Saturday, 22 November 2014

Le Pont Sur Le Fleuve St Laurent

Saturday November 1st, and my last day of travelling by horse this autumn when I rode to the bridge over the St Lawrence river at Trois Rivieres.   Bernard had kindly offered to guide me on an infinitely preferable cross-country short cut for the first part of the way to avoid a longer route by road, so we set off across the fields, Bernard leading the way on his Canadian horse (the black horse in front of the paint horse).
Are those the tracks of heffalumps?  I am sure we have been here before.......
It was not Bernard's usual route so we ended up on a bit of a magical mystery tour in the woods, going round in a complete circle rather like Winnie-the-Pooh.   But it was not long before we were back on track, and following Bernard's directions I made my way through Becancour to the banks of the St Lawrence.  Trois Rivieres is on the other side of the river in this photo..
We arrive at the bridge over the St Lawrence
As arranged, the wonderful Jacques Charlesbois (with Sebastian and Martin for moral support) arrived soon after to pick up Lady, catching me scoffing a sandwich provided by Cecile.
The weary travellers tucking in.....
...before Lady is loaded into Jacques swish trailer for the four hour journey back to Wendover ..
Unlike the UK where trailers have loading ramps, most of the trailers in Canada are step-up like this.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Routes tranquilles

My jolly Joly hostess...
..seeing to her horses next morning Thursday 30th Oct.  And she insisted on providing me with a packed lunch!
With the notable exception of the Trans Canada Trail officials, everyone in Quebec has been unfailingly kind and friendly, and that includes people I have met as I have been riding along.  Near Villeroy I got talking to this lovely couple...
The effervescent Lise Brideau invited me to sit and chat on the bench outside their little weekend cabin, which was Tardis-like in that their woodland 'garden' extended back for two kilometres,  not unusual for spacious Canada!   A retired hairdresser from Plessis, and in her sixties like me, since retirement Lise has cycled around 9000 kms (I think I have it right) in various parts of North America.  Her trusty steed was wheeled out for photos with mine, amid much hilarity!
I keep seeing these mystifying signs - is it an official restriction on singing Cole Porter without a municipal permit, a sort of Night and Day Anything Doesn't Go?...
..or is it a warning for door-to-door salesmen, as colporteur in my French dictionary appears to mean someone who flogs religious tracts and the like.
Thankfully the long fast road to my destination of Ste Francaise had a quiet sandy ATV track running parallel all the way..
Cristian Dubois was my busy host at another well-run equestrian centre, the Ecurie des Pins, so yet again no photo opportunities, added to which I crashed out almost immediately on a comfortable bed in the warm guest apartment he let me use.  Many thanks Cristian!
A dawn start on my penultimate day of riding, Friday October 31st although it is already 7.30am ..
I covered around 40 kilometres this day, though riding on the quiet level gravel roads which criss-cross this region meant easy going.
A classic autumn ploughing scene - this could be England..
Bernard Giles, the proprietor of La Ferme du Joual Vair where I was being hosted on my last night on the road, drove out to guide me in over his fields.  The ebullient Bernard, who speaks fluent English, has considerable experience of guiding mounted groups, having done so in the American West before running trail rides at the farm for many years.  So a riding holiday well worth considering for European visitors who would like to experience trail riding near Montreal. I was shown to a bedroom in their clean, warm and comfortable guest house where I had a welcome shower and cup of tea before sauntering over to the main house for a superb meal produced by Bernard's supercook partner Cecile .....

Un lit de foin

Crossing the bridge over the Chaudière river at St Lambert de Lauzon on the morning of Tuesday 28th October. You can see the church steeple in the background, a common landmark in Quebec towns.
This seemingly quiet backwater road in fact provided access to a sand quarry and there was a regular stream of trucks charging past.. 
...whereas this little road running parallel to Highway 20 which I followed for a couple of days had minimal local traffic as most vehicles used the highway... 
Note the ubiquitous moose warning sign on the highway!
A Hound of the Baskervilles wheeled toy abandoned by a giant?   In fact this enormous advert for a dog sled training centre is improbably supposed to represent a husky
A warm welcome awaited me at the beautifully run Les Ecuries O'Neill-Rondot near St Apollinaire. It is a comprehensive equestrian facility run by the lovely Geraldine Rondot and Paul O'Neill, who specialise in 'English' rather than Western style riding, Geraldine having been born and brought up in France. Surprisingly it is Paul who is the native Quebecian (though with Irish ancestry). They both spoke good English - my painful struggles in French regularly prompted them to exhort me to 'say it in English'!   A convivial supper with Paul's daughter Frederique on the left, the camera shy Paul, and Geraldine, before a snifter of whisky and bed ...
This was in the glorious old house they are renovating.  Fascinatingly it was previously one of the oldest houses in St Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, and was due for demolition.  The ever energetic Paul had it taken apart and reconstructed on its present site, though it took a while to acquire planning for a home - in the meantime it was used as a 'hay barn'! 
 Cloaked in the mists of time?  A view of the old house as I left on Wednesday morning 29th Oct......
The advantage of following alongside the highway was the opportunity for the occasional Tim Horton's coffee and bagel in the warmth while Lady grazed outside....
I love these old Canadian barns......
..many of which are sadly neglected and falling down. They are sometimes reflected in the letter boxes as in this decorative example...
...and I ended up sleeping in one that night.   I had nowhere sorted out to stay and hoped I would not end up under a hedge on a freezing night, but as usual Quebecian hospitality did not let me down.  After knocking on the door of a house near Joly with a couple of horses in a paddock outside, we were offered shelter in the barn, and I snuggled down in my sleeping bag in the hay loft..

