Tuesday 30 October 2012

Sonic screwdrivers

There is an unspoken 'rule' concerning Edinburgh birthdays--some aspect of it has to hark back to childhood. In April when we were over and Niall's sister celebrated hers we had a "Gruffalo" cake.
Niall's bucolic birthday cake
Last week it was Niall's birthday and in addition to his 'normal' presents he was gifted with a Dr.Who sonic screwdriver and some excellent Muppet socks. For those of you not familiar with Dr.Who, this was an extremely well beloved children's sci-fi show on British TV's BBC1. It ran from the 1963 until 1989 and was a viewing highlight of many a child who grew up anytime between these dates.

The Muppet's Statler & Waldorf facing off!
After "resting" for 16 years it returned to the screen in 2005 and since then has again been hugely succesful. The Doctor is always armed with his 'sonic screwdriver' which assists him in getting out of all sorts of tight corners.

one sonic screwdriver
Getting the toy out of the packaging proved to be a major headache and required the combined afforts of 3 middle aged grown-ups who, had to either don glasses to read instructions or, remove them!
In vain we looked for assistance from the neighbouring children but there's never a clever 9 yr old around when you need one!

So there was nothing for it--we steeled ourselves for loading the three batteries, one of which promptly eeled out of fingers! Result: Two of three grown-ups were on their knees to search for the errant escapee while the third remarked cheerily that we'd better get used to it as one day we'd probably need these batteries for real --they were of the hearing-aid type!

When finally assembled the nifty toy beamed images of well known Dr Who baddies such as the Daleks. Had we still been living in Suffolk where we had reams of trick or treat visitors on Halloween it would have come in very handy!

Saturday 27 October 2012

Derbyshire Dales

Well, we're back after an excellent time in Edinburgh seeing friends and family. On the drive down to Portsmouth to catch the ferry we decided to stay overnight in the Peak distirct, an area we don't really know.
View over Chelmorton, Derbyshire Dales
We'd picked--at random after an internet search-- the Church Inn in Chelmorton, a small village outside Buxton. It was a horrible misty and murky day which made driving down from Edinburgh less than fun and we arrived in the dark. However, we found we'd struck lucky--the inn was friendly, did lovely home cooked food and gave us a very comfortable room for the night.
The inn, an excellent place to stay
Next moring the weather was still not great, being grey and overcast, but at least the misty murk had gone so we could take some photographs. The village still preserves its original medieval strip farming field pattern in its dry stone walls.
View of strip fields enclosed by dry stone wals
Chelmorton church from which the inn takes its name
Sadly the church had been rather comprehensively 'Victorianised' inside, but its location, tucked into the lee of a hill with a slightly overgrown graveyard was quite atmospheric.

you can click on the photos to enlarge them

Friday 19 October 2012

Off to the North

We're off.... though not for very long; we'll be back next week. We're going up to Edinburgh to visit family. We try and do this twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.

Chateau de Chaumont looming above the village
We'll take the overnight ferry from Ouistreham [Caen] to Portsmouth and then drive. It's about 700km from Portsmouth to Edinburgh and on the way up we drive it in a day. It's a long drive, but we get kicked off the boat early so it doesn't 'feel' too bad and there's a lovely warm welcome at the other end in Edinburgh!
La Loire at Chaumont
On the way back we plan to break the journey with a brief stop in the Peak District. It is an area neither of us really know so we are looking forward to seeing its spectacular scenery.

Meanwhile we'll leave you with two autumnal views of Chaumont sur Loire.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Another Poitevin Wednesday

Poitiers boasts a plethora of supereb Romanesque churches, all of which serve to underline its standing during the early Middle Ages. In many ways it reminds us of York, although in York the architecture is in the Gothic style of the later Middle Ages. The fact that both places are vibrant university towns adds to the similar 'feel'.
Le Clain at Poitiers
The heart of old Poitiers sits on a hill in the curve of the river Clain. Over on the NE side of the town at the bottom of the slope were a series of mills which used the water power to good advantage. In the past they milled flour, powered a forge, made paper and cloth. The mills were owned and run by the abbey of St Jean de Montierneuf, which is located just higher up the slope. Founded by Guy-Geoffrey Guillaume, Count of Poitiers as a mausoleum for him and his decendants, it was consecrated by Pope Urban II. He was in Poitiers in 1096 while on his tour to promote the 1st Crusade. Sadly for the count, only his son was laid to rest with him; so his grand plans came to nothing.

