Packing and Cleaning


Day 15 – Friday 29th June

Today is a sad day. As we will be travelling home tomorrow we have to pack our kit and give the gite a bit of a clean.

I made my last 3km run to the boulangerie earlier this morning. Picked up a “petite boule”. It has been hard during the last few days, the decision making that is. A petite boule, a grand boule, a pavee or perhaps a baguette. I am going to miss the daily bread trip. I don’t know where the nearest artisan bakery is at home. The nearest we have is in one of the supermarket chain stores.

I’m not likely to get a bright smiley Bon Jour from a bland, help yourself, bank of loaves. Let alone the same varieties of bread.

So we have packed and scrubbed, rewarded ourselves with an ice cold beer and relaxed for a while.

We visited a local cave to buy some local wine. This descended into farce as I initially tried to ask concrete truck drivers mate if the cave was open. He of course couldn’t understand me but wouldn’t know anyway. He did indicate a guy on a tractor. So I went and introduced myself asked if he spoke any english. He shook my hand said something in French, climbed down off his tractor and ran off behind a building. In the meantime a black and tan dog came and introduced himself.

There are no language barriers betwixt man and dog.

A couple minutes later another guy turns up on a tractor. Speaks in French at 1000 words a second while first pointing at his cement covered wellies then at the building works and the truck. Eventually I understood him to be saying that he couldn’ deal with us as the concrete truck had arrived late. That he now had to deal with the concrete before that went off and could we come back tomorrow morning after nine.

We said not to worry, we couldn’t come back as we would be travelling home. As we were leaving he came running after us with a bottle of wine. Presumably as a consolation for not being able to buy his wine. I protested that it was not necessary, but not too much, and accepted gracefully. We bid our adieu’s and headed off to Aigre.

In Aigre we headed into the supermarket, to hedge our bets and buy some commercial wine. After that we went to research the two restaurants and decide which one should have our custom for our last relaxed meal in France.

The lucky winner was Le Square, who provided us with an adequate meal which with beers cost us over 50 euros. This compared to a really good meal with wine and beer which cost us just over 31 euros at Les Colombiere the night before.

And so back to the gite, a couple of games of Rummikub and early to bed.

Another rest day


Day 13 – Wednesday 27th June

After such a hot and strenuous day, traversing half of mid-western France, we opted to spend the day at the gite .

So after a leisurely breakfast it was of to the sun loungers to give the reading matter a hammering. I have finished the Kellerman that I started last week and I am well into a Jack Frost story. First Frost is written by James Henry, actually to fellers, supposedly in the style of R. D. Wingfield, Frosts original creator. To be quite honest I am not over keen on the style. It works well enough when converted for TV but it all seems bit light weight as a read. However, as it is set in Thatcherite Britain I feel quite at home.

As the day progressed so did the temperature levels. At one point I brought the thermometer out from the kitchen. Mid afternoon it was reading 30 + deg C in the shade. This is of interest as the interior temperature of the gite never seems to get any higher than 22 deg C. Although, when I returned it later it didn’t get back below 25.

Which is why I was sitting outside, writing this, at ten to midnight. It was hot and clammy. My wife had just gone up to bed and I still had the remains of our 2nd bottle of red to see off.

I also noticed that the quiet. No bees, no other insects, best of all no mosqitoes. Most unusual there are no owls calling.

Maybe the heat was too much for them too. There was no air movement either.

Occasionaly I could see and hear a bat as it performed its aerial gymnastics in search of its prey.

Mooching


Day 11 – Monday 25th June

Decided today would be an unstructured day. Just drive out into the countryside and see what we can see.

Our initial direction took us to the next village, where there is a small chateau, and on to Chives (pronounced sheeve). Here there is an unusual church with what looks like a garage attached.

Church @ Chives
Church @ Chives, Charente, France

From Chives we headed deeper into the countryside where we came across a shady stream. Photo opportunity methinks. Soon I am laid on the ground, all professional and artistic, even got the external flash attached. Turns out that the batteries have enough oomph to drive the flash display but not enough for the flash itself. So I made do with what I had and plugged away.

Then we thought, “Why don’t go walk round Aigre ?”. We have passed through the town several times just to visit the nearest supermarket. It was time we paid a visit.

