Sunday 30 October 2011


Wells: market square, with market in full swing
Last week we were in Scotland to visit Niall's family and have a quick break. As we took the Caen [Ouistreham] to Portsmouth ferry there was a fair bit of driving up and back. Previously, we found that driving up was fine but for some reason the ferry back was more tiring. Perhaps it's the fact that one has an hour's less sleep and fewer options for breakfast once off the ferry in France. 

chantry chapel & ladies having a gossip!
As a result we decided not to drive down to Portsmouth in one day. We stopped just outside Gloucester and this meant we had a whole day to potter around before boarding the ferry. It doesn't leave Portsmouth until 10:45pm. It was almost like an extra mini-holiday; allowing us to explore a little bit of the West Country--Somerset & Dorset.

scissor arches
Our first stop having cut across country from Gloucester was Wells. We knew Wells having visited it before. It isn't the easiest place to get to and consquently - we think - retains its appeal. Officially it is a city, but it's really only the size of a small market town. It was first settled because of the springs: 'wells'  dedicated to St Andrew and the city's arms are a Saltire cross - yes there is a scottish link here! The waters still run in runnels at either side of the streets. As we walked up to the market square and the cathedral we saw several small wellie-clad kiddies were having a great time in the runnels splashing the water around. 

The Bishops of Bath & Wells [when not baby eating!! Blackadder fans take note] were an enthusiastic group of builders and there is plenty of medieval archtecture -- both religious and vernacular -- to keep people like us very happy!

'quarter jack'
Wells' Clock
The Cathedral is superb -- originally begun in 1175 it is built in the Gothic style. The famous scissors arches are a clever early 14th century solution to stabilising the tower and preventing it from sinking. Due to the very high water table and shallow foundations it needed to be shored up. Wells also houses a very early clock [about 1390] in the north transept. It gathers quite a crowd as every quarter hour it stikes and knights come out and joust with each other. At the same time the 'quarter jack', who sits in a niche above and to the right of the clock proper, strikes the bell with his feet.  The Jesse tree window was shrouded due to ongoing restoration work but some angels in the East window caught our eye.
trumpeting angel
For more info on Wells see:

Monday 24 October 2011

Hills of the North

Edinburgh's Old Town skyline
Currently we are in Edinburgh for a few days visiting family and seeing some old friends. On Saturday, to celebrate Niall's birthday, we went out for lunch to the Bailie Bar in Stockbridge, which is on the edge of the New Town. The pub is a favourite of ours and we used to drop in regularly when we lived in Edinburgh. One of it's attractions is the lack of piped music and fruit machines; we prefer pubs without. It has never proported to be a gastro pub but the food is honest. Niall had lamb's liver with bacon and onions and I had a grilled chicken breast which had been coated in a herb crust. 
Arthur's Seat

Afterwards we drove up Arthur's seat--we were a bit too full of lunch to want to walk all the way up-- if you enlarge the photo you'll see people walking or jogging. The weather wasn't brilliantly sunny it at least it wasn't raining!

Yesterday we saw some friends and to day we're off to visit some family and have a wander round Edinburgh's center.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Mellow yellow .... orange & red

And yes there's a song connection in there somewhere!

oak trees at the back of the house
The terrace work has all been done now, all bar the final 'dressing'. The easiest change to see when compared to the before photo is the steps. However, that doesn't cover the half of the work that has been done! 

'after'; everything ready for tiling & rendering
The concrete has been re-done to provide an imperceptible slant toward the retaining wall; two drains have been put in; a runnel made to channel the water to the drain; an additional soak-away dug for the water to drain away and the guttering has been switched round as too much roof water was pouring into the one (overloaded) original drain/soakaway by the kitchen door. There's now also a small step up onto the main terrace and the path --which was only ever temporary-- round from the kitchen door to the drive has been concreted properly. It may not be glamorous but it was all needed! 

new steps in the corner

If you'll forgive the flight of fancy, the terrace and path are like 'ladies of yore' waiting to be 'dressed'. The 'dresses', aka the tiles, coping stones and render are waiting in the wings. However, we can't tile immediately. As those of you who are familiar with building things know, the concrete needs to harden a week or 2 before tiling. 

Virginia Creeper at the side of the barn
So now we wait... if the weather gods are kind and it stays frost free the tiling may be done before the winter. If not, it's not a problem. The tiles are stacked and tarped and can easily wait until the spring. 
Silver Birch
 Meanwhile autumn gallops along in increasingly intense colours. The Virignia Creeper at the corner of the barn is fire engine-red and the Silver Birches have gone an intense yellow while the Sumac has turned an amazing orange.


