Saturday 30 April 2011

Flying visit

Just about half an hour ago, while we were out giving the fruit trees a water we heard the unmistakable hiss of a hot air balloon.

The sound seemed to be coming from the direction of Obterre so we walked over to the eastern side of our property and sure enough a balloon sailed into view.

It passed right over our property and we were able to get some photos. We waved but we're not sure if they waved back--it was hard to see. All in all a lovely end to the day.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Beaulieu mystery

A little while ago friends of ours, Susan & Simon came round to have a look at our kitchen as part of their kitchen reconnaissance and to have lunch:- lemon and rosemary roast chicken, salad, baked potatoes and a strawberry tart from the patissier to finish. At one point the conversation drifted towards historical places to visit and we got talking about Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou and the abbey in Beaulieu sur Loches.

Abbey's ruined nave with new facade
Now we have a confession to make. Despite having holidayed several years in a row in a gite in the area, and knowing Loches pretty well, we have never visited Beaulieu sur Loches properly. We have just always driven through it on the way to somewhere else. 

By now we should know better--never judge a place by it's dusty streets and poorly maintained facades....

corbel with heraldic shield
 We knew about Fulk III Nerra, byname Fulk the Black, French: Foulques le Noir  (born c. 970—died 1040 in Metz, Fr.), Count of Anjou (987–1040); but we didn't know he was buried in Beaulieu. 

Given that he was quite a ruthless warrior--he burned and pillaged many a monastery in his day-- it's apposite, in a way, that the Abbey he founded is located in a place which is now called by a French derivative of the Latin 'Belli-Locus'. In other words, the enclosed fields where the seigneurial class fought and practised their combat skills. 

Simon and Susan have been to Beaulieu often enough. They run Loire Valley Time Travel a bespoke touring service to sights in the region. As they point out, Fulk is signposted neatly enough. His unadorned stone coffin is simply lit from below and a thick glass window set into the floor of the abbey allows you to look down on it. Fulk is located in the south transept.

However, the mystery has nothing to do with Fulk Nerra. But with a plaster figure in a glass coffin. The mystery effigy/body is underneath an altar in the north transept and this is what started the whole conversation off. Here there is no helpful information plaque, nor is there lighting to help you see what's there. In fact there's nothing, nada, niente, rien....

mystery effigy
Simon and Susan wondered if we'd seen it and had any idea who it was. Our curiosity was well and truly whetted so cue time for a visit to have a look.

The effigy is dressed in clothes resembling those you might wear to a Roman fancy dress. Tunic to the knee in sliver and gold thread and cross-gartered sandals. It has a 'pudding basin' haircut.

papal label
Not much the wiser we got down on our hands and knees to have a closer look; as far as we could tell it is seemingly made from paster of paris, not wax. Round the corner on the left we found an old label which gave us some information. The label is from the Papal See in Rome. We tracked down the papal coat of arms and it belongs to Pope Gregory XVI, Bartolomeo Cappellani, so the label was issued between  1831 - 1846, the dates of his papacy. It seems to be a sort of standard label on which you can fill in specific information. The handwritten section is extrememly faded. Amidst the faded writing you can just--with a bit of guesswork-- pick out the odd word and the date 1833. Sadly no name so after all that we are still none the wiser....!

Sunday 24 April 2011


For the first time this month we've had a drop or two of rain. Not much, barely enough to wet the ground but with the sky being overcast and the drop in temperature we might get a proper shower later today. And sprinkles though they were, there was enough to collect in droplets on the wild rose and acacia leaves.  

droplets on acacia leaf
 Niall and I have a love-hate relationship with the acacia. The honey bees love them; most of the honey sold is acacia honey--just check the label the next time you are in a supermarket [in France] and so for that reason we don't want to eradicate them totally. However, the trees themselves are thugs--they seed like mad and have huge nasty thorns. 

rain drops on wild rose bush

So in the end we have compromised. We kept one youngish established acacia tree--probably son of the older rather poorly specimen we had dug up; but we are still waging war on the seedlings left by the removed tree. And although raindrops on an acacia leaf are very pretty, getting snagged by a thorn while taking the photograph is no fun, so no reprieve--the seedling will go!

very young cherry tree

As it has been so dry we've been watering our 4 young fruit trees every evening and they are coming along nicely. The cherry, one of the ones we were a bit worried about--we thought it hadn't made it through the winter suprised us. Seemingly it just woke up late and is now getting on with things. It has even produced a few flowers! Who knows we might get 4 cherries this year if we are lucky. Two each!  :-)

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Red red rose

No not the poem by Rabbie Burns but one of the rose bushes which grows up against the south face of our house. Our first roses are out! Three buds have just opened and it turns out that the bush flowers a deep dark red

We have been curious to see what colour our 'inheirited' bushes were going to be. We know the one by the barn--if the photographs prove to be right--will flower a creamy peach colour; but we had no idea what colour the one closer to the front door was going to be. 

