Hidden Doors and Secret Passages

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What secrets lie behind those closed doors? Where do all the tiny passages lead? Why not ditch the car and don some sneakers, forgo the heels (they are a nightmare on the old cobbles) and start exploring. The smallest doors in life sometimes lead to the most interesting of places! 

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I’ve always had an inquisitive mind, so when I see a little alley off to my side I always feel the need to take a quick duck to the left or right and explore. Friends I might be with will look around and realise I’ve disappeared, and somewhere close by I’ll be dashing here and there, never knowing what I might find. I’m a complete sap for the unexpected, and completely unable to pass by anything worth investigating. Most of all, I love the surprises that appear….

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such as the incredible and irresistible mass of colour that was around this corner.

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Another day took me around the old market hall in Mornac-sur-Seudre, it perfectly frames a house at one end. I could just imagine living there, walking just a few steps for fresh produce on Market Day, and being able to watch the hubbub of daily life without ever leaving one’s own front door.

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Roses are always popular as a doorway inhabitant, they frame entrances and windows beautifully and make even the tiniest path seem magical. And they are not just for private houses, shops and cafés get in on the act too.

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In the depths of the country, there are old barns, stables and even pig-sties that are not immune to climbing plants, whether they have self seeded and been allowed to ramble, or whether they were deliberately planted years ago –  they all add to the special charm that all old French houses seem to have in spades….

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One of my recent detours led me down the narrow path below and straight to the front door of the prettiest little cottage – not in a ‘chocolate box’ way, and nor was it ostentatious enough to shout “Look at me!”; but rather it was terribly discreet, and something about the old wooden front door drew me in. For several minutes I stood there, imagining what was inside, and I fell in love with the simplicity of the front porch and its overhanging plants. How I wish it had a ‘For sale” sign attached!  But then again, perhaps it was better it didn’t have one…..

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No alley in any of our local villages is scary or poses a threat that might be often associated with dark areas in public places; instead, all of them just ooze tranquility, and even those that are not immediately pretty or breathtaking still have a special attractiveness, and they echo with whispers and love from another time. It is hard not to sometimes imagine the sound of children’s laughter playing across the cobbles, or imagine a dog or cat, lounging in the sunshine of centuries gone by.

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A fitting word to use here might be ‘twitten’ ; it’s an old Sussex word that describes exactly these small passages between houses, often so low that one has to stoop to pass through, and where in summer one can emerge on the far side with a shoulder of pollen and petals. This word often springs into my mind when I wander old villages in France, and yet rarely does anyone know what I am talking about – it’s a memory of where my family come from,  and a word I learnt at an early age. As I wander these places in my adopted land, it’s a crutch to lean on sometimes, to make me smile.

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Of course, it is no secret that plants can turn an ordinary every day gate into something a little bit special…. it’s a habit that humans have been practising for many centuries, across a slew of bygone civilisations.

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With their bloom and blossom plants can of course also bring life to a dull facade of any house….

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There is little to better a traditional mix of old stone and white…..

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other than a tiny splash of colour, perhaps….

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Even the plainest of doors are not immune to the charms of greenery, although I must admit I do think these are the perfect blue, that colour that can only be achieved with age and sun and time….

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As I already mentioned, there are cobbles everywhere down these “twittens”……along with a mix of flagstones, both whole and broken, and some paths are a simple tread of re-used building stones and bricks….the French are a very thrifty race; they have learnt over the many centuries of invasion and hardship that they have suffered that it is best to ‘make do’, a simple philosophy that makes a race endure…. and makes old traditions hard to kill off.

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Blue and green shutters are definitely the dominant colours …

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This small ‘folly’ of a spire intrigued me greatly, standing quite new behind an ancient wall — beyond I could see small stunted apple trees, perhaps as old as the wall itself. Where else can you find as many rare and forgotten varieties of apple and pear as you can in France? Some strains may be confined to a single orchard, for example, unknown and unpublicised ….. it made me think….

