“Let’s go off and explore for a couple of hours!” These were my first thoughts after driving the children to school yesterday morning. At 9 o’clock our kitchen had felt strangely different, and it had taken me a second or two to work out why, then it dawned on me; there was sun streaming in through the windows! I had to move my iPad a little to the left to keep it out of the glare!
I feel as if it has been raining forever, although in reality it’s only January that has been so wet and miserable. Maybe it’s just my British heritage and a typical English fascination with the weather but when I remarked on the rain to a French friend earlier in the week, they reminded me that it’s only wet now because “nous avons eu l’été en Decembre” – we had summer in December.
Looking back, those words are very true. I’ve enjoyed this winter and I love the change in seasons, but now I’m feeling a little impatient and ready for spring; and with such a sunny day I thought it would be a good time to pretend that we’d jumped forward a month. Being a Wednesday it meant the children only had a half-day at school and that in turn always means it’s hard to get stuck into something at home for such a short time (my excuse); so I thought, let’s play hooky! Roddy took just a nano-second to agree and over a quick cup of coffee we tried to decide where to go. I love little adventures, whether on foot, on a bike, in the car. I’m not fussy and just need my camera and I’m off.
Driving out through the gates we still had no idea where we were going, I said turn left, Roddy chose right; however, I was driving, so we turned left! I don’t know who was more excited, the two humans or little Evie staring out of the window on Roddy’s lap feeling sure she was being taken somewhere for a fabulous walk.
There is always a new place to find. Somewhere we have never been, a little track we have not taken before and we are far from knowing every village in the area. Conscious of the time constraints we were under, the school bell never waiting for tardy parents, we eagerly drove south like kids going off to the candy store. As we turned away from the main road Roddy suggested we look for church towers and spires, “They always signify old buildings and history,” he remarked and so we continued, searching out these beacons on the landscape as our destinations.
There is something incredibly liberating about just driving, especially when you have no agenda and no specific place to be; admittedly we didn’t have long, but for a couple of hours we were free to roam wherever we pleased; we had a full tank of diesel and we were wearing sunglasses – nothing could stop us!
Within ten minutes we found a tiny road bordered along its entire length by a stone wall; we had no idea of what lay beyond other than farmland and trees. At the end we saw a small hamlet in the distance, and with still no clue as to what the wall constrained, we marked it down as yet another place to return to when it is a little drier underfoot; I’m sure there must at least be some ruins in the grounds on the other side!
Turning this way and that, I kept driving, and not for the first time I was grateful for quiet French roads – it meant my sudden stops to get out and take a photo did not cause any mayhem behind us, and as a bonus no one was around to witness my strange driving habits. In the middle of nowhere we came upon a forlorn entrance, evidently not in use and with seemingly little other than a barn beyond. What change in fate must have occurred for the grand estate that surely once stood at the end of, what once must have been, a long driveway?
However, a little further down the road we had a sneak flashback as to what might have been. We stopped, parked, put Evie on her lead and camera in hand, explored a little. Despite the remains of the grand gateway, now there were just a clutch of houses and barns and the only hint that they were once all linked was a common colour of red on the door and shutters.
Back on the road once again we were quickly reminded how close we are to either the salt marshes or oyster beds
the landscape is a mixture of low-lying flatlands bounded to the east by very gentle rolling hills, and the entire area has salt in the air; small hamlets dot the high points and mounds, and out in the marshes there are abandoned crofts and stables, vestiges from centuries past.
Wonderful old houses sit right next to the road, the imagination runs wild dreaming of living in any of these and it is amazing how people so closely copied the ideals of architectural principle and frontage, from village to village, all across the department. One maison de maître looks so similar to another, a particular style that is very much individual to the region it is in.
there are small towns with cobbled lanes only fit for the smallest of cars
and large impressive houses jostling for space beside tiny terraced cottages, all juxtaposed along the 12th century streets where cart and horse once splashed mud and muck on passersby and walls alike.
Nearing home we stopped for a very quick walk along a river; we weren’t going to go far or we would be late. The girls had said they wanted to walk home from school so we knew we would not have that dreadful guilty feeling that we had when we delayed the teachers, but we did have to make sure we were at the house when they arrived. We noticed how life is stirring in the hedgerows and on the road verges, and on lawns and amongst the bushes too. Our winter has been so mild nature is already easing into spring, and our next great photographic season of blossom and buds is nearly upon us.
Despite the fact we were clock watching, one could not ignore the fact that the general pace of life is slow here, so intertwined are its inhabitants to a landscape whose rhythm of life is measured in tidal phases, and where glistening mudflats are matched by aquaculture ponds frothing with life and larvae. Farm-fields are bordered by long hedges of nodding reeds, and egrets and storks eke out their own living from puddle to puddle. There is typically nothing hurried or seemingly urgent. At our slow snail’s pace though, we have glimpses of a life we know only on the surface; we photograph houses, views, open roads, but I always wonder what lies behind some of the doors, who lives here and where do they work? I am fascinated by the history of the area and I will always want to know more. Rather than becoming blasé about my surroundings, I find that the longer I live here the more aware I become, ever more inquisitive, and more intrigued.