Micro-adventures and mishaps…. .

We enjoyed a couple of days at Les-Eyzies-Sur-Tayac-du-Soleil staying at the excellent aire on the banks of the River Vezère.  Surprisingly, the aire had plenty of space considering it was a weekend in July.  Les Eyzies is a small town in the Vezère Valley sitting beneath a vast limestone crag.

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Vezere river.

As you can see from the pictures a considerable number of houses have been built into the rock, as is typical of most of the area in the valley.

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Les-Eyzies-Sur-Tayac.

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P1060946.JPGWe embarked on another walk from Lez Eyzies  on Friday 22nd July 2016 which took us out in an easterly direction on the north side of the river.  Even though, for the first couple of miles, the path followed the road, being on foot gave us the time to really appreciate the limestone cliffs with a good view of the remains of troglodytic dwellings.

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Following the road out of Les Eyzies on the north side of the river.

We’d gone prepared for a dip in the water as I wanted to find a wild swimming spot further up the river which was recommended in Daniel Start’s book but when we got to the end of a narrow lane the path leading down to the river was taped off with a Property Privée sign across it so we had to retrace our steps.  Not to be deterred, I suggested to Tim that we try a little ‘micro-adventure’.  I first heard about microadventures when I was trawling the internet on a wet January day looking for some sort of inspiration for a weekend trip with a couple of friends later in the year.  Alistair Humphreys is an author, having written nine books, and a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.  He spent four and a half years cycling around the world on a shoestring budget, at times living on £1 per day.  I have read a couple of his books in the comfort of an armchair which is a much more civilised way to vicariously travel around the world!  I do recommend his books though if you are into that sort of thing.  Anyway, Alistair Humphreys came up with the idea of microadventures as a way for ‘normal’ people, who perhaps don’t have much time, and work 9-5, to make the most of the 5-9 with a microadventure.  Basically, it’s to leave work in the evening and walk/bike/canoe/horse-ride/skate/swim/skip/whatever somewhere and maybe climb a hill with a view and camp overnight, eat al fresco and then get up with the sunrise and return to work the next morning screeching into your seat just before your usual start time (probably feeling grubby and tired but hopefully very happy!)  It doesn’t have to cost much, is a great way to get away from technology and re-acquaint yourself with the the simple pleasures of a natural environment outside of your work and home.  I think it’s a great one for children too as a bit of timeout from technology.  A micro adventure can also just be doing something different for a couple of hours in the great outdoors that you wouldn’t normally do or haven’t done for a long time.   So anyway, again, going back to the original story, I suggested to Tim that we could have a little micro adventure by swimming/paddling/floating back the 3km to the aire.  We could put all our stuff in drybags in our rucksacks and just make our way down the river.  I’m full of suggestions like this which normally get the thumbs down from Tim or just the ‘look’ which says ‘if you want to do it that’s fine but don’t expect me to do it’.  However, for the second time in the last week, Tim surprised me by agreeing!  Mon dieu.  That had me floored!  It’s ok for me as I’m confident in the water but Tim isn’t, so it was a big challenge for him.

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Tim braves a micro-adventure.

I couldn’t get any photos whilst in the water as the camera was tucked away in the dry bags but we made it back to the campsite and Tim even conceded he enjoyed some of it – mostly the bits where he wasn’t out of his depth.

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Safely back exiting the river adjacent to the aire.

He even said he would be up for another trip.  Fantastic, Niagara Falls, in a barrel, here we come!  After all that excitement we had a quiet evening and tried cooking a lasagne on the Cobb.

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Cooking a lasagne on the Cobb.

I think it came out better than if we’d put it in the oven.  So a big thumbs up for the Cobb on that one.

We had a stroll into the village in the evening to see the limestone crag lit up.

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Les Eyzies at night.

We left Les Eysies on Saturday 23rd July 2016 and trundled a few miles down the Vezère valley to the little town of Limeuil at the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezère rivers.

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The River Dordogne at Limuiel.

It’s a great place to have a swim or paddle with a campsite on one side of the river and the village built into the hillside on the other.  We had hoped to stay at one of two aires here but one had closed and the other was chock a block with cars.

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Pottery market at Limuiel.

There was a pottery market on in the town for the weekend which maybe explained the number of cars and people around or it may just be that it is always that busy here, I don’t know.

