, work and rebuild their lives), to cross country skiing ( Georges had worked for many years as a cross country skiing instructor), to the joys of owning dogs (Dany and Dominique own a friendly black poodle called ‘Guidou’) to the mysteries of Brexit and what the French think about Boris Johnson. The excellent food and stimulating company made for a thoroughly entertaining evening.
What a day it had been! If only I had more time on my hands and wasn’t on a pilgrimage to Rome I could happily spend more time at ‘La Cressonière’, I wistfully thought to myself as I turned off the light and bedded down for the night. But then again, going on a pilgrimage brings new challenges and excitement every day. As Guy de Maupassant once famously said: “It is the encounters with people that make life worth living.” I couldn’t have put it better myself!