PLAYING HOOKY

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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.

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Back on the road once again we were quickly reminded how close we are to either the salt marshes or oyster beds

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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.

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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.

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there are small towns with cobbled lanes only fit for the smallest of cars

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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.

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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.

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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.

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44 thoughts on “PLAYING HOOKY

  • Susan, I am a recent subscriber to your blog and just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy it. Oh to live in France…. I fear I might start living thru you, Just kidding. I live in a very small agricultural town, it once was mostly fruit, then cattle and sheep, then potatoes, carrots, corn,wheat ect. Now mostly wine grapes, it,s lovely to be surrounded by vineyards. There is a sign posted population 33, but I suspect there are at least 75 or 80 now. We don’t have a post office, store or gas station, it,s an hours drive to do our grocery shopping. There are no wow men neighbors to visit with over a cup of coffee so your blog is such a treat. I enjoyed the little jaunt in the country side this morning, glad we turned left, and looking forward to the next time and turning right as well.

    Cheers, JoAnn

    • Hi JoAnn, I am so glad you did find me and thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds as if you live a fairly wonderful lifestyle, I think there is a great deal to be said for being away from mass commercialism, but I guess we all believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence! I promise next time we go on a little jaunt we will turn right, there is much to discover in all directions! Have a lovely end to the week, Susan x

    • Hi Nadia, oh wishful thinking, retirement is a long way off still and when that day does come I am not so sure I would want to, I love being super busy! Although I thought moving to France I would have more time and less work and instead it is the other way around, never been busier!!! But still time to play hooky which is of course the biggest bonus of working from home, Susan x

    • Hi, I would love to go through that door and meet the occupants and hear all about their lives, I feel there are so many stories to be told here. Thanks for taking the time to comment, it is always so much appreciated. Susan x

  • Beautiful photographs! I think the French school system is wonderful; so wonderful to have an opportunity for family time mid-week! Do you find your closer to the children in France than in England?

    • Hi Andrea, to be honest we always have been a very close knit family, but I do love the way everyone always eats together in France, young and old and it is “the norm” rather than a rarity. Wednesday afternoons are for sports and all sorts of things and they really do make the week so much easier for everyone, the kids just love having no school on Wednesday afternoons and I love having the extra time with them at home, so it’s a win win all round! Susan x

  • What a lovely meandering! As you say, it is interesting to see the similarities among small villages across a region and certainly in a place like France where many buildings go back centuries–the way the houses are built or located within villages or out in the country, or are made of a particular stone or wood and style. I have noticed it in the US on a much smaller scale and certainly with fewer centuries of building, but in places like small towns and villages such as Gettysburg, PA (houses of varying sizes right on the road with barely a sidewalk separating them from the road), the farmlands of Minnesota (scattered clapboard farmhouses with large copses of trees surrounding them) or in larger cities like Boston (row houses) where some older buildings still remain. That said, in general too many places in the US raze buildings a little too quickly–as if new and sparkly has any lasting power to charm us. But, charm us you did with your drive in the country.

    One suggestion – you might try looking at g00glemaps with the earth view to see what that rather long wall once surrounded.

    • Hi Mary, oh I love some of the charming buildings in the US and as an outsider I can quite distinguish different areas, or at least the few that I know. I have always really enjoyed travelling around the USA, I have never been to Boston but have read about the brown houses, they look so delightful. I am going on Google Earth this evening to say what I can find out, great idea, thank you. Susan x

  • I do so enjoy reading your blog. It reminds of the time I lived in France and whereas I go back there twice a year it is not the same as living there and experiencing every season. I am looking forward to reading more blogs as the spring arrives… Do children still go to school on Saturday mornings?

    • Hi Barbara, I wonder where did you live in France and where do you come back to visit? There is no Saturday school for our children which I am very happy about! I went to school on Saturday mornings and I remember how it totally messed up the weekend! There used to be no Wednesday mornings for younger children either but recently the village school voted to shorten the school day slightly and have Wednesday mornings instead which seems to work well for everyone. Thank you for taking the time to comment it is always very much appreciated. Susan x

      • Hi susan, I lived in Paris for eight years but my (first, French) husband’s family had properties in the Brie country and on the Riviera and we spent our summer holidays in both places. My (second, American) husband and I also had a house in Brittany for a few years. I return to France for my work. I am a photographer and I organize and lead photo tours mainly to France but also sometimes to England. I have been lucky enough to travel all over France for the past 30 years. I love it!