P1060962.JPGWe wiled away a couple of hours in Limueil before moving on to Tremolat further down the valley.  We parked up at a small aire in the village which happened to be by the village hall.  A birthday party was going on at the village hall with lots of people coming and going.  The organiser came out to let us know there would be quite a bit of noise later but we said that was fine and it wouldn’t bother us.  We were having a very pleasant evening enjoying our favourite sport of people watching when a car reversed into us!  Ah merde, not again!  I’m not sure what it is, the van isn’t exactly small and discrete, but that’s the second person who hasn’t seen it and reversed straight into us.  The driver was probably in his early twenties and very apologetic.  He went off to get his dad who turned out to be the mayor of the village!

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‘Ollie’ gets thumped!

We invited them in to complete a ‘constat amiable d’accident automobile’ which is a jointly agreed statement for insurance purposes as ‘Ollie’ will need a new corner bumper.  Ah well, c’est la vie and all that.  After all that was done we went to bed at about 11.30pm thinking that the party was drawing to a close and how quiet it had all been.  Mmmm, not so.  That was before the disco started at midnight!  By 4.00am, having heard enough Michael Jackson, Queen, The Eurythmics and some other French ‘disco’ music of indeterminate origin, I was beginning to think it would never end.  They finally wrapped it all up at about 4.30am and I managed to get some sleep.  Needless to say, Tim slept through it all!  We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and re-surveyed the damage to the van in the cold light of day.

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Ce ne pas grave!

It’s not serious, it’s just hassle!

We headed towards Bergerac as that is the most likely place we’ll find a garage to repair the van.  We stopped off at Cingle de Tremolat for a magnificent view over the river back to Tremolat and towards Bergerac.

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Viewpoint at Cingle de Tremolat.

As the viewpoint was a ten minute walk from the small car park and not sign posted we had the place to ourselves for half an hour or so.   We sat perched on the rock looking through the binoculars at the kites……….or was it falcons…………..or buzzards soaring above and below us?  I’m not sure.  Let’s just say they were birds of prey.

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View back towards Tremolat.

Little snapshots of time like that make me think of how fortunate we are to be doing what we are.

We stopped at Lalinde for the night which is a reasonable sized town where we’d be able to get some free wifi to start our search for motorhome repairers.

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Monday morning at Lalinde using the Tourist Information Wifi to source a garage to repair the van.

We were the only ones on the aire there until a French van arrived.  Even though we’ve been doing our own French learning we haven’t, as yet, braved talking to any of our neighbours at the aires beyond the odd ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Il fait beau’ so I was delighted when the lady came out and asked if we speak French.  When we said ‘a little’ she encouraged us to have a chat.  Once started there was no stopping me!  They have travelled extensively all over the world so are probably used to plenty of miming. Marcel Marceau has got nothing on us!  They ended up giving us their address and inviting us to stay with them and park our van up on their terrace.  They are probably serial killers but a free night is a free night!  It was great though as we proved to ourselves that we can string a few words together and be understood.  It was good practice anyway for our next challenge of organising the repair to the van.  We also now need a repair done to the habitation door of the van as a plastic bit has fallen off within the mechanism and we can only open the door from the outside!  To cut a long story short (I’m boring myself now), we are awaiting two quotes for the work.

The aire is 3km outside Bergerac with a country park adjacent sporting a lake for swimming.  Très bon!

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The aire at Bergerac next to a huge country park.

It’s a 30 minute walk or 10 minute cycle into Bergerac through the park so is an ideal location to base ourselves until the quotes come through and the insurance company has had time to peruse them.

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Swimming in the lake.

We’ve spent our time over the last few days exploring Bergerac, admin, laundry, shopping and swimming.

 

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Bergerac.
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Interesting B&B in Bergerac.
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Next to the Dordogne in Bergerac.

Our next plan, once we have a quote approved, is to get the van booked in for the repair which is likely to be in two weeks time at the earliest.  We are planning a cycle adventure with the tent and bikes whilst the van is being repaired as it’s likely to take 3-4 days to do.

They say all things come in threes which seems to be the case this week as I also broke a tooth whilst eating a peanut this week.  On enquiring at the Tourist Information in Bergerac about a list of dentists I was left with the impression that I’d never, in a month of Sundays, be able to see a dentist as they will all be either too busy or on holiday.  I struck lucky though with the first one I tried.  I walked in and explained the problem and he saw me straight away, filed down the jagged edge which was shredding my tongue and has booked me in to see him next week for a proper repair. Pas de problem!

Un bon weekend, toute le monde:)

 

 

Happy, lazy days in the Vezere valley… .

Since my last blog update we have been ambling at a very slow pace.  We moved on from Brantome on Thursday 14th July 2016 after having spent three nights there.  We had a mooch around the very pretty St. Jean de Cole, 20km north east of Brantome. It is ranked as one of the prettiest villages in the Dordogne and it didn’t disappoint.

