The Wind in the Willows

 

 

 

 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.IMG_0795

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.

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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

IMG_0771all 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!

 

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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.

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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

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or somewhere a little more down-to-earth

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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,

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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!

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Maybe I fell prey to the river’s spell and became quite intoxicated watching the dragonflies at play

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and the shield bugs who could almost be mistaken for tiny frogs.IMG_1708_HDR3

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).

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Perhaps some are just summer homes, empty for much of the year and home only to the local wildlife.IMG_0742IMG_2992_HDRIMG_2784

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.

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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.

 

113 thoughts on “The Wind in the Willows

  • I feel more at peace just by reading this, what can I say, yet again, the words and those photos, I was taken away to another place and I shall revisit again when I need some relaxation therapy!

  • It’s so sad that those lovely houses by the river are becoming ruins, I hope somebody comes along & saves them. (Are you sure you don’t want to move?? Only kidding, your home is gorgeous, why on earth would you move.) I’m with you though, I much prefer smaller homes, how would you ever be cosy & warm in huge, cavernous rooms? Lovely to visit though!
    Roddy’s photography is amazing, those close ups are just wonderful. My neighbour has just given me his old digital camera, so I’m about to start practicing with it before I go to Venice in November, Ryanair permitting! I’m sure the weather will be the same as in Edinburgh, but I’m hoping for a few sunny days, if not, well, it will be atmospheric at least! xxx

    • I do agree, a decade ago I would have leapt at the chance for one of those big houses, now I am cautious and my first thought is how on earth would we heat it. Lucky you going to Venice in November, I am sure it will be a little chilly, I have been to Venice in the winter and it was cold, but I am sure you will get plenty of some sun, which is always perfect. xx

  • Oh, was about to slip into slumberland but guess what dropped into the box for me to gasp in delight! And you and Roddy sharing the photography . . . . you won’t be surprised if the houses somewhat came second in the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ stakes, will you . . . . Oh, ‘Wind in the Willows’ was the second book I tried to read after coming to Australia as a child with next to no English . . . . could not put it down, hiding under the blankets after ‘curfew’ with a torch in one hand and the dictionary in the other . . . and I loved Ratty best of the four I remember . . . must try and go back to Toad Hall and surrounds for my dreams tonight . . . thank you!!!

    • I love the Wind in the Willows and every time I visit the river it just makes me think of Ratty, who was certainly my favourite too!! It is such fun to share the photography with Roddy, but he has the patience of a saint whereas I like to take the photo and move on, I guess that is why he is such a good fisherman too, he waits and waits!! Hope you managed to go back to Toad Hall in your dreams, I might try that too! xx

  • I was brought up in Kenneth Grahame’s village and Old Father Thames and his tributaries shaped me in so many ways. I don’t like to be far from water and any one of those beautiful houses would do me just fine as a toothsome project into my dotage. As you know, we desire the mountains too so sadly I don’t think I would persuade HB2 but you do have me dreaming. And those libellule (that is one of my absolute favourite French words along with Tatou and Pneu) are exquisite. Roddy should be proud of your camerawork … worth his investment and I have a lot to aspire to!! Xx

    • Isn’t libellule the most wonderful word and they are everywhere here, it must be the season, they are darting around in pairs, magical in their flight, but I never have the patience to sit and take photos, whereas Roddy has the patience of a saint, well one of us has to with our tribe!!! It’s too bizarre really he is the avid photographer and yet he bought me the super duper camera which I still only use, 75% of the time, on auto (shhhh). I have to admit I love being near to the water here, we were at the beach both Saturday and Sunday because it has been so warm and I love that we can just pop down for an afternoon, but the river is a close second, how I would love to walk down the steps in the garden to a kayak or a small boat!!! Here I go dreaming once more! xx

  • Wow.. what fantastic pictures and the commentary is perfect as well. Every picture of a gate was an invitation to venture beyond. All the dragonflies, my personal favourite insect were fabulous. Thank you for making my Thursday beautiful.