      • Gosh what a fabulous life and a great example, I am always saying to my children that it is so important that they choose to follow a career that they will enjoy, we only have one life after all. I hope on one of your next visits you will come and tour the Charente Maritime, it’s a wonderful area with many contrasting parts and such a great coastline with the Atlantic Islands. Let me know if I can help at all, although you sound extremely knowledgeable and with lots of experience. Have a lovely weekend, Susan x

  • I love being in a car and just let the decision which direction to take be spontaneous. I sit in the passenger seat and invent stories about people we see and what happens behind those lace curtains. I remember a few years ago driving through a small village on the way to Aix…a women long blonde hair….long black dress like a slip….spike heels…walking along the sidewalk. It was 8:00am…..no stores….no commercial business to be seen. A….Working Girl perhaps….just coming home? The stories we made up just passing through…

    Ali

    Contact soon x

    • Hi Ali, I will try playing that game, alas there was hardly a sole to be seen on our little adventure and certainly no one near as interesting as the girl you describe, sounds like it was a lot of fun! Susan x

  • Merci beaucoup
    J’adore votre blog
    Magique
    Ma meres familie de Normandy
    Nous y sommes alle 2012
    errer pendant des semaines
    Doux souvenirs
    Merci 🌷
    Kate in Australia

  • I can totally relate to this! I spent a month in Provence on my own touring the region – just me and a car (even though I had never driven on that side of the road or anywhere in Europe) and extremely limited French. I had no plan, no time constraints and no one to answer to – it was absolute liberation. I had a ball. I would just head off in the morning and turn whichever direction I thought led somewhere interesting and was constantly amazed and delighted at what I discovered. I can’t wait to go it again and explore another region of what is by far, my favourite country. Thank you again for reminding me of that felt xx a la prochaine

    • Hi Jen, what a fabulous adventure you must have had, next time come and do it in the Charente Maritime! There is something quite incredible about just going wherever you feel like, even if it is just for a couple of hours, and even if we do live here, there is just so much to discover. Thank you for taking the time to comment and great to have you following along. Susan x

  • Thank you for a lovely jaunt. I could feel myself slowing down, taking deeper breaths, just enjoying the being of it.
    What is the village in your third, from the top, picture? Looks like a lovely place.

    • Hi Emm, I am so glad you enjoyed coming along with us for our little jaunt, it was such fun, the village in the third photo is a little village we found called Champagne, very small, but very pretty. Susan x

  • Great day to discover your blog ! Enjoyed the meandering trip. Remember vividly, almost 20 years ago, driving hours thru rural France during summer seeing at every farm house we passed, yes every one, families sitting down for lunch. Most were outside, some seen thru windows. Made an impression, and now, you mention the pace. Pleasing to know it survives.

    Moved to a ca. 1900 American farmhouse 7 months ago, from a lifetime of living in suburbia, a tiny teensy community. House is at the street, and at a property line, all for the horse/wagon, and space for the orchard beside the house.

    No garden, excepting century old pecan trees, survived here. Too many decades of non-gardeners. And, another reason for buying the house, we have the good fortune of putting a historic garden in.

    Looking forward to more of your travels.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

    • Hi Tara, I am so happy you did find the blog and welcome! Your new house sounds wonderful, and what a great project, I am sure you are going to love your the country lifestyle and there is nothing better than planning a new garden, it’s all so much fun! Thank you for taking the time to comment and great to have you following along. Have a lovely weekend Susan x

  • Hi Susan, your last line really struck me! I have been living in France (Nice) since the end of September and I’ve found that I feel exactly the same way. The longer I’m here the more I want to explore.

    Thanks for sharing!
    xx Alyson

  • When we were first dating and living in Melbourne, my husband and I used to have all the time in the world to wander. It sounds corny, but every once in a while, we would take a coin with us and toss it at each street corner. Heads, turn right, tails, turn left. Your story reminded me of that lovely period in my life. Thanks !

    • Hi Catherine, sound like a lot of fun and you just never know where you are going to end up, that’s what I love, never knowing what is around the next corner! Have a fabulous week, Susan x

  • I enjoyed playing hooky with you. You live in such a beautiful area; you are blessed to live this fairy tale. You have a real talent for taking pictures and telling stories. Thank you for sharing.

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