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St Jean de Cole.

Beyond the central square, medieval houses cluster together cheek by jowl down narrow alleyways.

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Tres tranquille!

As always in France, the flowers and pastel painted shutters create an air of relaxed calm and tranquillity.

P1060763.JPGDespite it being the middle of July the village was extremely peaceful with a free aire a two minute walk away.

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St. Jean de Cole’s 11th C church.

Even though the aire was free at St. Jean de Cole we opted to retrace our steps through Brantome and continue further on to Bordeilles which we had inadvertently stumbled across on our walk the previous day. 

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River Dronne at Bordeilles.

The aire at Bordeilles sits on the banks of the river Dronne and covers two large fields with plenty of shade and space to spread out.  The weather had heated up again to the top twenties which was why, we discovered later, we had the second field to ourselves as all the intelligent people were parked up under the shade of the trees.   

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Oh look, we have the whole field to ourselves.

Still, we don’t get weather like this very often in the UK so we thought we’d best make the most of it. We spent a very pleasant evening slowing cooking in the sun playing scrabble in French!  Needless to say, that game didn’t last very long. 

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French Scrabble – we’re off to a flying start!

As part of the Bastille Day celebrations we did make the effort, this time, to go and see the fireworks. 

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Fireworks in Bordeilles on Bastille Day.

I found a very quiet spot on the river, a few minutes from the aire, to go for a swim but was quite shocked at how cold the water was. 

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Blimey, that’s colder than I thought it would be!

The water in the River Charente a few days before had been cold but not cold cold but the water at Bordeilles was cold cold cold cold cold!  However, swimming ‘au natural’ (by that I mean in nature not sans costume!) in such a beautiful river, with views of the chateau, and an occasional passing canoe was another big tick on my bucket list.  That’s two ticked off already – only another 200 odd to go!

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Not so bad once you’re in though.

In the spirit of living a more active lifestyle we rode our bikes the 11km to Aldi in Brantome.  Now we have the time to spend two or three hours on the weekly shop it makes sense to go on the bikes when we can as long as it all fits in two panniers each. 

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An Aldi outside the small town of Brantome – excellent!

In truth, the 22km round trip was more or less flat.  I don’t think it would go down too well with Tim if a soiree to the supermarket on the bikes involved too much altitude.  

At Bordeilles, we were really getting into a routine of breakfasting al fresco, learning French al fresco, biking alfresco, swimming al fresco and cooking on the Cobb al fresco whilst watching the sun set, naturally, al fresco!  I have dreamt of days such as these!

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Lunch al fresco.
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A bike ride in the surrounding countryside.
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Takes your breath away!
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I never thought Tim would go in too!

Having spent four nights at Bordeilles, though, we felt ready to move on.  We were going to stop at Perigueux, capital of the Dordogne, but it was sooooo hot we decided a very busy town was not where we wanted to be at that moment.  So after refuelling with diesel and LPG, followed by a cheeky trip to Lidl, we made our way to Montsignac.

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Monsignac.

 The aire had been recommended to us by a Welsh chap we met in Cognac.  It’s €5 per night which includes electric hook up and water and is a few minutes stroll into the town and down to the river.  Montignac is in the valley of the River Vezère. 

P1060846.JPGThe town, most of which is medieval, is set on both sides of the Vezère river.  It is famous for the Grotte de Lascaux, a deep cavern covered with paintings of animals, discovered in 1940 by four boys who stumbled across it. 

The paintings were created by the Cro-Magnon people 17,000 years ago and are among the finest example of prehistoric art in existence.  The original cavern was opened to the public in 1948 but, due to the deterioration of the paintings from the breath of over a million visitors, it was closed in 1963. So the saying ‘he could strip paint with his breath’ is true! 

A replica, Lascaux II, was painstakingly created by twenty artists and sculptors, using the same techniques and materials as the Cro-Magnon people, 200m away and opened in 1983. That too has now been superseded by Lacaux IV. 

We spent our time in Montsignac moseying around all the back streets seeking out interesting buildings and I rounded off the day with a swim, at dusk, in the river.  The river flows pretty fast which meant swimming against the flow was nigh on impossible without considerable effort.  Therefore, the best policy was for me to drift down the river a mile or so, past all the evening diners eating foie gras, hoping no-one would notice me (unlikely) and for Tim to meet me just beyond the bridge.  Excellent.  

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You can just see a speck in the river……………………that’s me!

We only stayed the one night in Montignac before moving on down the valley to the delightful village of St. Léon sur Vezère. 

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The beautiful St Leon sur Vezere.

