Combat de la Rouge-Mare

Slow Traveling is exciting because it is not about the big and expected stories of visiting major landmarks or tourist traps, but rather the surprise of an unexpected small and beautiful story around a not well-known monument or place.

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Walking to Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy

Last week we visited the Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Quite an achievement for us, because of the many kilometres travelling by car. We had pushed it a bit because we were tired at the start of the holiday. It was nice but also very busy and not so surprising. Everywhere you see the postcards and images, and it is almost of you already saw the best bit before you got there. Going around, the beauty of the island has to compete with the tourist shops screaming “buy my stuff!!”.

Now we are on the way back and trying to find a place to park our mini camper, relax a bit and get a good night sleep. We drive through this string of small county roads reading the landscape. We like the mix of forest and agricultural landscapes because the edges give good opportunities for nice stealthy camping spots. Then we see this old tourist sign. It is probably of placed in the 50’s, based on the look of the lettering of the enamel sign. “Monument de la Rouge Mare” reads the text. We follow the little lane into the forest and end up at a huge monument. It’s a good place for the night and I start drawing.

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The monument reads “Combat de la Rougemare et des Flamants” and just the names of 4 men and Octavie Delacour, almost the name of a Harry Potter character. Another old tourist sign reads “Embuscade Allemande (16 Septembre 1914)”. My French is not too good but this sounds like an ambush of Germans. While drawing, I get more and more intrigued. We are far south of the Great War frontline, Germans here??

There is no info panel so the research starts at home. I won’t go over the full story, but in short, it is a German raid on the Seine. Three German vehicles with sappers were loaded with 500 kg of explosives and en-route to the bridges of the Seine near Rouen. They are able to drive through France just because people think they are English soldiers, although they are in there German uniforms and drive cars with German licence plates. As one of the vehicles breaks down, the farmers in the area offer their help to the “English”, who answer them in English and bad French. After the repair, and after shaking hands with the French farmers they drive on.

This, I find the first funny fact. It would be impossible nowadays, with the internet, television and travelling. You would recognise a Brit or German just by their posture and accent alone. But in those days they never did hear a foreign language or saw a foreigner.
Then the Germans halt in a forest, hiding for the day. This is where the 56-year-old lady, Octavie Delacour comes in the picture. She walks through the same forest and is temporarily halted by the Germans. The let her go probably convinced that the pass as Brits again. However, she recognises the Prussians from the 1870 war who had occupied the area, when she was just 12 years old.

Walking to the nearest village, she informs the brigade commander of the Gendarmerie in Gournay-en-Bray. He, however, is not taking her completely seriously. In the end, he sends some men but they go ill prepared. The spot the German sentinel but three gendarmes are killed instantly and the local guide is fatally wounded. Is this what happens if you take half your population not serious in matters of war?

Pencil drawing on brown paper by Alexander of the Monument of Combat de la Rougemare et des Flamants. In France

Drawing the Monument of Combat de la Rougemare et des Flamants.

In the end, the commando is arrested, the bridges are saved and Octavie becomes a hero. Honoured with a monument somewhere hidden in a French forest. And for me, it might be a story that leaves a bigger imprint in my memory than the grandeur of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Alexander.

 

 

Story on wiki (in French)

LA COURTE EPOPEE DU COMMANDO TILING ET LE COMBAT DE LA ROUGEMARE

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Ticks do not tickle

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Do the ticks tickle this deer? Looks like it!

May all creatures be happy and good! Sounds like a good motto.
But concerning ticks, I have a very different opinion. Ticks are nasty little buggers, they can transfer a dangerous disease like Lyme disease. And they are ugly. A brownish/black, flat, diamond-shaped body that swells up when they suck blood from a warm-blooded animal. Eight short spidery legs and a snout that is able to dive into flesh, my flesh.
Describing this beasty already sent shivers down my spine. I can not find any good qualities in the insect-like making medicine against life-threatening diseases or helping to relieve pain. I don’t know why ticks ever evolved in the first place if their intent is to be vampires. They are dark side creatures.

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Ugly little bloodsucker

Despite their 8 legs, they cannot move very fast but cling on to clothes or tent or wherever they are on. During the years it looks like ticks are increasing in numbers. After a walk, we find a few on our socks and trousers. They lurk in long grasses, heather and bracken waiting for a warm-blooded creature to come along.
This year we put the tent up in, what looked like, a nice bit of grass. It turned out to be a nest of very small ticks and the tent was covered with them. We spent 2 hours getting the tiny ticks off the tent. And they kept popping up.

