Monday, 30 July 2012

Nearing the end

Saw a snake this morning just where I was about to step off the bolly. Or rather, I saw what I thought was a lizard scuttling through the grass, so I stopped with one foot in the air. Then I noticed it didn’t have legs, was thin and black and wriggling. Sad to say it moved so fast I didn’t really see it go or where it went – well, the grass is getting well past ankle height again and it dived around the corner of the bolly, or even underneath the bolly. It was just after nine o’clock, and the creature must have been sunbathing. DH saw a snake at the start of the holiday, but we don’t know if this second sighting was the same snake. He said it was huge, but mine was barely more than eighteen inches if laid straight as a ruler. I expect they’re hunting the tiny lizards just out of the egg and barely the length of a matchstick.

We've kept up the biking - in fact we exhausted ourselves on Friday by misreading a) the weather (when it clouded over and the temperature dropped I thought it would be a good afternoon to go for a ride - but we'd only got half-way up the hill when the sun popped out again) and b) the map, taking a wrong turn, reaching a dead end and having to cycle all the way back again. Dh informed me that my face was scarlet when we got back to the mill - and it wasn't, let me tell you, scarlet with sunburn.
Lou Peyrol last week
We didn’t get the expected thunderstorms over the weekend, but we did get half an hour of heavy rain on Saturday night. Sunday we enjoyed a more equitable sunshine, the kind you can walk out in and sunbathe in.  But still, the midgies are here. Nothing's perfect.
It's Monday morning now, and we're going to Lou Peyrol again tonight to enjoy a super meal to give ourselves strength for packing up and setting off on the long drive home first thing Wednesday morning. There'll be a lot of sweeping floors and dusting tomorrow, but that hardly counts as activity.

Whoops! Sorry about the pic but I can't see anything here to rotate it, and since it's dh's pc I don't want to risk messing anything up - I'd never hear the last of it.

Friday, 27 July 2012


The Chateau
On our way back from Bergerac yesterday we stopped so I could take photographs of the rather lovely Chateau de Montastruc near the river Caudeau. Every time we pass the gap in the greenery that signals the narrow side road leading to the chateau, I snatch a glimpse of it. This time I was determined to look more closely.

Built on top of natural limestone, the chateau rears up into the sky, and someone, at sometime, carved chambers out of the limestone at ground level. Click here to view the Chateau's own website. For those proficient in the French language, you can read it in that language, but I have taken pity on those who struggle as I do, and the link takes you to the English language site.

The website is large, and the detailed history of the place reports that parts of the foundation dates from the 5th century.  You might find the birdsong intrusive, but the pictures of the interior are worth a glimpse, and seeing the chateau in snow makes it look magical. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the place was for hire!
The weather is calming down now. After impossible temperatures yesterday, (37 degrees C) the sky has clouded over and we may well get thunderstorms later according to the weather forecast. We'll have lunch and then think about going out for a short ride on our bikes.
It's a pity, but I cannot get Blogger to load a second photograph - and I have so many just waiting to load up!.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Ballantine of duck

Ballantine of duck, wine-soaked pear and an apple and apricot chutney
Our meal at Lou Peyrol ( was as good as we’d hoped and the wine Fiona recommended rendered me unfit to drive back to the mill! We didn’t notice until the bottle was two thirds consumed that it was 14.5% proof. Dh had already consumed a Kir Royale, too. Just shows what a hard head he has. We’ve booked again for next Monday – same day, same time, same table. Next time I shall drive us home.

We slept late next morning, and were not the brightest sparks around camp for an hour or two. By the time we were really awake, it was too hot to go out on bikes, or walking, or even to stay in the sun. We did a bit of gardening in the shade under the trees and soon got hot and sticky. After 5pm we tried a short bike ride along the valley to the old church, but it was still too hot, so we cut the ride short and came back to eat dinner on the bolly. The only strange thing in the whole day was that I found half a mouse. Just half a stride off the bolly, little grey hind paws pathetic in the air, a small grey mouse had been neatly severed. If I’d done it with a cleaver, I couldn’t have done a neater job. But what would attack and half a mouse? The head half I never found.