The weather was in the mid thirties by this time and, once again, all the intelligent people parked their vans under the trees facing away from the direct heat of the sun.  We, on the other hand, parked where there was the least amount of shade with our side door facing directly into the evening sun.  We’ll maybe learn at some point in the future, once we’ve crisped up a bit more, but we appear to be very slow learners! 

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There was shade at mid-day but we cooked after that on gas mark 9!

For all our swimming exploits we have loosely been following Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, France book to give us ideas on where might be accessible, safe and interesting for a swim.  St. Léon sur Vezère was listed in the book and we found a nice spot away from all the crowds a further mile or so up the river.

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Perfect paddling on the River Vezere.

It had cooled down with some cloud cover by Wednesday 20th July 2016 so we cycled along the southern side of the river towards Tursac which afforded some fabulous views over the valley and the surrounding countryside. 

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Views towards La Roque St. Christophe.
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Views above the River Vezere.

We stopped at La Roque St. Christophe not knowing what to expect.  It takes a lot to impress me but even I have to admit my jaw dropped at the sight of this enormous troglodytic city.  It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site.  Humans settled here, in the natural caves created in the limestone cliff face, over 55,000 years ago.  Multi storey dwellings sat in the rock face 80 metres above the Vezère river. 

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Troglodytic village at La Roque St. Christophe.

The ‘city’ is over 1km long.  Although we don’t tend to ‘do’ tourist attractions per se I have to admit this was worth the €8.50 each we paid to go in.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Hopefully they give a sense of the vastness of it. 

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It is jaw dropping.

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Apparently all the machines are in working order.

P1060893.JPGWe cycled on the road running underneath the city giving us a view of the little people above.

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The road below La Roque St. Christophe.
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Looking up at the ‘little people’.

We crossed the bridge to take a picture from the north side of the river whilst enjoying the sunflowers swaying in the breeze. 

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The sunflowers aren’t all out yet but they will be spectacular when they are.

We continued on and found an interesting spot for a swim under the limestone cliff.  This was a step too far for Tim as the water was murky, deep and was a likely home, in his mind, for flesh eating aquatic things! 

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This picture was taken before a flotilla of canes came past.

In all, the cycle was only about 16km but with all our stops, detours and the many sights to take in it felt longer.

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Geese destined for the foie gras market!
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La Maison Forte De Reignac, a chateau built into the rock in the 15th Century.

We have now moved on a whopping 15km further down the valley to Les-Eysies-de-Tayac at another aire on the riverside.  The welcome en France to motorhomers continues to inspire!

Happy Friday everyone:)

Je m’en vais!

The Dordogne beckons…. .

We are having a bit of a holiday at the moment!  We arrived in Cognac on Friday 8th July 2016 and ended up staying until Monday afternoon.

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Cognac.

We spent the Friday afternoon and evening wandering around the old town and relaxing listening to all the free fringe music going on around the annual Blues Festival.

P1060589.JPGDespite the Blues Festival Cognac town was pretty quiet.

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Bijoux residence:)

Iggy Pop was playing on the main stage but at €50 a ticket for the evening set of concerts we gave it a miss. Instead we enjoyed these guys who were great fun playing all sorts from Blues to Jazz to Funk.

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I’m sure it was Dara O’Briain on the Sousaphone?

I’m sure Darah O’Briain was playing the Souzaphone?  We then wandered up to the top of the town which was buzzing with people but the music was of the ‘you’ve heard one, you’ve heard the all’ kind so we didn’t stay long. 

 

 

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Free music but we didn’t stay long!

Saturday was a walking day both up and down the river.

P1060620.JPGAround the walking we had a lazy day catching up on admin.

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A lazy day walking along the river banks!

We were able to pick up very fast free wifi from a restaurant across the river which was a bonus as I was able to upload the last blog post from there.

 

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It’s not all play you know, this blog doesn’t update itself!

We took our chairs down to the riverside for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  Très civilised!

 

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Breakfast.
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Lunch.
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Dinner.

The temperatures were in the top twenties on Saturday and Sunday which is significantly warmer than we have had so far.  In view of the hot weather Tim donned his Speedo’s on Sunday and braved a swim in the river.

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Not without his water wings though in the form of our Thermarest sleeping mats!  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon with pleasant views of a chateau across the river.

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Pleasant views of a chateau across the river.
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Mmm, note to self, I must brave it and get a hair cut some time soon!

We went to a local bar to watch France play in the final of Euro 2016.

 

 

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Before the match started.
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The same scene 30 seconds after Portugal scored!!

We decided to hire a canoe on Monday and have a paddle down the Charente. We were dropped 17km further up the river at Jarnac, birthplace of Francois Mitterand, and had a very relaxing paddle back to Cognac.

