Early autumn by the Dordogne


The morning we left home was only the second misty dawn with rain drops hanging on spiders’ webs draped on the bushes we had had in September. The incoming ferry was late arriving and watching all the arriving vehicles drive off, we noticed that there must have been a classic car event somewhere as several old cars appeared, even three 1930’s Rolls Royces similar to the one my father used to have. After a night on the boat we disembarked to endure lengthy security checks just before the sun rose in Caen.

The rest of the journey was easy but we did see long queues of lorries heading north on the N10 south of Angoulême. Foreign HGV drivers have been blocking roads as a protest against the high tolls on the autoroute. Drivers do not pay road tax for their vehicles in France so the tolls are the way money is raised to maintain the network. We arrived in time for a walk by the river near the local château where some sunflowers were still in flower. Many more are drying before harvesting. Persimmons and kiwi fruits are harvested after the first frost.

The village our friends live in is on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one of the routes in France that converge at St Jean Pied de Port before the path continues on through Spain. There was a crucifix and a scallop shell (worn by pilgrims and a way marker for the trail) on one of the buildings.

Over the next few days we visited markets in Branne and Libourne where these lobsters awaited their fate in the fish market.

Libourne is attempting to control the urban pigeon population by building a dovecot on the riverside and when the pigeons nest there, the eggs are replaced with ceramic ones. The waterfront here is under renovation, due for completion in 2025. Inevitably visit to vineyards and wine buying took place at Château la Sablière and a local wine co-operative and an art and craft exhibition in St Émilion.

We visited Bordeaux in the evening for a dinner cruise along the Garonne. The meal was very enjoyable although it was the first time I have had avocado as a dessert.

Tomato plants were being grown in tubs along the waterfront and I assumed this was free food. A couple of days later while doing some shopping, these were being removed. Other walks were around Lac de la Cadie which is also used for watersports and fishing and around the 100 Years War battlefield and Talbot memorial in Castillon la Bataille. Summer re-enactments are held in July and August involving large numbers of people and horses.

The local grape harvest was underway. Much of it is mechanised but grapes for the better wines are still hand-picked. Château d’Yquem grapes are picked and examined six times before being declared suitable. All too soon it was time to leave on a wet, misty morning with the trees colouring for autumn. Again we were fortunately driving in the opposite direction to the heavy traffic and we did not have too many delays at the port before we were back on the ferry and on our way home. It was still misty when we got to Portsmouth but today we have some warm autumn sun at home to enjoy the colours and catch up on garden jobs.

Aquitaine: an afternoon in Bordeaux

Yesterday, after a lazy morning getting ready for today’s departure, we took the bus into Bordeaux. We were there two years ago and once, more than 10 years ago but on both occasions, drove in. The bus terminus is at the Place de Stalingrad. Just before it is reached we passed the old railway bridge which sits alongside the current one. The unused one was designed by Gustave Eiffel and the city has been told that if it is demolished, it would lose its UNESCO World Heritage Status. It would make a great foot and cycle path and could be planted up like the New York High Line. We walked across the Pont de Pierre to the quayside.
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and visited the Basilica of St Michael, a gothic church with ancient and modern stained glass. These hangings were striking but there was no explanation or attribution to any artist that I could see.
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Afterwards we walked around many small streets. The Marché des Capucins is unfortunately closed on Monday as are many shops in France. However, this specialist brush shop was open. The owner was just returning after a short break and we made a purchase. Before my next visit I must check for any missing paint brushes because I don’t think I have seen such a large selection even in an art shop.
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After browsing in Mollat, the second biggest bookshop in France, we walked back along the quayside where a huge ship apparently owned by a wealth Russian was moored. As it was hot, many people were cooling off in the Miroir d’Eau.
mirroir-deaux-1-bordeaux-26-sep-2016-1 As the lanterns were beginning to glow, had an aperitif in the Place du Parlement and our evening meal at the Cafe des Arts which is in the art deco style. On the first floor, the ladies toilet has 1930s photographs and outside, on the landing are displays of dead insects from Thailand, Malaysia and other places. Quite a strange combination. This short exploration of the city only served to whet my appetite to return in the not too distant future as there is still a lot more to see. We returned home today and with not too large a drop in temperature to 20 degrees and still plenty of sun. I am not sure how long it will last.
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Aquitaine: exploring the banks of the Garonne

Cadillac was our first destination on Saturday morning. It is another wonderful medieval town with a chateau, ramparts, narrow streets and a large busy market where stalls line several streets and squares. Antoine Laumet de La Mothe who emigrated to what is now the USA, was the founder of Detroit and Governor of Louisiana. The Cadillac division of General Motors, and Cadillac, Michigan are named after him and resonates with our visit to the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo three years ago.
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It has a wider social mix than some of the places we have been to. We purchased the things we needed, browsed the stalls and then stopped for a coffee. Tradition has it that the men sit in a café with a coffee (or a beer) while the women do the shopping. We restricted ourselves to coffee. The egg seller had some interesting chickens on display.
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We used to keep chickens and a friend once bought me as a gift, a little book entitled ‘Extraordinary Chickens’. This one would certainly have been in it. There was a bookshop with new and secondhand sections and also vinyl and DVDs but if I had gone in there, I might not have been seen for the rest of the day. We did have seats booked at the Union Bordeaux-Bègles versus Lyons rugby match at the Stade Chaban-Delmas that evening. The local team were victorious 32-10 and afterwards we had a lovely meal in the city centre.
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On Sunday afternoon we walked by the river past cornfields and round the old port of Rion. The river has silted up over the centuries so the port, citadel and village now sit uphill of the river bank. There are old huts and prawn fishermen’s nets suspended over the water. At the end of the riverside path, where it turns back uphill, there was a very new and upmarket fishing hut and pier with numerous signs telling us this was private property so we headed back up to the port. the local cats, sitting on doorsteps viewed our friends’ dog with great suspicion. We could hear the sound of French rap coming from the village centre where some young people were enjoying the music and stuck our heads into the bar at the Tourist Information Centre but wanted to stay outside to enjoy the good weather.
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Aquitaine: Parc Ornithologique du Teich

