Wednesday 31 August 2022


Sorghum is a crop that may not be familiar to many people, but with the increasingly dry summers, that is going to change.

Seventeen of the 25 species of Sorghum are native to the north of Australia, plus you will see one species which has naturalised and one which is widely cultivated. Here in France the cultivated species, S. bicolor, has been regularly grown for a decade or so, but with the drought, farmers are looking at it more keenly. Cultivated sorghum has been developed into two main types, one grown for the grain, one grown for the forage. The one grown for grain is known as Milo, the one used for forage is known as Sweet Sorghum.

Speargrass Sorghum ingrans, Northern Territory, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Speargrass Sorghum ingrans, a wild native grass in the Northern Territory, Australia.

Cultivated sorghum comes from Africa originally, and grows well in conditions where water is short and temperatures are high. Climate change means that farmers in France are experiencing less rain, more sun and higher temperatures. They are having to adapt. With summers that are drier and drier, or at least, hotter and hotter, sorghum, with its ability to survive with less water than maize or sunflower, is being considered by more and more farmers, and is already well established in the south-west.

Black soil plains, Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The black soil plains of the Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia, where sorghum is widely grown.

Sorghum offers an alternative crop to maize or sunflowers in the rotation for wheat, barley and canola, and perhaps best of all, requires almost no treatments. Weeds need to be controlled, and a bit of fertilizer added, but there is no need for insecticides or fungicides. 

Fodder sorghum, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Fodder sorghum being grown in the Vienne Valley.

The grains can be used to make gluten free flour. As a fodder plant it is used in pig and poultry feed.

Sorghum, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Sorghum near Le Grand Pressigny, October 2019.

Sales of sorghum seed increased by 60% in 2020, and with 122 000 hectares planted to sorghum, France is the second biggest producer in Europe after Russia.

Sorghum, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Sorghum being grown in the Manse Valley near the Chateau de Montgoger, October 2020.

Some of the big agricultural cooperatives, such as Euralis, have been promoting sorghum since the 1980s, recognising how well adapted to climate change it is. They recognise the security it gives the producers and the benefit of another crop in rotation. It is not affected by bad weather or pests, and the market is widespread and varied. For livestock farmers it is a way of ensuring adequate forage.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

How Low is the Loire?

The Loire River is at record low levels for this time of year, and nearly at an all time record low, due to a summer long drought in much of Europe. But there are reports and photos doing the rounds which are claiming the river has dried up completely. This is not true. The dramatic photo which is being used to illustrate this claim was taken at the Ile Batailleuse, a large island in the river between Angers and Nantes, to the west of us and closer to the Atlantic. Crucially the photo only shows one channel of the Loire, with barely a trickle of water flowing through it. The other channel however, out of shot to the right, on the other side of the island, has water. The river at this point looks low, but it is quite normal for certain channels to dry up in the summer. The Loire is a naturally very shallow, gravelly river, with many sandbanks.

Loire River, Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
17 June, Amboise.

Nevertheless, the drought and the low level of the Loire is worrying. I've seen reports that at Langeais you can walk across it on foot, and as one heads west the secondary channels are drying up even more dramatically than usual. One especially worrying problem is the increase in the water temperature. This has implications for freshwater organisms and biodiversity, and also for the nuclear power stations which need to use the river water for cooling, then discharge it back into the Loire. At Avoine the water is first cycled through a series of greenhouses where particularly delicious and expensive tomatoes are grown all year round. And after the heatwave of 2003 the nuclear plant was adapted so that it functions with river water intake temperatures of up to 37C. I don't know what measures the Belleville plant (between Nevers and Orléans) and Saint Laurent des Eaux have taken to ensure they are not taking in or releasing water that is too hot.

Loire River, Amboise, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
30 July, Amboise.

The drying up of the river is due to two factors: lack of rain over winter, and the drought since the beginning of summer has only aggravated the situation. July was the driest month on record since 1959.

Loire River, Cour sur Loire, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
21 May, Cour sur Loire.

The water levels have been declared a crisis, as the flow has gone below 43 cubic metres per second and is expected to reach as low as 38 cubic metres per second in the autumn. Even in 2003 and 2019, two years with remarkably low levels of water, the flow never reached such a low measurement.

