Saturday, 30 November 2019

The Black Madonna


The shrine of the Black Madonna of Guadalupe, photographed from the railway station in Hendaye.
Shrine of the Black Madonna of Guadalupe, Hondarribia, Spain. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

On one of our forays into Spain from Saint Jean de Luz when we were on holiday in September we made our way up to a church on the hill that we had seen from down below in Hondarribia-Fuenterrabia-Fontarrabie. We knew absolutely nothing about this church, so boy! were we in for a surprise!! It contained treasure!

 Looking from Spain across Hondarribia and the Bidasoa River, to France and Hendaye, photographed from the terrace near the church.
View across Hondarribia and Hendaye on the French-Spanish border. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

From a lookout terrace in front of the church you look down on the Bay of Biscay. There is nothing on the exterior to indicate that the church contains something special, and we almost moved on without going in, thinking we'd seen the highlights ie the view.

Black madonna of Guadalupe, Hondarribia-Fuenterribia-Fontarribia, Spain. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The church is the home of the Virgin of Guadalupe, one of only three black madonnas in Spain -- and our first ever. The statue was found centuries ago, but we were just a few days early for her big festival when she is brought out and paraded in the street. On regular days she is on display over the altar in the church, which is on the pilgrim trail. Despite that we had the church to ourselves for most of the time we were there.

The Black Madonna of Guadalupe in her shrine above Hondarribia.
Black madonna of Guadalupe, Hondarribia-Fuenterribia-Fontarribia, Spain. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In 1639 King Louis XIII had Hondarribia under seige. The Spanish locals prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe in her shrine overlooking the town and promised to hold a parade in her honor every year if she saved them. Naturally she obliged. I should have known something was up because there was a note on the noticeboard telling you who to contact if you were an instagrammer or youtuber.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 29 November 2019

French Forests


In France today 75% of forests are privately owned, 10% are owned by the State and the rest by municipalities.

Thousands of years ago the whole of France was completely covered by forest. With the introduction of agriculture 8000 years ago in the Paleolithic, much of the forest was cut down. The forests we see today are the result of deliberate agricultural practice by man, and their exploitation reached its zenith in the 19th century with the advent of industrial requirements for wood.

Managed forest.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

In 1800 there was only half the forested area in France that there is today. In 1827 the State created the Forestry Code and launched a policy of reafforestation. Foresters from this time onwards have been obliged to respect the balance of nature whilst satisfying the national demand for wood. This sort of forestry exploitation requires an indepth knowledge of the forests themselves. To this end various organisations were created in 1841 to study and manage them, such as the National Office for Forests (Office National des Forêts -- ONF),  the National School for Water and Forestry (l'Ecole Nationale des Eaux et des Forêts) and the National Institute for Agronomy Research (l'Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique -- INRA) to improve the genetic stock of forestry trees.

Forestry workers managing a naturally regenerated broadleaf forest parcel.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Forests fulfill three functions -- ecological, social and economic. And today, there is no such thing as virgin forest. They all have the mark of the hand of man on them and it has been thousands of years since forests were first exploited, initially as a source of energy and then to provide wood to fashion objects. Today in industrialised countries, wood is transformed into panelling, boards, furniture and paper. In France the forest produces 30 million cubic metres of wood annually and the wood industry employs more than half a million people. Of those, 8% are in sylviculture and forestry, 7% in initial transformation (eg sawmills) and 85% in secondary transformation (tools, carpentry, joinery, paper, chipboard, plywood).

A forest ride.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

French forests produce on average 10 - 20 tonnes of dry material per hectare per year. A third of this is wood, with 60 million cubic metres produced each year (only half of which is transformed).

About a quarter of Earth's land surface is covered by forest. Climate largely drives the geographic distribution -- boreal and temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere and tropical and dry forests in the Southern Hemisphere.

Forest.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

There are 30 000 species of tree in the world's forests, 136 species in France (of which 73 are native). More than a quarter of France is covered by forest (15 million hectares), which is amongst the most forested countries in Europe, and also the most divers ecologically.

In central France the three most important forestry species are Sessile Oak Quercus petraea (Fr. Chêne rouvre), English Oak Q. robur (Fr. Chêne pédonculé) and Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris (Fr. Pin sylvestre), making up over 70% of forest trees. The next biggest group is European Hornbeam Carpinus betulinus (Fr. Charme), birches Betula spp (Fr. Bouleaux), and Corsican Pine Pinus nigra subsp salzmannii var corsicana, with just under 15% of the tree stock. These figures only include semi-natural forests and do not include single species plantations (which are apparently not considered to be proper forests by whoever does the French forestry stats).


