We set off for Boulogne where the lairage was located. Leaving the motorway at the next exit and tracing a circuitous route through every back road and utilising every hillock and piece of shelter we could find. The sky above us was streaked with scudding clouds and getting darker by the minute.
The mobile phone rang again. We were booked into a hotel at Wimereux, just outside Boulogne.
"And they'll take the dog and cats?"
"Yes, no problem."
The fools! But thank God for the relaxed attitude of the French towards pets. We'd noticed this before on previous visits; how supermarket and restaurant doors would be opened for a lone dog to walk in and browse around. Unlike England, where lone dogs were seen as the biggest single threat to the nation's health; children's hands snatched away from them by anxious mothers, shopkeepers shooing them off their doorsteps. But France was the country of égalité for all - even the hairy ones - and we were booked into a hotel!
But first we had to find the lairage. We were told to look for a riding school on the cliff road between Boulogne and Wimereux. Which was just what we wanted - a nice exposed cliff road to drive up and down. We crawled even slower. We couldn't have been more exposed if we tried. Fate had opened a hurricane training academy out in the Atlantic and every gust of wind was lined up and racing down the channel straight towards us. The sea below was more white than blue and it was a long, long road to drive down.
And there was nothing obvious - not to our eyes - no signs, no fields of horses or obvious stable blocks. We doubled back and tried again. Was that it? I noticed a small homemade signpost flapping in the wind.
We stopped. And squinted. Was that a picture of a horse? And did that say turn left up the track and then right after one hundred metres? I was convinced it did, but by then I'd perfected a method of translating every other word and filling in the rest with what I wanted to hear. It might not be accurate but it kept me happy.
And I must have been right for two turns and a hundred or so metres later we found the stables. Which couldn't have looked more unlike the lairage at Dover. While one had been purpose built and new, this one was old and still recognisable as a farm. And it had character. The old courtyard was surrounded by a brick-built farmhouse and outbuildings and beyond that were small paddocks and further buildings - all long and low with the familiar undulating roofline of age and bowed timbers.
And they were expecting us. We didn't have to explain our plight or throw ourselves upon their mercy in halting French. They knew our story and seemed unconcerned that we couldn't tell them exactly when we'd return - the fact that it might be in the middle of the night was dismissed with a Gallic shrug. C'est la vie. It certainly was.
The horses were a bit wary of the buildings at first. The entrance to the stables was low, narrow and dark. And only the Great Horse God knew what dwelt beyond.
But we pushed them through, the pony leading the way. And once inside they were out of the wind. And into another age. It looked superb - to lovers of the authentic - low beamed ceilings, uneven dirt floor, lots of wood and leather.
And the horses seemed to like it. Once their eyes had acclimatised to the darkness and they could verify the total dearth of demons dwelling in any of the shadows.
The rugs were next to be unloaded; along with hay nets and lunge ropes and reins and buckets. Horses never travel light.
And then off to the hotel. Following another set of directions - right at the first roundabout, then a left…
Wimereux was a traditional seaside resort - row upon row of small hotels stretched like a ribbon along the coast, all brightly painted in their summer colours, the bars and the pizzerias and the cafes now mostly deserted. And there, close to the promenade was our hotel. It really did exist.
We thanked Sue for all she'd done. The trip hadn't been easy for any of us and hers wasn't over yet - she had to drive the horsebox back to England. We made use of her mobile for one last call - Shelagh wanted to make sure we hadn't been abandoned and someone had noted down both the name of the hotel and its telephone number. Plus, was there an update on the relief horsebox? There wasn't, but not to worry, someone would contact us soon.
By this time we were a sorry sight. Stood on the pavement with assorted bags and animals, we looked like refugees from some Eastern European conflagration. Yugoslavia, most likely. Shelagh’s often mistaken for a Slav. At least, when she worked in Germany, she was; her long dark hair and lack of German, being taken as proof positive of her Slavic roots. Whereas I had the dubious pleasure of once being mistaken for Transylvanian. I was walking through the streets of York one night, in the days when I had a great profusion of long ginger hair and a big bushy beard, when I overheard a passer-by whisper to her friend, ”and you said you never believed in werewolves?”
So, there we were, standing outside the hotel, a balding werewolf fallen upon hard times and forced to migrate west with Elvira, his gypsy violinist wife. Not to mention the Transylvanian menagerie of were-pets.
But we did have a hotel room. And a bath.
(Next instalment: where we discover a possible reason for the title)