Loire River, Cour sur Loire, Loir et Cher, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
21 May, Cour sur Loire.

Water restrictions will be even more stringent, and more or less the only use allowed is the supply of drinking water for people and animals.

Monday 29 August 2022

How Are Farmers are Coping in the Drought in the Loire Valley?

Local goats cheese producers are struggling to feed their herds. In order to retain their AOC certification for specific cheeses produced in specific locations they need to feed the goats with locally produced hay. 

Dairy goats, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Dairy goats.

A herd of five hundred goats will eat 900 kilograms of hay per day plus a bit of silage. This year farmers have only been able to cut half the quantity of hay that they would normally be able to produce. They are using stocks from last year, but if 2023 isn't a normal year they will not be able to replenish their stocks.

Dairy goats, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Dairy goats.

In the heat the goats suffer from a lack of appetite so they eat less and produce less milk. Normally each goat gives 3.5 litres of milk per day. At the moment the average is barely 3 litres per goat per day. 

Canola crop, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Canola crop in the Claise Valley in April.

Farmers report that their winter cereal harvest (that's wheat, barley, and canola) was 30 percent down. The spring sunflower yield will be 50 percent of normal and they are expecting maize to be 70 percent of normal. Many farmers do not irrigate as they have calcareous clay soils that don't require it (they may look dry on the surface, but retain a lot of water in the soil). Last year there was a bumper crop, this year over all will be just over half of last year. Rainfall has been half that required. Many farmers have come to the conclusion that maize is too water greedy to continue with in the Loire Valley.

Sunflowers, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Sunflowers in the Claise Valley.

Some farmers are struggling to work out from the officially issued regulations if they are still allowed to irrigate. Those farmers who have their own dams can still irrigate, which the general public doesn't always realise. 

Barley crop, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Barley crop in the Vienne Valley.

Four hundred of the 1500 cereal growers in Indre et Loire irrigate as normal practice. There are 240 other farms which irrigate, mainly for growing forage (for example, dairy farmers, but market gardens and nurseries are also included in this category of farms not primarily growing cereals). 

Dry dam (étang), Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Dry dam (étang).

Only seed maize needs to be irrigated now, this late in the season. That's a hundred farms in a total of 3000 farms of all categories in the Touraine. Farmers take the view that it is not the current irrigation that is causing a lack of water, it is the lack of rain in September 2021.

Irrigation of wheat, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Wheat being irrigated in late March in the Creuse Valley, where the soil is sandy.


Saturday 27 August 2022

Dark Green Fritillary Butterfly


Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja on Carduus defloratus, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja (Fr. le Grand nacré) butterfly on the thistle Carduus defloratus (Fr. Chardon à pédoncules nus) in a mountain valley. The thistle is rare and endemic.

The Dark Green Fritillary is a medium large butterfly that gets its name from the patch of olive green on the underside of the hind wing. They are on the wing from June to August and the caterpillars eat violets. It occurs over the whole of mainland France, but these were photographed in July in the Hautes-Pyrénées.

Dark Green Fritillary Argynnis aglaja on Scabious, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Dark Green Fritillary butterfly Argynnis aglaja (Fr. le Grand nacré) nectaring on Scabious sp in a mountain valley.

The thistle Carduus defloratus is restricted to alpine areas and flowers in the summer.

Friday 26 August 2022

Oak Galls

At the moment there are lots of oak galls visible in the Touraine Val de Loire.

Oak artichoke gall, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Oak artichoke gall.

Oak Artichoke galls are caused by the cynipid wasp Andricus fecundator laying its eggs in oak shoots. The plant reacts by forming a growth around the 'invader', which in this case resembles a miniature artichoke flower.

Spangle and Cherry galls on Oak, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Spangle  and Cherry galls.

The little ones are called Spangle Galls, and are made by the tiny wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. In French they are called les galles-lentilles, which I think is even better than spangles! They do look very like lentils. The big bobbly ones are called Cherry Galls and they are made by the equally inconspicuous wasp Cynips quercusfolii. In French they are les Galles-cerises du chêne.

