We know from previous experience that once we get stuck into a renovation project, it can be all too easy to do nothing else. In part, this is because it is new and exciting and there is an enjoyable buzz to being physically busy, the perfect antedote to all the correspondence, paperwork and travelling that has gone before. Also, although we love a plan, we are not given to too much procrastination; once we’ve decided what we’re doing, we like to get on and do it, to make our new home more comfortable and organised, to start putting our own stamp on it. I realise, however, that there is another element involved: it’s that ingrained work ethic that can leave us feeling guilty if we’re not being busy, a sense that rest and relaxation are not only downright lazy but also some kind of failing. I know that simply isn’t true; there is a need for balance, for time spent away from the ‘work’ – even if we don’t see it as such – to recharge our batteries and seek wider horizons. After all, moving isn’t just about our new home but the locality and community, too. Also – let’s face it – we didn’t really expect to be putting in new ceilings and insulation this time; it’s making an incredible difference to the house but we’d both rather be outside making a start on the new garden. Sigh.
With this in mind, we decided to down tools one afternoon this week and go for a circular walk from home in what we’re hoping will become a pleasant habit. The lanes had been so icy that morning that Roger had abandoned his usual early run, but a few hours of sunshine had rendered things a little safer underfoot and it felt good to be moving in the crisp air. A few hundred metres along the lane from home, we passed through a small hamlet and reached a spot that gave a lovely open view to the north. The higher land on the horizon might seem very modest in comparison to the soaring peaks of Asturias, but the Mont des Avaloirs is not to be mocked: at 416 metres, it is the highest point in western France and often called the ‘Everest of the West.’ For those with a head for heights, it is possible to climb 108 steps up a 18.5 metre high tower (for free) and enjoy a spectacular panorama above the tree tops; on a clear day, it’s possible to see Mont Saint Michel and in fact, were it physically feasible, the Brecon Beacons too, since there is nothing higher in between. Even more extreme, there is no higher land westwards until you reach the Americas . . ! As I have a problem with high places, I prefer to leave the tower to braver souls and enjoy walking the many woodland trails which are particularly stunning in autumn and a popular spot for serious mushroom hunters. That is most definitely a treat to look forward to later in the year.
On the subject of woodland, our walk took us past the coppice which we will be signing for shortly. It’s about a hectare (or two and a half acres) of mostly native broadleaf woodland within a much bigger wood and I’m very, very excited about it. It seems a bit rude to spend too much time writing about something we don’t actually own yet so I will leave that for another day.
From this point, we left the lane and took a gravelled track through the woodland; it’s part of an official waymarked walking route so typical of this area, although we intended to veer off and do our own thing later. I was trying to remember when I had last seen Roger so bundled up for a walk, we really have got out of the winter habit. (Mind you, he has still been running in shorts in the sub-zero temperatures, which makes me feel cold just thinking about it.)
A break in the trees gave us a lovely view which really captures the essence of the area, a church, village and scattered farms nestled between woods in the rolling landscape. I have discovered that there is an organic dairy farm there with a shop selling milk, yogurt and an incredible range of cheeses from their Normandie and Montbéliarde herd . . . now there’s one to visit on my bike as soon as I have the chance. 😊
I am a great lover of woodland and I think there is something very special about watching the changes through the seasons. Now, everything is as bare and pared back as it can be, the ground underfoot wet and muddy or frozen into puddles of ice, and yet there is a beauty to this wintry simplicity which I appreciate. The busyness of birds in the branches above us, the first tentative splashes of fresh green growth on honeysuckle vines and the pale warmth of the sun all hold the promise of spring. It’s not here yet, but it’s on its way.
This is a land of traditional mixed farming and I have a particular soft spot for the scattered herds of pedigree cattle; there are many breeds, so very different to the Asturian Valley cattle we have become used to and, of course, no hint of a cowbell which seems a little strange. I think this bunch were slightly put out to have their lunch disturbed by the new neighbours!
Leaving the woodland, we turned onto lanes once again and looped back towards home, enjoying the pleasant views and abundance of birdlife. An early clump of primroses was a reminder of how in a few weeks’ time, these verges will be carpeted with wildflowers; their beauty is one of my enduring memories from when we lived here before. There will most definitely be photos to come in a springtime blog post.
Something I haven’t managed to capture with the camera yet is one of the white herons which seem ubiquitous here; they are such stately birds, standing tall and still in a streak of pure white against the winter fields. We came across one as we started to climb the hill back to ‘our’ coppice but it lifted and flapped away on casual wings before I could get a good snap. Ah well, I’ll keep on trying . . . and in the meantime, I was pretty chuffed to find I can at least still find some of my favourite skies to enjoy.
Winter has certainly been baring its teeth this week and we seem to have run the whole gamut of weather possibilities: rain, hail, sleet, snow, ice, fog and wind. The snowdrops spent several days living up to their French name of perce-neige but in the current (blissful!) milder conditions, they are more like Tennyson’s February fair-maids, sitting in pretty drifts beneath the hedges which are full of nodding hazel catkins.
I’m hoping the mild weather persists during the weekend as I’m planning to take a break from Ceiling World to take part in the LPO’s Comptage national des oiseaux des jardins, the French equivalent of the British RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. The process is the same, simply spending an hour watching the birds in the garden and recording the maximum number of any species seen at once. Roger has pointed out that trying to count all the blue tits or great tits at the feeding station at any one time is going to be nigh on impossible and he has a point; they are there in droves, it hasn’t taken long for word of free and plentiful nosh to get around and keeping the feeders topped up is a full-time job. Still, I love to see them, there is such pleasure in watching their behaviour at close quarters and there’s plenty more of the garden to survey, too. I’m looking forward to participating in such a worthwhile project – there is another one here in May to allow seasonal comparisons as the breeding season gets into full swing – and it’s going to be useful for refreshing my knowledge of bird names in French and learning some new ones, too.
Our other important engagement this weekend is to pop along to the local charity shop and stock up on some reading material. Charity shops are not overly common in France so we are blessed to have one close by, especially when it has a tremendous choice of books in English and French. Regular readers will know that running out of books was one of the biggest frustrations for us last year – we are both avid readers and always fill the car boot from various charity shops on our trips to the UK – so this feels like a little bit of heaven! At 20 cents for paperbacks and 30 cents for hardbacks, they are fantastic value and as always, we look after them, read them and return them for resale. I’ve been invited to join the team of volunteers and do a few hours in the shop or behind the scenes and it’s something I’m really looking forward to doing; it will be great to give something back to the community, to support local animal welfare, to meet new people and to improve my French. The only condition is that I am allowed time to get the vegetable patch up and running before I start; yes, it’s good to take a break now and again but I really do have to earn (and grow) my crust first! 😉