A few weeks ago I was in the ‘Lot et Garonne’ region of France as a guest of the French tourist board. They were showing off Lot et Garonne, and I was trying to see if it’s interesting enough to plan a new bike tour.
I was there with several other tour operators involved with France, but none of them involved with bikes. One evening we had the most extraordinary dinner that will live in my memory for a long time.
We were taken, about 8 of us, to a car park in the middle of a forest and then had to walk to a series of huts in a clearing – no electricity, no water. This was a Palombière, and we were going to be ‘treated’ to a dinner of Palombes by a renowned local Palombes hunter, and what an amazing and time-wasting process that is!
You’re not going to believe all this, but here goes. Palombes are wood pigeon. Each October they migrate across the Pyrennes, passing through Lot et Garonne on the way. Palombes enthusiasts turn their nose up at the ‘cheating’ method of leaning a very long pole against a tree to create a sitting platform, then sitting up there among the Palombes and simply shooting the poor beggars out of the sky. Apparently that’s too easy. When they find these ‘pylons’ in Lot et Garonne, they cut them down.
Palombe hunters use captive wood pigeon sat on metal platforms at the top of trees. The birds are hooded, and the platforms are connected to the ground by a rope. There are a number of these platforms, and the guide ropes all connect through a hoop to a single rope which then leads into a hide. The hunters spend each day in October looking for the flocks of Palombes making their way south.
When they see them, they pull their rope, which moves the platforms up and down, alarming the blind-folded Palombes, which in turn flap their wings.
This flapping attracts the flying Palombes to alight in the same trees as their captive cousins. Now onto stage 2.
The trees are always around a central cleared area on the ground where food is placed. The wild Palombes fly down into the clearing to eat, at which point another rope is pulled by the hunters to spring a net and catch the poor buggers.
Anyone familiar with the French hunting scene will recognise this as a classic French excuse for a load of blokes to get falling-down drunk in the forest, and that’s exactly what it is. The Palombes hunter we met reckoned they may capture as many as 120 Palombes throughout the whole of October – and someone is out there every single day of the month!
He also claimed that the captive, hooded Palombes were perfectly happy with their lot – they’re usually held for 3 years, and of course they spend 11 months fed and watered without being tied up and hooded. But try explaining to the UN that we only tie up and blindfold prisoners and stick them on the top of a tree all day long for 30 days a year, and they love it!
But presumably they taste divine? Well, they were OK, and we had an amazing evening because none of us had experienced anything like it. But I won’t be trying to introduce wood pigeon hunting in Exeter any time soon. Having said that, if you get the chance, go for it.