Thursday 25 August 2022

The World War II Memorial at Ecueille

On the side of the town hall in Ecueillé is a memorial plaque for those villagers who were killed in World War II. It depicts a woman described as holding a 'palm' leaf (I suspect it is an olive branch). It is dedicated to a specific date, 25 August 1944. It lists 23 army officers, civilians, men and women, who all died in August 1944, between 10 August and 30 August, at Ecueillé, Heugnes and Chateauroux. Two of them were honoured with military awards.

Alexandre Hall was born in Pau and was an officer in the 8th Cuiraissiers, a tank regiment. He was twenty years old when he was killed.

WWII memorial, Ecueillé, Indre, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


Georges Pierre was born in Ablon-sur-Seine and was a Resistance fighter in the FFI group Maquis Carol. He was 19 years old when he was killed. He is believed to be one of the many young men who joined the Resistance and went into hiding rather that submit to the German conscription of forced labour.

Joseph Renahy was born in Vesoul (Haute-Saone) and joined the ORA, the original Resistance set up in 1943 when the Germans invaded the 'free zone'. Later the ORA operated in conjunction with the FFI and he was a member of the Brigade Charles Martel, under Colonel Chomel. He was mortally wounded at Ecueillé during a skirmish with the retreating Germans and died later in hospital in Chateauroux. He was 21 years old.

WWII memorial, Ecueillé, Indre, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.


Michel de Villemarest was a Resistance fighter who died in Chateauroux. Nothing else is known about him, but the date and place of his death suggests his story is similar to Joseph Renahy's.

Albert Laurent was an officer in the FFI, in the Maquis de l'Indre. He was born in Cherbourg and was killed when the tank he was in was incinerated by an anti-tank mortar at Heugnes. He was 23 years old and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Leopold Linares was an officer in a Supply Division. He came from Paunat in the Dordogne, was married and 39 years old. He was killed alongside Albert Laurent when their tank caught fire and was awarded a posthumous Légion d'Honneur.

Onésime Adam was a local man, born at Déols, and the driver of the tank that was set on fire. He was 34 years old, and technically a civilian at the time.

Paul Baron was an FFI Resistance fighter with the Maquis de l'Indre, and one of the five victims of the attack on the tank at Heugnes. He was born in Marseille and was 20 years old.

Charles Fernandez was a civilian, and there is no further information about him.

René (or Roland) Lamipault was a civilian working for the Supply Division. He was one of the victims of the skirmish at Heugnes and was 42 years old, married with two children.

Bernard Salmont was an FFI Resistance fighter who died of his wounds in the cottage hospital at Ecueillé. He was born in Paris and 20 years old, studying to be a doctor and had been educated in London.

Maurice Gauvin was from Ecueillé and a member of the FFI Maquis Carol. He was caught by the enemy returning home and executed by shooting.  

Pierre Jollet was a civilian but there is no detail of how he was killed except that it was as a result of the War.

Likewise Roland Jollet, Léopold Niquet, Robert Reuillon, Pierre Rozienko, Mme Aubé-Fournier, Mme Jollet-Lanchais, Mme Jollet-Reimbert, Mme Morin-Foulon, Jeanne Niquet and Marcel Montel.

The story of the Battle of Ecueillé is told on the county fire service website [link] which I have translated below.

Far from the major centers and communication routes, Ecueillé had not suffered particularly during the painful years of the German occupation. Only the removal of 59 prisoners to foreign parts plunged many families into bitterness for four years.

The proximity of the German camp de la Pyramide had also forced, by prefectural decree, some of the locals to experience the occupation up close and personal.

It was a little later, during the period of July-August 1944, in the fight for the liberation of France, that the region of Ecueillé was to experience some atrocious hours.

On July 29, two Wehrmacht soldiers who had been peacefully eating lunch were attacked, wounded and taken prisoner by a maquis (Resistance) group that was not from the area.

The day of August 10 and the following day were full of heightened and mixed emotions for the population. While the roads were criss-crossed by German convoys heading north, spreading terror and death in the villages and countryside, the groups of French Forces in the Interior were fulfilling their mission: to delay the enemy, inflict losses and disrupt them.