Hotel de Ville, Aigre, France
Hotel de Ville, Aigre, France

It turns out there is not a lot there but Aigre provides all the basics. Post Office, bank, pharmacies, a Spar, tabac and a couple of restaurants. We plan to give at least one of them a test in the next few days.

Didiers Tours


Day 8 – Friday 22nd June

Decided to stay around the gite today so not much to report. We were loafing. Well we were both reading and my wife was catching the rays.

It was not a wasted day though. Enter Guided Tours by Didier. Initially this was an offer he made following a conversation we had about birds in general and owls in particular. The conversation had moved on to a particular bird that is a migratory visitor to the region. Didier’s bird guide had a name but no picture so we couldn’t tell if this species had an English name. Didier suggested he take me out to see if we could spot them out by the fields. Apparently they prefer to run, rather than fly, and are quite often seen on the roads.

We didn’t spot the elusive bird but did discuss many other things.

Charente View
Charente View

Didier explained how his family used to dairy farm but had moved on to grapes and other crops. Didier’s father had felt tied to the farm when they had cattle as they require 24/7 care. They then switched to grapes but discovered that they required a different kind of attention but were nonetheless demanding. Other crops are now the order of the day. In this area, in addition to the ubiquitous grape there are fields of various cereals, sunflower, maize, pea’s and Colza, used for its cooking oil although Didier claimed it is also used to run the tractors.

As Didier drove us around the maze of roads criss-crossing the patchwork of fields I wondered how the farmers kept track of which field were theirs. This potential confusion has been further exacerbated by the undocumented “swapping” of land to allow for a form of crop consolidation. The details of these swaps, he tells me, are held in each persons head.

At one crossroads I pointed out a large earthen, obviously man-made, structure. He informed me that it is a water reservoir. The water is stored during the winter and used during the summer to water the crops. This takes the burden off the local streams and rivers and also off the local water table. The local farmers were further encouraged by a government subsidy. A sensible and green action you might think.

However, something about this scheme has enraged the green activists who have obtained legal injunctions. So no more reservoirs will be built for now.

Go figure !!

Many vineyards have been cleared and the land now used for these other crops. There are also tracts of land that have been cleared and just left.

Again, Go Figure !!

A Little Under The Weather


Day 10 – Sunday 24th June

Seems I am not entirely well. Have the back door trots. Otherwise I feel OK. Opinion has it that following spending so much time outside yesterday, I possibly have a touch of sun stroke.

Spent the day at the gite and all evening asleep on the couch. No appetite so no dinner. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have to be ill to stay away from food. My evening meal was one slice of dry bread and that took a couple hours to see off. Nothing else took my fancy or was deemed sensible given the state of my tum.

I’m really annoyed as Didier came across to invite us over for an apertif but we had to decline.

Ah well. Tomorrow is another day.

Ruffec, Nanteuil-en-Vallee & Verteuil-sur-Charente


Day 9 – Saturday 23rd June

Today we had a plan or perhaps I should say we had an itinerary.

The first stop was Ruffec, a small but busy town. One thing we are learning is that if you arrive near lunchtime things rapidly quieten down. All the shops close, the streets empty and rapidly take on the appearance of a ghost town. All that is missing is the ubiquitous tumbleweed and the mysterious stranger.

Wash House, Ruffec, Charente, France
Wash House, Ruffec, Charente, France

Ruffec has narrow streets to explore with quite a variety of architectural styles. Ranging from ornate frontages with fancy balconies to the older buildings with exposed wooden beams. The 12c western frontage of the church is of interest as is the more but nonetheless very striking stain glass window at the eastern end of the church. Close to the church is a rectangular pool through which a river runs. Walking east along the stream brings you to a wooden structure with a tiled roof and many hanging baskets. Very picturesque but I’m not sure if it has any other purpose. Some of the leaflets we have acquired at the Tourist Information Offices have photos of similar structures and identify them as wash houses. Although they don’t clarify if the washing is of people or clothes. Further east there is a building, possibly a mill, with a waterwheel and the stream splits. One leg continuing east, one heading north.