The two bushes we brought from the UK, both Austin roses, are a climbing white--'Snowgoose' and a peachy coloured rambler--'Shropshire lad'; so it looks like they will go well with what is here already.

We have been having a run of very dry warm weather recently with temperatures regularly above 20C. Today our thermometer, located on the north wall which never gets the sun, is reading 25C. 

We actually--dare I say it--need some rain. However, in the meantime we are enjoying every minute of the lovely weather we have--no doubt we'll pay for it with a lousy summer....

Sunday 17 April 2011

Not Poitiers

April, Tres Riches Heures de Duc du Berry
We were supposed to go to Poitiers yesterday. The 15th was our wedding anniversay and as on the work front things have been rather hectic we decided to celebrate on Saturday. We'd been meaning to visit Poitiers for some time and a day there seemed a good way to celebrate.

The best laid plans and all that.... it will have to keep for another time. Every so often I suffer a migraine and one 'arrived' late Friday evening, so that put paid to going to Poitiers.

By Saturday afternoon things were better so we went for a gentle drive, pottering round as you do and had a very nice meal at a restaurant we know called the Auberge des Charmettes in Beaumont-Village, not far from Montrésor.

Today we've been doing all sorts of garden-y things and cutting the grass. We noticed that one of our roses is on the point of flowering--deep red buds will open in the next day or two-- pictures as soon as they are properly open.

neatly gravelled
We now have no excuse not to try and keep things looking tidy as all has been beautifully tidied up --  the spoil from the foss septique excavations has been sorted; the old fosse etanche has been filled in and capped and the area to the side of the house covered in gravel. It really does look good -- thank you Ken!!  

no spoil!
We have a lovely wall hanging of the April scene from the Tres Riches Heures de Duc du Berry by an artist friend of ours:-- more of that soon.

Sunday 10 April 2011

early morning wake-up call

We saved a bat yesterday. Have no idea what type* but they like roosting between our opened shutters and the wall. All of which means we need be rather careful that we don't flatten one inadvertently. The cats are, of course intrigued. Not content with chasing and catching lizards --which is how they realised there were other creatures behind the shutters-- they now have 'mice with wings' to pester.

Yesterday one of them was obviously within reach of an exploratory paw [they need to learn to roost higher-up preferably in the top corner] and was caught by Tinka. Cue humans to the rescue with tea towels and plant sprayer full of water for kitty. Niall sprayed Katinka who obliged and dropped the bat and I swooped in with the tea towel to collect a hightly upset chittering bat from the grass. 

Brocante: Azay-le-Ferron
As far as we could see it looked none the worse so we released it in the barn. No pics as the poor bat had been through enough and we wanted to get it back into a cool dim place asap to recover.

 plastic flowers selling like hotcakes!
Very early this morning about 5am we were woken up by nightingales singing their hearts out--loudly. It sounded as if there were 3 of them having a competition, one close by and the other two further off. About 6am they were joined by a noisy cuckoo so we were well and truly awake! No Sunday lie-in chez nous!

Not a problem as we were planning to go and visit the brocante being held at Azay-le-Ferron today and being up early allowed us to do some household things before setting out.

real peonies in Azay-le-Ferron
It was cold, about 9am a mist came down blocking the sun and the temp was 10C lower than yesterday's 24C. Still, Azay-le-Ferron was reasonably busy for the time of year and foreign cars are slowly beginning to appear --we saw Dutch and British plates-- as people come back to their maison secondaries after the winter. Despite spring flowers being everywhere, a stall selling very bright plastic flowers was doing a roaring trade!

* bats are about 5 - 6cm long [body size], rusty/ middling brown, small ears. Suggestions?

Thursday 7 April 2011

A bit of quince, cherry, walnut and lime

This afternoon went for a wander round our patch with the camera . It was glorious; warm enough that you could actually smell our scots pine trees. Even better this weather looks set to continue for the next few days.