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I hope my brief look at some of my favourite “twitters” has transported you for a few minutes to the Charente Maritime in France and I insist on an exchange of local words – tell me what you might use that might be gobble-de-gook to others!

110 thoughts on “Hidden Doors and Secret Passages

    • Thanks David, the passages just led to houses and on to other little roads, I wish I could look inside some of those doors, I feel sure there is a whole other world on the other side! xx

      • Ahhh we are very closely linked! We used to live in Lindfield which is where my grandparents also lived! My Father’s family still all farm around that area. I still consider myself a Sussex girl too! Hope you are enjoying a lovely warm weekend in Derbyshire. xx

      • What a coincidence. From Burgess Hill we moved to Anstye then my parents moved to Lindfield once we had all left home. I can remember walking to the pond with my mum pushing my little ones in the pushchair and feeding the ducks. A lovely place. As for Derbyshire sun was promised but hasn’t appeared.

      • The pond, I remember it so well! I haven’t been back for years as my parents moved to the Isle of Wight. Hope the Derbyshire sun appears soon, it was meant to be clear blue skies today here too but instead we have only glimpses of sun and rather too much cloud for my liking, at least it is warm though so cannot complain! xx

      • Oh how funny, we moved to Devon when I got married! The plot thickens!! Two of our children were born in Exeter! Yes, I only remember fabulous English summers that seemed to be endless, only broken by the odd thunderstorm. I don’t remember school holidays ever being grey or dull!!

      • A small world indeed, they moved to a lovely area, having just spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach, (the skies cleared and it was all blue) I can vouch for the beauty of living close to the coast! xx

      • Thanks for using twitten in such a descriptive sentence. Word nerd that I am, I’ve enjoyed the new words I’ve learned about in today’s comments. Also, both my daughter and I love pictures of doors, especially the brightly painted ones, so thanks for your beautiful photos. Oh, and please let Roddy know his photos of insects were marvelous.

      • I have really enjoyed the new words too, so many local words that one would never know existed. I never cease to love photographing doors, they always fascinate me, especially here as they are all ages and colours. I will pass your comment on to Roddy, thank you and have a lovely weekend xx

  • Jitty- that means the same as twitten for me. What dyou think?
    If any of those old village houses comes up for sale, let me know! I loved Mornac, and I’d love to find a “Mornac sur côté sauvage”! Are there any villages as pretty, a cycle ride from those wonderful surf beaches? Hope so! I’d love to have a little stone beach house with roses round the door! Xx

    • I have never heard the word Jitty before, but I looked it up and found it is from the Midlands. I am sure there are probably quite a few words for this little passageways. Are you serious about buying a little place down here? There are other villages equally as pretty and even closer, we found one by accident this summer and have returned several times. There is obviously plenty more for you to explore here! I would love to have a little stone beach house with roses round the door too, absolute heaven in summer or winter. xx

      • Yvonne and I are both from the Midlands Susie. Yvonne ( from Burton in Trent area), uses the word Jitty a lot but i was born ten miles away ( from Lichfield), and I’d never heard of it. Think it is a East Midlands word.
        Hope You, Roddy and the family are well. See you next year, already looking forward to it xx

      • Another new word, and so funny that you, although just a few miles away had never heard of it. Our strange old English language, don’t you just love it. Another incredible week here, scorching temperatures in the high 20’s and another beautiful day at the beach today, the same one Plage du Chay!!! Lots of people enjoying this wonderful mid Autumn weather and the restaurant was packed! Until next year when we shall definitely go there together, all four of us!! xx

      • That explains it- I grew up in the midlands!! The spirit is very willing to buy a cute beach cottage, the bank balance rather less accommodating, especially when we analyse the renovation still to do here!!! I was hoping to find a picturesque cottage for next summer but there surprisingly seems to be so little of good taste and 99% mobile homes which is disappointing. Hope the tennis/school timetable is working out well. Xx