On Friday 25 August 1944 well-equipped French troops made a dramatic entry into Ecueillé. They consisted of the 1st Cavalry Squadron that had joined the Resistance as an entire unit from August 8th. Their strength of 250 men, well trained and keen, could be considered as a shock element. Alas, the day was to end tragically with a terrible battle that brought death, fire and ruin to this small town, which had been spared by the War until then.

Around 10:00 pm a German convoy returned to the area. The French opened fire on the convoy which, as was seen after the fight, included :

        1 light armoured car
        6 trucks with cannon trailers
        6 x 88 mm anti-tank guns.

Their guns went into action and fired in retaliation on the houses around the square, breaking through the facades and blowing up the houses. The battle was terrible and intense during the first two hours.

The firemen, helped by the men of the squadron, got the municipal fire pump up and running in difficult conditions. It was highly dangerous, with bullets and shells whistling past on both sides. The shrapnel prevented anyone from approaching and intervention against the fires was difficult. Reinforcements were requested.

Around 3:00 am, the firemen of Levroux and Buzançais arrived and attacked the fire with those of Ecueillé as well as ambulances to take care of the injured. A dozen houses, among which the town hall, were on fire. Fifty metres from the fighting, the firemen and the Red Cross transported the dead and wounded.

The ambulances from Châteauroux, which arrived around 6:00 am, made a first trip with the most seriously wounded on stretchers.

In total, a hundred firemen assisted by the men of the squadron would participate in the rescue and fire extinguishing operations.

In the morning, the last German survivors (about 40) were taken by the French troops.

The enemy had lost: 17 dead, 19 missing in the burned houses, 40 prisoners. 

On the French side, the losses were as follows: 7 civilians killed, 4 civilians wounded, 4 soldiers killed.

Eleven houses were totally destroyed, including the town hall, and about twenty buildings were seriously damaged.

Earlier on the same day, General de Gaulle delivered his famous speech in Paris " Paris broken, Paris outraged, but Paris liberated... ".
August 26, 1944 Triumphal descent of General de Gaulle, from the Place de l'Étoile to Notre-Dame de Paris.

Wednesday 24 August 2022

The Carved Stone Dogs of Loches

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

 These wonderfully characterful statues of hunting dogs line the entrance to the Logis Royal in Loches.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

They are representations of 15th century hunting dogs of the sort used to chase or bring game down and stand as a testiment to the Valois kings love of hunting.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Carved stone dog, Logis Royal de Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Tuesday 23 August 2022

I had no idea

so I had to look it up


The Limousin ostensions are a religious and popular tradition dating back to the end of the 10th century. They take place in twenty communes including Limoges and other localities, fifteen of which are in the Haute-Vienne, but also in Charente, Creuse and Vienne. They are held every seven years, with the last edition in 2016.

The Limousin septennial ostensions are now on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, after this ritual practice was inscribed on the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in France.

The legend fixes the origin of this religious festival to the year 994, when Limousin, like a great part of Aquitaine, was in the grips of the "mal des ardents", or ergotism, an epidemic which starts at the end of the harvest. This intoxication is caused by the consumption of rye bread contaminated by a parasitic fungus, the ergot of rye. It causes a sensation of excruciating burning and hallucination (hence the name "ardent", from the Latin ardere, to burn), seizures and painful spasms, diarrhea, paresthesias, itching, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Patients also have hallucinations similar in every way to those triggered by LSD, and psychiatric disorders such as mania or psychosis.

In 994, this disease was seen as a punishment from God. In Limoges, the sick, who had come to implore divine protection, crowded into the churches. Faced with the extent of the tragedy, Bishop Hilduin and his brother Geoffroy, abbot of Saint-Martial, decided to organize a large gathering around the relics of several Limousin saints.

Ambassadors were sent throughout Aquitaine to invite the archbishops of Bordeaux and Bourges, the bishops of Clermont, Le Puy, Saintes, Périgueux, Angoulême and Poitiers, to meet in council in Limoges. On November 12, 994, after three days of prayer and fasting, the body of Saint Martial, the first of the bishops of Limoges and protector of the city, was lifted from his tomb, placed in a golden shrine, and carried in a procession from the Basilica of the Savior (today's Place de la République) to Mount Jovis (montis Gaudii), outside the walls. This hill bears this name which means Mount of Joy since that time. Today, it is located in the city of Limoges, in the Montjovis district.

