Tuesday, 31 March 2020

A Walk With the Forester (from 2014)


We've been in lockdown for two weeks now and I'm struggling to find things to write about, so I've decided to pull a few things from the archives. This post originally appeared on 31 March 2014.

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Friday 21 March was the International Day of Forests, and our local forest managers organised a walk lead by the head forester, Gérard Couturier. He had hosted a school trip that morning and was giving a lecture in the evening. He was quite open about the fact that his professional sphere was the production of timber, and he was not an expert on the birds and animals of the forest.

The Office National des Forêts (ONF) manages the Forest of Tours-Preuilly on behalf of its owner, the City of Tours, with the aim of reconciling the production of high quality timber, the preservation of natural surroundings and the countryside and the recreation needs of the public. The ONF is a public body dating back to Colbert's 17th century economic reforms in the reign of Louis XIV, and acts as a policy developer, consultant and law enforcer in all things forestry related in France, as well as hands on management of large swathes of the country. Although the City of Tours is the nominal owner, the forest is a long way from there and in fact, most maintenance and improvements (signage, barriers, etc) in the forest are funded by the Communauté des Communes de la Touraine du Sud (CCTS).

Gérard Couturier giving us some history before we start the walk.
Forestry officer giving a talk to the public.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The forest was left to the City of Tours in 1952 by the last private owner, Madame Hersent-Luzarche. She also left the family home, the chateau of Azay-le-Ferron to the city, and the area of land which became the Parc Animalier de Haute Touche to the National Museum of Natural History. The Luzarche family had acquired the estate in the aftermath of the Revolution. Prior to their ownership, the forest had been exploited for its reserves of iron ore, which were smelted and forged down on the Claise, using the power of the water to run mills and the wood from the forest to fuel furnaces.

It has taken 50 years of modern forestry practices to bring the forest to the generally good condition we see today. Azay le Ferron was not the Luzarches principle residence, and they viewed the forest as a private leisure park for hunting. They made no attempt to maintain the forest ecosystem in good condition.

A parcel that has had a couple of thinnings and now has chosen trees marked. These will be given a 12m clearing around them on the ground and allowed to grow to prime timber to be harvested at about 200 - 250 years old. These trees are Sessile Oak.
Marked Sessile Oak trees in a section of forest managed for timber.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Consequently, at the time of the legacy, there were many 'empty' parcels of forest, requiring extensive 'cleaning' and replanting. That was stage one of the forest regeneration, and the aim was enable stage two ie to start producing saleable wood which could fund further maintenance. 300 hectares in all (one third of the forest) were replanted in this first stage. Stage 3, which was basically the regeneration of another third, finished last year. Stage 4 begins this year and is consolidating more complex and integrated management systems that began in Stage 3.

A total of 9 people, including Gérard, are responsible for managing the forest. No hunting is allowed except to control vermin, which means that they don't have the benefit of that potential income stream. However, Gérard is very firm that the forest is for everyone, and hunting is difficult to reconcile with other, more popular, leisure activities such as walking. Twice a year there are organised culls of big game, but otherwise the forest can be freely used by anyone at any time. He was asked if the deer population was a problem for the forest plantations and he said no, not as far as he could see, although he would like to have a pot of money to fund some research on their impact. He observed that the deer tended to concentrate on the edges of the forest.

Two of the foresters thin a young naturally regenerated parcel that is about 12 years old. The brush will be left on the ground to rot and replace nutrients in the soil.
Foresters thinning naturally regenerated forest managed for timber production.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

At this point in the proceedings he told us a story about his colleague who manages the nearby Royal Forest of Loches. The ONF forests have simple wooden bar type barriers across any track they don't want vehicles to use. Apparently his colleague arrived at work one morning and discovered that every single barrier was missing, presumably stolen overnight. The barriers are milled timbers about 5m long and probably 15cm by 10cm in section, with a strip of green reflective plastic fixed to the middle. The whereabouts of these timbers was discovered not long after, by someone arriving at a house in Genillé after dark and noticing that a roof under construction on the property was glowing eerily in his headlights. The 'rafters' had been given away by their reflective strips and the police were called.

