A winter's walk in France

A view of the Pyrennes

We spent Christmas at my mother's in the midi-Pyrennes in France. A day or so after Christmas we took the kids out for a walk along an old railway line. It was a fabulously sunny afternoon. Gradually the layers of coats and jumpers were peeled off and shoved into the buggy. That lovely crisp warmth of a sunny winter day.

We walked along, Galen running on ahead, the babies in the buggy. Dante playing a game of 'dogs' to keep the momentum up. I say, "sit doggy, good doggy, smell the stick, wait, wait, now go" as I throw the stick a little away. He bounds on, fetches the stick and brings it back. Repeat. Several times. We walked along, the snowy caps of the Pyrennes in the distance. Uncle Sam and grandpere David were skiing but we'd decided not to go to the mountains (partly because we don't have snow tyres and partly as I couldn't face putting the babies in the car for more than 5 minutes with the 4 hour journey home looming over us.)

We walked through beautifully ploughed fields, the soil rich dark and neatly turned. The peaty, moist smell filling our nostrils. Birds, gliding over our heads, screeching and cawing.

A baby walking

We passed the backs of a few village houses. A couple of dogs came to say hello, a cage of ducks, a few large trampolines waiting for the heat of the summer. We ambled along, throwing sticks, admiring the mountains and the blue sky. And then we came to a building that faced the railway line, surrounded in brambles and over grown bushes.

At first I thought it was a little house, a small cottage, the shutters closed for the winter. But then I realised it was the old train station at the village of Le Payrat. How beautiful. We scrabbled along a short path that led up to the platform. An old wooden canopy, creating shade for those thirsty and dusty passengers in the summer, now created a permanent shade in the winter. Cool, damp and dark. Any traces of light, obscured by the forest of briars in front of it, where the trains would have stopped. I timidly ventured to the end of the platform, hoping to take a peek around the corner. But it was too overgrown. It appeared like a general rubbish tip that had been left to nature. Old cans and tins, reclaimed by the octopus arms of the brambles, gradually, quietly drawing them in.

A beautiful old clock hung on the wall. As if in this pocket of the world, time itself had come to a stand still. The last train had pulled away, puffing clouds of steam in farewell and the clock ticked its last.

A deserted train station

An old station clock

A baby in an old station

We left the little house and walked on further. I could imagine the station master and his young wife, bringing up small children in this small but perfect home. A large garden around the back, planted with roses and summer fruits. The children would spend the summers gamboling on the lawn and plunging into the freezing river that runs off the mountains to cool down. Passengers would come and go. A school mistress arriving from Carcassone. Another world for them. Was she ever going to fit into this rural idil? A young man, off to seek his fortune, waves a teary goodbye to his mother, unknowing that it's the last time he'll see her for 10 years, by which time the war will have broken out and France will be an occupied country. He'll return as a brave, secret soldier, helping the resistance movement. A spanish family arrive, hoping to flee the terrors of the civil war. What stories could those benches tell? People sitting on them waiting, pausing in their adventures of life, getting up and leaving. More people arrive with more stories to tell.

We come to a few more houses and some large dogs behind a thankfully large fence. They're friendly now but I'm not what you'd call a dog person. The children throw them their apple cores. And some sticks that land too close for the dogs to worry about fetching. I never knew dogs ate apples.

The children are getting tired and we turn and head home. Back past the train station. But I'm still curious, so I take another look. I can see a way through the other side of the house. Perhaps I'll find the children's lawn, or the remains of their mother's carefully cultivated vegetable patch? I call to the others, give me 5 minutes. Baby in tow, Celeste and I scramble through, trying not to get caught on the protruding branches. This was once a little path that lead round the side of the station. We break through the grip of the trees and into the light. Not a little garden, but a car park. Of course! The front of the house is as well kept as the back. But the shutters are closed and there's no peeking in. The other side of the rubbish tip reveals an old abandoned truck, but it's too immersed in brambles for me to get close and I only have a few minutes.

On the other side, is another abandoned car. A red 50s small family car, sleeping under the protective arms of a fig tree. Thinking of the others, we hurry back. Celeste and I scramble back through our little time tunnel. Everyone is waiting for us. We say goodbye to the ghost of yesteryear and head to the park for a bit of see saw action.

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A deserted train station