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 28 November 2019

What Remains of Gainsbourg?


No, this isn't a post about Serge Gainsbourg's grave, although we have visited it.

Poster for Gainsbourg for Kids, Tours.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It's more of a musing on what the heck can be left of his oeuvre after you've sanitised it for children. Remove all the overtly sexual references and the swear words and what remains? And what about the smoking and drinking?!

And I'm somewhat disturbed to see that the poster artist has highlighted his resemblance to Charles VIII. Not sure what I should make of that! Perhaps it was an attempt to make him more locally relevant?...

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The Romanesque Kitchens of the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud


The Romanesque kitchens of Fontevraud Abbey are in a very special building, located at the back of the refectory, at the southern corner of the cloister. The building is very recognizable thanks to its conical hoods covered with 'turtle shell' slates. There is no doubt that the building, which was built in the first half of the 12th century, was associated with the kitchen. However, it lost its use for a while, so much so that by the 19th century, its original role had been forgotten. As a consequence the kitchens once served as a necropolis where the bodies of the Plantagenets were stored. Then, as a 1762 plan shows, the building was just thought to be a tower. Finally, the building was abandoned until the abbey was classified as a Historic Monument.

Now there is a 1.8 million euro project to restore these important kitchens being undertaken. The building was completely enclosed in scaffolding when we were last there, in the autumn of 2019, and the project is due to finish at the end of next year.

The Romanesque kitchens of the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud,
 before the current conservation restoration project started.
The Romanesque kitchens of the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud. Maine et Loire. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The abbey church and the monastery buildings were built simultaneously at the beginning of the 12th century to accommodate up to three hundred nuns. The Romanesque kitchens, located in the southern corner of the cloister, are now one of the best preserved buildings of this first construction campaign. This octagonal building is surrounded by five apsidioles (secondary apses), each lit by three narrow bays and vaulted in a semi-dome. The central part of the kitchens is topped by an octagonal hood resting on four high arches supported by columns. Outside, the five absidioles are separated by column buttresses and crowned with conical hoods with lanterns.

The first restoration work by the Historic Monuments on the Romanesque kitchens was carried out under the direction of the architect Lucien Magne from 1903 to 1907. Based on models of existing old kitchens in England, the architect proposed several restoration alternatives. The small building was very dilapidated, and the decision was made to undertake a very radical restoration. By applying a doctrine inherited from the architect Eugène Viollet-le-duc, Lucien Magne redesigned the lanterns based on similar representations of kitchens and gave them the appearance that we see today. This highly interventionist restoration policy had its detractors and generated many controversies. Lucien Magne has been accused of having distorted the building, which was originally supposed to be covered with a stone dome.

The kitchens have not been the subject of any major intervention since Lucien Magne's restoration at the beginning of the 20th century. In recent years, the condition of the building has become a concern. The top lantern, destabilized and threatening to collapse, had to be dismantled in July 2014. Vegetation had appeared on the roof, stones were eroded, and visible infiltrations in the lower parts of the walls, were all exacerbated by the particular construction of the toothed roofs.

These degradations are the result of a long exposure to bad weather, associated with the juxtaposition of stones of different sorts. Indeed, during its last major restoration, the damaged local tuffeau had been replaced by a harder stone, a process that accelerated the degradation of the tuffeau stones that remained in place.

The conservation and restoration work should make it possible to stabilize and consolidate the most degraded parts, to restore both the exterior and interior of the building, while safeguarding the authentic old elements still in place. This work also provides an opportunity to provide access to the building for people with reduced mobility.

An archaeological study is being carried out simultaneously with the restoration work. Carried out by the archaeology department of Maine-et-Loire, it should make it possible to understand the building during its construction in the Middle Ages and its successive uses, by differentiating between the elements that date from the primary construction of the building and those that were recreated by Lucien Magne. According to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, each absidiole was a chimney with a fireplace, whilst the modern day historian Michel Melot considered that the kitchens were essentially intended as a central fireplace smoking room, and that the meat was hung in the absidioles. The functioning of this building therefore remains an enigma, which archaeologists will try to solve.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Rough Guide to Mushrooms in the Loire Valley


A non-exhaustive and simplified list of mushrooms that you may encounter on your foraging forays.