On the leg heading north is a very pretty house and garden. The stream runs the full length of the back of the house and the garden while the road borders the other side, taking ground level to the second floor. The garden is at road level with a wall overlooking the stream. Running the full length of the back of the house is an iron balcony along which patrols a black dog. He was silent until I spoke to him. Trust me to break the peace and quiet.

From Ruffec we headed over to Nanteuil-en-Vallee, a pretty village with usual dominating church. This one built on the site of the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame.

Here on parkland, adjacent to the small car park, a family fete was in full swing with bouncy castle and barbecue. One thing we have noticed is how prevalent are village social events. I know we have them in England but here even the smallest hamlet seems to be doing something. Maybe it is another facet of the “co-op” farming methods which are spilling over into social life. Keeping people involved.

Another feature of Nanteuil-en-Vallee is the arboretum which features formal flower gardens, shady pathways and water gardens. This little oasis is worth the visit and entry is free.

Nanteuil-en-Valee
Nanteuil-en-Valee

There are small trickling brooks, shallow ponds and a river which encourage all manner of wildlife. Dragonflies and Damselflies of vivid hues, lizards darting among the leaves and even some sort of water rat that stopped to clean his whiskers at the waters edge.

While in a flower garden our attention was drawn by the loud calling of what we were convinced was a water bird. But when we reached the pond there were no birds to be seen. Instead the huge sound we heard had been created by a frog that immediately dove under water as we stepped onto the wooden walkway over his domain. We could see him and another below the surface and, although we waited for some time, he never resurfaced, Seems his lung capacity was greater than my patience.

After completing our perambulations we headed back to the car and so onto the next item on our itinerary.

Verteuil-sur-Charente is dominated by two buildings. The chateau and church of St Medard. Both of these impressive buildings have prominent positions looking down over the Charente.

Chateau, Verteuil-sur-Charente, France
Chateau, Verteuil-sur-Charente, France

Alongside the main bridge the river is diverted through a mill race, the old mill effectively built on an island. The mill is now a very pleasant restaurant and tea room with tables outside overlooking water on two sides. Inside the mill is still functioning, creating a comforting rumble as a backdrop. Unfortunately they were closed to new customers so we were too late to partake of their wares. Ces La Vie.

From here we headed home to Barbezieres for a welcome dinner and a well earned rest.

Brouage


Day 7 – Thursday 21st June

One hell of a thunderstorm rolled around the Charente last night. I had to close all the windows as, even with walls two feet thick, the rain was getting in. We thought the storm would have cleared the atmosphere but it is still muggy but windy too.

Decided to visit Brouage today. Starting any journey from the middle of nowhere is always going to be quite a torturous journey. Ending one at Brouage will make it doubly so. For Brouage is in the middle of reclaimed marshlands criss crossed with waterways. This walled citadel town used to be a major port way back. But then the sea receded and the waterways became silted up. Now the town is two miles and inaccessible from the sea on which its original wealth was based. This relic of a bygone age is almost intact and shows us what life must have been like.

After an interesting day it could only rounded off with a cracking meal. A sort of chicken casserole cooked with tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs, complimented by a bottle of Fitou.

The evening was completed by a french film “Polisse” Bizarre is the only way I can describe it. The basic storyline was about a specialist police unit whose purpose is the protection of children. What was bizarre was the style of the film, not quite documentary but not wholly drama. With such subject matter imagine a song and dance interlude thrust into the middle.

Needless to say it was a fine way to prepare for bed. No difficulty sleeping.

La Rochefocauld


Day 6 – Wednesday 20th June

Today we set out in hazy weather. It had been decidedly misty first thing but the sun came out and warmed things up.

We didn’t venture too far, just an hours drive to La Rochefocauld. Home to a chateau, founded in the 12th century, which overlooks the town and the Tardoire Valley. Also of interest are the Carmelite cloisters. Here in the town we had a splendid lunch of 2 beers, a croque madame, omelette with “lardons” aux “fromage” and a shared plate of “frites”. you can tell we are well into “le vacance francaise” mode. All served up for the princely sum of €18.30.

During our meanderings the temperature was rising steadily. By the time we arrived back at the car the onboard display was registering 30•C. Even once we were motoring the reading only dropped to 27•C.