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Very idyllic campsite with an infestation of tiny little ticks

That means socks and trousers will be outside the inner tent. But that is by no means a guarantee that they won’t find a way to gain access to the tent and slip in my sleeping bag. We have to be vigilant and check our clothes every day. Especially in area where there is deer around. Deer are the favourite victims of ticks.
We check our body’s as well. If a tick is attached for longer than 24 hours on your body you have to keep an eye on the bite for redness or circular markings. On the optimistic side, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. But that doesn’t make them a good guy again!
They have favourite places to bite, like the back of your knees, armpits, behind the ears, in the groin. Nice warm places near to a nice warmblood supply. I am always worried they get into my hair and I cannot spot them fast enough. Alexander has to check my hair twice a day. Looks a bit monkey-like. But very good for the relationship. I think that must be the only beneficial effect of ticks.

 

Charlotte Gannet

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 Favorite host of ticks relaxing in typical tick vegetation

How to kill a fish.

Charlotte Gannet fishing with a hand spool in her kayak.

Catching fish with a hand spool

I put my index finger in one gill and my middle finger in the other. I place my thumb on the spine. I close my eyes and bent back the head of the mackerel. I hear a tearing sound, like the ripping open a seam of your favourite jeans.
The whole fish just went limp in my hands. I open my eyes and see a big red droplet of blood trickling down the left glass of my sunglasses. As I look down I see my kayak covert in blood. The same colour as my own blood. It is almost too much blood, I quickly check if I have any wounds.
I look at the silver coloured fish, so dynamic and lively as it was on the fishing line. So beautiful in the black coloured pattern on the back and the iridescent shimmering in the smooth scales.

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Beautiful iridescent skin of the macerel

‘Yeah, that looks like dinner, gut it and fish for some more!’ Alexander cheers.
‘What?’ I look up from my dazed moment contemplating the fact that I just killed a fish. I overpowered another living thing, weaker than I am. I tricked it with a shimmering piece of plastic and a hook, pretending it was food. Food, the basic necessity for all life on this earth.
Ironically, I’m going to eat it as food. How can I not have feelings about killing a fish?

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Killer kayaker

Recent scientific research has shown that fish do feel the pain of catching and when it dies of suffocation when out of the water. This knowledge changed my entire view of killing fish.
I used to catch fish and let my husband do the killing because I am a bit of a coward. But in a higher sea it is not possible to hand over a slippery fish, we tried and lost some good fish that way. In bigger waves, I would just remove the hook and leave the fish to die in my kayak. Now I know that is a horrible way for the fish to die.

Killing the fish is the most difficult thing to do when you think about it. It appeals to my conscience ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Taking a life to feed yourself. At home it is so easy, the fish is already dead and gutted when I buy it. It is neatly packed into some plastic. It is not even a fish anymore. Life has left the body, it is just flesh. But out here, I need to find my inner hunter, that ‘ eat or be eaten’ instinct. Although, I don’t think a mackerel will strike back and throw me overboard to kill me. Because it is not a big threat to human existence it makes an easy prey.
But if I choose to eat fish I better take the responsibility to kill it as quick and painless as possible. If that even exists.

But I don’t think it is sustainable to eat fish or any other animal every day. The planet can not cope with that.

I only fish with 2 hooks on my line twice a week, only catching what I eat, kill it swiftly and thank the fish for feeding me.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Charlotte Gannet

Climbing Ben Nevis

The view from the top of Ben Nevis

O noooo, wind force 8 predicted…and I am in a kayak on Cape Wrath!!! We must escape before the storm hits the coast! Early in the morning we get in the boats and sneak off to Durness just before the storm.

With still a week of holiday left, we travel down to Fort William to visit a friend. When I have more time to think and dream the most terrible ideas pop into my head. So I thought it a good idea to climb Ben Nevis. I have this urge to climb the Munro even though it goes against my better judgement. I know I am the worst ever hillwalker ever. But sometimes you got to break through your own restricting thoughts and JUST DO IT.

Alexander thought I had gone completely bonkers but supported the idea. As a matter of fact, he relished at the idea and he’s a really good hillwalker.

My Scottish friend encouraged me by saying: ‘Charlotte, you’re so fit after kayaking for 5 weeks. Ben Nevis will be a piece of cake for you! The path is very clear; there is just no chance of getting lost’. He estimated it would only take 3 hours to go up and 3 to come down again. He promised to cook a good dinner.

I was completely convinced, I’m going to walk up like it is a beach stroll. No doubt about that.

The next day we left early to start the climb. We had some good weather, not too hot or too cold. It was perfect.

The path was very clear. A giant Stairmaster with irregular steps lay ahead of me. A challenge for every fitness freak. With an optimistic spirit, I started my climb. We were not the only people walking up. Families and people of all ages walked up. Some on very insensible shoes and clothes.