A basket of boletes.
A basket of boletes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Boletes:
  • Your mushroom will have a sponge of pores and tubes underneath the cap, not gills.
  • The colour of the cap is irrelevant -- they are too variable to assist in the identification of species.
  • Is the spongey underside of the cap yellowish or reddish?
  • Does the sponge stain (usually blue) when touched?
  • If the sponge is cream coloured and does not stain you have either Edible Cep Boletus edulis (Fr. Cèpe de Bordeaux) or Dark Bolete Boletus aereus (Fr. Tête de negre), the two most prized edible species.
  • Edible Cep has a very fine white line around the edge of the cap, at the horizon between the flesh and the skin.
  • Dark Bolete has no such fine white line.
  • If your mushroom has a cap that feels like nubuck and a yellow sponge that stains blue then you have a Bay-brown Bolete Xerocomus badius (Fr. Bolet bai), another highly prized species. Note that the flesh does not discolour when cut in this species, only the sponge.
  • If your mushroom has a reddish sponge, be careful as the few toxic boletes belong in this group.
  • If there is a red line on the horizon between tubes and flesh and it is red down the stem, this is a toxic species.
  • Many species will discolour and go completely black (sponge and flesh) when cut. This is not an indication of toxicity, but it does mean they are not amongst the most prized species as they do not look very appetising.

Panther Cap.Panther Cap Amanita pantherina.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Amanita spp:

  • This genus includes Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria (Fr. Amanite tue-mouches) and Death Cap Amanita phalloides (Fr. Amanite phalloïdes), the most toxic mushroom in France. 
  • Many species are toxic and have white flakes on the cap.
  • All the toxic species of Amanita have white gills.
  • Mushrooms in this genus have a cap which separates easily from the stem; a stem ring; a volva (a sort of bag that the base of the stem sits in).
  • Two abundant and very similar species are Panther Cap Amanita pantherina (Fr. Amanite panthère) and Blusher Amanita rubescens (Fr. Amanite rougissante).
  • Panther Cap has stripes on the edge of the cap and rings around the foot. It is very toxic.
  • Blusher stains pink when scraped, no foot rings and no stripes on the edge of the cap. It is edible, but is so easy to mix up with the Panther Cap it isn't worth the risk of eating.

 Milkcap.
Milkcap Lactarius sp.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Russulaceae:
  • Milkcaps Lactaria spp and Brittlegills Russula spp.
  • Mushrooms in this family have stems that snap like chalk.
  • Lactaria spp weep 'milk' if their gills are touched, Russula spp do not.
  • The colour of the milk, whether white or yellow, can aid identification of Lactarius to species level.
  • The milk is acrid.
  • If your Russula has gills that do not shatter when rubbed it is Charcoal Burner Russula cyanoxantha (Fr. Charbonnière)
  • If your Russula has stems that redden when scraped you have Blackening Brittlegill Russula nigricans (Fr. russule noircissante), which will ultimately turn entirely black. Other similar species turn black with no intermediary red stage.

Stocking Webcap Cortinarius torvus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Cortinarius spp:
  • Webcaps (Fr. Cortinaires).
  • All species have rust coloured spores, which stain the gills and the top of the stem.
  • All species have a 'spiderweb' around the edge of the cap and near the top of the stem.
  • All species are toxic. 

Common Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Lepiotes:
  • Like Amanita they have a stem ring and white gills.
  • The key difference is that Lepiotes do not have a volva (the sack around the foot).
  • A Lepiote's stem ring will slide up and down the stem.
  • There is only one edible species -- Parasol Macrolepiota procera (Fr. Coulemelle).
  • If you have a Lepiote with no 'snakeskin' pattern on the stem, no double stem ring, and under 15 cm tall, do not eat it.
  • Small Lepiotes smell nice but are very toxic.


 Agaricus spp:
  • This genus includes Field Mushroom Agaricus campestris (Fr. Agaric champêtre), Horse Mushroom Agaricus arvensis (Fr. Boule de neige) and Button Mushroom Agaricus bisporus (Fr. Champignon de Paris), pink or brown gilled, with a double stem ring.
  • If your Agaric smells of aniseed and the stem stains reddish if scraped, it is edible.
  • If your Agaric has a stem which stains yellow if scraped, it is not edible.
  • If your Agaric has a long root, do not eat it.
  • Do not pick and eat mushrooms from the side of the road, because of pollution levels.
  