 

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Des Res!

On Monday we moved on further south into the Dordogne and have been staying at Brantome which is a very pretty town dominated by the Abbey on the banks of the river Dronne.

 

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Brantome – very pretty.

The aire is a five minute walk into the town and costs just over £5 per night.

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Brantome.

Brantome is the most touristy town we’ve been to so far I think but considering it’s the middle of July when most of the French take their annual summer holiday it’s not too overbearing.

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More pretty French streets!

We had a walking day on Wednesday.   I’d picked up a leaflet from the tourist information office of a 12km circular walk starting in Brantome.  I’d paid 50c for the leaflet and had spent half an hour translating it so I was determined we were going to do it.  It took us out of town following the flow of the river Dronne and into the surrounding countryside.

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An old mill on the banks of the Dronne, now a B&B.

The map itself wasn’t too brilliant but we seemed to be making progress and arrived at a pretty viewpoint over the river after two hours which was perfect for a lunch stop.

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Lunch stop.

After lunch things didn’t go according to plan as the map wasn’t particularly clear and the written instructions were a bit on the sparse side.  We eventually arrived in the lovely village of Bordeilles which was in the opposite direction of where we wanted to be and an 11km walk back to Brantome. Doh!

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Uber pretty Bordeilles.

I went into the tourist information to ask if there was a bus service to Brantome and she replied with ‘Je pense pas’ (I think not) but what her eyes and body language actually said was ‘do you really think there is going to be any public transport from such a small village as this in such a rural area of France?  Are all you Anglaise so stoopide?’ Oh, ok, that’ll be a no then, we just thought we’d ask on the off chance like!  There was only one thing for it but to bite the bullet and retrace our steps.

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Bordeilles.

That was before Tim came up with his cunning plan.  Cue drum roll.  ‘Let’s see if we can hitch a lift’ he said!  To his surprise I agreed but only on the condition that he used his own thumb and not mine.  With that agreed, out went said thumb, and lo and behold the third car that passed us stopped to pick us up.  Yay!

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View of Bordeilles from the top end of the village.

It was a middle aged French lady who’d taken pity on us.  She was a game girl to stop as we could have been anyone and she didn’t know Tim was armed with a Swiss Army penknife!  Mind you she probably thought she was quite safe when we insisted on buckling up our seat belts before she drove off though!  My francais was tested to the limit telling her why the ‘stoopid anglais’s’ needed a lift.  She wasn’t going into Brantome so we asked her if she could drop us back at the bridge where we’d had lunch and we would walk from there.

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It was still a long walk back despite our lift!

It saved us over an hour’s extra walk and was an experience but we still had a two hour walk back to the van.  Ah well, it’s not like we had anything pressing to get back for!  We eventually arrived back at the van over two hours later than planned – c’est la vie.

Later on in the evening we had a stroll into Brantome to watch some river jousting as part of the Bastille Celebrations.

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River jousting as part of the Bastille celebrations.

In truth, it was a bit dull, to say the least, and we were bored after 15 minutes so didn’t stay for the further 1hr 45 minutes it was scheduled to go on for.  We retired to the van to read our books! Très rock ‘n’ roll. We slept through the fireworks!

We played it safe on Thursday and went to the local lavomatique, a 5 minute stroll from the aire, to do our laundry (obviously)!

P1060720.JPG  It’s the first time we’ve had to use a public laundrette as we’ve been able, until now, to do all our washing when either House sitting or Helpxing.

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It’s lucky we’re not precious about our clothes – everything goes in together regardless of colour!

We haven’t been able to get any reliable free wifi where we are staying and the mifi in the van is really temperamental at the moment.  I did have more to say in this post but, in view of the fact it has taken me an hour and a half sitting on a hard bench outside a hotel, using their very slow free wifi to upload the photos, I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead and get this uploaded!

A toute de suite!

 

 

Another successful Helpx assignment comes to an end.. .

So, after our three day mini-break in Coulon we headed back to Ralph and Sue’s near Secondigny for another week to help with a few other jobs that needed doing.  Monday and Tuesday saw Tim and Ralph making a start on the fencing in the top field where the horses will eventually go.

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Three months ago Tim wouldn’t have been able to lift that hammer!!!

I did a bit of raking out and clearing of all the vegetation ready for the posts to go in.

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Happy with power tools again.

Tim and Ralph did all the hard graft!  The farmer next door came and cut both fields this week and twirled the grass ready for baling later in the week.

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Not sure what that tool is called –  a fence post banger inner maybe?

