Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis)


A frequent visitor to the lawns, around our gite in Serandon, was the Green Woodpecker.

A beautiful looking bird, usually arriving in pairs, very alert and very quick to take flight at the slightest noise or movement.

Kite Flying


Many of you will know that Gerry and I have just spent a month in France.  The first three weeks of that time was at a gite in the Dordogne. Throughout that time we would hear the calls of various raptors. They would be soaring out over the gorges, sitting high up on the electricity pylons and occasionally we would see one stoop, plunging to the ground in a newly mown meadow. On a number of occasions I had disturbed a couple of kites sitting in a tree, so well camouflaged were they, I hadn’t even seen them until I was almost immediately below them as I walked the lanes. Throughout our stay I had attempted many photos of these fabulous birds but had pretty much only achieved interesting silhouettes.

Raptor2
Three Red Kites – On the hunt

 

During our last week at the gite, after a prolonged spell of wet weather, it was time for the grass in the meadow directly in front of the gite to be cut. I grabbed my camera, crossed the garden to stand at the fence bordering the field, my eyes scanning the skies in anticipation.

The farmer drove round and round, starting at the perimeter, steadily working his way into the centre of the field. Until his circumnavigations had reduced the potential hiding places, for any small creatures, to an island of tall grass in the centre.

Then they were there.

Well one bird had arrived to investigate. But it was soon joined by several more. There was still much of the grass to be cut. The birds wheeled and swooped over the field, as if taking a preliminary scan, then all disappeared over the tree tops and away.

A few minutes later and they were back.

There were five or six birds, although it was difficult to keep track of them as switched from soaring to low-level runs across the meadow.

Raptor1
Black Kite ? – Serandon, Dordogne, France

I thought that the birds, once they were hunting or had potential prey in their sights, would largely ignore me. It became obvious that they were staying away from my side of the meadow. Unfortunately there was no where for me to get under cover and my lens wouldn’t allow me to be further back,  I was already pushing its capabilities to the limits.

Raptor
Red Kite – Serandon, Dordogne, France

So I carried on , firing away. I ended up with many similar shots but not many keepers. I learnt that I need a better equipment. This time it was a spur of the moment when the opportunity presented itself. After all, I didn’t know the farmer was going to mow the meadow, but I could have been better prepared. The following photos were all over the course of an hour.

But, at a minimum, a better lens would have helped me maximise my use of this opportunity. I should state here that I accept operator error as a huge contributor. I was having problems keeping the lens focussed as I got over excited at all the action, jumping from bird to bird. I switched from auto to manual focus to try and make life simpler, so I could have more time to frame the shot. I obviously need more practice in this enviroment.

A case in point is this photo. I did actually capture the moment when one of the kites caught a rodent …..

Raptor8
Lunch

…..  better preparation, better lens, would have made this a better photo. Bottom line though, this is down to the operator, me.

And, while I’m mentioning equipment, perhaps, some kind of camouflage clothing and / or a collapsible hide. After all, I had plenty of room in the car for this holiday. Mind you that would then require me to be a better planner.

Ask me who didn’t pack his tripod, monopod or even his gorillapod for this holiday.

 

Millau


So on Saturday we packed our bags and left the gite in Serandon. As, per my previous post, we had experienced a super storm during Friday night, the weather was calm but misty / drizzly.

Millau
Dordogne – Morning after the storm.

We wound our way down into the gorge and the first thing we noticed was all the debris, from the trees, strewn across the roads. And, as we climbed up the other side there were several areas where rock shale and mud had been washed down of the sides of the gorge, onto the road. Also, a number of trees were down but still being supported by electric cables. We eyed these with great suspicion as we maneuvered past them. Concerned that they would choose the moment of our passing as the time to drop completely.

As we wended our way towards Millau, the weather turned decidedly worse, until we were driving in torrential rain. Especially as we climbed up and down the various hills and gorges. As we travelled on the weather improved until, as we approached Millau, we were being treated to blue skies and sunshine.

The scenery in this region is fantastic and the more we saw the more we vowed that perhaps this would be the next region in France that we would target for our next long holiday.

Soon the reason for our trek to Millau popped into view.

The following is taken from the Aveyron Official Tourist Website

Millau viaduct holds the world record for the tallest bridge, culminating at 343 metres (higher than the Eiffel tower), 2460 metres long and touching the bottom of the Tarn valley in only 9 places.

Conceived by the French engineer Michel Virlogeux and designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster, it fits perfectly into the naturally intact and grandiose landscape: a very thin slightly curved steel roadway supported by stays gives it the appearance of a huge yacht and the ensemble rests on 7 very slender pillars.