After half an hour I seriously questioned my sanity, why did I think this was a good idea? I am out of breath and my legs are protesting against the exercise.

Charlotte Gannet climbing the stairs up Ben Nevis

After an hour I wanted to go back because I was really tired, the sweat is dripping from my face and I blame Alex for having this stupid idea of climbing Ben Nevis. But Alexander talked me out of that and I struggled on.

“Walk at your own pace”, Alex encouraged me while he skipped from stone to stone like a mountain goat without any effort.

After 2 hours I found a rhythm. I pushed through. On 2/3rd of the climb, the Stairmaster goes over in a flat zigzag path going up to the top. I do not have to lift my legs high up; the walk up became relatively easier. I ignore all the sign my body gives, trying to convince me to stop. My calves are burning. A stubborn will to reach the top pushes me on. I am going to push through the pain, mind over matter!! You go girl!!

And there I was, on the top of that damned hill. I had fucking done it. Ha, the world’s worst hillwalker is standing on top of Ben Nevis!

I am high on dopamine from the exercise on the highest Munro of Scotland.

And the view was……misty and murky.  I thought being with your head is a cloud would be a different view. Bright and clear. But between the fog patches, I see some of the views from the top.

It is considerably colder on the top.We put on some warmer clothes, have some food and looked around. There are some structures of an old weather station on the top. Imagine walking up Ben Nevis every day to go to work….

It took us four hours to walk up the hill. Now we were thinking of descending. Surely that would go faster than walking up.

Wrong, it took 4 hours to walk down. And I dare say much harder. When walking down your body weight is behind every step and gravity pushes me down even more.

The realization of not escaping the 4-hour walk is a tough one. There is no one to pick me up by car/bike/wheelbarrow. I have to make every step on my own, one foot in front of the other. And there is the Stairmaster!! My knees are shaking with each step. I don’t want to sit down to rest a bit in case I cannot stand up again.

Charlotte Gannet decending Ben Nevis

It is around 4 o’clock when I am struggling down when I see lunatics running up the hill, running, they must be mad. This zombie is happy when she reaches the car without collapsing halfway. I have this disconnected feeling that my head is not in contact anymore with my body. This mantra going on in my head like ‘ the car, the car, the car’

And there it was! Our lovely blue car where I can sit in so my body doesn’t have to carry itself, and moves without me doing anything…..lovely!! Just a few meters more, two, OMG this is heaven!

I was not able to enjoy my home cooked dinner. Was a lousy dinner guest. Sleeping was not comfortable. I could not walk for three days. We went kayaking but after 3 kilometres Alexander had to tow me back. Walking Ben Nevis was quite a shock to the system. I think it is confirmed; I am more a seagull that a mountain goat.

Charlotte Gannet

Silence is a troublemaker

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‘Our thinking is like a boat on the water, pushed along by the waves and influenced by the wind.’

Hazrat Inayat Khan

And what happens to our thinking when the boat is on the water but there is no wind nor waves and only silence?

What does it do to your mind if this happens at the start of the trip, scorching sunshine and a temperature of 30 degrees? Yes, this does happen in Scotland! Blue skies, no wind, no waves.

My thoughts go haywire in the boat! I’m towing all the work I did not get round to do before the holiday, in a plastic inflatable boat behind my kayak. My boss is staring stern at me, like a figurehead on the bow of my boat. There are colleagues hanging on my paddle whispering things to me that slipped through my fingers. And I’ve got students clinging on at the back of the kayak. Some whining, others crying or looking seriously displeased. All blunders and mistakes of the school year pop up like seals next to my boat scaring me half to death each time they emerge.

Kayaking is a hazardous buzziness in fair weather, silence is a troublemaker in my head.

In windforce 4 or 5, with a bit more waves, the occupants of my boat cannot hold on in these conditions. I’m way too busy to pay them much attention, let alone rescue them!

My boss will be bashed from the bow of the boat and one by one my colleagues can not longer hold on to my paddle. My students stick around for just a bit longer, they need windforce 6 to wash off the back of the boat.

The sturdy imaginary inflatable boat lingers around until week three of the journey. It needs to be punctured on some rugged rocks. As I don’t want the plastic thing to litter the beach, I stow it deep in a recycling bin. #befantasticpickupsomeplastic, as my contribution to clean oceans!

With the weather fronts coming from the ocean, also the silence drifts slowly in from the south-west. With every paddle stroke I make, life and thoughts slow down. The vast nature around me nurtures my soul. Silence becomes bliss.

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Do you regognise this thought proces during the holiday’s? How do you cope with annoying thoughts hanging around like a cloud of angry midgies. Leave me a comment.