Well, I think it about time to meet some of the animals at Sue and Ralph’s. First up we have the two Tamworth pigs.
They are about five months old and don’t have names as yet. I’ve taken to calling them Bert and Ernie as they remind me of the two characters on Sesame Street.
They are brothers and Sue is keeping them as pets. Très lucky pigs these two are! They are like puppies and will come racing across the field whenever we go out to see them. They love a belly rub and will lie down on the grass for some attention. They are supposed to earn their keep by eating the bracken in their field but so far they don’t seem to be that interested in it and would rather have a baked potato! Last week Bert, or was it Ernie, escaped from the field and had a little soirée up and down the road outside the house. We were alerted, whilst having dinner, by the dogs that something was amiss and sure enough a pig was on the loose! Apparently it was Ralphs pig – when any incident happens it is always Ralphs pig in the thick of it! Said porker had got out under the fence. Three sides of the field have an electric wire around but one side if just wire fencing.
After much tooing and froing we enticed Bert (or was it Ernie) back into the field with some food and secured them in with another line of electric fencing.
That’s another job in the pipeline for us to help out with – pig proof fencing.
Then we have the three donkeys. Chocolat and Café are sisters.
I felt sorry for them at first as their necks looked a bit odd and, having an over active imagination, I assumed Sue had rescued them from an awful situation. It turns out, and I didn’t know this, that donkeys store fat in their necks so instead of being poor mistreated animals they are just fat! Sue has had them from foals! They are now only allowed out for a limited time in one of the fields to try to stop them eating so much and slim them down a bit. Kind of like Weight Watchers for donkeys.
Then we have Wonkey Donkey.
So named because she trips over her own hooves when she walks and is a bit, well, wonkey. She is like the Ile de Ré donkeys with a thick shaggy coat. She is just adorable!
I fulfilled one of my bucket list items on Tuesday with Chocolat and Café. Tim and I took them out for a 5km walk around the lanes and through the forest.
I’m not sure what motorists think when confronted with two donkeys on a lead on the road ahead but I’m sure they’re used to it in these ‘ere parts. They were both incognito anyway with their fly masks on hoping not to be recognised!
We were armed with a carrot each and we weren’t afraid to use them.
Needless to say we did have to entice both of them with the carrots as once they decide they’re not going anywhere they mean it even if a car is coming.
It’s not easy trying to shove a donkey over to the side of the road to let a car pass when they are adamant they want to have a rest and a ‘chat’ with the cows in the adjacent field.
Suffice to say, with much cajoling, we got them round the 5km circuit in one piece and then let them go free range in the top field for an evening snack to replace all those calories lost on the walk.
They need to keep up their fighting weight! People would pay good money to do this sort of stuff you know!
On Saturday Ralph and Sue took us to see some of the local goings on in the region starting at 11.00am with the grand opening of ‘La Moulin à vent du Chêne’.
The windmill dating back to the 17th Century has taken three years to restore with the help of donations from public funds and private individuals.
It will now be used as an educational facility and will also be open to the public. The grand opening attracted a fairly large number of people and it was really good to see the local people out in force supporting their heritage.
We were able to see the windmill in action producing three different types of flour. Well that’s what I think he was trying to tell me in French!
Of course with anything done by the French everyone had an aperitif of Rosé to celebrate in style!
After the windmill we went to ‘Le Nombril du Monde’ at Pougne-Herisson. Roughly translated it means ‘Navel of the World’.
It’s a garden now open to the public which was created by the village blacksmith. I can honestly say it was one of the most bizarre, surreal but interesting and enjoyable places we have been to in a long time.
On the day we visited I couldn’t really get my head around what it was about and having scanned the internet since then I’m not sure I’m any the wiser now!
Google translate is all very well but it gives a direct translation of what is written which makes the text even more confusing I think, or maybe that’s just me!
All I have gleaned is that ‘Le Nombril du Monde’ is a garden that was created by …. Jarry, who was , at one time, the village blacksmith and compulsive inventor who died in 1976.
He created the garden using recycled materials and a wacky imagination. Hopefully the pictures might make sense more than I can but I doubt it.
Going round the garden I didn’t quite understand what it was getting at and I still don’t!