      • I know what you mean, if only the bank balance could be a little more like our spirits! There are so many things I could do and would love to do!! Number one would be to buy one of the disused fishing huts and make it a wonderful little private beach hut. Oh well it is good to dream. wish we could fit you all in here but we really do have a maximum of three. The closer you get to the coast the more it becomes mobile home territory and camping! Twenty minutes in land you should find something pretty, let me know if I can help. Timetable working out incredibly, surprisingly well, smooth sailing so far! Hope you have had a lovely weekend, on the beach today, fabulous to be in the high 20’s and swimming in mid-October! xx

  • Albany, N.Y. has an often used word for the steps up to a house (usually a townhouse or one with a porch or landing). The word is “stoop.” I don’t remember hearing it used with that meaning anywhere else. Perhaps it is a holdover from an old Dutch word. Loved your “twittens” and their flowered entryways.

  • Hi,

    This email and blog has been so enlightening to me to receive. I have been in fashion my entire life in all aspects with passion and love. Pari’s is on my “bucket list” with beauty.

    Respectfully, Nadine

  • I am smitten with the twittens! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) As I sit in my office feeling the sun break through the clouds here in Southern California, I was briefly transported to my dream of wandering France. Merci pour le petit plaisir~

    • I wish I had thought of that one, very good! I hope you have had a little fun escaping today, there is something utterly magical about wandering through any town or village in France, one can get lost, very happily for hours! xx

  • This was such a fun post! I felt like I was walking down these pathways with you. I love the different colors of the doors and shutters. How fortunate you are to live where you can see such beautiful old buildings. Love it.
    xoxo Jo

  • I too am originally a Sussex country girl and have wonderful memories of local twittens, particularly at this time of year when there were conkers and chestnuts in abundance to be found from overhanging trees. To me they are magical, mystery places and my imagination runs riot. Brilliant photos – thank-you. x

    • Hi Petrina, another Sussex country girl, we are twins! Where are you from in Sussex? I still love collecting conkers, such a shame that it has died out amongst the young it seems. I imagine all sorts of things around the corner, I can wander and get lost for hours amongst these twittens xx

      • Love this post, made me want to explore along with you. I too am a sucker for following a path to find where it goes and for wanting to know the stories behind the doors. Help me out here – what is a conker?

      • If only we could truly find out what goes on behind closed doors! A conker is the fruit, totally inedible I might add, from the Horse Chestnut tree. They fall to the ground in abundance at this time of year and kids used to play with them, drilling a small hole and threading string through them, but sadly in many places it is deemed dangerous and has been stopped. xx

      • Sorry delay in replying Susan. I was born in Mark Cross (at home) then moved to Eridge Park, Eridge at the age of 5 and lived there until my marriage in 1973. We then lived around the Crowborough area until moving to France in 2006. We have always loved to travel but somehow missed France right on our doorstep! Now, each year, we are trying to remedy that by visiting a different region – so many beautiful areas to explore as you know. Hope you are having a lovely week-end. xx

      • You were not far from us at all, we were Lindfield and Ardingly! Hopefully you will come down and discover this area at some stage on one of your trips, would be lovely to meet you. There are so many different places to discover and explore in France and each with their own unique charm, it is like many countries all rolled into one. Hope you have had a lovely weekend too. xx

  • So, in Scotland we have the pend. Scene of many a romantic encounter. I think the word actually derives from the French. They abound in every town and village. Some quite grand others not so much.

  • I’m smitten with your twitten post. I love what lies just around the corner … out of sight. And houses with secret passages.

    • Thanks Patricia! It is not knowing quite what one might find, that expectation that makes exploring these hidden twittens so exciting. I would, however, also love to know what is behind so many of the doors. xx

    • I know, they literally grow wherever they can, they add so much more interest to every single path, I am so glad that people don’t use pesticides around here, in fact they are banned in public areas, so things really do grow quite freely. xx

  • I like going off the main streets too. I think this is what makes France. Little tables, flower pots, stone benches, all lovingly placed, secret lives. Love your descriptions too. Great post.

