I got off the Montluçon- Bourges regional “express” train at the small, gloomy station of Vallon-en-Sully. I’d had to get up at 5am in Montluçon, and, due to a lack of taxis near my out-of-the-way pension, take the first bus into the centre of town.

It was after eight, and had been light for a long while; but here, because of the drizzle and damp cold, it felt like dawn.

There was no station café, no shop nearby, not even a vending machine. A few cars bounced over the level crossing, going from elsewhere to elsewhere; the railway, perhaps once a fulcrum of village life, was now an administrative nuisance, used this morning by only four travellers: one vigorously nodding in headphones, one frail and looking, startled, in all directions, one in uniform, inspecting tickets; and me. The others had continued their warm, bouncy journey, and the short diesel train had soon puttered out of sight.

A wooden 8-wheeled passenger carriage sat banished on an abandoned siding, far from the only remaining platform. It had once been painted the kind of green one never sees on trains now. Through the drizzle, I thought I saw the silhouettes of passengers on board, whole families sitting upright, weary from their overnight vigil, hoping to finally make a departure. But the siding was no longer connected to the main line.

I set off on foot, cursing my bad knee. I had to sit and rest every few minutes, but at least I couldn’t lose my bearings- I was following the railway line northwards, as far as the next level crossing. Soon it was quiet, and as I entered some marshes, a curlew called out from the reeds.

A dirt track converged from the west, and I couldn’t help investigating. I was still in sight of the railway line, and hearing the bell of the level crossing, scrambled a little closer to watch a freight train lumber past. Then, on trying to retrace my footsteps, I saw a different track, with two white poles beside it, leading into a pine forest. A small sign read “The Dovecote”.

I took that path, just as tired and aching as before, but somehow content. I felt calm, and yet slightly dizzy, and I suddenly remembered that visiting friend who had pronounced phrases I’d never expected to hear from an adult: “I’ve never eaten mushrooms”. “I’ve never swum in a lake”. She’d been astonished at something I’d said too: “I’ve never used a natural mosquito repellent”. These trees seemed never-ending, but I smiled and decided to be honest with myself: I was quite enjoying the wait. And I didn’t know what for.