It was free to wander round though and we wiled away a happy hour there!
The garden is also used for story telling, poetry, theatre, umm, err, mmm and other stuff!
They even have a Biennial Navel Festival! I think we’ll probably give that one a miss though!
If you’re interested (highly unlikely) and want to find out more about it for yourself, Google it and get back to me with what you think it all means!
The finale to our day out on Saturday was the Grande Prix Historique de Bressuire.
This was a brilliant evening’s entertainment….. and free! The Grand Prix Historique de Bressuire re-enacts the original Grand Prix race which was held in the small town of Bressuire in the early 1950’s.
Hundreds of vintage cars descend on the town for two days of demonstrations and racing around the town’s tight streets.
The racing goes on well into late evening with the last race finishing at 11.30pm. The pictures hopefully give a flavour of what it was like but unfortunately I can’t upload any video footage to the blog.
WARNING: What follows are many pictures of old cars – if you are not the least bit interested in cars then I suggest you look away now!! And don’t ask me to name the types of cars as I haven’t a clue!
So, a jolly good time was had by all on our Grand day out which all had a Wallace and Gromit kind of feel to it! Cracking!!
We left the Ile de Re on Sunday 19th June 2016 and headed over to Secondigny, a small town near Parthenay in the Deux-Sevres region of Poitou-Charentes. We were due to start our next Helpx assignment on the Monday so we stopped overnight in the village of L’absie on an aire which was free and provided free electric and free water! Result! We didn’t know it at the time but the only hotel in the village was having a Karaoke night! Now, I think all French chart music sounds like a eurovision entry so imagine all those songs being murdered in French and you will get the idea of how dire it was! We battened down the hatches and put the blinds up to try to block it out but it still crept through assaulting our little ears (well, my little ears……………….Tims aren’t so little!).
A leisurely Monday morning followed with a brew of fresh coffee before we drove the 10km to Sue and Ralphs near Secondigny.
We were welcomed by Sue and shown around their smallholding and given an idea of the type of jobs they could do with some help with. They have about 10 acres of land and run a small kennels and cattery. They also have two dogs, two cats, a horse, three donkeys and two Tamworth pigs:) You’ll meet some of those characters in later posts!
There are lots of jobs that need doing so we cracked on with clearing and cutting back the edge of one of the fields so that Ralph can put up a second fence to keep horses in.
Sue is offering a couple of fields to a friend who needs somewhere to keep her horses but the fields need a secure fence first.
Tim spent an enjoyable afternoon with Ralph cutting and clearing the vegetation back to the original fence whilst I took the mother of all lawnmowers down to the bottom field to trim back the pathways in and around the pond.
On Tuesday we set to work clearing more of the field. On Wednesday we helped finish off Sues polytunnel. A quick gander at a Youtube video on how to erect a polytunnel and we were off!
The framework was already in but we needed to put tape on all the outside edge of the frame first before the plastic sheeting went on.
The tape is there to prolong the life of the plastic and protect it from the heat when the metal framework gets roasting hot in the sun. Ralph had roped a couple of friends in to help get the plastic sheeting on. Fortunately Tim and I had just finished the taping up as they arrived.
Surprisingly, despite its size, the plastic went on pretty easily which then led to a prolonged discussion on how to get the front and back ends secured.
After much ‘chat’, chewing of the fat, reading instructions and leaning on poles we finally got all the ends secured and battened down.
A quick whizz round with that mother of all lawnmowers again to tidy up and Voila, job done!
Sue was delighted to be able to start getting all her tomato plants and seedlings in.
Wednesday saw us clearing the pond of the weeds and reeds.
The easiest way to do it was to just bite the bullet and get in there and pull it all out. No messing! No thinking about what was under my sandals and potentially nibbling at me.
I did have a fleeting thought about leeches which freaked me out a bit so I did do a leech check when I got out. There are tonnes of noisy frogs in the pond though but Sue assured me that they would get out of my way and I wouldn’t step on them! We cleared about two thirds of the weed and left the rest for the frogs to perch on. After we’d finished we spent twenty minutes watching the frogs that had all come out to bask in the sunshine.
I took a video clip of them as they are really noisy but I can’t upload it on to the blog.