The bridge is spectacular and can be seen from many miles out. We took a few pictures, then headed for our hotel in Millau.

We were staying at the Hotel Mercure and were soon installed in our room. ow lucky were we with the room allocated to us. Take a look at the view from our hotel room ….

After a little freshen up we headed out to explore and grab a bite to eat. All the eateries near the hotel were only serving drinks. Once again our pursuit of lunch had commenced after the proscribed hours.  Pushing out, further afield and we discovered a brasserie, Le Mandarous, who were more than willing to take my Euros in exchange for food and drink. The brasserie was situated adjacent to a roundabout so we were able watch both human and automotive antics while we ate a rather tasty meal.

Millau13
Millau, France

I’m afraid I’m getting rather boring with regard to my choices. If it is on offer, I will almost always go for the “assiette de charcuterie”, an assortment of cooked meats which can including ham, garlic sausage, salami and, depending on the region, perhaps some cheese. Back in the Correze it was common to have Chèvres, Cantal or Salers. In Tulle there was Bleu d’Auvergne but on this occasion, in Millau, I was treated to a couple of pieces of a rather nice Roquefort. This was a real melt in the mouth treat.

After our meal we continued wandering the streets, sorry I mean exploring….

We both decided we liked Millau and felt that it would be a place we should visit again. With its quaint cobbled streets and narrow alleyways it has a really nice feel.

As we meandered into another square, Place Marechel Foch, we decided to take advantage of the shade provided by the trees and sat down for a cold beer from the nearby brasserie. We became aware of a wedding group gathering outside a nearby church.

Apart from the bride, page boys and bridesmaids there were numerous cars that had been decorated in perhaps, by UK standards, an unusual way. We liked it. Something else the French do is have the entire wedding group clamber into their cars and drive around the town honking their horns. Making everyone aware of the wedding and, I guess, involving everyone in their celebrations. There were several weddings on this Saturday afternoon in Millau and we had observed this tradition a couple of times around Serandon and Neuvic.Of course the Simca Rally Car did not need to sound his horn to make people aware as the engine noise was fairly noticeable.

Suitably refreshed we meandered our way back to the hotel for a brief nap before getting changed and heading out for our evening meal.

On the whole a good day.

 

Leaving


image

Last night there was a humongous storm. Possibly the wildest storm I have experienced. Very strong winds, continuous lightning and torrential rain.

This morning was calm but dull and damp. The picture shows the view from the gite towards the gorges. This was our last view of the Dordogne, at least for this vacation.

At the time of writing we have arrived in Millau, in the Aveyron department of the French Midi-Pyrenees region in southern France.

We are here, for just one night, to see le Viaduc de Millau, the tallest bridge in the world. Tomorrow, we head to Lyon as we meander our way back north and, ultimately, home.

Argentat Revisited


The title is stretching reality, just a bit. We did make it to Argentat, about ten days earlier in our holiday. However, as I’ve already posted, we got a little distracted en-route and arrived too late to do it justice. You can see what diverted our attention here.

So, this morning, we got our act together and by 10:00 we were on our way. Determined that we wouldn’t get distracted, our resolve broke when we were passing through the village of Rilhac-Xaintrie ….

Apparently the Chateau dates from the Fifteenth & Sixteenth centuries and is a listed building.

Continuing with our journey we soon arrived at Argentat which sits on the Dordogne River. Our first view of the town is from the side of the surrounding hills.

And shortly thereafter we are parked up just a few metres from the Dordogne. The temperature today was around thirty degrees centigrade, or Celsius if you prefer. So without further ado, we headed for a suitable hostelry to quench our thirst and also feed our souls.

We were soon sat at a table in Auberge des Gabariers, with a prime view out onto the river.

Gerry had a Tuna Steak with risotto, while I had a starter of Foie Gras followed by Steak accompanied by Trauffade. We both had dessert, strawberries with ice cream.

Suitably nourished we set about exploring a little further around Argentat. However, due to the heat, 32 degC according to the app on my mobile, we curtailed any further street walking.

We decided to go and find a shady spot, preferably by the river, for an afternoon nap. However, once in the car again we set about exploring. randomly choosing destinations from our book of maps. The satnag was, on occasions, totally useless. But we found our way back to the gite, eventually.

We did stop for a couple of snaps ……

 

 

 

 

Bort les Orgues


The weather forecast on Tuesday evening showed, yet again, the whole of France was going to get wet. So, hedging our bets again, we opted to go shopping in Bort les Orgues. Then, if the weather tends towards the dry side, we could still do the tourist thing.

The satnag took us straight down into the gorge immediately below our gite. This was a quiet country lane yet to be explored, by us. Not long on the road, no more than five minutes, and I was out with my camera…

…… and again as we passed through Champagnac.