Sunday 16 October 2011


going cat walkies
We have mentioned it before; our cats come for a stroll with us. Not for very long ones it has to be said. But those little ones of say 10, or 15 mins duration round about our Lieu-dit or around the field access tracks. We take the camera along just in case we see something of interest.

grapes in the hedgerow
Recently we were pottering along the little rural chemin which serves as access to our lieu-dit and saw a profusion of grapes entangled in the hedgerow. The parcel of land, bordered by the dry stone wall on which the grapes grow is on the right as you look down the chemin [photo with Niall and the cats] . According to our neighbours it has a lot of owners. This isn't unusual in France; in this case the couple who owned the house and land died many years ago in a road traffic accident so the house and the land was shared between a number of heirs. As far as we know, at present, they now number about 16 and, as is the way of things, can't agree what to do; which is why the house has fallen into ruin. 

map of walks around Charnizay
However, Charnizay also has a number of 'proper' circular walks [12.5km and 14km] which are well sign-posted.  Recently when we had to pop into the Marie we saw they had had new leaflets printed to publicise these. One curcuit loops to the NE and runs past the dolmen 'Les Palets de Gargantua'. The other loops in a NW direction to the small lake 'L' étang du Bois Guenand'. 
map of walks at La Ribaloche
Just to the SE of Charnizay, off the D103 which leads to Azay-le-Ferron is a sign for 'La Ribaloche' and Foret Communale de Tours/Preuilly. Here too are a number of walks and a well marked bridle path for horse riders. The walks vary from 2,5km to 12km.The shortest has, at intervals, information panels explaining the flora, fauna and history of the area. During the summer months you can also book a carriage ride through the forest. 

The forest was originally part of the barony of Preuilly. At the time of the French Revolution it was sold together with the Chateau at Azay-le-Ferron. The whole estate, castle and forest, was bequeathed, by the then owners, the Hersent-Luzarche family to the city of Tours in 1952.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Fuel & Food

woodshed "before"
Last year we were really, really late getting a supply of logs because it had taken an age to get our woodburner installed and we had to rely on our gas central heating. This year we wanted to be in good time. Towards the very tail-end of August we spoke to the wife of 'our man in the village' explaining that we'd like 10 stere of wood [10 cubic meters] delivered in September. We figured this would give us plenty of time to stack it while the weather was still mild.

woodshed "after"
Of course this is France, and things are a little 'flexible'. Madame phoned back mid September to say that things were now in the planning and our wood would be delivered either the weekend of the 1st or 8th of October, but we'd get a call a day or so before.

Thursday the 6th we duly got a quick call and at 8:15 last Saturday morning the first of the 2 trailer loads of wood arrived, followed by the second about an hour later. Although overcast, the weather has been mild so it was pretty pleasant working outdoors and we were able to fill the woodshed to the rafters--it will take about 4 stere and stack the rest into a neater woodpile than last year

botanical drawing of 'marmelo'
October is the season for quinces. We have a very elderly quince tree and although rather spindly, it still produces fruits. Last year we got very few, but this year the tree gave us 2kgs worth. According to Wikipedia quince jelly is the original marmalade as the Portuguese word for quince is marmelo [from Latin melimelum (sweet apple)].

We have made various jams over the years: cherry, bramble, damson, and raspberry; but never jelly.  We didn't have the 'kit' and it seemed too much palaver with bags having to drip overnight etc. In the past we have had a very prolific medlar tree--another fruit which makes great jelly. We used to give friends of ours who were very keen jelly makers the bletted [softened by frost and decay] fruit and got a few pots of medlar jelly in return. 

Having a reasonable number of quinces this year we decided to give it a try ourselves as we know quince jelly is delicious.  We found a simple recipe on a blog called the cottage smallholder
some of our quince jelly
We still don't have the 'proper' kit but created an improvised jelly bag using a sterilised mesh bag [one of those you can use in the washing machine to keep delicates safe] to line a collander. We then drained the fruit pulp through this into a large mussel pan [nice and tall]. It seems to have worked. Although the jelly isn't crystal clear, it is jelly and not jam. We also got far more jelly than we expected and ran out of jam jars and had to press a large preserving jar into service to cope!  It should go very well with lamb, pork and blue cheese.

Friday 7 October 2011


Katinka, day 1: 8.10.2010
Almost exactly a year to the day we took charge of a small-ish bundle of 3 1/2 month old tabby fur. We called her Katinka, often shortened to Tinka. We once saw a little photo in a newspaper about a Russian tigress with that name. The dinky bundle of fur did, in some odd way, remind us of that big cat as her markings are very distinct and symmetrical. Add to that she's totally fearless and immune to things such as vaccuum cleaners and the name seemed to 'work'. 

