Thursday 31 May 2012

A meander

Today is, traditionally, the last day that you can hand in your tax forms here in France. The deadline is midnight 31st May [unless you submit online then you have a while longer].

The Centre des Finances Publiques in Loches has been a hive of activity recently. There were plenty of people bustling in and out when we arrived bright and early one morning several days ago. Those who are filing tax returns for the first time, as we are, are not able to submit online so we had to submit them in person. Just to make sure we'd done everything correctly we had a brief meeting with the officer who deals with those who are 'des etrangers' like us before handing our forms in. After his nod of approval that all was correct --this took all of 10 mins-- we felt we deserved some time off for good behaviour. After all, we handed everything in with days to spare!

Looking across the Cher at Savonnieres
With the sun shining we decided to follow the river Indre downstream from Loches to Artannes-sur-Indre where we cut north to Villandry. From Villandry we drove to Savonnieres and then crossed the Cher to Berthenay a sleepy little village huddled right up against the dike which protects it from the Loire. Here we turned eastwards following the D road along the dike until it ended up in the La Riche suburb of Tours.
wier and traditional boat, Savonnieres
Driving into Villandry via the little D road from Artannes-sur-Indre you literally drop down into the village and so we had a good view of the famous parterre gardens before passing the village church and turning right towards Savonnieres. Villandry was already quite busy with a fair few foreign and out of departement cars. We've visited Villandry only the once, [way back in the early 1990's] but we didn't stop for a repeat visit as it is likely to be 'on the menu' when friends come to stay over the summer.
heron peacefully fishing
Just opposite Savonnieres we stopped to have a look at the Cher and saw a lovely blue heron fishing. While we watched, a much smaller white egret swooped over him and he, ruffled, decamped with the egret chasing. The white egret then did a victory circle before settling down in exactly the same spot!
look hard and you'll see the egret coming in to land
All along the dike from Berthenay on the landward side we saw evidence of market gardens. Polly tunnels abounded and we saw asparagus which had been allowed to grow on, as well as salad veggies.
 Le prieuré Saint-Cosme
Not far from La Riche we spotted a sign to Le prieuré de Saint-Cosme. Run by Augustinian canons, it was a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela. It also has a great literary connection as the French Renaissance poet, Pierre de Ronsard was Prior here [1565 - 85].
guided tour in action
There was a guided tour in full swing and we aren't that keen on these. Nor did we have much time left so we made a note to come back soon. With things to do, our time off for good behaviour was over and we turned for home.

We look forward to visiting the Le prieuré de Saint-Cosme properly!

Monday 28 May 2012

View from the hammock chair

Since last Wednesday we've been having a spell of lovely summer weather. This, combined with all the rain we had previously, means that things are growing like, well, the proverbial weeds.

view from the hammock chair looking NE/E
As a result, when not working we've been busy outside. With just under a hectare, which is grass with numerous trees, the ride on mower has seen very active service. It can indeed feel a little endless; like painting the Forth Rail Bridge [any Scot will know what we mean]!

The nasturtium and sunflower seeds we planted have sprouted and need thinning and in the shady corners our lizard orchids are coming along nicely.

 hammock chair in use!
The hammock chair, purchased during the optimistic warm spell in March, has now been hung on the restored swing frame left by the previous owners. Last autumn Niall cleaned and prepped it before giving it a good going over with hammerite paint in British Racing Green. It's a great place to relax with an ipod, a book and/or the 2nd England - West Indies Test Match on BBC Radio4 LW.
Perhaps that last bit of grass can wait.... after all the daisies do look nice!

We also would like to say a big thank you to Martine at Wishing I were in France and Lady Justine; two fellow bloggers who read Chez Charnizay. Recently each very kindly passed on an award. We're really pleased to have been nominated but have decided to simply suggest some blogs that we have started reading more recently which you might enjoy too:

Snippets from Labartere
Melbourne -Our Home on the Bay
Morning AJ
Zut Alors!
Loire Valley Experiences

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Raggle taggle

On Monday we had incessant rain and everything was awash. It has now drained away even on our claggy soil though it remains a bit squelchy underfoot here and there. Yesterday the sun appeared sort of... it was still a bit hazy and there were plenty of clouds about but it was a start.
colour co-ordination
The butterflies, other insects and beasties are starting to respond to this better weather and we saw some scarce swallowtails fluttering about their favourite bush. We have no idea of the name of this flowering bush but the butterflies, especially the scarce swallowtails, love it. Last year the bush seemed alive as the scarce swallowtail is almost the same colour as the flowers and there were loads of them feeding away.
raggedy swallowtail
Yesterday we saw 3 or 4 and they were a bit bedraggled with their 'swallowtails' being more than a bit shredded; we assume due to the recent poor weather conditions, but they made a nice show.
bees are out too
If anyone knows what the name of the bush is please let us know.