  • I was entranced by your post today Susan, I felt I was walking down those alleys with you and I would be so tempted to look over the walls and see what is on the other side!

    • I know I want to look over the walls too but I never have. If they are low, then that is fine, but if one has to climb it’s a big NO in my books, I would feel bad invading someone’s privacy. But it doesn’t make me any less curious. xx

  • My parents called a little path like this a ginnel. I have no idea if this is just a family name but my Father always talked of them, I can still hear him saying it now although I haven’t thought of it for years, thank you for the memory.

    • Memories like this are always so fabulous aren’t they. My father’s family are all from Sussex and he used the word twitten all the time. I hope these old words don’t die out, I guess it is our duty to teach them to our children, they may not use them but at least they will know of them. xx

  • OK, flat heels on, cardigan on my shoulders, swinging my little umbrella merrily around and waiting for you to take me to your favourite twittens or pends . . . gosh, two words with which to make merry . . .

    • I had never heard the word pend before but I love it and yes here we go, the weather here is perfect for such an outing, our Indian Summer continues with beautifully warm sunny days. A little adventure around the back lanes of a French town, what could be better! xx

  • I think it is Dutch. I certainly remember the word ‘stoep’ used in South Africa – a perfect place to sit with a beer at sunset with people on chairs up behind you on the porch.

    Lovely little corners, Susan – you’re very adept at finding them! Thoroughly enjoyed this just before bed, thank you.

    • Hi Simon, so many new words today, it has been rather fun, I am not sure which I like best! Whatever, the Indian summer continues, perfect weather for visiting these places and I gather London is in for a wonderfully warm weekend too. xx

  • I was born in East Sussex but have lived in West Sussex all my life. I have heard the word but have never really used it much. Now I am going to make more of an effort, our village and surrounding ones are full of twittens!

  • A wondrous trip through the back roads of France, my heart is bursting with longing to be there, oh to walk those streets and certainly in sneakers, good advice!

  • Live in eastern Long Island, NY and my family is from The Bronx, NY. My husband grew up in Queens, NY. The steps to your home are always referred to as the stoop.

    • I looked this up on google and found all sorts of things for horse apples! I am truly not sure as it left me quite confused, so many people seemed to have so many ideas as to what horse apples are exactly!! Conkers though are the inedible dark shiny brown hard fruits that come from the horse chestnut tree. They are definitely not larapin, quite the opposite, highly poisonous!!! Have a great Sunday xx

  • Another beautiful blog post Susan! I absolutely love your stunning photography skills and how you write with such poise and grace! You really make these places come to life! Hope you all have a great weekend and a fantastic October!!! Xx

    • Thanks so much Josie, it is easy to make these things come to life when they are so exciting. I never get bored of exploring these little back roads. I hope you too have a good October and a lovely weekend. xx

    • But the little lanes around where you are are certainly equally fascinating and pretty. Hope you are having a lovely weekend and are bathed in this fabulous warm autumnal sunshine that I know is hitting the UK too! xx

  • It’s a long while since I’ve heard the word twitten being used. My family are East Sussex born and bred going back generations and I remember well my grandmother and mother talking about ‘going down the twitten’ in Crowborough, my birth place. Lovely to hear it again and to see your charming photos, which I confess make me long for France, somewhere I’m not going see for several months now.
    Bon weekend Susan. x

    • Thanks so much Fiona, I remember my father using this word too, and it is something that springs to mind every now and then. We are having the most fabulous Indian summer here, in fact today we are off to the beach as it is forecast to be in the high 20’s again! But I understand it is lovely in England too and warm for the time of year. Hope you are having a great weekend, if you cannot be in France, you are in the most beautiful part of England instead! xx

  • Loving discovering all these new words too! I would love to be able to see inside these cottages, I’d have them mentally decorated & myself installed in an instant. Oh, I wish….xx

    • I would love to be able to look inside so many of them too and my imagination would run riot, I would be permanently planning what I could do in this one and that one. Natural light always being what I crave and what is often lacking. I will never completely lose my desire to renovate old buildings! xx