    • Thank you so much Heike, every gate made me stop and pause and peer inside, how I would love to have been able to just wander up some of the gardens and explore further, it really is a place where dreams are made! Dragonflies are also my favourites, they are everywhere here at the moment, must be the season for them. They are so beautiful xx

    • Yes, but here unless you own the house for five years you have to pay very high capital gains tax on a sale, so it kind of defeats the object a little! But I would love to take on another renovation, it is always so much fun! xx

  • i love this…so relaxing…and makes one wonder of times past… i absolutely love your husband’s insect photos and the pictures of all the gates…thanks for always pointing out the beauty of our world off the beaten path…you are a noticer…so am i …thanks for sharing and have a lovely thursday…

  • Like you, I want to save all the houses I see in trouble, and it is Baz’s duty to remind me that it is not possible. Great pics, especially of of the insects (great colours). We are lucky enough to live by the Thames and the action is non-stop. I will never tire of watching the dragonflies on the river and on our pond

    • Gosh, there are so many of us we should form some sort of French renovation society, club together to buy all these lovely ruins, do them up and then sell them again – but at the correct moment in time when we don’t have to pay the tax, of course….glad you liked the photos, I adore dragonflies too, despite the lowdown Roddy gives me on their bloodthirsty lifestyle. They’re really quite nasty to other insects….

  • First of all, my congratulations to Roddy for the fabulous macros. And just with a homemade lens??? Wow! He rocks! I, too, see small things during walks and find it quite satisfying to see them, if not always to be able to capture them in this detail.

    I love that WITW quote and would love to walk along this quiet path, dreaming house dreams that would ever come true but are no less enjoyably sweet for that. The entire post brought delight and dreams into my morning and for that I thank you (both of you.) In two hours, I’ll be at work, surrounded by macarons, truffles (of the chocolate variety), pastries, and all things French for décor. I’ll think of you then as well.

    janet

    • It sounds as if you are surrounded by wonderful things at work, I can think of worse places to be! There is something so utterly magical about water and being able to walk beside it and listen to nature really is the most soothing place to be. Roddy’s photos never cease to amaze me, it is his patience and the fact that he happens to be very knowledgeable about the insects too that helps enormously. As for the lens, well I am in awe too!! Hope you have a lovely weekend, we have had plenty of beautiful weather, the Indian summer arrived, so we are grateful, hope it cools down with you. xx

  • Roddy, my goodness you are so talented. But what I want to know is how did you make a lens? These are like the photos of a pro with very expensive equipment, I am so impressed, I would love to know more please.

  • Thank you for a respite from hectic life! Roddy’s photos are masterpieces. The colors and details especially made me ooh and ahh! Loved your photos also, Susan, of the water, the old stone and the possibilities beckoning of renovation and new life in the lovely old homes. I will take the stately, imposing ones for my project anytime. After a visit to your life, I am breathing more deeply and feeling so much more serene. xo

    • Indeed – I must say that after two years of watching Roddy produce photos of one little jewel after another I am starting to appreciate the insects a little myself. Much to his amusement, I’ve started to take some photos too, now. Some of them can be quite beautiful…..

  • Susan this is so lovely on so many different facets. Every picture a spectacular backdrop of the beauty that lies within your beloved region. Roddy’s insect pictures are spectacular; the beautiful colors and close details are an amazing array of God’s beauty in nature. Please thank him for me!
    Your pictures keep enticing me to make a move to France and make my dream come true in renovating a small chateau. I know it’s a dream but it sure is fun to play make believe in my silent time. I agree with you in wanting to know/understand why so many of the beautiful architectures shown in your blog post are abandon. I too, would love to hear their stories and recreate the appreciation of their beauty; the uniqueness found with in the perimeters of their structures. One can only wonder what “private despair” lies behind the closed doors of their flawed “public” facades.
    The area is a definite place for the bucket list of beauty and serenity. There is nothing I love more than to really “listen” to nature at her best; “the birds…the wind in the trees…or the almost inaudible ripples of water from a swan gliding past.” Okay, even the “swish of the tail as a cow swats at a fly on the other side of the bank” can be “enchanting.”
    The Hays Family is very lucky to have this “peacefulness” and “tranquility” so close by!
    This is “Wanderlust” at its Best.
    Happy Thursday! xxx