Yellowing Curtain Crust.
Yellowing Curtain Crust Stereum tomentosum.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Bracket Fungi:
  • do not eat -- not because they are toxic, but because it would be like eating wood.

Trooping Funnel.
Trooping Funnel Infundibulicybe geotropa.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Other Groups:

Yellow Morel Morchella esculenta.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 25 November 2019

Easy French Apple Cake


Easy French apple cake, cooked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Apples are the one crop our orchard reliably produces, and apple cake is a delicious way to use a few up. This is a very simple, very basic apple cake, of the sort that French home bakers favour.

Easy French apple cake, cooked and photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ingredients
120 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
125 g flour
1/4 cup canola oil
3-4 apples

Method
  1. Heat the oven to 160C.
  2. Oil a 20 cm spring form tin and line the base with baking paper.
  3. Peel, core and dice apples.
  4. Mix together all the ingredients except the apple.
  5. Add the apples to the batter and stir to combine.
  6. Tip the batter into the cake tin and smooth it out a bit, making a shallow well in the centre (so you don't get a volcano like I did).
  7. Cook for 40 minutes.
  8. Cool on a rack in the tin for 10 minutes, then tip out to fully cool.
 Homegrown Reine de Reinette and Red Delicious apples.Homegrown Reine de Reinette and Red Delicious apples. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The eggs were supplied by a local dairy farmer who calls at the house twice a week. The flour came from Farine du Berry and is available in the Intermarché supermarket in Yzeures sur Creuse. If you don't grow your own apples I recommend the organic fruit from Fruits O Kalm, the commercial orchard on the outskirts of Preuilly. They come to the market in Preuilly on Saturdays and sell juice, apple sauce (bottles of stewed puréed apple) and a range of apple varieties.


Homegrown Canada Grise, Reine de Reinette, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Melrose apples. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Organic cold pressed canola oil is available from a local producer who comes to some of the specialist gourmet markets in the area.
 
An egg. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Other apple cake recipes on the blog:

Simple French Apple Upsidedown Cake

Gateau Titou aux pommes

An Update from the Kouign Amann Test Kitchen

Stone ground flour from the Berry.
Stone ground flour from the Berry, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Muttaburrasaurus langdoni


Muttaburrasaurus langdoni is a dinosaur named after the town of Muttaburra in north-eastern Australia, where a fossilised partial skeleton was found in 1963 by grazier Don Langdon. Subsequently other partial skeleton fossils were discovered and it is now the most completely known Australian dinosaur from fossil skeletal remains. The living beast would have been 8 metres long and weighed nearly 3 tonnes. It walked on its hindlegs (like a gigantic bird) and may have been incapable of quadripedal gait. Examination of their teeth indicates that they ate tough plant material such as cycads.

Cast of a Muttaburrasaurus langdoni skeleton in the National Museum of Australia.
Cast of a Muttaburrasaurus langdoni skeleton in the foyer of the National Museum of Australia.

The dinosaur dates from about a hundred million years ago, in the Cretaceous period, when the land would have been rather different from today. Muttaburra (population 88) is surrounded by big farms where stock is grazed on natural grassland. It is sub-tropical, with hot wet summers the norm. Back in Muttaburrasaurus's day the landscape would have been lush rainforest.

The complete skeleton that greets you in the foyer of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra is made up of casts.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Pottokak


Pottokak (singular 'pottock, pronounced 'pottiok') are a breed of pony from the western Pyrenees. Their origins are ancient, probably Paleolithic and they greatly resemble the images of horses sketched on cave walls from that period in the area. The modern Pottokak are the descendants of those small horses which were primarily hunted for food in prehistoric times, who roamed the Atlantic Pyrenees up to a million years ago. Traditionally in more recent centuries they have been used for all sorts of agricultural work in the Basque country, and also as pit ponies. 

A pottock on the slopes of La Rhune.
A pottock (wild Basque pony) on the slopes of La Rhune. Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

They are small, and strong for their size, with tremendous stamina, as well as being generally dark in colour so they don't look dirty or require too much care -- ideal for working down the coal mines in the 19th century. This led to the breed being divided into several strains. The bays and blacks went down the mines, the piebalds went to circuses and as childrens mounts in weathy households or riding schools. Pottokak originally were all black, bay or chestnut, never grey. Piebald individuals are now very common, and the colour is accepted by the breed standard, but it is a result of hybridisation many generations ago with other breeds. Nowadays there are two accepted strains -- lowland and upland ponies, with slightly different breed standards. The lowland ponies tend to be larger and are raised domestically, on farms. The upland ponies are born and grow up in their herds in the mountains.