The commercial crop of trees is primarily oak, which is produced to the specifications of the timber industry. They want trees of a maximum of 85 cm diameter, and preferably 55 cm, which is cheaper to process. Any tree that has grown faster than 5mm per year in diameter will be rejected. Foresters have to consider whether they want bulk yields but low margins, or restricted yields and high margins. Conifers are usually an example of the former and need to yield 3000m³ / ha to be commercially viable. Tree felling machines harvest about 140m³ / hour. The management of a commercial plantation is a matrix of time, yield, timber industry requirements, and the average price received by the forest is about €25/m³. The best quality timber, from 3m lengths of trunk, will fetch €300/m³ and non lumber about €40/m³. The upper branches sell for €8/m³. Nowadays, over half of all timber produced in France comes from ONF sites.

Pruning the lower branches of young trees so they don't tangle.
Foresters pruning the lower branches of trees managed for timber so they don't tangle.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The ONF aims to maintain a zero carbon footprint with its planting and harvesting cycle, as well as considering the forest as a resource for the future. The forest is managed so it is a mosaic, taking into consideration a mixture of mature commercial parcels, regenerating parcels, and parcels which will not be harvested, but left to mature naturally. Tree density and light penetration has to be managed to keep the trees in good condition. Trees chosen for timber production are ultimately given a 12m clear zone around them. At any one time these days they have 100ha in regeneration. 

Parcels are regenerated naturally as far as possible, as planted parcels do not grow as vigorously, and are more fragile and less stable. Sometimes seed from uncommercial areas are used to augment entirely natural regeneration, and occasionally a parcel will be manually planted. Machines are not used to plant in the Forest of Preuilly as they compact the soil and have other disadvantages. Regenerated areas are now mixed species (hazel, hornbeam, chestnut and sessile oak dominating, with a bit of ash, beech, birch and aspen, along with some smaller species such as service tree, wild cherry, field maple and rowan). It is recognised that monocultures of oak do not thrive, especially if they follow a previous oak plantation on the same soil. A mixture of species ensures groups of trees are not all competing for the same micronutrients, and that the soil does not become exhausted after multiple generations of the same monoculture.

 A Sessile Oak in its prime, about 200 - 240 years old.
A prime timber Sessile Oak, about 200 years old.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Once the parcel is about 10 years old the foresters will move in and thin out the trees. The resulting brush is left piled on the ground to rot and feed the soil. After another 5 or 10 years more thinning takes place and trees are pruned to prevent lower branches from tangling with each other. This pruning is also the beginning of ensuring that trees can be felled cleanly and not break branches as they come down. The next stage is to mark certain trees with orange bands. These trees are the ones that have been chosen by the foresters and timber mills as the ones that will be harvested at around 250 years old, and over the years they are given more and more room to grow. Oak trees can live to a thousand years, but they become hollow inside and therefore valueless as timber if left too long. By the time they are ready it is hoped they will be worth three to four thousand euros each.

This mixed planting regime is a change from the planting schemes immediately following the Second World War and up until the 1970s. The great conifer forests of the Ardenne were badly damaged during the war and France was desperate for timber to rebuild, particularly in the mining industry. Consquently, the practice in the Forest then was to plant 10ha alternating parcels of conifers (Maritime Pine, Corsican Pine or Scots Pine) with Sessile Oak. The remnant conifer parcels are a disaster according to Gérard. The soil in these areas has been acidified to such an extent that he may not be able to plant broadleaf trees once the pines are removed. He's worried that the consultant ecologists will force him to bring in soil at great expense to reinstate the natural pH, rather than allow him to plant conifers again. On the other hand, conifers don't make any money and these acid soils lead to a proliferation of bracken and heather.