The trouble with this region is that around every other bend in the road is a view. Every turn takes you through another pretty village, with a quaint church or building with a distinctive architectural style.

As always, the roads are empty and the villages devoid of visible life. Of course, the nearer you get to a significant town, the peace and tranquility disappears.

And so it was on this occasion. Windy country roads, climbing in and out of the gorges, eventually gave way to the busy roads feeding Bort les Orgues.

Bort

Having previously visited the town, nearly two years ago, we quickly located the Carrefour supermarket which is much bigger than our local Intermarche in Neuvic.

I won’t bore you with the details but, some thirty-five minutes later we had replenished our grocery stocks, loaded our purchases into the car and set about finding a place to eat.

Parking up, alongside the Dordogne, we crossed over the river and had a very nice meal in the restaurant of the Central Hotel. Should you ever visit Bort the food and service here is very good.

Suitably revitalised and with the weather behaving itself, we set about touring the centre of Bort.

 

Having exhausted our need for window shopping we decided to search out a local view-point, “les Orgues”. Once again the satnag denied the existence of any such “Point of Interest”. I really am going to have to complain to TomTom. To get the satnag to play ball, I had to point it at a nearby hamlet.

Well, I think TomTom planned the resultant route out of spite. Shortly after setting off I had to make a three-point turn to negotiate a hairpin bend while negotiating a 10% incline.

The single track road quickly degenerated into a dirt track with a steep drop down to Bort on one side and a ragged edge into a gulley on the other.

I didn’t dare stop to take pictures for fear I wouldn’t be able to get going forwards again. And I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to reverse back down to Bort. I am also pretty sure Gerry had her eyes closed so, as a photographer she was somewhat indisposed.

Eventually, we found ourselves back on normal roads and were soon parked up at the view-point. You can see for yourselves if it was worth the scary drive.

Having admired the view and taken the pics, we set off on our meandering journey home. Enjoying the scenery, between rain showers, but being inexorably called by two cups of tea.

But there is always time for one or two more photos ….

 

Argentat


The plan was to travel to Argentat and, with detours en route, other towns and villages. Like I said, that was the plan and it remained the plan for about an hour.

The first detour was to a place called Belvedere de Gratte-Bruyere. Shown on our maps to be a view-point. The satnag refused to acknowledge that any such place existed. Luckily I had already spotted a sign in the centre of Serandon and so off we set.

The weather was beautiful and sunny so driving down the ultra quiet French lanes was a pleasure. The sun shining through the over hanging branches creating dappled shadows. Down one such lane we were suddenly presented with a view of a typical Chateau. I would have loved to get a shot of the front but it was not accessible. So you’ll have to make do with a back view…

Mystery Chateau - near Serandon, France
Mystery Chateau – near Serandon, France

A short drive further on and we arrived at the Belvedere de Gratte-Bruyere which gives spectacular views along the “Haute Vallee de la Dordogne”.

Standing up there was like being in an eagles eyrie, like you are on top of the world. Very, very quiet, but for the movement of the air through the trees and the ever-present twittering of the birds.

Beautiful !!!

Continuing on towards Argentat our route took us down alongside the Dordogne and, a short distance from the belvedere, we came across a large upright rock formation …

Rocher Louis XVI
Rocher Louis XVI

So far I have not been able to find anything about the significance of this rock.

Driving as slowly as we were, with the windows open, you become aware of the many streams noisily tumbling down the sides of the gorges. One was large enough to warrant its own pull in and picnic tables ….

Falls - Dordogne, France
Falls – Dordogne, France

Very pretty, with the dappled shadows from the trees. We met some ramblers here, their two dogs were very pleased to drink from these chilly waters.

Having descended to the bottom of the gorge it was time to cross the Dordogne. The French Government had kindly placed a bridge at the end of the road, to ease our crossing ….

Pont des Ajustant - Dordogne, France
Pont des Ajustant – Dordogne, France

Although we were in the Dordogne Valley, the piece of water that this bridge crosses is in fact “La Triouzoune”.

According to Wikipedia “The Triouzoune is a 50.5 km long river in the Corrèze département, south-central France. Its source is on the Plateau de Millevaches”

Having crossed the bridge we were soon climbing up the sides of the gorge which continually presented photo opportunities along with chances for Gerry to show me how brave she is …..

Photo Opportunity - Not sure who for though
Photo Opportunity – Not sure who for though

Gorge-side Road - Dordogne, France
Gorge-side Road – Dordogne, France

Soon we were crossing the water again, this time the Dordogne via  the “Pont Saint Projet”. A suspension bridge, which has a span of 195 meters and was built in 1945, following the creation of a dam some 5 km downstream from the bridge. More about the dam later. 

