Wet Sheepy Stuff

Writing Residency Day 2

Following yesterday’s apprehensions, something did go bump in the night. Several times. It was rather like a severed head bumping–… actually, let’s not go there. I kept my eyes squeezed tight shut so as not to discover a ghostly lady in long skirts standing over me, and soon fell asleep again in my museum.

As predicted, today was very sheepy and very wet. I’m proud to announce that I did the transhumance (accompanying the sheep from the valley to the mountain pastures), and I did it no less than twice in one day.

The first was the traditional ceremony, in which flocks of sheep left from their individual farms and joined at Estaing, where they took the road up to the Lac d’Estaing lake.

There were three types of flock:

In other words: flocks of sheep; flocks of tourists walking behind each flock of sheep; and flocks of cars driving behind each flock of tourists, which walked behind each flock of sheep. (I could go on with this game, but I’ll stop there).

It was a fascinating sight, and I particularly liked the way the sheep would snatch mouthfuls of grass from the verges at any opportunity. One flock of 5 sheep was led by a pony and children from the local villages, who sang their hearts out during the whole length of the 12km (4-hour) hike.

At the lake, the sheepdogs rounded the sheep into pens, the tourists bought local products and then everyone went off for a good, French midday meal to the music of clanking sheep-bells.

The sheep contented themselves with chewing the cud, sleeping, er…praying? singing? (look hard at that last photo, behind the black sheep).

Three hours later – I’d had lots of time to study the sheep, take photos and scribble notes by then – the flocks were blessed by a priest.

This particular priest was a visitor from Madagascar, and I loved his big smile.

He flicked holy water from a red bucket (that made me smile) over the flocks –  and then over the crowd (though I’m not sure if this was protocol or him having a laugh).

I caught the shuttle bus back ‘home’ and just had time to dry out my coat and trousers before I met up at my next appointment.

This was at Pascal and Dominique Gainza’s farm, where I’d been invited for a proper, real-life transhumance. An evening transhumance. And I had to be there at 6:30pm on the dot.

Someone, however, was missing.

“Where’s the dog?” asked Pascal.

I don’t know if this is tradition or real life, but the next 15 minutes were spent driving around the village looking for Dora the border-collie-cross. Without Dora, we could forget taking the sheep anywhere.

We eventually found her hiding in her kennel, and proceedings were able to begin at 7:15pm. 

What came next was the most magical of mountainous experiences, and I felt very privileged to be included.

With Dora nipping at the sheep’s heels and Pascal and Jerôme telling sheepy anecdotes, we threaded through magnificent, ancient woodland to the Col des Bordères at 1500 metres high.

From there, we continued upwards, arriving at a tranquil pasture as dusk fell, three hours after we left the valley.

The sheep amazed me because once we were past Aucun, they knew exactly where to go – even turning left at a road junction. They did ignore the No Entry sign, though.

I swear the horned cows we met in the open pastures recognised the sheep. They joined the woolly party and continued heading upwards all together after we left them, no doubt gossiping about the shameful behaviour of that good-for-nothing Sally Sheep from the neighbouring flock.

Or perhaps they were heading to a cow-bell rave party on the heights above the Col du Soulor.

In any case, we headed back down the track in the dark, admiring the lights of Arrens and Marsous from our lofty lodge. And I resolved that one day I would spend a night up on those restful pastures.

Many thanks to Pascal and Dominque for their generous invitation.

(The late hour and misty weather explain the poor quality of photos – nothing to do with me being exhausted).

And, by the way, I may not have done any proper writing, but I had some fantastic experiences and took lots of notes. Does that count?

13 thoughts on “Wet Sheepy Stuff

  1. Carolyne

    WOW that is a “sheepy” day. I have seen the “tourist” version of the transhumance in some of the local villages here in the Alpilles. However, there is nothing mystical about the experience and certainly nothing as authentic as you describe. #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nessafrance

    It sounds like a great experience, even if it was wet! We once went to the cattle transhumance in the Aubrac, which attracts thousands of people. At the end of May it was 1 degree C up there! #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Phoebe | Lou Messugo

    I went to the mountains on Sunday to take part in a Transhumance but it wasn’t as elaborate as yours with only one large flock involved. While it wasn’t as magical as your experience, especially the evening part, I still really enjoyed it and loved watching the silly sheep running through the hill top village. Thanks for sharing with #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

    1. harrietspringbett Post author

      Hey Phoebe, thanks for reading. Once the sheep get running, you mustn’t stand in their way – there’s no stopping them. One of the highlights was when the shepherds opened the pens and let the sheep flow out like a woolly river.


  4. harrietspringbett Post author

    Yes, it was the stuff of great memories, Vanessa. Somehow I’m less attracted to cattle than sheep. I have a weakness for sheep, having bottle-fed lots of orphan lambs when I was a kid.


    1. harrietspringbett Post author

      Oh yes, you must try to take part. It’s great to get ahead and then watch the different flocks come past. Thanks for your comment – and let me know how you find it if you do manage to go next year.



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