The procession was led by all the prelates, the monks of the abbey of Saint-Martial, and William IV, Duke of Aquitaine, followed by many pilgrims. A huge crowd crowded along the route, gradually joined by groups of monks carrying relics from Figeac, Chambon, Salagnac, and many other parishes. Arrived on the hill dominating the city, the relics of the Limousin saints are offered to the veneration of the population in distress. This mass event was the very first ostension (a term that originates from the Latin verb ostendere, which means to show, or expose, and which was first used by Bernard Itier, monk librarian of Saint-Martial Abbey, in 1211). On December 4, when the body of Saint Martial was brought back to his tomb, the epidemic had stopped. The chronicles of the time mention more than seven thousand cures.

Nowadays, the Limousin Ostensions are events of patrimonial, social and tourist interest, which, as the interest that the Church continues to carry to it, keep a strong religious dimension. The organization of these events mobilizes the public actors, the associative world and many private individuals. The last septennial ostensions, the 72nd of the name, took place from February to October 2016. The next ones will take place in 2023.

The septennial Ostensions begin in Limoges, with the "ceremony of recognition of the chiefs ". The shrine of Saint Martial is opened jointly by the mayor of the city, the bishop, the parish priest of Saint-Michel-des-Lions and the first bayle of the great brotherhood of Saint Martial. In a second time, the heads of Saint Loup and Saint Aurélien are taken out of their shrine. A torchlight procession then stretches to the cathedral of Saint Stephen.

The following Sunday, the Primate of Gaules and Archbishop of Lyon celebrated an opening mass. The Limousin ostensions are framed by the raising and lowering of the amaranth and white flag at the top of the church of Saint-Michel-des-Lions.

Translates by DeepL from

Monday 22 August 2022

Housing 'Our' Ukrainians


View from an apartment, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The view from an apartment being renovated for one of 'our' Ukrainian families.

Every week more Ukrainians arrive in the Sud Touraine, and the Association d'Accueil et Accompagnement des Refugiés de Sud Touraine (AARST), which I am on the committee of, is becoming more and more adept at solving their housing and other problems. Luckily, in France, the right to decent accommodation is taken very seriously indeed.

Team of volunteers renovating an apartment for Ukrainian refugees, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Some of the renovating team.

We have three main solutions on the go at the moment. One is that we've partnered with a marvellous organisation called Ficosil, who take on cases where would be tenants might otherwise struggle to find accommodation. They in turn are partnered with Val Touraine Habitat, the largest private-public provider of social housing in the county. Their usual clients are those with mental health or addiction issues or other social disadvantages such as significant debt or problems paying their bills, and they are amazing. Very unusually for France they are willing to work across county (département) boundries, despite being funded by our county of Indre et Loire. We are so close to Vienne though that it makes sense to be able to offer accommodation in that county too. Ficosil's social worker Matt takes care of all the paperwork, negotiating with private and private-public partnership landlords and dealing with other administrative matters such as State rent assistance, as well as utilities connections. Ficosil acts as guarantor and pays the deposit. 

Essential renovating supplies, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Essential supplies for renovating.

Increasingly the Ukrainians are finding jobs and are becoming independent enough to be paying their own rent. In this case we make sure they are helped with the administrative process of claiming rent assistance and AARST may assist with utilities connection and bill paying. 

Multi-tasking whilst renovating, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Multi-tasking -- on the phone and sanding windows.

Then we have Ukrainians staying in private properties that have been offered for free by generous landlords. These places are understood to be short term solutions, but with no hard and fast rules about when they must be vacated. Sometimes these are properties which are for sale, but have been on the market for a long time. AARST arranges utilities connections and pays the quarterly bills. 

Discussing renovation of apartment for Ukrainian refugees, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Christiane and Christophe discussing progress.

Nearly six months into the war we are now working on getting some of our earlier arrivals into some better accommodation. So last Thursday I joined a volunteer team from AARST who cleaned and renovated a two bedroom apartment that has been empty for a while. It is owned by a local shop owner and is situated in a housing development known as the Cité de Tilleuls. There are five blocks of apartments, about 40 dwellings in all. They were originally built to house workers from the Dennery furniture factory just a few minutes walk from the estate, but Dennery closed in 2001 and many of the apartments are empty now.