Wednesday is, if anything, even hotter. The forecast is for 31 degrees today and 37 tomorrow, then thunderstorms on Friday. After my long sleep last night, this morning I was awake around five. I finally got up at five minutes to six, when it was just beginning to get light, and re-edited a chapter of the first Matho story. I’m adding more oomph wherever I can, and it is really pulling together. Certainly I’m more certain of Matho’s character than I was when I first wrote the book, so I know how far I can push him now. I'm also finding little inconsistencies of plot. A'hem! Always, always edit your work half a dozen times!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Lalinde and wildlife

Mauzac Barrage
Saturday we packed the bicycles into the car and drove down to Lalinde on the Dordogne.  It was market day, throngs of people everywhere and cars in every nook and cranny. We were late, so couldn’t find anywhere to park. We drove on, found a spot outside of town with the canal on one side and the towpath along La Dordogne on the other, which was great. Off we tootled on our bikes along the towpath. When travelling along the Loire in the summer, you see lots of sandy islands and a couple of deep channels at this time of year, but La Dordogne is one stretch of water. Not very deep, admittedly, but wonderfully clear.

old ferry boat above the barrage
We biked along, admiring the expensive houses with gardens running down to the water and wondering why there were so many notices declaring Danger! And finally reached  the barrage at Mauzac les Baudies. The barrage is ugly from one side, but pretty on the other, and it is holding back an awful lot of water. A big board told when it was built etc etc, and explained that sudden releases of water, even in summer, can create vicious surges downstream. Hence all the notices to stay away from the river bank. We spent time in the little village, admiring the new sailing boats and the old wooden ferry boat that has weathered to a silver grey. Only the oars were new! We wandered among the old buildings, and then cycled back along the same route.

Sunday morning we decided to attack the invading brambles and nettles beside the pound, which is wht they call the atreams that direct water into what was once the mill pond. When we’d got the patch clear enough to walk to the top of the bank and look down at the stream we cleared out last year, we saw it was full of weed again. I attacked it with a garden rake, and dragged out weeds until dh said ‘There’s a snake!’ Sure enough, a yellow and black head emerged out of the water and weeds. I shot up the bank away from it, rake held at the ready. Then we saw it wasn’t a snake, but a lizard of some kind and felt guilty for disturbing it. When we looked it up on the internet, it’s a fire salamander.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Do we need water?

There was a programme on tv yesterday (BBC4) and like so many things at the moment, it had a connection to the Olympics. Not only are rail and customs people planning to go on strike just when they will cause the most damage to the UK's image, but it seems the makers of sports shoes and sports drinks have been misleading everyone for the last few years with their pronouncements of how every runner needs two litres of their particular sports drink before, during and after they run, and must wear particular shoes that probably cost a fortune so that the runners performance can be maximised.

Experts examined each and every claim and rubbished them all. Water, and not too much of it, will do nicely. Drink when you are thirsty and be aware that pre-loading water can be dangerous. Comfortable shoes that allow the feet to behave naturally are what you need if you don't want to run in bare feet, which would be best of all. Yeah! I hope all these people who walk around clutching water bottles in one hand and mobile phones in the other saw the programme, and I hope they take note. After all, the evidence is out there, staring us in the face if we care to look. All those runners from Ethiopia, one of the dryest places on earth, where the children run miles to school on a morning and run home in the evening - are they carrying litre bottles of water to keep them going? Of course not. Yet they can run the socks off western athletes. Come on people, get a grip.
St Laurent de Batons

We spent a happy time cycling over to Montclar again this morning, by the main road this time, bought a few groceries and enjoyed an Italian ice cream cornet before we cycled back home via a new route, which was pretty, but with lots of hills. Eventually I stopped trying to cycle uphill and pushed the bike up all the uphill bits - such relief from using a different set of muscles! All in all it took us two hours, so I feel I can sit at my computer now and try for another chapter of the wip without feeling guilty.

 Just for the record, the sun wasn't out this morning, and I remembered to keep my mouth shut while cycling (in case of flies!) with  he result that we didn't feel the need to stop and take a drink, though we had a bottle of water with us.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Montclar or Montclard?