Update 24.05.2012: The bush, we've been informed, is a philladelphus, commonly known as Mock Orange. Thanks to all the experts who helped us out! 

Saturday 19 May 2012

Waiting on the sun

We thought the terrace tiles would have been laid by now. The original plan was that it would be done while we were visiting family in Edinburgh. However, the weather gods had other ideas, and the tiles remain under wraps. The weather has just been too erratic and we need to wait until we are guaranteed a goodly run of rain-free days as otherwise the tiles won't set properly.

... bulbs we planted last October
brilliant blue iris ...

This isn't to say that we haven't had good days here and there; at last Sunday's plant fair it was super. However, we've had far more days like today: this morning it was cloudly but breaking into some sunny spells and the temperature was a perfectly reasonable 18C. After lunch the clouds began to turn the ominous purple which preceeds a downpour and yes .... down came the rain. In fact, météo has forecast thunderstorms with hail for later this afternoon/evening.

byzantine purple bearded iris
Mind you Niall won't mind as he will be watching the Scottish Cup final live on TV. For the first time since 1896 it is an all Edinburgh derby: Heart of Midlothian versus Hibernian. Niall has always been a Hearts supporter; so it will be a case of "come on you Jambos!"

super camouflage!
In the meantime here are a few photos of our different irises taken during a sunny spell. As well as a brilliantly camouflaged green spider who crept into a frame!

Update at 17:45: Niall very pleased as Hearts won 5 -1.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Fêtes des plantes

Last Sunday we went to the plant fair at Verneuil-sur-Indre, a small village between us and Loches.  We've been having quite chilly and changeable weather lately but on Sunday, although it was a bit breezy, the sun blazed forth.

specialist growers along the drive
Every year the plant fair is held the Agricultural College [high school] which is based in a lovely 15th/18th century Chateau. The boarding college is part of a charitable foundation which seeks to give disadvantaged kids life skills. At Verneuil-sur-Indre they teach and train these youngsters so they can go on to jobs in the care/retirement,  the buildings maintenance or the horticultural sectors.

All the plants in the glasshouse had been grown by the students and wearing red t-shirts they were helping out on the day. Lining the drive we found commercial stands of specialists such as rose and lavender growers as well as a stall all about beekeeping. As we both adore lavender we succumbed to buying 3 pots of 'lavendula officinalis'. 'Original' lavender if you like, which can be used in cooking. We also ran into friends Susan & Simon who were shopping for plants for their potager and garden.
lots of lavenders!
Very little information about the Chateau at Verneuil-sur-Indre exists.  Somwhere around the middle of the 15th century the tower house [grosse tour] was built probably by the d'Orion family. By the late middle ages the tower house had replaced the donjon.
the 15thC tower house

There is a question mark as to when the new house was actually built but the most popular theory suggests it was around 1760 when the Chaspoux family, who by then held Verneuil-sur-Indre, were elevated to a marquisate. It is in the Louis XIV style [originally mid 1600's] which had a revival in the 1760's.

new and old side by side
The chateau itself is an interesting combination. It is made up of two separate  buildings. Mostly when a new owner was seeking to modernise or 'keep up with the Jones' they either pulled the old building down or incorporated the old into the new as a message of continuity. At Verneuil for example one could have expected that the builders of the new house to incorporate the 15th century tower house in a corner of the new house; but they didn't. There was, at one time, some kind of covered walkway linking the two but it was removed during renovations to both buildings at the end of the 19th century. Now the 15th century castle stands separately, only a small stone's throw away from the 18th century house.

We really enjoyed the opportunity to see the chateau as well as have a look at all the plants on offer.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Dorset sunshine

After leaving Ilminster, Tuesday a week ago, we drove south towards the coast. We didn't have time to visit Exeter -- on our wish list for next time -- so we briefly looked round Lyme Regis.  Quite a few early holiday makers were out in the town enjoying the warm sunshine. We had to squint our eyes to see the Cobb in the glare of the sun on the water.
looking back towards Lyme Regis
We then drove on eastwards along the Jurassic coast with the roof open and beyond Bridport we started looking for somewhere to lunch. The Anchor in the small village of Burton Bradstock looked to have an inviting seafood menu so we went in.
shore near Burton Bradstock, Jurassic Coast
After an excellent lunch of seafood salad served with homemade bread and butter we returned to the car and were glad we'd remembered to close the sunroof. The car was plastered with seagull offerings! In fact it looked as if the car had gone paintballing! Could it be the colour [metallic gray-blue] as the car which had been parked next to it all the while we were inside was not splattered [black]?  Whatever the reason it was now well streaked with white.