Other areas are left to gently age in a natural way. These are parcels which have proved uneconomical to harvest, and are now being reserved to provide tree seed, ensure biodiversity and create attractive leisure areas. Gérard is a staunch defender of Ivy, which is allowed to grow naturally and is not controlled or removed. He says it doesn't harm the trees, and protects and nourishes the birds, which in their turn, reduce the insect pests.

Climate change is providing a new challenge. Various cedar species and Downy Oak are being planted throughout France as a 'hedge' against climate change. Gérard predicted that Chestnut, Beech and Ash could disappear from the forest within the next 30 years, and Sessile Oak within the next 100, due to the increasingly dry summers. Already the natural distribution of these species is moving north, and it is not worth persisting with trees that will not thrive. He reminded everyone of how quickly Elm disappeared once Dutch Elm Disease struck and said it only took 2-3 days of hot dry weather to permanently damage a tree. On the other hand, he reported that Douglas Fir has already adapted to drier summers, and perhaps other species will too.


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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, 30 March 2020

Hedgehog Cake


Hedgehog cake, on a Hermes plate, served with Savennières Roche aux Moines wine.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide..

Hedgehog cake is a no-bake cake. It was a favourite in our family during my childhood. I don't know where the recipe came from (this one is not the original, but adapted from Lynn Hill's chocolate tiffin on Clandestine Cake Club website). I don't know where the name hedgehog cake comes from either. Places like Starbucks sell it as chocolate biscuit cake. Others, like Lynn, clearly know it by the name chocolate tiffin.

BRB cutting the cake.
Cutting hedgehog cake.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ingredients
200 g butter
50 g soft brown sugar
30 g cocoa powder
200 g Golden Syrup
400 g plain sweet biscuits
500 g dried fruit (any mixture of sultanas, apricots, cranberries, citrus peel, figs that you like, in any proportions)
350 g dark chocolate

Method
  1. Grease and line a 20 cm square tin, making sure you have a generous overhang of baking paper (for ease of lifting out the finished cake).
  2. Crush the biscuits so you have about half very fine and half in chunks of about 1 cm. 
  3. Cut any of the larger dried fruit so that everything is roughly sultana sized.
  4. Put the butter, sugar, cocoa and Golden Syrup in a large saucepan and heat gently to melt the butter and mix everything together.
  5. Add the dried fruit and the crushed biscuits, stir well and make sure everything is well incorporated. This will take longer than you think, but it will all come together eventually.
  6. Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and press it down firmly with a glass.
  7. Leave in the fridge to cool and set, at least an hour.
  8. Break up the chocolate and put into a bowl. Set the bowl in a cast iron pan half full of simmering water and leave the chocolate to melt.
  9. Once the chocolate has melted take it out of the water, stir to ensure the chocolate is smooth, then spread over the cake.
  10. Leave to set at room temperature, which will take ages (several hours). Before it is completely set, score cutting lines in the chocolate to make it easier to divide up and serve.
  11. Once cold and set solid, lift the cake out, carefully peel off the baking paper, then cut into 16 generous squares, or 32 half squares (logs or triangles).
  12. Serve with a rich semi-sweet Loire Valley white wine from appellations such as Savennières Roche aux Moines, Jurançon, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Vouvray or Coteaux du Layon.
Hedgehog cake on a Hermes plate.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Hermes plate courtesy of BRB.

The biscuit used in our house for hedgehog cake was the otherwise very uninteresting Marie biscuit. These are not available in France except occasionally with Polish labelling, in Noz. Any really dull plain sweet biscuit will do. French supermarket shelves are full of similar biscuits. 

You could try it with a well aged Chinon too...
Hedgehog cake, on a Hermes plate, served with Chinon wine.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

If you live in a Golden Syrup free zone, use a mild honey, such as Robinia (known as Acacia in France) or a supermarket blended honey.