Don't pat the ponies.
Sign warning you not to come too near the pottokak (wild Basque ponies). Pyrenees-Atlantiques, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Today the upland ponies live semi-wild all year round on La Rhune and several other mountains, in the heartland of their ancestral territory. Once or twice a year they are rounded up, counted and treated for worms. Selected ponies are sold at annual fairs at Espelette and a couple of other places. 

Pottock mares and a foal, photographed from the train on La Rhune.
Pottokak (wild Basque ponies) on La Rhune. Pyrenees-Atlantique, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Because of its ancient lineage the breed is considered ideal for nature conservation restoration projects in the Pyrenees. The breed is particularly well adapted to life in the mountains as it has developed a remarkably thick shaggy winter coat that is more or less impermeable. Their diet consists of rushes, brambles, acorns and chestnuts.

Ninety percent of the breed population lives in the Pyrenees and there are 108 stallions registered. The breed is officially designated as rare and endangered. 

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Friday, 22 November 2019

Some Unusual Training for Our Volunteer Fire Brigade


As part of their training package our local volunteer fire brigade engaged with something a bit out of the ordinary last weekend.

The fire station in Preuilly sur Claise.
A rural fire station.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The deputy director of the Natural History Museum in Tours is the advisor on animal risks to our county fire brigade and he came down to Preuilly to deliver some training on 'new companion animals', (known in French as nouveaux animaux de compagnie or NAC) in particular, reptiles. In the theoretical part he outlined some of the situations where fire officers might encounter these animals, and how to behave when they do. The different reptiles were classified as 'harmless', 'venomous' or 'constriction predators'.

Preuilly's fire brigade vehicles, on display at the agricultural show. 
I'm not sure which one of these would be appropriate when rounding up an exotic reptile.
Rural fire brigade vehicles on display at an agricultural show.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The legislation provides a precise framework for authorisations to keep exotic animals. The steps to be implemented by the fire brigade were discussed, the first being to call their specialists at operations headquarters so they can come and ensure the safety of the public, responders and animals.

Young wild blue-tongued lizard Tiliqua scincoides (Fr. scinque à langue bleue) in the Australian garden of friends. Captive breed blue-tongues are amongst the most popular Australian reptiles to keep as pets.
Young wild Eastern Blue-tongued Skink Tiliqua scincoides in a garden in Lismore, Australia.
Photograph courtesy of Christine James.

Practical exercises then taught the volunteer fire officers how to handle the reptiles while waiting for the competent services. So now our local team is equipped with the hooks and cage necessary to resolve an incident with a pet reptile.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Offenders in the Vines


This year there was a small trial to allow eight men convicted and jailed for criminal offences to take day release as a work party in a vineyard in Rochecorbon (Vouvray AOC). Hand picked by the prison service, the probation service and judges from Tours courthouse, the men, aged between 20 and 40 were placed under the supervision of a prison warder. The project was the first of its kind in Indre et Loire and came about because our member of parliament, Sophie Auconie, approached a local winemaker, who agreed immediately to be involved.

 A parcel of chenin blanc grapes at Rochecorbon in the Vouvray AOC 
(not the winery involved in the offenders project).
Chenin blanc vines, Rochecorbon, Vouvray AOC.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

None of the men had ever done grape picking before, but they seemed delighted to be able to put it on their CV, and to be outdoors, in the countryside, and to feel free. They apparently dealt with pouring rain and lots of cuts and sore muscles with fortitude, working alongside more experienced regular seasonal workers. The warder who kept an eye on them was a volunteer for the project, transferring them in a mini bus every day and giving them a hand in the vineyard. After a couple of weeks they were completely up to speed with their more experienced colleagues and everyone felt they had new skills and confidence that would help them re-enter society on release. The judges involved in the project felt that it had proved to be simple and effective.

The winemaker too was happy with the result and ready to repeat it next year. The probation service is now looking at similar projects in market gardens and forestry, as well as municipalities. One of the prisoners has even left his CV with the winery, hoping to get a pruning job with them when he is released in the winter.