Pont Saint Projet - Dordgne, France
Pont Saint Projet – Dordgne, France

Apparently, below the bridge, swallowed by the newly formed lake is the village of Saint-Projet-le-Desert and also the fifteenth century convent Saint-Projet.

Climbing, once again, we burst out of the gorge into open fields and farmland and soon found ourselves in the village of Chalvignac. Very pretty but, as we arrived, under attack from a large contingent of school children. You’ll be pleased to know that French school children can make just as much noise as school children everywhere. Quite a contrast from the tranquility we had just been experiencing down in the gorge.

A few kilometers down the road and we found ourselves on top of Le Barrage De L’Aigle (Eagle Dam), the reason that the village of Saint-Projet-le-Desert found itself under water.

Built between 1940 and 1945, the dam created a lake, 16 miles in length. Three villages, La Nau, St Projet and Nauzenac, situated on the banks of the river, were all drowned. In Nauzenac, two inhabitants, who didn’t want to leave their house, were drowned by an exceptional flood during the night of the 7th of December 1944.

Apparently, the formal name of the dam, originates from a rock situated downhill from the dam. Needless to say we did not spot the rock.

Alternatively, the dam is called “the dam of the Resistance”, because it was used as a refuge for the maquis.

Maquis (World War II) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Maquis (French pronunciation: [maˈki]) were rural guerrilla bands of French Resistance fighters, called maquisards, during the Occupation of France in World War II.

Some workers were involved both in the maquis and in the construction of the dam. These “workers” employed delaying tactics to the works so that the dam couldn’t be of benefit to the Germans.

On the downstream side of the dam there is a park with information boards and picnic tables, nice of the authorities to provide such a beautiful vantage point from which to relax and enjoy the view.

On the road again we stopped for a quick photo looking back up the gorge, towards the dam, looking over the village of Aynes.

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Looking up the gorge, towards Le Barrage De L’Aigle, looking over the village of Aynes

Pretty as the village is, I don’t think I could live so close below such a structure.

At the beginning of this post I said that our original plan was to visit Argentat. We had set out around 10:00 and by now it was after 14:00 and we started to think about lunch. Of course many country eateries close their kitchens for the afternoon, only opening again for the evening trade. And so we found ourselves in Saint-Privat at “La Belle Epoque”.

La Belle Epoque - Saint-Privat
La Belle Epoque – Saint-Privat

Due to our time of arrival,l we were informed that the kitchen was closed. However, they could still provide us with the “plat du jour”, which on the face of it sounded OK. A starter of Eggs Mayonnaise, a main of Sausage with cheesy mashed potatoes (so we thought) and a pudding of pannacotta.

The eggs mayonnaise were fine, not much to mess up there. The sausage and cheesy mash turned out to be sausage laid on a bed of cauliflower cheese with a sprinkling of fried mushroom slices. The oily juice from the mushroom frying was running around the edge of the cauliflower pile. It would have been OK if the sausage had been freshly cooked, but I suspect that it had been reheated in a microwave. Not an impressive meal. Gerry didn’t eat all of her main course and, of course, none of the panacotta. As it happens the panacotta was also OK.

I guess, as I previously mentioned, due to our timing, beggars can’t be choosers. Personally, I think I would have rather gone to a supermarket and bought bread and cheese. Lesson learnt, eat earlier or take a picnic.

We did, eventually, reach Argentat and very pretty it looks too. However, due to our meandering we didn’t feel we could do it justice and have earmarked it for a dedicated visit during the next two weeks.

As we were leaving Argentat we spotted this Chateau, which must have one of the most idyllic settings one could wish for.

The Chateau du Gibanel
The Chateau du Gibanel

This place is now operating as a four star holiday site with provisions for camping, mobile homes or apartments.

Still travelling back towards the gite, our route took us through the village of Saint-Martin-la-Méanne whose church has an unusual tower.

Saint-Martin-la-Méanne
Saint-Martin-la-Méanne

The village takes its name from its geographical position between two rivers, the Dordogne to the east, the Doustre to the west and a plateau of lakes and ponds in the North.One last photo from our grand tour. Not sure where it was but it needed to be recorded for posterity, whatever that is.

Bridge - Dordogne, France
Bridge – Dordogne, France

So, our day did not go as planned but turned out to be very pleasant. Even though the food at La Belle Epoque could have been so much better, it did not spoil the day. It was nice to be able to tour around on such quiet country roads, taking our time and stopping as and when the fancy took us.

It is the peaceful environment that attracts us to rural France. Long may it stay that way.