Day 1: 'guided walk'
We've always had two cats. We felt it was fairer if we were working to have 2 so that they'd be company for each other. In August 2004 the second of our 1st pair of cats--a mother and daughter called Echo and Clio died at the grand age of 18.  We really missed her but a house without furries just didn't 'feel' right.  Soon went off to the cat rescue in Maastricht to find two kittens looking for a new home. The new incumbents were brothers--Shadow and Traveller [the name of Robert E Lee's horse; in case you were wondering]. 

Sadly in 2009 we lost Traveller to a virulent lymphatic cancer; which left Shadow as our sole cat. We don't think he minded at all!! ... but there was a vacancy.
Day 2: up on the roof
Acquaintances we met shortly after arriving here in August 2010 knew we would consider a second cat--always on the proviso that things would work out with Shadow--after all he has seniority rights.

Tinka was, as far as we know, found wandering not too far from Chamussay but the people who took her in couldn't keep her as they were returning to the UK. Pets brought in on the pet passport require a valid rabies vaccination. One either has it done well before going to the UK or one has to leave one's pet in kennels for a considerable amount of time on UK entry until given the all clear. It was not an option for them.
20 October 2010--well settled in

We took Katinka in on a trial basis on October 8 2010 and she's never looked back!  She settled in amazingly quickly. Shadow wasn't a happy bunny to start with--he didn't appreciate the lively kitten 'stalking' his tail and ambushing him in play; but they have settled down really well. Small as she is, she's the boss, and although there is the occasional spat, Shadow's such a wuzz he just hisses and removes himself from her orbit until things settle. 

posing July 2011 [photo: Frans]

She's a right little "madam" but her inquisitiveness, her fearlessness --she hops into cars, sits on the tractor mower and plays with the vaccuum cleaner nozzle-- as well as her personality means that we love her to bits. We won't mention the bat, the swallow, the bluejay or the numerous voles we've rescued--that's part of being a cat.  

As far as we're concerned every home should have one!

Sunday 2 October 2011

Taking the waters

Advertising the waters ca.1905
Living where we do we have a bit of a drive to get to a supermarket. Having said that, we do have a good choice. We can choose between shopping in Loches: SuperU or LeClerc; La Roche-Posay: SuperU and Yesures sur Creuse: Intermarché; they are all about equi-distant. Mostly we tend to go to La Roche-Posay for smaller weekly shops and Loches for a seriously big shop as we prefer the SuperU or LeClerc stores.

You may be wondering what this has to do with taking the waters. Well, La Roche-Posay, just over the border in dept 86, the Vienne, is an internationally renowned centre for the treatment of skin afflictions such as eczema and psoriasis. The town's spring is high in Selenium which is good for treating skin afflictions. Happily it also tastes nice. Often when we have done our shopping at the supermarket, we drop into the town for the Tuesday market and fill our empty plastic bottles at the public source.

Niall and Ida, my aunt 'taking' the water
La Roche-Posay has been a thermal center since the last century, although legend has it that at the end of the 14th century, Bertrand Du Guesclin, discovered the La Roche-Posay springs on his way home from Spanish campaigns. He was High Constable during the reign of Charles V. According to the story, he stopped at the spring to quench his thirst. His horse, which suffered from eczema, plunged into the water and came out cured. If only modern day eczema could be cured as rapidly!

info plaque on water's qualities
In 1617, the therapeutic reputation of La Roche-Posay thermal spring water was already such that Pierre Milon, doctor to Henry IV and Louis XIII, came to the town to conduct analyses. Almost 200 years later, in 1805 Napoleon Bonaparte, on his return from Egypt, had a thermal hospital built to treat his soldiers' skin diseases.  Then in 1897, the site was officially recognised by the French Academy of Medicine. In 1905, the first Thermal Centre, in the more modern sense of the word, was opened and by 1913, the French Academy of Medicine had officially declared La Roche-Posay a spa town. 

The architecture of some of the hotels clearly shows that from the late 19th century, with the arrival of the railway, the town enjoyed quite a degree of popularity. During the 1930's, a number of well known French artistic and intellectual figures came to take the waters: André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Jean Marais and Sacha Guitry.

Porte de Bourbon, gate into the medieval quarter
The town itself is much older and the fortified medieval section, built on an escarpment above the river Creuse, still boasts a donjon, the remains of ramparts, one of its gates with machiolations and a church from 1099 whose Romanesque bell tower is original. Sadly all the ancient stained glass was shattered during World War II.

For such a small town La Roche Posay, punches above its weight. Amongst other things it also boasts a horse race track, an 18 hole golf course and a casino.
All in all a nice place to do our weekly shop...and grab a glass of water!