Chenin blanc grapes in a parcel at Rochecorbon (not the winery involved in the project).
Chenin blanc grapes, Rochecorbon, Vouvray AOC.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

A similar project was trialled in Burgundy last year, and then this year it was tried in Indre et Loire, Loir et Cher and three other départements (counties). The men were paid the minimum wage. Only one man left the project, and he was replaced.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Plans for a Solar Farm in Preuilly sur Claise


For decades the former Dennery furniture factory site has stood abandoned on the edge of Preuilly. Once it was a significant employer and a brand of high quality furniture that was shipped all over the world. Now it is some unmaintained buildings in a bramble infested enclosure.


The owner, I am told, lives in La Rochelle, and cannot afford to clean up the site. There is a lot of asbestos that needs to be removed before anything else happens.


So an initiative by the municipal council to install a solar farm on the site is a win for everyone. It will ensure the land is cleaned up. The project will be contributing to the region's renewable energy plan and the town may benefit financially both by the work and the ongoing electricity production.

The notice on the wire mesh perimeter fence calls for the public to submit their ideas, objections and observations on the project over the period of a month up to 19 November 2019. A commissioner was present on two dates to personally receive submissions. Now the public consultation process is over, and a biodiversity survey done the commissioner will write a report which will be held at the town hall for a year so the public can consult it. Then a decision will be made about whether the project meets planning and policy requirements, or whether modifications need to be made.

It seems to me that this is an ideal project for this abandoned brownfield site. It faces south, the asbestos will get cleaned up and there will be renewable energy. I will be able to see it from the orchard, which I quite like the idea of, and everyone who drives out of town towards Le Grand Pressigny or Chaumussay will see it. For some reason solar farms cause a lot less outraged opposition than wind farms, even though they are equally alien to our small scale mosaic landscape in my opinion.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

November Municipal Council News from Preuilly


At the beginning of the year the responsibility for supplying town water and sewerage treatment transferred from Preuilly itself to the Communauté des Communes, the co-operative of municipalities around Loches, known colloquially as the Comcom. As part of the deal Preuilly was supposed to hand over certain equipment. However, Preuilly has decided not to hand over their digger. They are awaiting a Senate ruling, which may return some responsibilities in this area to individual municipalities.

Preuilly's water reservoir, set into the chateau ramparts.
Municipal water reservoir.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The communal road between Preuilly and the road to Loches, going past Le Pouët, will be repaired at a cost of €79 000 in December.

The communal road up to Le Pouët.
Communal road.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Grants from the municipality to the public school and the private Catholic school for Christmas have been agreed (€1000 to the public school and €400 to the Catholic school).

 Preuilly municipal swimming pool.
Municipal swimming pool.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

As every year, the swimming pool shows a financial deficit: €21,480 in 2019. The mayor pointed out that this is a service provided to the population and tourists and that in many municipalities the deficit is much greater than in Preuilly. He pointed out that for next year, it will also be necessary to pay for water from the Comcom, whereas it had previously been provided by the commune (ie by the municipality of Preuilly sur Claise individually). For the campsite, the balance is a positive €2,699. Electricity consumption has increased significantly. The site is now used mainly by motorhomes, which seem to use much more energy than before. It was suggested that the amperage provided was limited.

The vacating tenant of one of the public housing apartments has been named and shamed. Apparently he left it dirty and damaged and the municipality has spent €1000 getting it back up to standard. He has been issued with a fine of a couple of hundred euros.

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Monday, 18 November 2019

Toxic Mushrooms Kill Every Year in France


A wild foraged Bay-brown Bolete prepared and ready to cook.
A wild foraged Bay-brown Bolete Xerocomus badius prepared and ready to cook.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Every year a quite remarkable number of people manage to ingest toxic mushrooms in France. Over a thousand people every year are treated for mushroom poisoning, and 30 to 40 people will die.

There is always a sharp spike in incidents at the beginning of the mushrooming season in October. I find these figures astonishing.

In a country where mushroom picking is a popular pastime and where there are innumerable really knowledgeable people out there to learn from, just how do people manage to misidentify mushrooms so frequently? What is really difficult to believe is that these people are eating mushrooms they have themselves picked, and they cannot apparently tell a gilled mushroom from a mushroom with pores and tubes.

I am just astounded by how unobservant these people must be.