I had a lovely couple of days on Tuesday and Wednesday being principal tour guide to Ralph’s sister Pat, and brother in law Alan, who were staying for a week or so.  As Ralph and Sue were busy with the animals and various different jobs Pat, Alan and I went out for a couple of days to tour the area.  It coincided with an improvement in the weather which made for a pleasant couple of days perfect for strolling and quaffing coffee at cafes!   I can add Tour Guide to my CV now which has always looked pretty sparse!

I also enjoyed taking some of the doggy residents out for their daily walks.  A little apricot poodle, which reminded me of Fluffles, the poodle on the Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, was my favourite!

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The apricot poodle staying with Sue reminded me of Fluffles.

Finally on Wednesday and Thursday Tim helped Ralph create a second dog run in the garden for the unsociable canine residents that can’t be trusted to mix with the gang on the other side of the fence!

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Second dog run up and, err, running!

Sue and I cut the grass in the polytunnel with push along lawn mowers.  I haven’t used one of those since about 1979!  That was hard work and gave me blisters but is a better work out than paying to go to a gym!  The petrol lawn mower flings out too much shrapnel which would have potentially shredded the walls of the polytunnel though.

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Our next door neighbour in Trowbridge still uses one of these!

We rounded our stay off with a trip to a local bar to watch France hammer Germany 2-0 in the semi final of Euro 2016.

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Gooooaaaaaaaalllllll!
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Tim now seems to think he is French!

Parfait!  Allez les bleus!

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So, with France safely in the final, our Sunday nights entertainment is now sorted out!

We said au revoir to our hosts and their guest’s yesterday morning with our heads filled with plans of moving into the Dordogne area.  We are in no particular rush as we haven’t, at the moment, got any more Helpxing or Housesitting  gigs lined up.  (Tim could do with a rest after all the real man’s work he’s been doing in the last three months.  He is looking more like a racing snake with each passing day!)

We drove 100km to stop at Cognac which is famous for, umm, Cognac.  Our visit here has coincided with the annual Blues Festival and we managed to bag one of the five spaces on the free aire next to the river just as another van was leaving.  Result!

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The Aire at Cognac just between the flags – 5 minute walk into town.

Life doesn’t get better than this!

Bonne Journée:)

A quick flit to Venice for the weekend….. .

We had another mini break from work at the weekend and headed down to the Venise Verte (Green Venice).  It’s situated in the Marais Poitevin area of Poitou-Charente which is the second largest wetland in France.  We parked up for the weekend at an Aire in Coulon, known as the capital of the Venise Vert,  on the eastern edge of the Marais Poitevin.

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Sevre river at Coulon.

The area is criss-crossed by a system of canals lined by willows and poplar trees .

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Coulon.

The canals are essential to control the water levels in the region.  Coulon itself sits on the banks of the Sevre Noitaise river and is a very pretty village with much character and charm with waterside frontage lined with restaurants, galleries and fishermen’s cottages.

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Coulon Centre Ville!

Boats and canoes can be hired to explore the many canals nearby.

It’s a really lovely tranquil spot conducive to doing not much of anything.  However, if Tim thought he was in for a lazy weekend by the river he was sorely mistaken!  We couldn’t come to this area without exploring it by bike as this really is the best way to see it if you are tight like us and don’t want to pay the extortionate fee to hire a boat!

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Pretty houses line the banks of the Sevre.

The area is as flat as a pancake though so Tim needn’t have worried – wait till we get to the Alps and then see the fear on his face!

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Tres belle maison.

We had a very leisurely tootle around and about on the bikes taking in the lovely stone cottages lining the river and the little tiny holiday shacks which would have done us as our main residence.

P1060485.JPGWe went out at the quietest time in France, between 12.00pm and 2.00pm, when everyone was having lunch which meant lovely car free roads and tracks for miles.

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Little holiday homes – we could live in one all year round!
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Holiday Gite available to rent.

We stopped and had a stroll around Arcais which is a very old and interesting village with a mix of derelict and renovated houses crammed in down little alleyways and lanes.

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Arcais.
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Lots of interesting places in Arcais.

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We didn’t know it when we planned on visiting Coulon that the Fête du Miget was being held over the weekend right next to the aire.  The fete is a celebration of all the old traditions of the area with demonstrations and exhibitions depicting traditional farming methods, schooling, washing, rope making etc.

P1060498.JPGIt kicked off at 2.30pm and was a really good afternoons entertainment. Oh, and free!

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Traditional schoolroom.

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A big part of the day was a three course set evening meal served on long trestle tables.