Now that the poly tunnel is up and running we helped move and clean out a large water butt to use for watering the plants.
That evening Sue and Ralph took us to a village about 10km away that do English fish and chips and have a quiz night.
Safe to say Tim and I weren’t much help with the quiz as we are completely rubbish at that kind of thing!
We came last but we did win a Mars bar! It gave us an insight into the rock ‘n’ roll life these British expats live here in France!
Yesterday we finished off clearing the rest of the field ready for the fence posts to go in to make the field ready for the horses.
We’re really enjoying the physical work and we are working pretty well together too! Tim just agrees to do everything my way and we’re all happy! Simples!
So having completed our Helpx assignment at Chateau de Jalesnes, and with 10 days off before our next assignment, we felt the need to feel some sand under our toes and sea air in our hair. The weather for our last four days at the chateau had been really hot and sunny so we were looking forward to a bit of sun, sea, sand and surf somewhere on the Atlantic coast of France. We planned to head due west to Jard sur Mer for a weekend stop at an aire right behind the beach. So far, so good. What I hadn’t planned was how tired I was feeling and the fact that the one cell that is my brain refused to work on our departure from Vernantes. I just couldn’t seem to plan a route to the coast flicking over several pages of our French Road Atlas. In the end we programmed in our destination to satty nav (I know many people name their sat navs but I have such little affection for ours that I don’t feel she deserves a name) and I left her to it. All was apparently going well until an hour into the journey when she tried to take us on the motorway which would have fleeced us of many of our hard earned Euros. We try to avoid toll roads when we can as we now have the time to meander along without a care in the world! After a brief discussion, it was agreed that it was more than likely (read, it was) operator error as Tim had thought he’d programmed her to avoid tolls. So, having faffed and fiddled with the thing for an age we set off again. I can’t say I recall much of the journey over to the coast as I was in and out of consciousness in the passenger seat the entire time. I woke up fifteen minutes from our destination with a sore neck!
We managed to grab the last space on the aire that gave us a sea view between the vegetation and we had a wander along the beach to Jard sur Mer.
It was a pleasant enough little seaside town but nothing memorable. We stayed a couple of nights though to laze about and recover from the last two busy weeks! We were able to watch the first Euro 2016 England v Russia match on Saturday night at a local Tabac. The evening’s drinks were courtesy of our friends Nik and Phil who had kindly furnished us with some Euros before we left the UK so cheers to them!
Tim excelled himself with trying to engage the barman in conversation en francais!!(He’s come on leaps and bounds since the last time we were in France when he just managed to order two portions of chips without the aid of a safety net. He was so chuffed with himself you’d think he’d just negotiated the release of ten hostages!)
Tim asked the barman what the locals were drinking as it looked like a watered down Baileys. The barman explained it was called Pastis de Marseille which is widely quaffed en France. He poured us one on the house and it turned out to be a type of Pernod. I can’t say we’ll be rushing out to buy another one!
On Sunday we headed South down the coast to La Rochelle. We were able to stay at Minemes Marina for two nights for zero euro!
It turned out to be an excellent place to stay as it was a 20 minute stroll, along the harbourside, into the old town of La Rochelle. There was also a solar powered water taxi which took us right into the old harbour.
Two days was enough in La Rochelle and on Tuesday we headed over the bridge to the Ile de Re. The island is apparently a popular holiday destination for well heeled Parisians in July and August. It is 19 miles long by 3 miles wide and is a leisure cyclist’s dream destination.
The highest point on the island is only 19 metres so it is super flat but nothing much stops the wind.
We drove to the West end of the island and parked up at an aire at Saint Clement Des Baleines. The pay machine at the aire was out of order so it looked like we were in for yet another free night! Whoop! (Edit: the Gendarme came and collected our money the next morning – we didn’t argue as he was bigger than us!) We had a cycle around the western end of the island and we can see why it is such a popular holiday destination.
The beaches are all accessible and beautiful. The water is clear, green and clean.
The villages are just delightful and everyone seems to be getting about on a bike.
We decided we would spend the rest of the week on the island as it is such a relaxing place to be. The Ile de Re is famous for its salt and the industry is still going strong today.