Death Cap Amanita phalloides (Fr. Amanite phalloïde) -- extremely toxic.
Note the sickly yellowy beigey greeny cap and the volva (a sort of sack at the base of the stem). 
Death Cap Amanita phalloides.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

More often than not people are eating the lethal Death Cap, thinking they are eating nice safe, delicious Ceps!! The most recent episode was in Deux Sevres, where a woman died and her husband and sister in law were hospitalised, seriously ill. In the same fortnight, at the end of October, there were nearly 500 other cases of mushroom poisoning in France, as the weather changed and the mushrooms appeared.

Dark Cep Boletus aereus (the approved vernacular name in French is the Cèpe bronzé, but in rural areas it is still usually referred to as the Tête de nègre).
Dark Cep Boletus aereus.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Mushrooms in the Boletaceae (Ceps and boletes) family are easy to recognise (I would have thought!!) because they do not have gills, but a sort of sponge made up of pores called hymenophores under their caps. Ceps (Fr. cèpes) and boletes, also often known in English by their Italian name porcini, are the most widely sought after wild foraged mushrooms.

They have the advantage of being easy to recognise and having few species that will poison you. There are only a couple of poisonous species possible in this area. None are deadly, and foragers will be put off them by their appearance or taste long before ingesting enough to cause digestive upset.

Many boletes stain very unappetising colours such as blue or black when broken, and some taste very bitter. Breaking a small piece off the cap and watching for staining, plus tasting the piece then spitting is an essential part of checking the identity of these mushrooms.

Staining or bitterness is not an indication that the mushroom is poisonous per se -- numerous boletes that stain or taste nasty are non-toxic -- but it does mean that you are unlikely to make the mistake of eating the poisonous ones because they will be amongst those that you reject as they don't look or taste nice. Boletes with red pores and flesh that stains blue should always be avoided.

Left, Bay-brown Bolete Xerocomus badius (Fr. Bolet bai) and 
right, Edible Cep Boletus edulis (Fr. Cèpe de Bordeaux).
Left, Bay-brown Bolete Xerocomus badius; right, Edible Cep Boletus edulis.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Death Caps are responsible for 90% of deaths related to mushroom consumption in Europe. They contain a toxin which damages kidneys and livers, which is not destroyed by cooking, drying or freezing.

The initial symptoms are digestive discomfort, with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pains within 5 -12 hours of consumption and lasting for a couple of days. This can lead to dehydration, hypertension, tachycardia and hypoglycemia.

Then typically the symptoms fade for several days, only to return once it is too late and irreparable damage has been done to the kidneys and liver. Delerium, fits, coma and death after 6 - 16 days result if treatment is not sought.

Early treatment usually involves activated carbon or stomach pumping plus rehydration, later treatment a liver transplant, and is not guaranteed to succeed (10 - 15% of patients still die, especially children). There is no recognised antidote to the toxin.  

The lethal dose can be as little as half a cap. Many mycologists will advise never eating any Amanita spp, but especially the white gilled ones, as a precaution. Others will go so far as to say do not even touch Death Caps and do not eat any mushroom which has any possibility of being contaminated by proximity to a Death Cap (eg in the same picking basket).

Curiously, some mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels, appear to be able to eat Death Caps and suffer no ill effects. Slugs can also eat them, but this is less surprising as their digestive systems are very different to ours.

Orange Oak Bolete Leccinum aurantiacum (Fr. Bolet orangé)
 -- edible but not the most prized species.
Orange Oak Bolete Leccinum aurantiacum.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Edible Cep Boletus edulis (Fr. Cèpe de Bordeaux). 
Note the fine pale border to the 'nubuck' cap, and thick, 'vase shaped' stem.
Edible Cep Boletus edulis.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Scarletina Bolete Neoboletus praestigiator (Fr. Bolet à pied rouge). 
An edible species, although most people do not risk it, 
because of its resemblance to a toxic species and its generally unappetising appearance.
Scarletina Bolete Neoboletus praestigiator.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

A mixture of toxic Panther Cap Amanita pantherina (Fr. Amanite panthère
and edible Blusher Amanita rubescens (Fr. Amanite rougissante).
A mixture of Panther Cap Amanita pantherina and Blusher Amanita rubescens. Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
The mushrooms in the photo above are closely related to the Death Cap, and possess the same white gills. Gills (Fr. lames) are the delicate structures that radiate out from the stem under the cap of many mushrooms.