P1060536.JPGA quick flick through my French-English dictionary revealed the main dish was stuffed eels………………err, mmm,  hmpf I think I’ll give that a miss then!  The finale to the days activities was a parade of traditional boats skippered by people in traditional costume.

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P1060535.JPGMy favourite was the goat boat but if those goats got a bit restless it could have been ugly.

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Goat boat!

On Sunday we called in at Niort with its medieval houses and buildings.

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Niort.

We were able to have a stroll around the 19th Century Market Hall made out of glass and steel and quite impressive.

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Niort’s 19th Century glass and steel market hall.

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It was all very lively in Niort for a sunday.

Niort had a cosmopolitan feel to it and the new blended well with the old.

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Finally, on our way back to Sue and Ralphs we stopped for a mooch around Parthenay.  We weren’t too impressed to start with as it looked a bit neglected and run down but we soon found the attractive 15th and 16th century medieval part of the town and the castle whereby we quickly changed our minds!

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Parthenay’s old town.

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13th Century fortified gateway to old Parthenay.

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We have decided to stay on a little longer with Ralph and Sue to help them get some fencing done before their next pair of helpers arrive from Russia no less!

Bonne Soirée.

A big tick on the bucket list…. .

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.

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Tamworth porkers.

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.

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Bert and Ernie have a certain likeness to the pigs I think.

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.

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Enticed back into the field by Dr Doolittle!

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.

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This little piggy goes to market!

That’s another job in the pipeline for us to help out with – pig proof fencing.

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Don’t you give me the eye!

Then we have the three donkeys.  Chocolat and Café are sisters.

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Chocolat – with her fly mask on.
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Cafe.

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.

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Aww Wonkey Donkey is sooo lush 🙂

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.

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Roadtrip with Chocolat and Cafe 🙂

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!

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Chocolat wanted a selfie!

We were armed with a carrot each and we weren’t afraid to use them.

P1060454.JPGNeedless 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.

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Cafe says NON!

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. 

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At least the roads around here see few vehicles.

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. 

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Free range at last.

They need to keep up their fighting weight!  People would pay good money to do this sort of stuff you know! 

À la prochaine.

A ‘Grand’ day out…. .

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’.

 

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Le Moulin a vent du Chene.

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.

 

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Grand opening of the restored windmill.

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.

 

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In full sail.

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!

 

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Three different types of flour being collected.

Of course with anything done by the French everyone had an aperitif of Rosé to celebrate in style!

 

 

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Millstone above our heads.

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After the windmill we went to ‘Le Nombril du Monde’ at Pougne-Herisson.  Roughly translated it means ‘Navel of the World’.

 

 

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The entrance to ‘Le nombril du monde’ garden.

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.

 

 

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Mmm, not sure what this is meant to represent?

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!

 

 

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This was something to do with a Sputnik.

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!

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Erm, ??

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.

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This was the ‘arbre mort’ – the dead tree.

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.

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These poles had red lines on them (we think) depicting the heights of different characters in fairtales.
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I think I was number 19 – ‘Le chat Botte (non botte) – whatever that means!

Going round the garden I didn’t quite understand what it was getting at and I still don’t!

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The seven sons of the giant??

It was free to wander round though and we wiled away a happy hour there!

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Woodhenge!

The garden is also used for story telling, poetry, theatre, umm, err, mmm and other stuff!

P1060361.JPGThey even have a Biennial Navel Festival! I think we’ll probably give that one a miss though!  

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Anyone care to translate?

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! 

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They could use these on Top Gear – there was the top of a car above it for a gazebo effect!

The finale to our day out on Saturday was the Grande Prix Historique de Bressuire. 

P1060389.JPGThis 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.

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And they’re off.

Hundreds of vintage cars descend on the town for two days of demonstrations and racing around the town’s tight streets.

P1060392.JPGThe 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!

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Nice ‘H’ van now an ice cream van.

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!!

 

 

 

 

Back to ‘work’…. .

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.

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A very civilised start to a Monday morning!

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.

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Cutting back all the vegetation to make way for a new fence.

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.

 

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Taking out the old electric fence.

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.

 

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A happy man with a power tool!

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!

 

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Poly tunnel frame befpre we started.

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.

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Taping up the frame.

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.

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Reinforcements arrived at 10 o’clock to help get the plastic on.
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Yay, the plastic sheeting went on a treat!

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.

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All that Dockyard training has now paid off – no matter where or when I looked Tim seemed to be leaning on a pole of some description!

After much ‘chat’, chewing of the fat, reading instructions and leaning on poles we finally got all the ends secured and battened down.

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Voila, a poly tunnel!

A quick whizz round with that mother of all lawnmowers again to tidy up and Voila, job done!

