Soon after arriving in the Dordogne, I found a little trail that led from our country gite to Monpazier. Despite being rather untrodden in parts, the trail was a great little 40-minute shortcut to Monpazier taking us through some woods, passed a little stream, a number of farms, and finally, up a hill to the town on top.
Having successfully navigated this walking trail, I’d noticed another trail leading from our gite towards the town of Biron, a few miles away. Biron is home to a grand chateau (above), so I decided to see if this trail turned out to be just as good as the one to Monpazier. My mother, worried at the thought of me hiking through the unknown French countryside by myself, decided to come with me.
We set off along the path at the bottom of the garden along a narrow ledge that led into the surrounding woods. We clambered over the various brambles and branches lying in our way, winding through the forest until we came out by a field in a neighbouring farm. We tramped across the field to a nearby road, then followed it for a bit until we came to a bend. Instead of continuing along the road, we turned down a path into a big patch of woodland.
The path was wide and clearly marked underfoot. It was a hot and sunny day, and so far we hadn’t come across another living soul. We followed the path deeper and deeper into the woods, when suddenly we heard loud barking. Now I’m a little uncomfortable around dogs, especially large dogs, as is my mother. The noise made us a little jittery as it sounded as though there were lots of dogs roaming the woods, but we carried on regardless.
A few moments later we heard a gunshot. By now, we were spooked and my mother suggested we head back. As we turned around and started walking, an old man appeared carrying a shotgun gesturing to us to continue through the woods, seemingly telling us, “It’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about.”
A little bemused as to what was going on, we followed the man’s directions and headed back into the woods. Soon we heard more dogs and more gunshots; we also met another man with a shotgun. At this point, the penny dropped that there was a hunt going on in the woods.
As we continued, we passed yet more hunters, dogs and even a van – and as we walked past the van, we could clearly hear something rattling around inside. We walked through the woods, intrigued by the activity around us, and as we reached the other side came upon another van with a woman standing beside it.
Using my best French, I asked her what was going on and she told us they were hunting boar. In recent years there’s been an explosion of wild boar in France with more than two million roaming the French countryside. The animals destroy crops, breed like rabbits and are responsible for a high number of car accidents, so for the past seven years there’s been a national control plan in place urging hunters and farmers to keep their numbers down.
By now fully clued up on what we’d unwittingly stumbled upon, we thanked the woman and carried on down the path to Biron. We crossed a large field and came out onto a road, surrounded on either side by woodland. As we wandered down the road, a swarm of midgies and flies joined us and it got so bad we couldn’t keep our eyes open. The flies and midgies were relentless and as more and more joined the party, it became impossible to keep going. So we turned back.
A quarter of an hour after saying goodbye to the boar hunters, we were saying hello to them again. This time walking through the woods, I felt much safer knowing what was going on around us. I also took the time to pay attention to what the hunters were doing. I’d never witnessed a hunt before, but it seemed they were using the dogs to drive out the boar before capturing them.
The afternoon turned out to be one of the most random experiences I’ve had. I may not have made it to the magnificent chateau of Biron, but I did stumble upon a wild boar hunt, something I never thought I’d do. It was a little unnerving when we initially stumbled upon it, but I was fascinated when we discovered what was actually going on. Some of my most memorable travel experiences are those unexpected moments that you couldn’t plan even if you tried, and this afternoon’s adventure turned out to be one of the most unusual.