The abbey takes its name from the French for men's abbey: "moutier". It was only the second foundation in Poitiers. The first foundation was informally known as the "le moutier vieux" and St Jean as the 'new', which over time evolved into "montierneuf".

St Jean de Moutierneuf: Romanesque apsidal style below, Gothic with flying butresses above
The abbey church suffered over the years. As a result of instability the apsidal choir fell down twice, prompting a final re-build in the 13th century Gothic style with very delicate flying butresses to support the structure. As with many other religious buildings it also suffered during the Wars of Religion, the Revolution and in its aftermath, when it was put to alternative uses.  Finally, in the 19th century it underwent a 'rather zealous' restoration. Nevertheless, it has charm and we found the blind arcading with the elephants very appealing.

Blind arcading with elephants carved in the central capital
Detail: 12th century depiction of elephants
At the heart of the old town sits the Marché Notre Dame with the church of Notre Dame la Grande dominating proceedings. It isn't a large imposing ediface but what it lacks in size it makes up in the quality of its west facade. It depicts all of the familiar stories from both the Old and the New Testament, as well as one or two quirky additions. One of these is the fact that the twelve apostles have become fourteen! Probably this was done for political reasons to send a message to the clergy and what looks to be a pope and a bishop have been added.

Notre Dame la Grande, west facade

Interior Notre Dame la Grande: apsidal choir

Saturday 6 October 2012

Off to a new home?

Driving back from doing our weekly shop we ended up trundling behind an elderly 2CV. Its aged number plate was for Cher (18) another departement in Centre - our region. The car and trailer were registered to Aube, dept 10 in the Champagne-Ardenne region so we hope it is off to a good home.

'Caught' on the phone
 We managed to take a photo on the cell phone while crossing the Claise in Preuilly.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Enter October

After a few windy and rainy days a week or so ago we are now enjoying some superb autumnal sunshine. Early morning it is chilly and there's heavy dew; but by late morning things have warmed up and the sun still has enough power to make it very pleasurable to sit outside on the south side of the house.

Wild grape [looking up the chemin towards neighbor's barn]
Along one side of the lane which heads to our house is a feral grape. We have no idea what species it is, nor even if it is a wine or table variety. It obviously loves the reflected heat from the south facing drystone wall. The woods behind the wall aren't maintained but every so often during the season the hunters crash through it with their dogs. They make loads of noise and there's much yelling at the dogs who are gloriously oblivious.
ripe grapes
We ran into the son of one of the nearby farmers walking up our chemin over the weekend. With his shotgun broken over his arm, he was accompanied by two dogs [who promptly collapsed at Niall's feet for some attention]  He was out potting for rabbits. However, with a slightly embarassed grin he confessed that he wasn't likely to get anything for the pot and he was out as much to give the dogs a good walk as anything else. To be honest, any rabbit -or other wildlife- worth it's salt would have been long gone. The dogs weren't really focused on the job, being more interested in being patted!
Katinka came along to photograph the grapes
Wildlife round us doesn't seem to be too traumatised. As if to re-inforce this point, yesterday at lunchtime, Niall, with the inevitable Katinka in tow, rounded our woodshed and saw a dog fox cross our land. Katinka promptly stopped dead, fluffed herself up like a puffball and hissed. The said fox looked at human and cat and continued on his leisurely way, completely unimpressed by the encounter.

Red berries in the woods
Flame coloured creeper
Our trees are still green but there are increasing signs of autumn. The creeper has turned its usual flame red and we saw the bright red berries of some wild climber.