Bedroom being renovated for Ukrainian refugees, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
One of the bedrooms.

The work was overseen by Christophe, who is very organised, energetic, kind and professional. By the end of the day we had prepared all the walls and windows for painting the next day. The Ukrainian Mum who will be moving in got to choose some new wallpaper for a feature wall in the sitting room. She said she was amazed at how much work we had got done in just one day. Her little daughter is thrilled and has been showing people which one will be her room. When they first arrived they were allocated a studio apartment in a building on the market square. Then they got the opportunity to move into the one bedroom apartment next door. Now they will have a two bedroom apartment in a block of six, and be that bit more independent.

Plasterer working in a bathroom being renovated for Ukrainian refugees. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Plasterer working in the bathroom.

AARST is funded by small ad hoc grants from local authorities and by donations from private benefactors. Any donation more than €30 is tax deductible in France. If you would like to support our work, please contact me by email (link in the right side bar) or message me on Facebook. I can then give you the bank details for AARST and our treasurer Gérald's contact details so you can make a donation.

Young women volunteers stripping wallpaper in an apartment for Ukrainian refugees, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Young women volunteers stripping wallpaper.

Saturday 20 August 2022


Monkshood Aconitum napellus, Col de Tentes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Monkshood Aconitum napellus (Fr. Aconit napel) is a plant you will encounter wild at high elevations in the Pyrénées in many locations in late summer. You may also have grown it in your garden or received it in a floral arrangement.

Monkshood Aconitum napellus, Col de Tentes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

It's a lovely plant, but one to be wary of. All parts of the plant contain a toxin which is very easily absorbed through the skin, so it is inadvisable to touch it unless gloved up, and be careful not to brush against it even. The toxin causes nerve damage, starting with numbness at the point of contact, and can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Tradtionally it was used to poison wolves.

Monkshood Aconitum napellus, Col de Tentes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

I photographed these Monkshood plants on the Col de Tentes, near Gavarnie in the Hautes-Pyrénées in July.

Friday 19 August 2022

Gunned Down in the Forest

Every year on 20 August there is a memorial service for a group of men who were shot in the forest at a place called Kerleroulx. The memorial on the side of the road lists three men, Fernand Lussault, Prosper Douard and Raymond Le Pautremat, but there was a fourth man who was shot too. The three on the memorial were killed by the Nazis, but local farmer Emile Guidoux, who tried to come to their aid, was wounded and survived.

Forest ride, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The forest allée where the men were shot.

 Kerleroulx is a chateau farming estate between Manthelan and Loches which German troops burned down on 20 August 1944 in one of the first skirmishes in the battle to liberate Loches. The Germans were coming from Manthelan, on their way to Loches. 

Resistance memorial, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The memorial on the side of the D760.

Prosper Douard was from Esvres sur Indre and worked as a gamekeeper and forester on the Kerleroulx estate. Raymond le Pautremat was from Morbihan, working as a farm labourer at Kerleroulx and probably there as a means of hiding out and avoiding conscription as forced labour for the Germans.

The town of Loches had been liberated, but four days later, on 20 August, the Germans launched a counter offensive to retake the town because of its strategic importance to the German retreat south of the Loire. They arrived at Kerleroulx at 5am, arresting Emile Guidoux, the farm manager, and two of his workers, Raymond le Pautremat and Fernand Lussault, who were accused of shooting at the German soldiers. They were taken about forty metres from the chateau, along with Douard, then marched to a forest allée. After about sixty metres the Germans opened fire and cut the French men down. Douard, le Pautremat and Lussault were killed but Guidoux, hit by several bullets but only wounded, managed to escape to a neighbouring farm, where some farm labourers succeeded in hiding him from the Germans.


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 18 August 2022

From Descartes to Tournon.

Not a philosophy post, a cycling post.

To justify buying The Vicar I have had to use it (him/her, as you wish). We have a fairly level bike path that runs through town, so most of my activity has been restricted to that, and the roads it runs parallel to. This is my cycling record for the past 10 days:

On Sunday I rode from Preuilly towards Paris along the voie verte. The train from Preuilly used to go to Port a Piles, then to Tours and subsequently to Paris, these days the bike path which now uses the trackbed stops at Descartes.

