What do the subjects in these two photos have in common?
A strange question for a Thursday perhaps. But there’s a simple answer – they share the same habitat as they exist along the water’s edge. It was Ratty from the Wind in the Willows who said “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Walk along the grassy trail which forms the original towpath along the banks of the Charente River in Port D’Envaux and you will step into another world. You don’t need to be actually on the water or in a boat like Ratty to enjoy this stunning part of the area; you can just walk for miles instead, and quite possibly without seeing another soul.
Old or young, adult or child, even teenagers will be enchanted and captivated. You’ll listen to the birds, the wind in the trees and the occasional hum of an engine as a boat cruises past, but you won’t hear a lot else. In fact it is so peaceful that you can sometimes catch the swish of a tail as a cow swats at a fly on the other side of the bank, or the almost inaudible ripples of water from a swan gliding past.
When passing through Port d’Envaux in a car, the grand facades of the beautiful houses along the main street tend to hide what is on their other side, and one is only vaguely aware there is water beyond.
But park and then walk a little down a damp passageway, gently ease down some ancient steps, with stone well worn by a thousand years of traffic, and you will enter into another world with a simmering dimension all of its own, the river.
Port D’Envaux sits in a privileged position beside the Charente, a location chosen many generations ago for easy access for boating traffic, it was once a vitally important artery of the region’s economic heart.
And as a result families grew wealthy on the water’s profits and the solid stone mansions that make our pulses race are a reminder of those times of plenty – however, even if we can’t all afford to live in one of the old merchant’s palaces, with our own private gateway to the river, we can still enjoy it’s charm!
Tiny roads and paths lead to the water in many places, all of them once routes used by cart and donkey, by barrel-men and by porters
all of whom contributed to the buildings along the bank – a reminder that not everywhere is on the grand scale of the manoirs and chateaux that we all swoon over. In fact I almost prefer to waste a few minutes investigating the smaller more down-to-earth homes, I find these just as primed for dreaming as the bigger buildings and at least they are within the realms of possible renovation!
It’s a sad fact, but there are fewer and fewer places in the modern world today where we can sit and watch nature totally undisturbed, along the river there is an ecosystem all of its own, a world of large eyes, crooked feet, scaly wings and sharp teeth, all of it very small and easily passed by. And if it wasn’t for Roddy, I suspect the children and I would never even notice what sits trembling on the branches of those bushes overhanging the water, or see the bulging eyes hidden in the rushes that cautiously follow our progress along the path. I’m extremely lucky to have a husband who has developed an incredibly keen eye for photographing insects and while Roddy will be the first to tell you he does not have thousands of dollars of expensive equipment and has had to be a little inventive with some of the gear he uses (he has a little compact camera and a homemade lens), he still has that patience that all good fishermen have while waiting for a great catch. So whilst I run ahead with the kids he will stand or sit for what seems like an eternity, waiting for the perfect moment to take a photo of a small creature that we would never really otherwise appreciate.
River etiquette demands that we slow down, even the impatient ones like me, it forces us to take our time, whether we are dining in grand style
or somewhere a little more down-to-earth
little by little the river will cast its spell with the sibilant sound of rippling water and, for a short while at least, we’ll let go of our worries.
There really IS something for everyone here; of course we can daydream of somewhere like this, or at the very least of a tent in their garden,
but a far more humble abode, mid-renovation was what really made my heart pump a little faster. I know I’ve said to myself “never again, never ever!” are we going to go through the chaos of doing up another home, but I could be tempted! But thankfully (or perhaps – alas), we are not moving, and this is not for sale, and there are no secret plans afoot to do otherwise, I promise. I was just ‘saying’, I could go through the chaos once more, in the right circumstances!! I suspect what I have written here is as muddy in interpretation as the foundation of the riverbed itself!
Maybe I fell prey to the river’s spell and became quite intoxicated watching the dragonflies at play
and the shield bugs who could almost be mistaken for tiny frogs.
The problem with any thoughts of “never again” is that there is plenty of old stonework and a few homes along the waterway that seem neglected and forgotten, just crying out for attention. I want to know why, I want to find some answers……(even if ultimately I don’t actually want to move).
Perhaps some are just summer homes, empty for much of the year and home only to the local wildlife.
It’s just that there is plenty to see, and much to fire the imagination. It is so difficult not to scratch the renovation itch.
I love how the river brings us nearer to nature, and how one walk along its path is never enough. Renovation itch or not, we come back here again and again, for it is a spectacular wander, with the promise of a treat at the end back at the river’s cafe, making it the perfect afternoon out – leaving any crumbling, vine-creeping, broken-shuttered thoughts aside, of course. As a soul-soothing exercise, though, it’s another tiny piece of the jigsaw that makes up our life in France, only this time away from the coast that we love so much.