Travelshorts - Herding Cattle in the Charente

I braked, hard.  The contents of the shopping bag throwing themselves to the floor. Baguettes, cheese, saucissons, and a selection of local vegetables - all now splayed haphazardly at the foot of the passenger seat.

This wasn’t for a red light, though, nor for a slow tractor crawling up a steep incline. It was for a calloused hand outstretched in the universal symbol for ‘stop’!  I watched on as the gentleman before me sent out a barrage of whistles, before waving his hands frantically, in the universal gesture for ‘let’s go’!

Windows were down, as the late evening heat reflected straight back off the black asphalt into my pores. So I heard a rather remorseful “Pardon, monsieur” from up ahead which was hissed straight through the farmer’s missing front two teeth. A unique mouth shape that gave him the superhero ability of whistling as fiercely as he did, I thought.

And then the cows came.  Shyly at first, one by one across this narrow country lane, encouraged to take each step.  Some were obedient. Others plodded at their own pace, pausing to eye up the rental car before nonchalantly carrying on.  The farmer’s accomplices jumped from their trailer now and again to help usher the reluctant with a “Oui, oui, monsieur!  Oui, oui, madame!”

The herd’s new home, across the small lane, was arguably more appealing, if only given the gleaming gold buttercups at the bottom of the hill and the uninterrupted view of grape vines to the west.  Their supporting act was spindly sunflowers. Flanking both sides of the road as birds zipped across their heads, using them as stepping-stones.  The vantage point from this small hill allowed my gaze to wander out in each and every direction, spotting smudges of colour dotted within the landscape.  A purple here, a yellow there.

Overseeing it all stood a fiery red sun, soon to be swallowed up by the advancing horizon line.  It was as if the sky itself had dug out its treasured paintbrush in a bid to outdo every painted sunset I’d ever seen.  Wide eyed and mouthed, I took a moment to breathe this awe-inspiring scene in, before a shout from the farmer snapped me out of my reverie.

Back on the road some minutes later, after a successful crossing and a gappy smile from the man in charge, I got to thinking about how many other beautiful moments like this I’d missed in my life. By not paying attention. By being on autopilot. By not living in the present moment.  Indeed, all it had taken for me to find the most beautiful place in the world had been a wait for a long line of cows. And a pace dictated by a very persistent Charentais farmer, now just a tiny speck on my rear-view mirror, soon to vanish completely.