Yesterday I rode in the other direction, to Tournon St Martin. From there the train used to continue on to le Blanc. There is a bike path that goes to le Blanc, but there is a break in the path of about 5km where you have to go back onto the open roads. One day I will do it, but yesterday wasn't the day for it.

So the map of my last two rides looks like this:

And that average speed of 9.9km/h for yesterday? That's because I fogot to turn my watch off while I was at the swimming pool. Otherwise the figure is 20.0 km/h Average Moving Speed

Wednesday 17 August 2022

A New Spot in Town

I can't believe we haven't blogged about this before, nor that we have no more photos of it:

Late last year we began to hear rumours that a new venture was going to be opening in town - a bar was going to be using the old lavoir on the river under the plane trees. It was a rumour from a reliable source, but we weren't too sure how sucessful it would be.

It turns out - very. It's a great spot, the food and drinks are resonably priced, and they have live music at the weekend. A lot of people use it as a regular meeting spot, and it always seems to be buzzing whenever I cycle past or we are at the swimming pool.

It is a mark of how busy and disrupted this year has been that we have only been there together once

"le Lavoir Guinguette"

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Eating at the top of the Pyrenees

The past two years we have eaten at a number of mountain refuges and restaurants that probably started as mountain refuges. Here's a rundown:

The first we ate at was last year at the refuge at lac d'Ilheou. They have a road (OK - track) they can drive up to get supplies in, but no internet or phone signal. That means they can serve a well cooked omlette served with a tomato salad for 7€, and drinks by the can for 3€, but not take credit card. Cash is needed. The second we ate at - also last year - was the Lac de Gaube, which we wrote about here. They also have a track, so they can drive in supplies and do a proper three course lunch.

This year we were more adventurous, and ate at two refuges which had signs saying that they had no facilities to deal with rubbish, and everything on site was delivered by helicopter. The first was at Refuge Oulettes de Gaube where we were lucky enough to get the last two picnic boxes, even though we were very late for lunch (15:15) and we hadn't placed an order. We had tried to, but either we had an old phone number or the phone wasn't working. The lunch wasn't spectacular - rice salad, a couple of pieces of cake, but it was fuel, and the view more than made up for it. We didnt order beer, even though they fly in kegs of a local artsan brew to serve on tap.

The refuge is protected from wind coming up the valley by being buried in a rock outcrop

Two days later we ate at the Refuge d'Estom. We had started our walk a couple of hours ealier than on the previous walk, so we arrived for lunch more or less at the same time as every other slow walker. It was a really good luch, too, a planche of mixed charcuterie, smoked fish rillettes, and cheese.

Once we work out how to make bookings and arrive at lunchtime we will dine at more refuges. They are without doubt dining experiences, and the people who run them work really hard under quite trying conditions. There's no electricity except for what they can capture from the sun, and having to fly in everything (although I am guessing that someone occasionally does the 15km return walk to get stuff as well) must make it a logistical challenge.

Saturday 13 August 2022


Yesterday we retrieved Célestine from the gearbox whisperer. We went out relatively early because the weather forecast was for a scorcher. Needless to say, by the time we got to the gearbox whisperer's house, taken Célestine for a test drive, and had a polite cup of coffee, it was midday.

She was running well, if a little warm - unusual for Célestine, her running temperature is normally about 70°C, but she was showing above 80°C for the first 10km. Then, within the space of 2km, the temperature went off the gauge, at least 120°C.  I pulled over to be greeted by the sound of a kettle boiling.

Trying to cool down a boiling car in a cark park with no shade.

Susan had gone on ahead, in the Cactus, so I rang her, asked her to buy radiator liquid and return, which she duly did.

After a sufficient period of cooling I poured liquid in to Célestine, turned the engine on and topped her up. We drove to Garage Caillet in Bléré, by which time the gauge had returned to 110°C.

The garage are holding her there until we get a cooler day (Tuesday or Wednesday next week, hopefully) and we will go and retrieve her. With any luck the remedy will be flushing out the radiator and engine and descaling her, but it could be we'll need a new water pump and/or radiator.

Sighs all rounds...