The island is also home to many migrating birds with near perfect conditions for them. We were amused to see the town at Ars en Re has been Yarn bombed as nearly every pole and post was covered in colourful knitting!
We were able to catch the France match of Euro 2016 at the next door campsite on Wednesday night.
On Thursday we drove the ten miles to park up at an Aire at Le Bois Plage en Re which is another pretty little town on the southern side of the island. The aire is adjacent to a campsite and right behind the beach. We went for another tootle on the bikes over to the fortified town of St. Martin de Re. The weather was perfect and the town is just superb.
We spent a leisurely couple of hours mooching about soaking up the atmosphere. On returning to the van we had another look at the beach and the surf looked inviting enough to go in. Tim wasn’t convinced – it has to be perfect sunshine and clean, green two foot surf for him to break out his wetsuit so I went in by myself, Billy no mates style. We decided not to bring our bodyboards on the trip as we felt they take up too much valuable room in the van but I did bring my flippers and a little hand paddle thingy that I bought about 10 years ago. It’s enough to surf with and doesn’t eat up much room.
The kitesurfers were out in force – there must be a beach for every wind direction on the island.
We finally found some Ile de Re donkeys on Friday just outside St Martin de Re. They were free range in the city ramparts but had an electric fence around them so we weren’t able to get up too close but I managed a few pictures of them.
Some of them look more like highland cattle than donkeys and a few looked like they could do with a good brush and furcut.
How can anyone not love a donkey???
We’ve spent six days on the Ile de Re having a fantastic time enjoying the relaxed pace of life here.
We’ve cycled the length and breadth of the island so it’s now time to move on to the next chapter of the journey. We’re heading inland again to the Deux Sevres region of the Poitou-Charentes about 100kms from La Rochelle for our next Helpx assignment. This one will be back to working on a small holding with animals – dogs, cats, horses and three donkeys.
We returned to the chateau on Sunday evening (6/6/16), after our mini vacances, refreshed and ready for the next tasks that would be thrown at us! The weather had improved and we awoke on the Monday morning to bright sunshine and clear skies. Yay! Now that the music festival has ended, the apartments have been furnished and most of the investors have returned from whence they came the majority of the work that needs doing is in the grounds of the chateau. The large bulk of the work is done by a team of guys who come once a week to cut the grass and strim some of the grounds but there is sooooo much to keep on top of that we weren’t going to be short of things to do. Our first job was to clear the ivy and weeds from the front wall at the top of the chateau drive and to cut back any low hanging branches from the trees lining the drive and strip them of all their ivy.
We spent two days working hard at clearing the ivy on the trees on the right hand approach to the chateau.
You can see in the pictures the difference – the ‘naked’ trees on the left!
Tim was finally able to unleash his new speedos and have a dip in the pool on Tuesday. He bought new trunks before we left the UK as in France it is forbidden to wear shorts in the swimming pools. It was a real treat to swim in such salubrious surroundings.
Wednesday saw us clearing the area behind the Helpx accommodation which is affectionately known as the ‘Hi-de-hi’. I set to with the lawnmower and Tim broke out the strimmer, or ‘whipper-snipper’ as Jenny called it! I think whipper-snipper sounds better than strimmer so it will forever be known as that from now on!
We had another trip to the Super-U on Wednesday as four new helpers from New Zealand were arriving that day and we needed to make sure we had enough in to feed them. Tim particularly liked the basket trolley thing which we hadn’t noticed on our previous trips. He looks like a true pensioner ready to do his shopping I think!
Thursday saw us dealing with all the weeds on the pathways in the chateau garden. Jenny had been beavering away for the last two days treating the weeds with a mixture of vinegar, salt and washing up liquid which kills them without the need for pesticides.
However, with a garden this size, hundreds of bottles of vinegar were needed. Jenny can probably be seen on every CCTV camera, at every supermarket in the Loire area, clearing their shelves of white vinegar!
Our final job on Thursday was a trip to the local recycling area 10kms away in Longue-Jemelles to dispose of the last load of packaging from the apartment furniture.
We called it a day early on Thursday as it was our last day at the chateau and we went for a tootle on a couple of chateau bikes.