Maison dans Montclar

At 20 past ten last night the local farmer was still whizzing up and down with his tractor. They say they have long lunches in the middle of the day to avoid the heat, and yesterday was so very hot I think they’re sensible to do so.
As you might have guessed, we didn’t go shopping yesterday morning. Instead we cycled east up the valley to St Laurent des Bâtons, another very pretty little village of 240 inhabitants with a Hotel de Ville, a church, a cemetery and not the slightest hint of a shop. They have a fair way to go for groceries. But then mileage, or should that be kilometreage? is strange here. We passed a signboard for Laurent: 0.1 kilometre. We rode another kikometre in the same direction toward Laurent and found a second signboard that declared it was still 0.1 of a kilometre to Laurent. Not quite a time warp, but certainly a mileage warp.

Montclard, which we visited the day before yesterday, used to reign over ten parishes stretching from St Laurent des Batons in the east to Montagnac la Crempse in the west. Strangely, it never had a church – the hamlet of St Georges, a little further away, has the church, built on the site of a Gallo-Roman religious edifice. There is a footpath leading directly across the hill from Montclard to the church, but it must have been quite a trek of at least a kilometre on a cold winter’s day. Winters here can be surprisingly harsh. The winter of 2011/12 had days when the temperature dropped to minus 20 degrees C, and the bamboo, which a lot of keen gardeners employ as hedging these days, and all soft fruit along the valley, perished. Some of the trees look as if they’ve suffered, too.

There used to be a chapel within the eleventh century castle walls, although recent excavations have yet to find any trace of it. It was called St Macaire’s Chapel. Montclard, which is confusingly spelled Montclar on the signboards and Montclard on the maps, has always been inhabited by lawyers, doctors, tradesmen and shopkeepers and, consequently, the village and its surroundings are notable for their lack of big, old farms. The ground floor of the large houses served as workshop, shop and depot. The baker is still there, and you have to be up early if you want to buy your bread fresh that day. By midday he’ll have shut up and gone home for ze long lunch.

BTW, if anyone knows what a rampeau is, do tell. There's one scheduled at the village fete on 28th. (Yes, I know fete should have those little triange thingies...)

Monday, 16 July 2012

This is France

The Castle looms up behind the houses
After a grey weekend we woke to bright blue sky and sunshine, which is what we came to France to enjoy since we never get any at home. We’ve finished beating down the undergrowth and painting shutters, so this morning we took our bikes out on the road with serious intent.

We cycled to Montclard St Georges which is about six miles away, and we went via country roads. Several times we stopped for a breather, or to let tractors go by and twice we had barking farm dogs run out at us. Fortunately the boxer gave up after a snarky look at me, a snarled Steady! discouraged the spaniel, and  Non! turned away the one-eyed terrier. I don’t suppose the words mattered, and why I chose Steady! I’ll never know – the tone of command did the trick.

The bakery
The castle at St Georges is still up for sale if anyone has a mind to buy. It’s been for sale for a year or two that we know of, but it seems there are no takers. I don’t know why – it’s set in the middle of a delightful village. Would take the deep pocket of a pop star, I suppose, to make something of it – but what a thing it would be! The little shop we'd planned to visit was closed due to the national holiday, which we'd sort of expected.
Thinking of all the hills we’d laboured up, we opted to cycle back home via the main road, which wasn’t as scary as we anticipated. Drivers gave us a wide berth, possibly because in our high viz vests and definitely not in the first flush of youth, we looked dangerous on bikes with 20 inch wheels. I began to tire as we rode the last couple of miles home, but made it safely.
The washing machine had done its job while we were out, so I hung the clothes out in the sunshine to dry, set up a tray and we ate pate and salad for lunch on the bolly. I plan not to move very far at all for the rest of the day, but we’re planning another road trip tomorrow. Or maybe we’ll go into Bergerac for much needed food supplies. We’ll decide in the morning.

Friday, 13 July 2012

France Fri 13th


Perigueux is a city of thirty thousand people and a goodly percentage of them always seem to be out and about in the town. The good thing about this is that the traffic through the centre is oftn slow, which gives me time to take a pic or two. I took this pic of the old church, which was built in 1246 on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to Mars, as we skimmed by, and thought there may be a wedding in progress. Or maybe not. There are always tourists...