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Un grande lawnmower.

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.

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Just don’t think about what is underneath.

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.

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Pond cleared of reeds and weed.

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.

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These little chaps make lots of noise.

I took a video clip of them as they are really noisy but I can’t upload it on to the blog.

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The pond is now clearer of reeds and weeds.
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Another one 🙂

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.

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Cleaning out the water butt.
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The ‘A’ Team – Ralph, Brian and Tim.

That evening Sue and Ralph took us to a village about 10km away that do English fish and chips and have a quiz night.

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Fish and chip night at a French bar.

Safe to say Tim and I weren’t much help with the quiz as we are completely rubbish at that kind of thing!

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The glasses are an illusion – I’m not the least bit intelligent at quizzes.

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.

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More power tools!
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We’re getting there.

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!

A toute a l’heure 🙂

 

A week at the seaside…. .

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!

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‘Ollie’ has a sea view.

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.

 

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Jard sur Mer beach 20yds from the aire.

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!

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Cheers to our friends Nik and Phil for the drinks:)

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!)

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Tim shooting the breeze with the barman en franglais!

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!

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View from the van window of the marina at La Rochelle.

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.

 

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Solar powered water taxi.
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View of the old port entrance.
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Street art in La Rochelle.
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View inside the old port.
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La Rochelle town.
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Near the old port in La Rochelle
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La Rochelle town.
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More street art – Banksy stylee!
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Not sure I’d like to park under there.

 

 

 

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This takes me back to my first car in 1986 – a Citroen Dyane I called Daphne.   

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.

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Ile de Re – a leisure cyclists dream destination.

The highest point on the island is only 19 metres so it is super flat but nothing much stops the wind.

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Ars en Re town.

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.

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All the streets on the island are like this.

The beaches are all accessible and beautiful.  The water is clear, green and clean.

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Taking a break on the beach.

The villages are just delightful and everyone seems to be getting about on a bike.

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Bikes are the main form on transport on Ile de Re.

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.

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Salt farm.

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!

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Yarn bombing is alive and well in France!

We were able to catch the France match of Euro 2016 at the next door campsite on Wednesday night.

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Allez les bleu!

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.

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St Martin de Re.

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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.

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First surf of the trip.

The kitesurfers were out in force – there must be a beach for every wind direction on the island.

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Kitesurfing paradise.

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.

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Ile de Re donkeys:)

Some of them look more like highland cattle than donkeys and a few looked like they could do with a good brush and furcut.

P1060204.JPGHow 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.

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Action Homme – for some reason this picture reminds me of the sitcom ‘it aint half hot mum’!!

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.

Un mini-vacances….. .

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.

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Yet another free aire at Chouze sur Loire. Oh we so love France!

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.

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Picnic area near Chouze-sur-Loire in April 2014.
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The same picnic area in June 2016!

 

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The terrace of the local bar in Chouze-sur-Loire just survived.
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The campsite at houze-sur-Loire!

We were also intrigued to see an English telephone box in the centre of the village.

P1050866.JPGApparently 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.

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Approach to Montsoreau.

It certainly lived up to expectations with it’s 11th century chateau, troglodytic dwellings, streets of flowers, vineyards and beautiful tuffeau stone buildings.

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Troglodytic dwellings built into the tuffeau stone.
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I love these little footpaths lines with wild flowers.
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View of Montsoreau chateau.
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The gardens in the village were all so well kept.  Puts ours to shame!
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Lovely wild flowers line driveways.
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Managed to capture this little chap too 🙂

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.

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Traditional English tea shop in Fontevraud.
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Part of the abbey taken through the fence!
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Pretty 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.

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Troglodydtic dwellings now art studios.

It’s a really interesting place to wander around.

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Cave cafe!
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Arial view.

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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.

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Show jumping in the grounds of Saumur Cavalry School.

We had a wander around Saumur.  Again, the picture below shows the river level in 2014 and then what it looked like on Sunday.

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View over the Loire from Saumur in April 2014.
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The Loire June 2016!
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Saumur chateau.

The finale to our weekend was a tour, on vintage bicycles, of the Bouvet Ladubay wine caves.

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‘Ollie’ parked up in the coach park of Bouvet-Ladubay.

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.

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Wine barrels after the first fermentation.
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Most of the tour was lit but we needed head torches for some of it.

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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!

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Tim trying a sparkling red – weird!

The tour cost a measly €4 including tasting four of their wines so was a bargain!

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They all tasted the same to me!

As Tim was driving I needed to try his share too – shame to see it go to waste!

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Ah well, someones gotta do it!

Cheers, a bientot!