  • Susan…so much fun being able to walk along with you through “words” and discover the beauty of “secret passages.”
    I always go back in my mind to the “stories” that those paths and house could tell!
    Beautiful pictures…lovely post!
    Have a wonderful week! :)😘

    • Can you imagine the stories they could tell and the changes they must have seen over the centuries. Times of hardship as well as the glory days. Sometimes I am almost quite overwhelmed with all the history wondering what it was like in times gone by. Hope you too have a wonderful week and that you have had a lovely weekend xx

    • Oh I totally agree, I cannot imagine a life without plants, they lift the spirits but then it is proven that gardens and gardening is therapeutic, so a welcome of plants and shrubs around a gate or door has to be a good thing! xx

  • As always the most visually appealing photos which managed to make me feel as if I was walking those narrow paths myself. I have so enjoyed reading all the comments and learning new words along the way.

    • Thanks so much Zoe, I think it is wonderful that in this day and age with modern technology we can really bring to life everything we see around us. We are all to share so much and I am so glad you have enjoyed this little trip down all the lanes and twittens with me. xx

  • Loved the photos and the blog post today. I am from Sussex and my parents were from the Midlands so little alleyways were twittens, snickets and ginnels to me. Thanks so such an evocative post.

  • I’m reading this lovely post with the remains of Hurricane Ophelia blowing outside! The sky is a muddy yellow, there is a yellowy hue over everything, it’s warm with the wind being warm as well. A very strange light and feeling to the day here in Wiltshire! But we are luckier than poor Northern Ireland. Anyway, back to your post! – Some of those photos brought to mind the little alleyways in Clovelly, N Devon. We went there in 2015 after my Dad passed away and I found two small watercolour paintings of Clovelly by artist E W Trick. I knew my grandparents went there on holidays and visits as there are lots of photographs and they must have bought the paintings. But I wanted to see the places in the paintings so off we went and after a while of searching and asking locals, we found the little alleyway in one of them and the other was of the rear of the pub on the quay!! Instead of looking quaint with flowers clambering over doorways and steps (like in your photos), it had huge extractor fans for the kitchens!! yuk! But our little paintings are a snapshot of a past era, when this artist used to travel around the country doing watercolours of towns and villages. I would love to paint some of those gorgeous doorways and porches in the ‘twittens’ in your photos!! When we come to France, I shall bring my watercolours. Not that I’m any good at all, but I can have a dabble!! Thank you for a very nice post, have a lovely day and now I’m off to your other previous posts to catch up as I’ve not had time lately, since hubby retired…….!
    PS. One of our sons lives in Sussex (Shipley) and my Dad worked there for some years, so we love visiting – there’s so much to see!!

    • I totally agree, watching the news about Ophelia now, so tragic. Friends told us the skies in London were most strange this afternoon, bathed in an orange glow. What a great shame about the alleys in Clovelly. You must bring your watercolours when you come to France, so much to sit and paint here and the light can be wonderful. I am quite useless, I always wish I could paint! It seems so many people have a connection to Sussex, a small world! Hope you are enjoying the warm days though, I gather the temperatures are super mild in the UK too, I bet your ‘girls’ are happy! xx

  • I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and then Delaware. My parents always used the word stoop for stairs in front of a front door with no porch attached. Then visiting relatives in New York City and Brooklyn, that word was frequently used. Technically, I think, a stoop is a landing platform attached to steps. It could be Dutch in origin. When I think about the canal houses in Amsterdam, they all have a stoop. People tend to sit on their stoops and watch people walk by in the evenings in Brooklyn. “just passing time”

    • What a lovely place to just pass time, on one’s stoop! According to Wikipedia the word does come from the Dutch word stoep, meaning the same thing. I love how many new words I have learnt from this post! xx

  • Wonderful photos as always. Sometimes I overthink my garden, Always amazed how little soil is needed to make a floral statement.

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