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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, 29 March 2020

Old Kyneton Hospital


Main hospital building.
Old Kyneton Hospital in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The old hospital at Kyneton in Victoria, Australia, closed in 2005. Very quickly the building and the grounds deteriorated. It's since been through several owners and development plans that never got off the ground. But in its day, this was a large modern hospital, and very early in terms of its 1850s date of construction. It is built of the local basalt stone, known as bluestone, and brick, which would also have been locally manufactured. It is sad to see such a grand building having lost its purpose.

 The intensive care/infectious diseases ward.
Old Kyneton Hospital intensive care/infectious diseases ward in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The building is a listed monument, which has given it some protection, and a couple of years ago (after these photos were taken) the then owners were ordered by the State to undertake some simple repairs. The current plan is apparently to build a co-located aged and child care facility in the extensive grounds, whilst restoring the old hospital buildings as faithfully as possible.

 The morgue.
Old Kyneton Hospital morgue in 2017. Victoria. Australia. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The original main block was Georgian in style, symmetrical, with two wings. The cast iron verandah is a later addition, from 1910. This is the earliest intact example of a country hospital in Victoria, designed specifically as a hospital and operating as such for 90 years until a new building was constructed in 1942.  The emergency ward, or infectious diseases ward as it is sometimes known, is important because it retains all original features and clearly demonstrates the health regulations for 1894 when it was built.

 The back of the hospital.
The back of Old Kyneton Hospital in 2017. Victoria. Australia. 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. 

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The City of Corsairs


The activities of corsair ships based at Saint Jean de Luz highlights one of the more colourful periods in the history of the port, and led to it being known as the City of Corsairs.

 Saint Jean de Luz/Ciboure harbour today -- a haven for sardine fishing and pleasure boats.
St Jean de Luz/Ciboure. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Traditionally of course the town made its living from the sea. From the 14th century there were  whalers, then later cod fishermen. But from the 16th century and for two centuries following, the maritime commerce was hampered by wars in Europe.

Being in possession of well armed ships to defend their fishing expeditions, the Basques to become State sponsored pirates. Whalers and cod boats during times of war were equipped by weapons traders ("armateurs") with royal warrants, giving them the right to attack anything flying another country's flag.

Saint Jean de Luz. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

War was also commercially very lucrative and allowed the weapons trading families to become very wealthy. From 1640 they were constructing the great mansions around the port, funded by their arms business and the booty seized by raiding. The number of enemy ships seized was so great that it was said that you could walk from one side of the harbour to the other, from Saint Jean de Luz to Ciboure, without getting your feet wet and just walking from ship to ship across their gangplanks.

 One of the mansions from this period, known as the Spanish Infanta's House,
built by one of the corsairs.
The Spanish Infanta's House, Saint Jean de Luz. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

About a dozen local families ran highly successful and profitable pirating operations for a couple of centuries, and became part of the Establishment. One member of these corsair families, Jean d'Albarade, was made Naval Minister in 1793 and given a Légion d'Honneur in 1811.
 
A view of the harbour with the distinctive 1937 lighthouse in the centre.
Saint Jean de Luz/Ciboure harbour, with the distinctive 1937 lighthouse in the centre.

The last corsair was Etienne Pellot Monvieux, called 'The Basque Fox'. He died in 1856, the year this sort of piracy was outlawed. Many streets in Saint Jean de Luz bear the names of famous local corsairs. 

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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, 27 March 2020

Pandemic Policemen and Pastries


The police are out and about checking on people's movements during the lockdown. We have to have our form stating our reason for being out on us and ready to show to them when we encounter them in the streets. I was checked on my way to the supermarket at the big roundabout at Yzeures, Simon was checked near the war memorial when he was walking. It is a very low key and gentle process. The police officer doesn't want to get too near, nor take your permission form. They just want to be able to see it and confirm you are not infringing the rules.

The police officer who checked Simon was perfectly happy to have his photo taken.