Une Passionnee de Welsh Cob.

Sunday 26th October.  Denis very kindly drove me in the morning to point out a cross country short cut, which involved this small river crossing, but avoided a long detour.  
View looking back towards La Durantaye- the little black dots are Canadian horses..
I had arranged with trotter owner Francis Carrier to let myself in to his smart stables at Pintendre, where a warm and well bedded box was waiting for Lady. I slept on the floor in the community room, and gave Marc who runs the stables for Mr Carrier a shock in the morning!  But he recovered sufficiently to treat me to breakfast at a restaurant down the road before I set off.
I was now not far from Quebec, where I had originally planned to cross the St Lawrence, but partly due to my delays, I decided to make for the bridge at Trois Rivieres further south.
Riding along a quiet road beside the Etchemin river, which we crossed at St Henri..
A police car drew up as I was riding along the rather over grandly named Route de President Kennedy. Was I in trouble?  But it was only a friendly policeman who kept horses and was just curious.  I posed obligingly for a photo.
I had occasionally seen far off patches of white in the fields over the past few days, but it was only when a flock of honking geese landed nearby that I realised I had been seeing geese resting on their flight south..
I was very pleased to have found a place to stay overnight at St Lambert de Lauzon with Welsh Cob enthusiast Maude Brouard and family.  This was particularly gratifying as I was able to see her lovely Welsh cob mare Menai Cardi Princess, bred close to me in Wales by well-known cob breeder Peter Jones of the Menai stud.  Here is Maude with Princess and foal...
Supper at home with the rest of the family before retiring to bed... 
L to R:  sister Sarah who speaks fluent English, father Jocelyn who is on the committee of the Association des Poneys Welsh &Cob du Quebec, mother Sophie and son.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Une Collection Etonnante

Saturday 25th October, and overhead long skeins of Canadian geese were flying south for the winter, as they have been doing for a couple of weeks..
  After another dawn start (7.30am!), I was glad to find a local shop in the nearby village of St Pierre with a coffee machine, so was able to stop for a coffee and muffin breakfast while Lady grazed.
The majority of general stores have a coffee machine - the challenge is to find one on my route that is also open!
Everyone has been taking advantage of the dry weather for a final harvest before the winter closes in, and the quiet country roads were busy with agricultural vehicles tearing past at surprising speeds..
 Apart from silage, two of the main crops are maize and soya.
 A lovely old Quebec farmhouse, sadly abandoned ....
The hosts at my next stop La Durantaye were the very hospitable Denis and Aline Bolduc, who provided a restful bedroom and completely spoilt me during my stay. They were out for the evening, but I had a welcome laze, gorging on food Aline had left in the fridge for me and watching Men In Black on telly.  Aline has travelled abroad and speaks some English so we were able to communicate very effectively.
Dennis keeps a few Canadian horses, a breed which has declined in numbers but now has a small but enthusiastic following. It was originally used as an all-round ride and drive working animal, like the Welsh cob to which it bears a strong resemblance, and the Morgan horse which is apparently a descendant.  As a former dealer in agricultural machinery who also works his Canadian horses in harness, Denis has an amazing collection of old horse powered apparatus.  The contraption behind Denis is a treadmill which powers agricultural equipment...
To see it in action, click on this link.    If you wish (though it is quite entertaining) you can ignore Denis with the rather gawky Jersey cow at the beginning and fast forward to 3.30 to see his black Canadian horses smoothly at work.  A relatively small but stocky breed of horse, Canadian horses are predominantly dark colours such as black.
For a demonstration of his horse-powered machinery being used to mow, ted (turn hay to dry it) and transport hay  click on this link .  The chestnut and black horses are Denis's Canadian horses, the grey is a Percheron.  Commentary by the man himself, shown below with Aline.

Comment Exploiter un Arbre D'Erable, or How to Tap a Maple Tree.

Thursday 23rd October.   Riding across farmland on my way to St Aubert on a cold and windy morning..
and through pretty little French villages ....
Silence des Quebecois? Yet another grisly Halloween murder - this time apparently boiled alive and ready to serve up for dinner, perhaps with some fava beans and a nice chianti.  At least the crime scene has already been taped off. 
That evening Lady and I stayed with the welcoming Doebeli family, who moved out here from Switzerland to set up an equestrian centre Ranch Grain-de-Selles.  Jean Pierre Doebeli is shown here taking a lesson in their indoor riding school; a necessity for any equestrian centre in Canada as the ground is under snow for several months of the year.  This 'polytunnel' variety is most common.  Jean Pierre is a great believer in using games to increase the riders' confidence, which explains the little obstacle course.  Unusually for much of Canada, they also use ponies for the children, which I thoroughly approve of!