Today with another blue sky and sunshine, we visited the Parc Ornithologique du Teich. We were last here in 2014 in August so this was our first September visit. Our friend dropped off at a nearby station and just like home, ended up on a rail replacement bus. At the reserve, were surprised to get a discount as RSPB members, despite not having brought our membership cards. Most of the storks seen on our previous visit had now abandoned their nests and left, apart from a few stragglers.
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There were a few turtles in the ponds near the entrance and this one was quite well camouflaged.
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We walked around the whole reserve, picnicking en route and stopping at most of the hides. There were some serious bird photographers with tons of kit but I just strolled along looking at all the birds.
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This sign appeared to be attempting to appeal to our Australasian friends.
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The day turned out to have been hotter than forecast so after stocking up for the evening meal we headed back to the house to cool off.

Aquitaine: Saint-Macaire & Château de la Brède

Our friends had morning and evening commitments today. They dropped us off this morning at Saint-Macaire, a lovely medieval town. We spent over an hour pottering around the streets and lanes, visiting the church ‘Saint Sauveur’ and the adjacent remains of a former Benedictine abbey.
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We found a cafe to top up our caffeine levels and a gallery with a small photographic exhibition.
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We then walked to the Porte du Thuron and then back round to the market to meet up again.
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After lunch we visited the Château de la Brède. The current building was constructed on the site of an earlier wooden structure and there have been various renovations over the centuries. Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, a writer and philosopher was born there in 1689. He lived there regularly all his life, although he also travelled, and wrote many of his books, including The Spirit of the Laws there. His descendants owned the chateau until 2004 when the last member died. It is now owned by a trust. Our guide told us that the family had had some financial problems and sold the library; other sources say it was donated to a library in Bordeaux. No photographs were allowed inside so the only ones I have are outdoors.
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In the surrounding fields there was a herd of grey cattle and which breed they are remains a mystery.
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On the way back, we stopped for a brief look in a secondhand bookshop in Beautiran. I could have spent all afternoon ferreting about in there. He also has postcards, prints and some music including vinyl.
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The next essential purchase on the return journey to the house was some wine at Chateau Mellin.

Aquitaine: Cambes, Blaye and Bourg

We are prolonging summer a little by visiting friends in southwest France for a week. There was a fantastic sunset when we left home on Monday evening but as we were on the motorway, no photographic opportunities. Sometimes I feel that I spend too much time spotting potential photographs that cannot be taken from trains and the motorway. We had an easy run to Liverpool Airport where we stayed overnight as we had an early flight the next day. I got woken at around 2.30am by a woman screeching at her children in the hall and only slept fitfully afterwards. A few hours later we were checking in and the very friendly woman at the desk said that I was the second Carol Anne she had seen that morning and that it was also her name. The flight was uneventful and we were soon on our way to Cambes. We took an afternoon walk up around the vineyards above the village and through the woods back down towards the river. There is an autumnal feel to the air with some trees beginning to colour and the vine harvest starting in some places.
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Today we awoke to fog which eventually cleared as we visited the Citadelle of Blaye. It was market day so we wandered past the stalls set out alongside the abandoned railway line before exploring the Citadelle which has fantastic views of the river.
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Lunch was in Bourg.
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We ate in the same restaurant as four members of the local gendarmerie who were having a very leisurely three-course lunch with beer. The old wash house still sits in the town.
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We walked by the waterside where there was still some mud left by the recent thunderstorms.
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We then walked up some steep steps back to where our car was parked, passing a local resident and a little free library.
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After being diverted by road works we were soon back at the house where I needed some medication and a rest to get rid of the inevitable post-sleep deprivation migraine which always catches up with me a couple of days later.

Going home

After a service in the multinational English-speaking church in Bordeaux, we waved goodbye to our friends on the Rocade as they headed to the market in Pessac and we headed north. If we’d had more time it would have been more interesting to avoid the autoroutes completely but we did cut across to Angoulème to avoid the very heavy traffic going north. Seeing a car belching black smoke from the exhaust reminded me of a journey from Biarritz to Caen ten years ago when an injection hose split on our car and we had to limp along accompanied by black smoke as we had to get on the ferry that night. No such problems on this journey and we had time to have a quick meal at the port before checking in.
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It was a lovely evening and the lighthouse, brightly coloured fishing boat and lifeboat were just asking to be photographed. The incoming boat was a bit late so we amused ourselves people watching. One older couple had come back from having a meal and thought their car had been moved. To everyone’s entertainment it was discovered where they had left it, in the pre-check in lanes. The armed customs officers were searching every car and Sasha the drug sniffer dog was also very busy. As there had been a big equestrian event in Normandy that weekend, there were several huge, expensive-looking horseboxes on the boat. All the HGVs were being checked for hidden people by a guy with a carbon dioxide monitor. It made me think how desperate people must be to go to such lengths to escape their situation. Fortunately all the lorries were OK and eventually we boarded. The next morning we arrived in a very dreich Portsmouth, the weather only improving as we left the motorway in South Cheshire. Back home now until the next trip.