As part of the new restrictions it was announced a couple of days ago that outdoor farmers markets would close. However, local mayors could request a derogation and in many small rural communities, including ours, they did. So in Preuilly the Thursday market will continue, with strict controls, but the Saturday market will be suspended.

'Due to Covid19 all public facilities are closed until further notice.'
Town hall notice board during Covid19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

It is weird going out for shopping. Hardly anybody about, everything very subdued. You would think anyone you met would be up for a long chat, having not seen other people outside their own household for days. But in fact conversation is desultry. There is no topic of conversation other than the lockdown and the virus, and no one wants to talk about either. After going to the market, the butcher and the baker, I trudged home again, having taken these photos and made supportive noises to the shopkeepers and producers.

The market in Preuilly with barriers and tape set up.
Outdoor farmers market during Covid19 lockdown.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

One person who is going to come out of all this as a local hero is Karim at the Episervice corner store. He is working so hard, keeping the stock on the shelves, collecting fresh produce from local farmers and delivering all over town to vulnerable people. He has employed a young woman to serve in the shop. The layout is cramped, so fruit and veg remains displayed on the street, but they are managing the best they can. A perspex barrier has been hung from the ceiling to divide the cashier from the customer. Fortunately the number of customers at any one time is so low that there is no need to control entries.

The pâtissier isn't going crazy making too much of a selection but it all still looks delicious.
Patisseries.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The charcutier-traiteur has a full and tempting selection of ready to eat meals and delicacies.
Charcutier-traiteur.  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. 

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Walking from Descartes


On Monday 9 March our walking group set out from the camping ground carpark in Descartes and walked down one side of the River Creuse, then back up the other, past the weir and the paper mill. The river was in spate and there was plenty of historic industrial history to be had. Here are some pictures of the outing.

One of several lovely cast iron park benches in the public garden. 
I'm sure these must have been custom made for Descartes, presumably in the 19th century.
19C cast iron park bench, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The rushing water has brought a log jam of debris stuck at the bridge.
Log jam of debris by the bridge at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

 The weir on the Creuse at the paper mill at Descartes.
Weir on the Creuse at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Walking along the left bank of the Creuse.
Walking along the banks of the Creuse, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Photo courtesy of Alison Juestel.
There are at least six species of moss on this rock we passed.
Mossy rock.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

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

Mystery tower opposite the paper mill. No one seems to know anything about this tower, but it looks like a 19th century lantern to me, maybe a navigation aid relating to the weir.
Tower on the Creuse River opposite the weir and paper mill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Ash Fraxinus exelsior (Fr. Frêne) coming into flower.
Ash coming into leaf. March.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Flood markers on the bridge over the Creuse.
Flood markers on the bridge over the Creuse River at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Alison, Dominique, Laura, Karen, Anne-Marie, Aline, Pierre and Fabrice contemplate the rushing water at the fish ladder and weir.
Walkers contemplating the fish ladder on the Creuse River at Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
Photograph courtesy of David Henderson.


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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, 25 March 2020

Coworking Space in Preuilly


When the new Junior High School principal accepted her post in Preuilly everyone was delighted, but it did leave her husband, Benjamin Jalon, with the prospect of leaving lucrative big city based work and living in a small town that might not have quite the same need for a computer engineer.

 I can't remember what Benjamin and I were talking about, but it was obviously 'over there'.
Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

So he did the sensible thing and set up a new business in a recently vacated building in town -- and now we have a coworking space in town called Qastia. He has set it up with a lounge, a kitchen, a meeting room and several desks. Hopefully Parisians who want to spend more time at their country homes will be encouraged to use the space.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Benjamin has worked for Airbus, various architecture firms and software publishers, which has enabled him to offer a wide range of skills: system development, sales, training, architecture, project support. Living in Le Mans until 2018, he commuted to Paris from there. When his wife Sophie was appointed principal of the Gaston-Defferre college in Preuilly, he had to make a decision about how he could continue his career.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

