So, it turns out that the goats of the Franche Comté have an annual migration. In mid-spring, they journey from their winter barn to the top of a nearby mountain. This pilgrimage is called The Transhumance and we were there to see it.
That’s right. It's open to the public. You are welcome to come along and join in on all that goat-following fun! When I read about this event in the BVV, I knew we had to be there. I was a bit concerned because the walk was to be 11km (about 7 miles) but we are all in pretty good shape so I figured we could make it without too much problem, right?
When we arrived, I was shocked at the crowds. This is, by far, the best attended free event I have ever been to in Besancon. It was almost a circus-like atmosphere. There were people of all ages from babes in arms to grey-haired elders. There were TV reporters and other journalists. People with giant packs and fiberglass walking sticks, kids on bikes, others with rollerblades, two on horseback, a couple adults with accordions – you name it! There were a few goats wandering around outside the barn that we got to pat, including some adorable babies.
After about half an hour of hanging around, it was finally time to let the goats (and it turns out 2 sheep as well) out of the barn and into the nearby field. They were so happy to get out and run around! The reporters were catching every minute of it. All the goats had brightly colored pompons on their horns and cheerfully clanging bells as well. After about 15 minutes of grazing time (I guess they needed to carb load for their big walk) the procession finally took off. We formed part of a human wall to keep them all together. Check out the video!
The line was led by the horseback riders and some volunteers with reflective vests and traffic control signs. Then came a solid line of farmers holding the goats back. Lastly came all the (hundred or so?) walkers. Of course, the kids (and us) really, really wanted to be in front of the pack, near the goats but who knew they traveled so very fast? Some of the goats weren’t even able to keep up with the herd and were wandering, kind of lost, amongst the walkers. I wasn’t sure what to do about that – herd them along???? Zander took off immediately and we didn’t even have him in our sights. The rest of us literally had to run as fast as we could to catch up to the front – and it took about 5 minutes of hard running since we had to keep stopping for people in front of us. Passing the caleche (horse-drawn carriage) towards the rear was the hardest part since we didn’t want to scare the horses. I couldn’t believe how much energy Griffin had for this!
Once we caught up, we stayed near the back of the pack and discovered Zander was running interference on the right side, I saw him urging wayward goats back into the herd several times. He was absolutely in his glory!
We continued on for about 2 kilometers, at a trotting pace to reach our own neighborhood. It was amazing to walk with goats right past our own apartment complex, and soon afterwards, we even passed the kids’ school! Lots of people lined the route, enjoying the scene and taking photos. I find it fun to think that several random photos of my son are surely going to make it into photo albums across the Franche Comté.
Soon afterwards we had to herd the goats into a tunnel that runs under the highway. The goats did not like it and poor Zander nearly got knocked down. The caleche had to go around and the group waited at the end of the tunnel. I waited up above to see them come out, while André stayed in the tunnel with the kids (of both the human and goat variety).
We soldiered onward towards the train station, but though the spirit continued to be willing, the flesh was weak. Zander wanted to go on but Griffin and Callie were pooping out. André and I had carried each of them for spells, but I couldn’t keep up the pace with a kid on my shoulders and there was no way André (who also had our packed lunch) could carry both of them (especially since we were only about 1/3 of the way). It was sad, but we had to watch as the goats went onward, towards the mountain.
We still wanted to see the end of the amazing journey so André ran back to get the car while the kids and I played around the park, enjoying the spring flowers and a small playground.
I am so grateful to have a fit husband. He got back with the car in less than 30 minutes! We drove over to the foot of Mount Planoise and, sure enough, made it in time to see the (greatly enlarged) group arriving for the final push. The back of the caleche was now full of baby goats that had tuckered out (see, we weren’t the only ones). The line of people had grown exponentially – I think people must have joined as they got closer to the mountain, and we couldn’t barely even see the goats there were so many walkers!
We joined in for the last kilometer or so up the mountain side. This is where the bikes and roller bladers must have had to change plans since it was up, up, up, up a rocky narrow dirt path for over half an hour. We weren’t able to keep right next to the goats (although Zander did) since the crowds were so tight.
Finally, we made it to the top of the mountain, found Zander, and got to see the goats settled in their new quarters. The cameras were still rolling, I’m sure this event must have made the evening news!
We ate our picnic lunch and rested for a few minutes. On the way up, we had seen Zander’s theatre teacher and she said they were going to do a spectacle on the hillside around 1pm. Since that was a whole half an hour away, André took the opportunity to explore a new path. Besides getting a great view and some additional exercise, he passed tons of bunkers along the way – definitely a place we’ll have to return to someday, with flashlights! Since he had run that morning, done the walk with us, and run to get the car, he traversed about 24km in one day. The rest of us wimps probably only did about 7 or 8. We lazily rested while he went off exploring.
Then it was time for the spectacle. With the exception of Shakespeare in the Park, this was the first time I’d seen live theatre performed out of doors. There were only 2 players, and, perhaps predictably, they were falling in love. It was almost a musical there were so many gorgeous songs. I think, maybe, if it had been in English, I would have thought the song lyrics were cheesy. (I met a little bird. She taught me how to love. She taught me how to cry….) But in French, they just sounded beautiful and romantic. I love live music. Take a listen if you’d like.
We finally headed back down the mountain for home, appreciating the natural beauty growing along the path. Unfortunately, Zander fell and twisted his ankle, making the return journey a bit onerous for him. He is just getting so big, we can’t really carry him any more!
I hope the goats are happy up there in their new digs. We were very happy to be able to escort them, at least part of the way.
This is one of those things that makes me feel so grateful to be in France. What an experience…..