We reached the mill about 4.30 on Tuesday and since then we've done a lot of weeding house painting and hacking at the rampant undergrowth - not your average holiday, but we, sad souls that we are, enjoy it. I'm sitting in front of the window above the old mill stream, and admiring the luxuriant laurels, hazelnut and pine trees that completely enclose the view. Three dragon-flies, each a different colour, flit from leaf to leaf in the sunshine and occasionally a small bird darts in and out again. We've already seen a squirrel running along the fence outside the bedroom window, and a tiny wren found me fascinating as we peered at each other through the bathroom window. Then there are the lizards, though they're not really in evidence yet. They only creep out when the sun's shining, and so far, although the temperature is hovering about 20 degrees C, the sun and cloud keep swapping places.

We've done a "big shop" ie enough to keep us going for a few days and so now we can relax. Bill is painting - not the house this time, but an oil painting, and I'm torn between reading and doing some writing. The trouble is that our hosts are avid readers and always leave oodles of new and intersting books to read. The big Sunday supplements are here, too, and some of those are worth perusing. The other thing is that we haven't quite sorted the e-mail problem Between BT and Yahoo, I've been in limbo and doing anything on the old laptop I brought with me is a pain.I'm also very conscious of the fact that it is Friday 13th July!  I could do it longhand, of course. Now wouldn't that be intersting?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

France 2012

Our holiday in France 2012 is underway.

The pic may take a while to load and I apologise for that. I'm not using my own pc and things I usually do without thinking now take a lot of thought! The journey down was event free. We spent a couple of hours wandering Southsea at Portsmouth on Monday night while waiting for the ferry, and took pics of hovercraft and Southsea Castle. I didn't think of taking pics in France until we got to the fantastic bridge at Nantes but we were travelling too fast in the traffic stream to do it.  When we reached Angouleme, I thought Isabella wouldn't recognise it now.
 The pic above was taken in one of the little towns between Angouleme and Brantome (and yes I know there should be a little half triangle above the vowels, but I haven't a clue where to find it on this pc) and is typical of the mix of ancient and modern, garish and elegant facades on any main thoroughfare of the region. I'll try and include more pics as I get to know this pc!
 Typically, the weather at the mill can’t make its mind up what it wants to do, but it is far warmer than it was back home, so that’s a boon. It’s midday and the indoor temperature is 19.5 degrees. Outside, it is warmer, especially in the sunshine. Trouble is, clouds have a nasty habit of sailing in from the west and immediately the temperature drops! We travelled approximately 700 miles to get here, but it is worth it.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Travelling south

This is an interim post only, because I am travelling south all day Monday 9th to catch the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in France. Tuesday we shall continue driving south, hopefully into sunshine, through Rennes, Nantes, Angouleme, then down to Perigeaux and our final destination near Bergerac. We're looking forward to seeing the sun in France. It's been so long since that glorious but unseasonal week in March....

The castle pictured on the right is Newcastle Keep, which is a fine example of a Norman keep.  The website is:

Friday, 6 July 2012

Warkworth Castle

Warkworth, from the website

John Goodall suggests in his giant book The English Castle that “about 1203, Warkworth Castle underwent a complete redevelopment. The bailey was entered through an imposing twin-towered gatehouse and possessed substantial residential buildings in stone.” The earl’s bed chamber was above the gatehouse.

The motte was probably crowned by a walled enclosure or shell keep, which was replaced about 1380 by a great tower of cut stone. The service, public and withdrawing chambers are lit by different forms of window, and the earl’s bedroom is marked externally by a sculpture of a rampant lion, the heraldic emblem of the family. It was almost certainly designed by John Lewyn, who worked on Durham Cathedral in 1353 and was responsible for the great kitchen with its fine star vault. In 1368 he worked on Bamburgh Castle, and probably oversaw the erection of the Neville screen in the Cathedral in 1380. The screen was designed and built in London from Caen stone and shipped to Durham via Newcastle, and probably gave Lewyn the idea for the decorative crown of the great tower and watch tower at Warkworth.

The tower forms a Greek cross with four polygonal wings radiating from the central block. (In simple terms, imagine a small square surrounded by a larger square. Then visualise four small squares projecting outwards, one from each of the four sides of the larger square.) It was planned using a unit of measurement sometimes called a rod, a pole or a perch – 16feet six inches.