East Bexington, Jurassic Coast
We carried on along the same coastal road we'd taken last October towards Chesil beach. What a difference the season and weather makes! This time the sea was a gorgeous aquamarine colour and the sun sparkled on the water. You can compare the photo we took in October looking back towards Lyme Regis with the one of the same stretch of coastline above. 

Chesil beach from Abbotsbury hill
We stopped at the high point overlooking Chesil beach and instead of May 1st it could just as easily have been July. We then carried on towards Dorchester and briefly drove round Poundbury, a development built on Duchy of Cornwall land, that reflects Prince Charles' thoughts on designing urban developments. Poundbury lies on the outskirts of Dorchester. Click on the link if you want to see images of what Poundbury looks like. Much of it has a very traditional feel but with very wide streets and green swathes separating the road from the pavement. Admittedly ours was only a fleeting visit, but it felt almost as if it was a little too perfect to us. Perhaps when it is less 'new' and more lived in it will feel more 'real'.

Navigating round Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch we headed for the New Forest and in the last of the evening sunlight enjoyed driving across the heathlands and having the odd close encounter with cattle as well as ponies. We then repeated our successful formula from October: having a relaxing dinner in a nice pub in Lyndhurst before heading off to drive the last 35 miles the ferry at Portsmouth.

Monday 7 May 2012


Or rather Ilminster to give it its modern name.

St Mary's church, Ilminster
On our way back from Edinburgh to the Portsmouth ferry we stayed overnight just north of Bristol. The weather during the drive down wasn't good; frequent rain showers and loooming grey clouds, but thankfully not as horrendous as on the way up.
looking towards the 19th C [medieval revival] reredos at the east end
Nevertheless, our plan to spend the next day pottering round the Somerset - Dorset - Devon area before boarding the overnight ferry at 10pm looked like being scuppered. The thought of sight-seeing in the rain did not hold much appeal. There had been a ream of flood alerts for the area and we watched the news and weather in the hotel with little hope. The BBC weather forecaster brightly told us that although the day would start with heavy rain it would clear by about noon. We went to bed with fingers crossed. Our hotel room looked out over the village cricket ground. Next morning it was heavily waterlogged with large puddles in the outfield. The sky was grey and it was bucketing down. We didn't rush to get on the road.
Wadham Chantry Chapel & Jacobean wood screen
By the time we got to Taunton it had cleared up to an amazing degree and it looked as if the weather gods were going to smile on us. We headed off to Ilminster having decided to explore this small market town in Somerset while the going was good.
wall mounted helmet, Wadham Chantry Chapel
Named as Yslemynstre in the Doomsday Book of 1086, [Anglo-Saxon for the Minster on the river Isle] it gets its first mention in documents dating from 725AD. By the time of the Doomsday Book it held a charter allowing it to hold a weekly market which is still held today. It is a lovely small town with narrow winding streets and an impressive range of independent shops. The butcher and attached delicatessen, opposite the church, had a mouth watering display of meats and other goodies.
table-top, or altar tomb with niches for 'weepers'
Originally a minster, from the Latin monasterium, was a church where the clergy followed a communal life and were given a charter which required them to maintain a daily office of prayer. The place name Ilmister harks back to the time when the church there was of this type. Wikipedia's entry helpful in explaining the "how and what" of minster churches. 

What we found was the lovely 15th century parish church of St Mary's built in the Perpendicular style. We had an excellent time looking round and found not only an interesting Lady Chapel [south transept] but also the chantry chapel of the Wadham family [north transept]. One of whom, Nicholas, together with his wife, Dorothy founded and endowed Wadham College Oxford in the early 17th century.
mother & son on top of the Wadham tomb
An earlier Wadham, Sir William, comissioned a table-top or altar tomb with brasses for himself and, unusually, his mother in 1440.  He died in 1452. Much of the ornamental brasswork on the purbeck marble top remains. However, we had to move the carpet covering the top to see the brasses. The bats flitting about at night have caused damage to them by splattering drops of urine.
Sir William portrayed in very expensive armour
The brasses show a knight, William, in 'state of the art' armour [probably from Milan and very expensive] with, to his right, his mother in a widow's wimple; both under a lovely triple canopy. It is thought that he comissioned the building of both the north transept as the chantry chapel and the church tower.

Sir William & his mother flanking Christ in majesty
The Lady Chapel, or south transept has another tomb, of the Walrond family, dated 1553. Up in the corners of the Lady Chapel we spotted some 15th century redundant corbels [or possibly head-stops] carved with interesting faces.

grinning 15thC face
Sadly none of the original stained glass remained. The windows are mid to late 19th century re-productions, in keeping with the building. The church was completely refurbished by William Burgess in 1825 and restored in 1883, 1887-89 and again in 1902.
East window, 19thC
When we left Ilminster the sun was shining so it looked as if the rest of our afternoon explorations would be bright.

As always you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them.