Everything is growing at the gallop and with it being so warm we've had to make sure our little fruit trees get enough water but they seem to be coming along fine. 

The quince is about to burst into flower--it is an aged tree which we 'resuced' from underneath a hazel bush. Although spindly and grown so lanky we've had to prop it up it seems to have responded to getting some proper sunlight and is full of buds. Next winter we'll try and cut it back as you would an apple and see if we can gradually get it back into shape. For now the number of buds looks very promising and if we get a good crop we'll be able to make a nice supply of quince jelly & jam.

glorious cherry blossom

The cherry tree from which I cut a number of small branches to put in a vase, and wrote about in March, is now in full flower. On the tree its blooms are a much more intense pink than when it flowered in the vase. 

male walnut flower


We've never been in France at this time of year, so consequently never seen a walnut tree flower--so it has been interesting to see what these look like. The male flowers look rather like catkins and the tree has both male and female flowers.

new lime tree leaves
Our large lime [or linden] tree is leafing out nicely and is already casting a good bit of shade. Over the winter we did debate pollarding it  but decided against it as it is such a source of food for the bees and other insects. When we were here last year in May on a brief visit to see the house and sort out what works needed doing it was in flower and we're really looking forward to that next month.

Monday 4 April 2011

Rainy Day Vouvray

So what do you do on a rainy Sunday? If you live in the Touraine one of the options is to go and buy some wine! We wanted to get some as a present for a friend and something a little special for ourselves--it is our wedding anniversary later this month.

We visited Vouvray's Vallée Coquette back in 1991 and, having bought some wine for Antoinette's father (a bit of a wine buff), had lunch at a troglodyte restaurant which we literally stumbled upon as we drove further up the valley. 

Last October we went back for the 1st time. We managed to re-find the restaurant and having done a little bit of homework in the Guide Hachette stopped at a propriataire-recoltante we liked the sound of. 

As we really enjoyed the wine we bought last fall we went back to 'Domaine de la Fontainerie' to buy some more yesterday.

It was nice to meet Madame Dhoye, the owner/producer, again and we spent a little time tasting various of her Vouvray tranquille sec and learning a bit more about her wines. All her grapes are harvested by hand and she told us that although the 2010 vendange was very small she expected it to produce good  sec wines but not much moelleux [sweet]. 

In the end we came away with 2009 tranquille sec as well as some 2007 Coteau les Brulés and a couple of bottles of pétillant millésimé 2007 brut for our anniversary. We both prefer the pétillant, which has a softer fizz; to the méthode tradionnelle. Not all Vouvray producers make the pétillant which was one of the reasons we chose to try her wines last October.

And no we didn't taste all the bottles on the table in the photo above!! Just some of them.

Saturday 2 April 2011

grass & bricks

Easter colours
We worked outside today; round midday it registered 24C on our thermometer [northside, no sun]. It has been a stunning spring day. The cowslips and daisies really are harbringers of Easter with their bright yellow and white against the green of the grass.

We spent most of the time mowing the grass and sorting out an over-grown forsythia bush. It has finished flowering so we've cut it back very hard to try and get it into shape again.

cowslip meadow
We've left some areas of the grass uncut for now--like the section which is almost a cowslip meadow in the photo on the left. It will help the insects to leave it as is for a while.

after & before

With 2,5 acres and quite a few trees it does take some time, especially if you're weaving in and out of trees, but the result does speak for itself.
Charnizay bricks
Late last week and earlier this week Ken came and sorted out the old fosse etanche which we replaced by a fosse septique which we wrote about in December. The fosse etanche has been filled with sand and capped so no danger of a child or animal ever falling down into it. 

Ken also created a turning space/extra parking area for us, just before you reach the house. While doing so he found 5 bricks, nothing unusual about that. We'd found other building rubbish before close by. 

 reversed 'z'
What was unusual was the marking on the bricks. Although they don't look to be very old, they do have some age to them as they were made in Charnizay; it's clearly stamped into the bricks: " Brethon A Charnizay". To the best of our knowledge Charnizay doesn't have, and hasn't, in the very recent past, had a brickworks. An odd feature is the z in Charnizay has been reversed. No idea why. 
So a little mystery for us to solve-- where was Charnizay's brickworks and when did it operate? We'll let you know when we find out.