After four months, the time has come for us to leave Quillan, and I am as miserable as the weather at the thought.
As I spend a long weekend writing, feverishly beavering to complete my first book draft while the boys adventure in the snow in Andorra, I am reminded that loneliness is a major challenge we face when uprooting ourselves from our regular lives, wider family, friends, colleagues and connections to move to the other side of the world.
As an extrovert and a fairly social person, who likes to spend time with people, it is unexpected and unsettling for me to discover it is possible to be lonely, while surrounded by people; living in a sizable town, even while having good ‘friends’ and neighbours and knowing others in the wider community.
This week I left Stephen to enjoy the bracing walk and scramble up to the arche perdue while I looked after the toddler at home, and beavered away on my book, but last week, as school had not quite started back, I persuaded the two older boys to join me for the weekly Monday full-day walk.
Prospects looked good for a sunny day once the mist lifted, but it was the iciest morning so far, for the walk around the hills between St Ferriol and St Just-le-Bezu.
This year was the first time the boys had experienced Christmas in France. It was an opportunity to do things a bit differently, being away from home, living in someone else’s house, visiting others and sharing the Christmas festivities with French friends.
It helps that Christmas in France is in the winter – with the dark and the cold, it fits all the prevailing stereotypes of the season and actually feels like Christmas!
This week I went on my second full-day walk and it was one I was quite excited about, taking us in a long loop up from Alet-les-Bains to the hilltop hamlet of St Salvayre and down via the vineyard and farm at Les Payroulies back along the river to Alet.
When the boiler broke down last week, I wasn’t initially too worried as I have become experienced in resetting it thanks to an earlier failure. But after four days of freezing temperatures, no heating, no hot water, and no sign of a qualified tradesman willing or able to fix it, I was becoming less optimistic.
Today’s organised walk took us around the plateau above Brenac, following the sun as it moved from its highest point in the sky to set below the distant hills, leaving us in the increasing cold and returning to our cars in the encroaching twilight in the space of just three hours.
For the latest organised Saturday walk, the rest of the family having arrived in Quillan, Tomos opted to stay at home with his brothers, leaving me to enjoy a walk in the winter sun, ‘on my own’. It was a little odd, not having my constant companion at my side, but a chance to chat with different people and, sometimes, just to enjoy ambling along on my own, at my own pace, without the need for conversation.
This week’s walk, like the first, was again for Telethon, a big event here with weeks of fundraising events culminating this past weekend with televised coverage, and a full programme of activities from zumba, to vide greniers (a community garage sale) and organised walks. There were two walks of different lengths to choose from, both leaving from the hamlet of farmhouses at Pailheres near Esperaza, known as Les Soubirous.
For our third walk (without yet paying or providing any documentation – shh!), Tom and I joined the group for a full-day Monday outing, this time further afield, starting from the small village of Montferrand, to the northwest of Castelnaudary.
Our walk today was one out of the Bear Grylls children’s book series, as we tracked the hooves and smells of sanglier (wild boar), who had passed ahead of us on the muddy and leaf-strewn tracks through the hills.
For the second time, we joined a Saturday afternoon walk under the auspice of the Haute Vallée Randonnée walking group, this time starting from the nearby village of St Ferriol, a short drive from Quillan.