    • Thanks Kim, there are houses to swoon over at every turn, quite literally, just the gardens make me want to move in straight away! There is nothing like a walk somewhere like this to really get the imagination flowing! xx

  • Fantastic photos Susie and Roddy. We’ve now spent 4 weeks at your lovely gite and I can’t believe that we’ve never been to Port D’Envaux. Really looking forward to next year already x

    • Next year, Neil! We’ll take you and Yvonne for a paddle, followed by lunch at the restaurant in the village – we HAVE to definitely do it this time. 🙂 So good to see you both again, and happy you got home safely….

  • Reblogged this on Walk with me and commented:
    I enjoy this blog. She and her husband renovated a house in France and live there with her family. Sometimes the posts are about food or something about their house, sometimes it is about places they travel to or visit. This post has wonderful insect photographs, among other beautiful scenes as well. Enjoy!

  • Susan, this is so lovely on so many different facets. Every picture a spectacular backdrop of the beauty that lies within your beloved region. Roddy’s insect pictures are Wonderful; the beautiful colors and close details are an amazing array of God’s beauty in nature.
    Your pictures keep enticing me to make a move to France and make my dream come true in renovating a small chateau. I know it’s a dream but it sure is fun to play make believe in my silent time. I agree with you in wanting to know/understand why so many of the beautiful architectures shown in your blog post are abandon. I too, would love to hear their stories and recreate the appreciation of their lost beauty. Don’t get me wrong they are still Beautiful. One can only wonder what “private despair” lies behind the closed doors of their flawed “public” facades.
    The area is a definite place for the bucket list of beauty and serenity. There is nothing I love more than to really “listen” to nature at her best.
    You are so very lucky to have this “peacefulness” and “tranquility” so close by!
    This is “Wanderlust” at its Best.
    Happy Thursday! xxx

    • Thanks Stephanie, this is wanderlust, I couldn’t agree more. I am going to find out more about the empty houses because it intrigues me. No doubt they are owned by families where the children have moved away but each owns a part of the house making it so difficult to sell. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to buy a small chateau and completely renovate it, complete with turrets and all the original interior features, but bring it into the 21st century. Cannot think of anything more perfect. My dream for today!! But I still insist I would settle for one of the small houses, because I love the gardens that slope so gently down to the river, Roddy would be in heaven, but it would probably be a disaster between fishing and photography he would never do any work at all!! xx

      • We can be dreamers together. And like you I would only want to do a smaller house. The “charm” of it all. Of course, I can’t get that picture that you took of that wonderful house with the blue shutters that we discussed months ago out of my mind! Now that is a DREAM! 💗
        Have fun this weekend! I can’t wait to see what new adventures you uncover! ❤️🌻🌹🍁

      • Plenty of new adventures I hope. I definitely have the renovating itch again, which is a little worrying! It must be a winter thing I think! Poor Roddy, I know he is thinking, “oh no, what is she going to change now!” Hope you have a lovely weekend too xx

    • Hi Trish, it was one of may favourites too, but alas, none of my lot have ever really took a shine to it . I shall have to try one last time perhaps with Gigi. I think the others are too far gone down the slippery slope of teenagehood…

  • Susan,your words and descriptions are wonderful,and Roddy’s photos are nothing short of fantastic!
    Rod,my husband,grew up along the Danube and his favorite memories of his childhood there mirror the experiences you shared with us.
    Finding inner peace and tranquility are such a gift to be cherished!

    • Hi Natalia, water always does that for me, and for Roddy, He grew up by a river in Ireland and has always loved the waterside. Tranquility is a word I didn’t use in the post, but perhaps should have done! Have a great night and thanks for the comment.