As a freelancer he works for many organizations. He has been very grateful for the welcome he received from the population and local associations. His family has become fully accepted which motivated him to bring something to the town. From there came the idea of creating a coworking space. "Indeed", he says, "for a self-employed person, there are two solutions: either working alone at home, or working in a common room with similar professions, which allows an exchange of experiences." Benjamin Jalon believes, on the other hand, that "a migration of city dwellers to the countryside is entirely feasible". His ultimate goal is to attract professionals with profiles like his to Preuilly in order to create a community that could organize conferences, training for young people, or help with retraining and, in this way, revitalize the village.

Qastia coworking space, Preuilly sur Claise.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

We went to see him at the suggestion of a friend and found him thoughtful, well-informed, practical and very willing to work with us as far as his skill set permitted. We can think of a couple of Paris based people who would dearly like to spend more time down here at their family or second homes, so we think there is a real possibility that Benjamin's coworking space will take off.

All details for finding and contacting Benjamin are on his website. For those of you who know Preuilly, the coworking space is near the river, opposite the Claise Restaurant and next door to the Notaire, in the former agricultural supplies shop.

Note that these photos were taken on Tuesday 10 March, before the Covid19 lockdown. The coworking space is currently not open.

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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, 24 March 2020

The Fish Ladder at Descartes


The weir at Descartes is situated on the Creuse 260 kilometres from the Loire Estuary. The device to measure the flow there was installed in 2007. Since the removal of the weir at Maisons Rouges in  1999, this is the first barrier on the Creuse up river from the sea.

The weir, photographed from the bridge downstream. The papermill is on the left.
The weir at Descartes, taken from the bridge downstream.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Following the observation that fish were now blocked at Descartes after the removal of the downstream weir, it was decided to build a new fish ladder (Fr. passe à poissons).

It is installed in the old navigation lock on the right bank, next to the papermill. It is a pass with successive basins with double vertical slots of the "surface jet" type. Consisting of eleven basins, it breaks down the 3.20 metre fall into eleven 30 centimetre falls. The height of fall downstream between the last basin and the Creuse is regulated by a spillway valve controlled at the downstream level of the watercourse to ensure the pass remains useable by the fish.

Fabrice, Pierre and Jane contemplate the fish ladder.
Fish ladder at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Located in the centre of the dam, an eel ramp was built into the old fish pass. It is an inclined ramp covered with an "evergreen" bottom substrate that is suitable for eel creep behaviour. Since this fishway is not equipped with a monitoring device, the eel count at Descartes is not representative of the migrating population. 

Pierre and Dominique contemplate the structure.
Fish ladder in the weir at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The migration monitoring station is located at the upstream end of the fishway. It is equipped with a double fish passage recording device to count the fish going through in each set of slots. The count and some pictures of fish passing through can be seen on the LOGRAMI website.

Last year 39 salmon (Fr. saumons) were recorded, 169 shad (Fr. aloses), and 47 sea lampreys (Fr. lamproies marines). It was rather a low count because of the dry. This year, already, there have been 10 salmon, 42 shad and 14 lampreys. The bumper year for salmon and lampreys was 2015, with 204 and 23 740 respectively. Shad had a good year in 2018 with 869 passing through the fish ladder. Not all the eels use the ramp either. A few use the fish ladder to go upstream. So far 8 this year, and 8 in total last year. Barbel, bream, chub and roach also use the fish pass but are not counted.

The eel ramp in the middle.
Eel ramp in the weir at the papermill, Descartes.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

Thanks to David Henderson for sending me details of the fish ladder, including the link to LOGRAMI.

Note that the outing to the fish ladder took place on Monday 9 March, before the current Covid19 lockdown. Our walking groups are not meeting during the lockdown.