We called in for a beer at the local tabac in Vernantes villageon the way back. This drink was courtesy of my friend Claire in the UK who had wished us luck for our travels with a card containing Euros – that’s my kind of card! So, thank you Claire:)
Jonathan and Michael very kindly took Tim and I out to a bistro in Saumur on Thursday evening for a slap up meal as a thank you for the work we had done over the last two weeks at the chateau. We were able to sit outside in balmy temperatures and soak up the French ambience! The food was superb and a real treat for us to sample the kind of food France is so famous for. We both agreed that the dessert was the best deconstructed lemon meringue pie we had ever had!!
Thank you so much guys, we have had a superb time here at the chateau and have felt very privileged to have been a part of something so special even if for a short while. Jonathan, Michael, Jenny and David have been tip top hosts and have made us feel so welcome and involved us in everything that has been going on at the chateau. It’s an experience that neither of us will forget and we are so grateful to everyone including Eric (handyman)and the two cleaners (one was called Michelle but I’m not sure what the other one was called – sorry) for helping us practice our near non existent French over our lunches together – you were all very patient! Thanks:)
We returned to le chateau on Sunday evening after having Friday, Saturday and Sunday off for a mini holiday touring the Loire area. After stocking up with provisions at the Super U we headed south to have a look see at the river Loire. It’s fair to say that the weather since we arrived here has been diabolique with rain practically every day. We’d heard on the news that many places throughout France were flooded. We stopped at another free aire at Chouze sur Loire which is a village just on the north side of the Loire river.
We had a lazy day catching up on sleep and doing some French learning. We didn’t have internet access so I wasn’t able to update the blog until we got back to the chateau. In the early evening we had a stroll down to the river to see what was what. The river has flooded gardens and campsites. We have been to this area before and beaches can usually be seen at various places along the river but it is completely covered with water at the moment. The picture below shows the area two years ago and the next one shows what it looks like now – quite a difference.
We were also intrigued to see an English telephone box in the centre of the village.
Apparently it was donated in 2000 to Chouze-sur-Loire by the village of Gosfield which Chouze is twinned with. Google was my friend again and Gosfield is in Essex.
On Saturday we refilled our water tanks and headed over to the southern side of the Loire towards Montsereau which is supposedly one of the most beautiful villages in France.
It certainly lived up to expectations with it’s 11th century chateau, troglodytic dwellings, streets of flowers, vineyards and beautiful tuffeau stone buildings.
Later on we went to Fontevraud, home to the largest preserved monastic site in Europe. We got there a bit late to make it worthwhile paying to go in (Tim was delighted he didn’t have to open his wallet!) but the surrounding village was worth a look round with well kept flower lined streets.
On Saturday night we stopped at yet another free aire at Torquant. The village is largely built into the hillside but the dwellings are mostly now given over to crafts, boutiques and workshops.
It’s a really interesting place to wander around.
On Sunday we drove into Saumur and parked up in the car park of the Cavalry School where there was a show jumping competition on.
We had a wander around Saumur. Again, the picture below shows the river level in 2014 and then what it looked like on Sunday.
The finale to our weekend was a tour, on vintage bicycles, of the Bouvet Ladubay wine caves.
I’d emailed the company, in French I might add, to see if we could get booked onto a tour. After several emails back and forth we managed to get booked onto the Sunday evening tour. I did my best when we arrived to speak to the chap on reception in French but as soon as the first words were out of my mouth he said in perfect English ‘would you prefer to speak in English Madam?’. ‘Qui’ was my meek reply. I would really have wanted to persevere in French but the poor guy didn’t have all day to entertain my whims so Anglais it was.
The tour was interesting but I was a little bit disappointed that the bikes weren’t truly vintage (I was hoping for at least a wicker basket on the front of mine)and we probably only cycled about a mile but I couldn’t see the UK putting on anything similar – far too health and safety conscious!
The tour cost a measly €4 including tasting four of their wines so was a bargain!
As Tim was driving I needed to try his share too – shame to see it go to waste!