  • I think there is something about the intersection of land and water that is utterly beguiling. We’re fortunate to live in a place where we can go walk along the water’s edge in a variety of settings, some peopled, others more solitary. Each is beautiful. Roddy’s insect photos are fantastic. Learning to slow down and observe is a talent to cultivate. Delightful post.

    • Utterly beguiling is so right, there is, that intersection is always different too, on a calm day when the water gently laps at the bank or a rough stormy day when it is far from serene. Walking along the edge of any waterway always fascinates me, you are so lucky to live by the water’s edge, I shall think of you enjoying your walks this weekend! xx

    • Thanks so much, any walk along the river does so much for our peace of mind, it is a great place to be alone with one’s thoughts! Hope you have a lovely weekend. Beautiful weather here in SW France. xx

  • Roddy’s insect photos are incredible! It reinforces the notion I should go out into the garden and sit patiently whilst the painted lady butterflies (smaller versions of a Monarch) land all around on the blue flowered plumbago with its magnificent mahogany colored foliage, inviting them to slurp the nectar before the first frost. Happy weekend!

    • Oh you really should, if you have the time, the results are incredible and if you have the patience! I adore butterflies and if you can photograph them then what a lovely way to spend part of the weekend. Hope you have equally perfect weather to match, it sounds delightful, have a great weekend xx

  • Heaven, that’s the only word I can think of to describe this splendid river scene you have shown us. I would take any of those houses but the one with the stone lions sent my pulse racing.

    • I am intrigued by the one with the stone lions, left quite untouched for ages, someone has obvisouly made some sort of attempt at cutting back the grass, but the gates are part broken and it is totally unloved. But those lions hint that at one time it was a very wealthy residence. xx

  • Between the two of you you have some great photos! The insects are fabulous and the houses Susan are wonderful. A great husband/wife combo!

  • Ultimate dream, to own a petite chateau. But for now our little barn will be home. Insect photos absolutely perfect. Great talent there and not a blur insight – take my hat off to that!

    • But a little barn is so much cheaper to heat, maintain run etc!!! However, don’t we all dram of a little chateau, we were just talking about it at supper tonight actually as one of our daughter’s friends lives in a chateau and it sparked a series of conversations! Loved a very quick look at your blog and am going back for more over the weekend, just the sort of thing I would love to do, but not possible at the moment with our large tribe of children and schools!! Have a great weekend xx

  • It breaks my heart to see beautiful old homes not being taken care of and especially not being lived in and enjoyed. Thank you for sharing. I love your photos and your writing.

  • One of my favorite posts ever!!! And that’s saying a lot!!!
    Reading along with morning coffee, I was completely transported….what an incredibly beautiful area, and even more wonderfully, was the connection that we got to make with the insects, nature, their river.
    Oh the photos are spectacular!! That really are!! Well done Roddy!!
    What a treat!
    Thank you so much for this wonderful journey. So beautifully written.

    • Thanks so much, there is something I find always quite magical about walking beside a river, there is so much life of so many different kinds to look at and observe and then there are the houses, what more can I say! xx

  • Oh I love this! You think so like I do – I would want to know what’s happening to those lovely old properties, why is no one living there? But I guess that there isn’t enough work near enough to make them a viable permanent home? They will take a lot of money to renovate I expect, but oh, what we could do to bring them to life again!! Like you, we’ve said no, not going through all the upheaval again! But…. in another time and another place……..! We have to have dreams or we would never have a dream come true, as the song says. It’s absolutely right.

    • I just want to renovate those properties, I would buy any of them, but alas I shall just dream of what I would do! We always said never again, but now I find I could do it again, as Roddy so rightly says I have that renovating itch, until I think of all the hard work and then I retreat a little!! No plans at all at the moment, they are just dreams, because as you say rightly say what is life without dreams? xx

  • Fabulous photographs, the insects are gorgeous. Love the old houses and I also dream and then I remember the chaos and slog and back up and tell myself off but yes we can dream. Like the passageways in villages, the river bank offers a slice of life less ordinary and simply delightful. We can’t wait to come back it’s pretty soulless back here in Oz,well western Sydney is decimated by developers.

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