In 1471 Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, ordered another re-organisation. Splendid porch towers were built over the hall and great chamber, the one over the hall bearing the modern and ancient arms of the family. The masons involved had also worked on York Minster. Work was interrupted by the murder of the earl in 1489. It seems the earl’s decision not to commit to the Battle of Bosworth until a winner had emerged so disgusted his household that they abandoned him to a mob during a tax riot.

The main entrance was through the tower porch, decorated with family heraldry. The hall was divided by an arcade and there was an adjoining building with service and lodging chambers at its low end. Two stairs at the opposite end of the hall gave access to the great chamber, which was enclosed within a second tower porch that also gave access via stairs to the courtyard. There was an upper chamber above the great chamber, at the level of the hall roof, possible a banqueting chamber. The household chapel stood at right angles to the hall range and had a large balcony or closet that opened off the great chamber and overlooked the chapel.
For more information, try the website: Warkworth

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heat and Light

Fireplaces have been found in English castles as early as 1081, but they were unlike modern fireplaces in that they projected out into the room they heated, and they didn’t have a chimney. The smoke escaped through small holes in the external wall at the back.

By the early twelfth century builders had devised a flue that carried smoke to an external chimney on the roof. By the fourteenth century fireplaces lost their projecting hoods and were recessed into the wall, usually on a long wall, and often off-centre, so they were closer to the “higher” end of the hall. In France, the practice was to place the fireplace behind the dais. Decoration included abstract patterns cut into the stone in the twelfth century and heraldry in the later middle ages. The decoration of fireplaces never transferred to internal doorways in English architecture, possibly because wall hangings and tapestries often obscured doorways. In direct contrast, the French habit, commonplace by the fifteenth century, was to extensively decorate door mouldings.

Lighting was difficult in castles. Most light sources were portable, either suspended as chandeliers of wood, brass or iron. Small wall niches are found in stone walls of corridors and latrines. Lamps could be mounted on projecting brackets in smaller chambers, usually to either side of the fireplace.

Of course, like everything else, there are castles, and castles. The big ones, like Warkworth in Northumberland, had sophisticated living areas, but small castles at the business end of things, like Harbottle, also in Northumberland and much closer to the border with Scotland, had few amenities. I’ve talked about Harbottle before on this blog but not about Warkworth. I’ll save that for the next post.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Necessities of life in castles

Durham Castle and Cathedral above the river Wear
Latrines are usually called garderobes in historical fiction, but they had other names – Gang, or gong, cloacum, neccessarium, reredorter and jake, which is the French form of john or jonny. The Welsh tŷ bach was also used (it means a small or private place). Another popular name was the privy.

Privies varied from a hole in the ground to grand, purpose built structures – a wooden bench with a hole cut into it, or sometimes stone seats, inside a small, private space. Lids with handles were used to drop across the hole, and earth or sand was kept to throw in; both required in an effort to dampen the smells. Henry VIII had sand in his jake at Dover Castle. Gongscouring was a recognised trade by the 16th century. I can't help but shudder at the thought of a stone toilet seat on a frosty January morning...

Usually the latrine cubicle projected out over the castle walls, and excrement piled up below. Someone (the gongscourer) had to go around at frequent intervals and shift it. Sometimes a chute or shaft inside the walls drained into a cesspit. In this case, latrines were necessarily grouped together at one spot in the castle. Rainwater was often directed from rooftops to the chutes to clean them out. Hampton Court had a communal House of Easement which was two stories high. “Pissing places” were common and at Greenwich Palace an effort was made to stop this  habit by whitening the walls and painting red crosses on them in the belief that no Christian would piss against the Holy Cross.

From the 15th century on, toilet arrangements within private chambers featured a chair or stool with a pot included below the seat – a close stool – and the pot would be regularly cleaned out by servants. (I imagine they emptied the contents over the castle walls! Certainly that happened at Stirling Castle in the sixteenth century.)

Water was a necessity for life within the castle and several wells were included at most residences. The deepest well in England goes down 330 feet, (100 metres) and such depth requires a mechanism to lift the heavy bucket full of water to the surface. Systems of pulleys and counter balances were used. Rainwater was also stored in cisterns at roof level and lead pipes were in use from 1300.


Adapting to colder temperatures now. Frantically Housecleaning to remove a month's dust, the washing mountain has diminished and we'...