The gills of the button mushrooms Agaricus bisporus (Fr. champignons de Paris) that you buy in the supermarket start off pink and go brown with age. The gills of Amanita spp, many of which are toxic, are white.

That is why it is sage advice to avoid all white gilled mushrooms unless you are a very experienced forager.

Dominique Tessier, an experienced mushroom surveyor, 
explaining the key characters to look for in the Death Cap he is holding.
Lesson on how to identify Death Cap Amanita phalloides.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Didier Raas, an expert mycologist and pharmacist from Loches, holding an Edible Cep during a public outreach and fungi education session (other boletes on the left hand end of the table).
An expert pharmacist/mycologist conducting a public outreach fungi education session.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Didier leads mushroom foraging outings in the Forest of Loches several times each autumn. Any one is welcome to turn up and learn from him. Details are usually advertised in the Tourist Office and the local paper (plus you can ask me as I generally have a list of upcoming outings).

Bay-brown Bolete, showing the identifying spongelike pores and tubes under the cap.
Bay-brown bolete Xerocomus badius, showing the spongelike pores and tubes under the cap.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
If your mushroom has cream or yellow coloured pores and tubes like this under the cap it is safe to eat. The unappetising looking blue staining in this species only affects the pores, and as for all boletes, it is best to remove the 'sponge' before cooking. It is full of water and not very nice texturally.

If your mushroom just has pores, but no tubes, it is not a bolete. If your mushroom has gills it is not a bolete. If it is not a bolete it may be best not to eat the mushroom.

Boletes and Death Caps are abundant in the forests of the Loire Valley and many people regularly go mushroom foraging. If you see a car parked on the side of the road in the forest in the autumn the unseen occupants are more likely to be mushroom foraging than dog walking.

For full descriptions of boletes and Death Caps, go to my nature website, Loire Valley Nature.
Click here for Boletes
Click here for Death Cap

The French Department of Health has produced a nice infographic on how to consume wild mushrooms as safely as possible and advises: "Do not buy mushrooms from street vendors. This practice is forbidden and dangerous. Individuals can neither sell nor give away mushrooms picked in the forest. They can only be for personal use."

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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos. 

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Recent History


In 1967 there was a referendum in Australia to do with who had the power to legislate for Aborigines. Up till that time each State had separate laws regarding the indigenous population, and many of those laws were discrimatory and racist in nature. Activists and the Federal Government wanted to rectify this situation and indeed the referendum passed by an enormous majority (90%). But what the referendum was actually about and what it changed is not quite how it is remembered now.

 Plaque in the floor of the foyer of the National Museum of Australia.
Plaque commemorating the 1967 referendum on who legislated for Aborigines in the foyer of the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia.  Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Many people think that this was the moment that Aborigines were finally allowed to vote, and stopped being classified as 'flora and fauna'. Neither of these things are quite true. One of the things it did allow for though was that Aborigines would be included in the official population census figures, which meant that health policy could be more sensibly managed and allowed such issues as infant mortality and life expectancy to be monitored. Federal legislation was also introduced to cover land rights, discrimatory practices, financial assistance and preservation of cultural heritage.

Certain States were notorious for discrimatory practices towards Aborigines. For example, in Queensland they were treated as slaves and forbidden to engage in traditional practices. In Western Australia Aborigines could apply for citizenship, but had to renounce all traditional practices, and their status could be removed at any time. Aborigines were allowed to vote if they had served in the defence forces in some States, but otherwise it was not until 1983 that Aborigines were required to register for the electoral roll and vote, putting them on the same standing as other Australian citizens.

Plaque in the floor of the foyer of the National Museum of Australia.
Plaque commemorating the Mabo Decision, in the floor of the foyer of the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The Mabo Decision in 1992 was a significant turning point in the fight for recognition of Indigenous Land Rights in Australia. The High Court decision overturned the idea that Australia was terra nullius when Europeans arrived. The Torres Strait Islander who led the fight for Land Rights, Eddie Mabo, is today a household name in Australia. Very sadly he died just months before the High Court decision was made. Today, 15% of Australian territorial land and water is subject to the Native Titles Act and there are over 600 registered Indigenous Land Use Agreements between Aboriginal tribal groups and other land users, establishing exactly how certain places are managed.


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For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

We are also on Instagram, so check us out to see a regularly updated selection of our very best photos.