Yesterday some new rules for our current Lockdown came into being, and for the first time in a month or so we are allowed to go further afield using the car for exercise. In need of some spiritual awareness and a desperate urge to see something different, I headed for one of my favourite waterside villages, where the sight of its river, and all that it conveys, never fails to lift my spirits. One of the girls came with me, and we obeyed all the rules as we walked to the water’s edge to revitalise our souls, masks carefully in place and staying very clear of anyone we met.
In a country with many scenes of bucolic solitude, Port D’Envaux is just another ripple on the consciousness, a cluster of old stone buildings where the Charente flows peacefully on its way downstream, as it has done since mankind first set foot on its banks. It’s always a calming influence, perhaps because there’s a sense of continued history, where the passage of time is mirrored by the Charente’s stately progress. It is certainly easy to stand looking out over the water and feel the ghostly wakes of barges and cargo boats under stately sail passing by. Nowadays in summer the traffic on the river is slightly different, but perhaps no less valuable to the residents of the village.
Many waterside villages in the region grew rich and prospered on the dividends the currents provided, and Port D’Envaux was no exception. It sits on the south bank of the watercourse, and there is a cobbled main street high above the shoals of perch and the odd solitary heron, gaunt wraiths that hunt the shallows under the oaks. From the road grand houses sprawl down to the river, safe from any winter flooding that washes away over the northern bank instead, sending pike and roach inland to distant poplar roots when the rainfall is heavy. The street is called Rue des Armateurs, the road of the Shipbuilders, and it gives those who know its provenance an understanding of the importance of the river and its cargoes.
Here’s a view from the street down to the water, a September scene of calm and warmth. It’s a view suitable for the brushes of Monet.
Looking back the other way gives the viewer another aspect, and an appreciation of the riches that once made this village so important.
Today, at the start of winter, the visitors are long gone, but the great houses and the trappings they bestowed upon the village stand watch, waiting for summer to return.
There is little on the northern bank except for overgrown paths that lead to forgotten boat houses. On slow bends there are moorings for boats that belong to people further inland.
But on the village side there is far more life and a lively boating season in summer, where a pontoon provides a safe mooring for both the small tiny boats used by local anglers, and the large cabin cruisers that come down from the city of Saintes, five miles upstream. The river is the main artery of the life in the village, and everything seems to centre about the water, in summer and in winter. Perhaps it is its easy familiarity to anyone who has spent a holiday in a seaside village that makes Port D’EnVaux so appealing. There may be no seagulls, but there is always the sound, scent and movement of water…
Today was no exception. There was a COVID queue outside the bakery, and down on the river a man eased his way across the current to do some raking of weed-beds, a winter task when little would be disturbed on the river bottom. I could tell from his nonchalant rope-handling and easy stance on the small deck that he was totally at ease with his environment, the tools on the boat a testament to the work the vessel undertakes each day.
Heading home after half an hour of bright sunshine and riverside air, I felt completely rejuvenated. It might have been a sense of peace brought about by the good weather and the water, softly calming my soul, but then I realised it was also because of the reassurance the quiet solidity of buildings gives the spirit, always a demonstration of the resourcefulness and endurance of humans.
It was a quiet reminder that all will be well, sooner than we think. Stay safe, all of you.