Corinne Doebeli went out of her way to make up a bed in a snug corner of their community room for me and made sure the heating was on!
I have been very grateful for this sort of hospitality with temperatures dropping and snow continually forecast since to travel light I had ditched the tent and was only carrying one sleeping bag and a survival bag.
 I joined the family for supper later in the evening - Jean Pierre and Corrine with sons Benjamin and Nicholas...
Friday 24th October - an dawn start for the long ride to Montmagny.
While riding through woodland areas I have occasionally seen areas cordoned off at random with blue or green rope, but could not work out for what reason.  It was only on closer inspection of such an area this morning that I realised it was plastic tubing for maple tapping. 
 Metal or plastic spiles as seen above are inserted into the trunk of the maple tree to collect the sap, which runs along the network of tubing to an evaporation building or  'sugar shack' where it is boiled to remove excess liquid and produce maple syrup of different grades.  If you are really interested, here is a little video on How to Tap a Maple Tree.     And of course it is delicious with waffles and blueberries for a truly Canadian breakfast.
Surprisingly Lady showed no interest in this shy woodland creature..
Refuelling stop on the long march to Montagny..
...where we were kindly provided with a roof over our heads (and in my case a comfy sofa in the gallery) at an equestrian centre with no name run not by Clint Eastwood but by the hardworking Rebekah Michaud.  Unfortunately no photo opportunities, though she found time in her busy schedule to run me into town to withdraw some more money.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Mon cell est perdue

Tuesday 21st October
From St Alexandre we started riding southwards along the long-settled St Lawrence river valley with occasional views of the St Lawrence river across sweeps of arable land.
The increase in density of population thankfully meant a network of small roads, and I was able to keep off the highways and sometimes find some lovely little backwater routes.
We were now entering a predominantly dairy farming area.  Unlike the UK, the cattle are housed indoors for much if not all of the year, mainly due to the long and bitterly cold winters which also necessitate the tall grain and silage silos one sees on every dairy farm. 
A rest stop by a dairy farm near Kamarouska with curious cows in the background..
                     Our accommodation for the night at St Philippe de Neri courtesy of Matheu Lesveques, where Lady and me were both warm and comfortable - Lady in a spacious loosebox in the barn on the right, me in the cosy camper van.
Unfortunately the photos I took of Matheu and family when he took me home for supper seem to have gone awol - hopefully I will track them down soon.
Wednesday 22nd October and I struck inland up the steep hill to Mount Carmel,
following the hill ridge southwards with spectacular views out over the St Lawrence valley below..
Halloween fever continues unabated, and festooning one's house with Halloween decorations is de rigeur over here - though it seems that keeping up with the Joneses (or should it be Les Jeans in Quebec?) often involves vying to display the most macabre tableau. I have no idea what the story is behind the gruesome scene below, though it appears the hanged man on the right is still able to brandish his weapon. . ..
At La Pocatiere I was staying with dairy farmer Paul Hudon, thanks to help from Kimber Sider who journeyed across Canada on her horse Kat in 2008 and stayed with Paul for a few days.   She was trying to see if she could travel across the country relying soley on Canadian hospitality.  To see how she fared, see her documentary at Chasing Canada.  Kimber's trip was inspired by the courageous Barbara Kingscote who rode a horse across Canada sixty years before in 1949 and wrote a wonderful book called Ride the Rising Wind, a well written and much recommended account of her experiences on the ride.
The view from my bedroom window down to the St Lawrence, with Lady grazing peacefully in the field in front.  Paul was in the process of replacing his windows which explains the window frames in the garden! 
Paul took me over to visit the equine department at the local college, where I was able to see several beautiful black Canadian horses.  I was introduced to two girls who are planning to ride from La Pocatiere through New Brunswick in the reverse direction to my ride, and one of them came over to the farmhouse later to pick my brains (what is left of them).
Lady had a loose box in the cow shed overnight with Paul's beloved Jersey cow Virginie and bovine friends, while I was treated to supper with a bottle of wine.  I had a charming bedroom as Paul also runs a small bed and breakfast from his lovely farmhouse La Maison Rouge -  you can see why it is so called from the photo below taken when I was about to set off the following morning in the drizzle.

Much recommended if you are ever passing this way.
I had a minor panic when I realised my cell phone was missing, and assumed I had left it at Matheu's stable.  Matheu could not find it, but being a canny Quebecois he tried phoning the number - only to be answered by a woman who had picked the phone up from the side of the road!  Matheu was driving over to La Pocatiere in any case, so very kindly picked it up and dropped it in for me. A very happy ending.