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France swept by in a blur. I had been looking forward to watching our progress through the countryside. To see the steep-pitched slate roofs flatten and turn terra-cotta pink. The black and white colombage buildings of the north turn to brick and then to stone – sometimes white, sometimes grey or yellow, sometimes hollowed out of cliffs like on the banks of the Loire. And then back to colombage again – this time unpainted with the wood sun-bleached grey.

But I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Paris passed by as a traffic jam. I think I heard someone say, “that's Paris,” but it wasn't worth waking up for.

We made excellent progress. There were two drivers working in shifts – one driving while the other slept in a bed above the cab. And there were masses of food; bacon and bread and milk and coffee. And they liked Gypsy, who had switched back into paragon-mode, quietly sitting or curling up on the floor of the groom's compartment.

Night became day and north became south. We reached the outskirts of Bordeaux in the early afternoon. And the wind and rain melted into memory.

We had a choice approaching Agen – continue on the motorway or take the direct road through Auch. I suggested the Auch route because I knew it, but was outvoted in favour of the motorway. Which is another way of saying that what happened next was not my fault.

We only had fifteen miles to go. Spirits were high, the motorway was clear and it looked as though we were going to reach our new home in the light.

But then the motorway ended, became a dual carriageway and then an elongated car park. Roadworks! The new A64 Toulouse to Bayonne extension. Expected to finish at the end of ‘96. It was now February ‘95.

We watched the sun set and the skies darken. Occasionally edging a little further down the road but never very far. It took a very long time to reach our turn off.

And then we were flying again, along the D roads towards Aurignac, our nearest town.

Which is when the second mistake was made. Which although not directly my fault, I could have prevented, if I hadn't panicked.

I'd had the last few miles of our route meticulously planned. Our house was difficult to find, lying off a single track road, close to the middle of nowhere. So I'd photocopied a large-scale map of the area and traced a route.

But now I was having second thoughts. The horsebox was far larger than I'd expected and the route I'd planned followed a narrow road with some very tight turns. So I voiced my concern to the driver who had a quick look at his own map, and decided on a different route.

Which took us off my map. Our house was, of course, strategically placed on the edge of two large-scale maps. We'd bought both but packed the other on the idea that we wouldn't be coming from that direction. I could smell a disaster looming.

I navigated from memory. A four-month old memory that had never actually traced this particular route but sought to hunt down land-marks and trust heavily to luck.

Fate did not miss its chance.

I knew we had to look for a road parallel to the D81a but not the D81a itself, as it twisted and squeezed through the village so much that a small car had difficulty getting through. So we needed to take the next right. Which we did. Thirty yards later we're wedged on a bend. So we reversed out and tried the next right and found ourselves in a maze of unlit single track roads with high banks and hedges. Occasional lights appeared and disappeared as odd houses drifted by in the blackness. But no road-signs, no house names, no numbers and no signs of life.

All eyes turned upon me. Even Gypsy's. One of drivers tried to lighten the mood, telling us that this was nothing compared to that other trip they'd taken two years back. That one started with roads like this but then the trees closed in and grass started to appear in the middle of the road and...

“What like this?”

All eyes focussed on the growing band of grass running along the middle of the road and the trees closing in from both sides. The road was in imminent danger of disappearing into a thicket.

And then we saw a light up ahead on the right. A car headlight from a driveway. We stopped and I ran over to ask directions. There were two people trying to push a van that looked stuck in a muddy farm courtyard.

I tried my best French to ask the way to a small hamlet and back onto my map. They looked confused. I thought of another way. I knew it had a church. How about “Où est l'église?”