As we left La Rochefocauld we decided that we might stop in the forest we had passed through earlier and on entry thought we would visit a memorial sign posted as just over 2km. We were thwarted in our attempt as much of the forest, and especially the bit with the memorial, was barred to us as the military were holding an exercise. Still it was a pleasant drive.

On our way out earlier we had spotted a sign indicating a view point. On the way back we made the detour, discovering that it was well worth the time spent. We were greeted by a near 360 degree vista. Laid out before us was a patchwork quilt of greens and golds interspersed with the occasional terracotta. Along the horizon were two wind farms although there was so little wind only two of the ten or so turbines were in motion. We could hear many birds singing. What species I have no idea. In the distance a farmer was driving his tractor, the clatter of the diesel so soft at that distance, that it provided an acceptable counterpoint to the birdsong.

When we got back to the gite the thermometer in the kitchen was only registering 22•C. The interior of the gite seeming positively chilly by comparison to outside.

We sat in the garden enjoying the sun although it all became too much for me so I headed to the relative cool of the lounge where I got my head down for a couple of hours.

While I was snoozing our host, Didier, brought us a lettuce from his garden. He had previously told us to help ourselves, which of course we won’t. This is the second lettuce and they are quite huge. I had told Didier that one will last us four days. Needless to say we are running out of innovative things to do with a lettuce.

The day was closed by a light salad supper at around 21:00. Yes we used Didiers lettuce. Quite what we will do with the previous one, as well as the remnents of our shop bought one, both languishing in the salad drawer is anybodies guess.

Now both of us are reading our respective books prior to heading to our pits.

Bon nuit.

A Dull Day


Day 5 – Tuesday 19th June

A dull day, but not an uninteresting day. Dull as in the weather was damp all day, until the evening when once again the sun shone while ate dinner al fresco.

An interesting day prompted by bumping into an 86 year old gentleman while walking the lanes. He told me that he had been on a tour of England. Had been to London, Harrowgate, Newcastle and Liverpool as well as touring up in Scotland too. He also informed me that he had lived in Paris for 16 years while working for Elstrom (to be confirmed) as an engineer. Apparently they now make the TGV. It also transpired that he is the uncle of Didier, our host.

Later in the day we had our attention drawn by a military jet that was performing tight turns and other gyrations before frightening the bejesus out the pilot of a small single prop plane. For a short period of time the military pilot flew pretty much as slow as possible and shadowed the civvy plane before heading for the horizon. Very noisy.

Again my wife sat out in the garden until gone 21:00 reading by which time the owls, two different species I believe’ have started calling. It is quite light right up to 22:00.

I stood in the front doorway to the gite, watching a different kind of aerobatics. This evening I have spotted the bats at work. Using our lawn, between the gite and the old barn, as a hunting ground for insects. It must be a rich source as they spent quite some time zooming, wheeling and doing impossibly abrupt stall turns.

Hoopoes ???


Day 4 – Monday 18th June

Today was a total chill out day. Skies cloudy and temperature right down. Certainly not conducive to lazing in the garden. After breakfast we decided to spend the morning reading. We were planning to go exploring after lunch. After partaking of Scotch Egg, Pork Pie and the local Goats Cheese the weather had improved so much we decided to shun the car. While my wife made the most of the sun lounger I took a long walk from the village out to the next community.

This region seems very fertile. In less than 1Km I passed fields growing grapes, sunflowers, peas and various cereal crops. Tending the vines seems to be a lonely task. I spotted two lone workers in different fields, tidying or tying back the vines, lost in a sea of green.

The next community, La Bousse, sits on top of a hill giving views back to Barbeziere and on toward Verdille some 3Km further on.

Oh, I forgot to mention the bird we saw in the garden first thing. I think its called a HooPoe. That needs to be confirmed. I have only ever seen them in books, long thin pointed beak and a tall crest on its head.

The weather had improved so much during the afternoon that we had our dinner, of local sausages, outside again. Very pleasant.

Talking of birds as I was earlier, the owls are very vocal tonight. They started calling well before sunset. I’m pretty sure there are a least two different kinds as the calls are quite distinctive.