Well time is moving on apace here at le chateau. I’ve been a bit slack with the blog again as we have been so busy and I’ve been too tired to write it up! I was hoping to get this blog post out on Friday but we’ve had flaky wifi for the last three days so my plans were scuppered. Being so busy at the chateau has been our choice, though, as we are enjoying all the tasks that have been thrown at us and we have felt like we are being useful. I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen doing various catering tasks which have stretched my culinary skills to the limit! We had ten people to provide a meal for before the first concert of the Chamber Music Festival. Michael bought all the food and Jonathan and I were earmarked to do all the preparation. Jonathan happened to mention that he needed to pick up some more musicians from Nantes airport and may not be back in time to help. Oh crap. He detailed ‘his vision’ to me for what he wanted everything to look like. Jonathan did tell me the French name of what was being served but I can’t remember what it was but it was basically a posh French buffet. There wasn’t much cooking as such as most things were pre prepared but presentation was key – yeah right, like I do presentation!! You know how foodie the French are, so no pressure like! Everything I cook is normally just slapped on a plate and grudgingly dumped on the table with a look that say’s ‘if you think you can do better, do it yourself’! Ah well, keep calm and carry on as they say. So, armed with blunt knives, I set about presenting a posh buffet fit for a French audience. All I can say is fiddly, fiddly, fiddly. I know how they feel on Masterchef now. Fortunately Jonathan did get back from Nantes in time to give some help and guidance which was much appreciated.
Tim, meanwhile, had been helping David complete the finishing touches on one of the apartments putting up pictures and mirrors etc. I sent him a text to see what he was doing as we could use some help in the kitchen to which I got a reply that he and David were sitting on the settee, in said apartment, having a beer whilst tuning in the TV!! I won’t say what my reply to that one was.
Anyway, the buffet apparently went down a treat and everyone was happy. Needless to say I was so stressed I didn’t get take any pictures.
Just when I thought I was in the clear Jonathan let me know that twelve people were booked for a traditional English afternoon tea the next day. Just as well I’d had a bit of practice scone making on our last Helpx assignment then. Fortunately, lots of helpers were roped in for this one though so scones and butter icing were my tasks. Jonathan did look at me like I was some sort of imbecile when I asked how to make butter icing though! As I’ve said before baking has never been my forte and I can’t remember the last time I made a cake – we’re talking thirty plus years ago. What can I say? It’s been a steep learning curve! Again, I completely forgot to take any pictures.
Despite being so busy we did get out to go to the church mass in the village last Sunday. We went because the musicians were playing with the choir for the service. It was a Catholic Mass and Tim freaked out when it came to the ‘Peace be upon you’ part as, this being France, we would have to kiss the people around us! We got away with shaking hands in the end though. Tim freaked out even more, however, when the collection plate came round and he didn’t have any change whatsoever and I made him hand over a crispy five euro note! It took him a while to recover from that one!
Tim has also helped set up the crypt under the chapel for a wine tasting evening which we were able to catch the tail end of.
Unfortunately, the pictures came out really badly and this was the only one I could put on the blog, which is still rubbish.
We were also invited to a talk on the history of the chateau and a tour of the apartments and caves. I didn’t take any pictures of the apartments but just managed to capture this one of an old wine press in one of the caves and some pictures of the moat.
On Thursday we took two guests to the railway station in Tours and stopped off in Langeais on the way back which is a very pretty small town with a chateau.
We had a mooch around and then decided to have lunch at a little cafe. We opted for the formule which is a set meal of three courses including coffee.
Entree was self service and I had good intentions when I put this snail/winkle type thing on my plate but after Tim suggested it might still be alive I went weak at the knees and had to leave it!
There were two choices for the main meal so we ordered one of each and hoped for the best as we weren’t able to translate the menu! Mmmm, a giant piece of black pudding for me (yum….not) and a chicken liver/kidney (read Offal) stew for Tim.
The black pudding was a step too far for me so we swapped and I ate the stew which wasn’t actually too bad but I can’t say I’d be having it again any time soon.
Thursday evening was the final day of the Chamber Music Festival which was celebrated with guests attending a gala dinner served in the chapel. Thankfully outside caterers were in for this gig! We snuck up onto the balcony where no-one could see us and supped wine whilst listening to the music (two pianos and two flutes).
Now that the music festival has finished we are taking Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to have a break and a bit of the tour around the area.