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Covid19 Update: We've had a week of lockdown. The weekend was sad and scary and full of mostly bad news. Yesterday by contrast seemed more peaceful and calm. Two things are really striking if you do venture out into the street. First, there is even less traffic than normal and it is very quiet. Everyone is commenting on how much wildlife they can suddenly hear. The second thing, and the thing which actually makes it weird, is that no one is stopping to chat in the street or at the shops. Even when you encounter someone you know it's all a bit sombre and as if there is nothing of any consequence to say. So people greet each other awkwardly then go about their business. 

I went to the farm shop on the edge of town yesterday and I'm pleased to report that neither I, nor Dottie, who was working there, have Covid19. The new seasons strawberries are in and they smelled delicious, we agreed. But they were €5 a punnet, so I declined them. I also went to the pharmacy and got my prescriptions refilled. Betablockers no problem, but I was only given a month's supply of statins. There doesn't appear to be a shortage of paracetamol and I bought a couple of boxes. My favourite hand cream though has run out. Looks like it's lots of people's favourite, and with the amount of hand washing and hand sanitizer we are all using, a good hand cream to follow up is essential.

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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, 23 March 2020

French Beef Cuts Translated


At the end of November I called in to the Magasin des Producteurs in Loches. The beef looked particularly enticing. Here is a list of what they had on display. Foolishly I didn't buy any of it. I bought lamb chops and faggots instead -- which were both great, but I should have bought some beef too.


From top left, then clockwise, we can see:

Filet - fillet
Faux filet - sirloin
Entrecôte - Scotch fillet or rib eye steak
Basse côte - chuck steak
Collier et Bourguignon - neck and cubes for slow cooking ie for making boeuf bourguignon (beef burgundy)
Plat de côte - brisket
Poitrine - breast
Rognons de porc - pork kidneys
Coeur de genisse - heifer heart
Foie de genisse - heifer liver
Jarret sans os - boneless shin
Paleron jumeau - shoulder/thick rib
Macreuse à braiser - brisket
Bavette - flank steak
Poire Araignée Merlan - oyster steak (known as 'les morceaux du boucher' or the 'butcher's steak' because you hardly ever see these cuts for sale -- the butcher keeps them for themselves)
Rumsteak à fondue - rump steak for fondue
Rumsteak - rump steak


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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, 22 March 2020

Australian Brushturkey


Australian Brushturkey Alectura lathami is a widespread nest mound builder, not related to North American turkeys at all. They spend most of their time on the ground, as they are not good flyers, but they generally roost in trees overnight, out of the way of terrestrial predators. 

This one was enjoying a fish carcass, probably scavenged from the nearby fish and chip shop's rubbish.

Males will build a large mound a metre high and several metres across of leaf litter for the female to lay their eggs in. The heat of the decomposing mound provides the warmth to incubate the eggs. The bird monitors the temperature by sticking its beak into the mound. It will add or remove material as required to maintain the ideal temperature. These nest mounds will be used year after year. 

These birds are bold and frequently in contact with people at picnic sites and gardens. They love compost heaps and will eat just about anything that presents itself on the ground in front of them.

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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, 21 March 2020

Ruddy Turnstone


Looking out at the boats moored in the harbour at Saint Jean de Luz in September last year I kept seeing birds flickering past the corner of my eye. I couldn't get a proper bead on them for ages. Then a couple landed on a jetty quite a way from me. After that they moved and landed on a nearer jetty and finally sat there long enough for me to get photographs.

Saint Jean de Luz harbour. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

They turned out to be Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres (Fr. Tournepierre à collier), a bird I have never knowingly seen before. Very attractive little waders with pretty slightly rusty wings, white backs, bellies and bibs, orange legs and salt and pepper streaked crowns.
 
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres. Pyrenees-Atlantiques. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.


They are very long distance migrants, wintering in the southern hemisphere as far away as South Africa and Australia, and breeding in the high Arctic. In between some of them spend time on the Atlantic coast of France.

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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.