Cauterets Trip Report

Cauterets is a small 19th century spa town in the Hautes-Pyrénées mountains, south of Lourdes and close to the Spanish border. After the Second World War the town transformed itself into a ski resort. Nowadays it is extremely popular with families who like outdoor pursuits in the summer. 

View from Cirque de Lys, Cauterets in the valley, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
View from the Cretes du Lys 1850 metres above sea level, with Cauterets obscured in the valley below.

Mountains: The nearby Vignemale is the highest peak in the French Pyrénées at 3298 metres above sea level. There is mixed forest, many streams and waterfalls, alpine meadows grazed by cattle, sheep and horses. Much of the area is national park. In some places there is mining for slate and minerals, and nearby valleys have been dammed for hydroelectric schemes. 

Oulettes Refuge and glacier, Vignemale, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The glacier on the north face of Vignemale and the Oulettes de Gaube refuge (2151 metres above sea level).
Hiking: There are lots of hiking trails of varying difficulty. The easiest we did was 6 km return on a gentle gradient through the forest with a path that was level under foot. We did that on our rest day, 3 km up hill to a nice restaurant at La Railliere, then 3 km down hill back to Cauterets after lunch. The two really challenging walks we did were both to mountain refuges and back, totalling 16 and 18 kilometres respectively. They were both longer than we had read they were, and more difficult in terms of the terrain underfoot, with a lot of rockhopping. We drove to suitable start points, and in one case, used the chairlift to dodge a very steep section. Our approach was to aim for refuges for lunch and to replenish water supplies, as it was very hot, even above 2000 metres. However, that does mean you must commit to walking at a pace that will get you to your destination by a certain time range. It meant not being able to stop and look at things very much. On one walk we missed the last chairlift and had to walk down an extra 4 kilometres. Luckily summer days are long. You need good hiking boots and I would recommend poles for many of the walks. In summer you need to be able to carry a minimum of a litre and a half of water per person for the way up plus replenish it at a refuge before descending. The weather can change very quickly in the mountains, and on one of our walks the fog rolled in for the return, so you should carry a waterproof jacket or cape. 

View up the Oulettes valley, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
View up one of the valleys we hiked.

Wildlife: The highlight species are Griffon Vultures and Alpine Marmots, which most people get to see. Then there are rare alpine species such as Isards (Pyrenean chamois), which we never saw, but the German couple a few minutes behind us on the trail did -- grazing amongst the cattle. I was so pissed off! Alpine flora and butterfly species are always challenging and lovely, and I'm sure serious birdwatchers enjoy the area for the many endemic species.

Griffon Vulture, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Griffon Vulture (Fr. Vautour fauve) overhead.

History: There are many interesting medieval churches and villages in the hills and valleys around Cauterets. In the 17th century the area was rich from mining, but by the 19th century the land had been over exploited, with deforestation and overgrazing causing landslides and the economy ruined. Luckily, Prosper Demontzey arrived to be the Government Superintendant of Water and Forests and initiated a programme of habitat reconstruction which employed local people to restore and stabilise the landscape. The Romantics arrived at the beginning of the 19th century to be awed by the sublime views and from the 18th century the rich had been coming to take the cure at the thermal spas. After the two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century the economy collapsed and the area was threatened with big public works projects such as hydroelectric dams. The community in Cauterets fought to get their area declared as a national park, for the valleys not to be dammed, and little by little installed the infrastructure for skiing. This transformation into a winter sports destination successfully revitalised the economy.

Fortified medieval church, Luz Saint-Saveur, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The mysterious fortified church in Luz Saint-Saveur. Personally, I suspect that some 19th century nutter that everyone has forgotten is responsible.

Food: We ate twice at mountain refuges, where you get simple food such as a rice salad, omlettes, tomatoes, charcuterie and cheese. At some refuges you need to order your meal online and get there between 12pm and 3pm, at others you can just turn up and they will feed you. They only take cash and a meal will cost about €10, soft drinks and cakes extra. You are asked to take your own rubbish with you as everything is helicoptered in and out. We also had blanquette de veau (veal stew) at a ski station, which is basically pub grub. Veal is currently being promoted as a quality local product. Several times we bought salad items at the supermarket (Carrefour) and picnicked. 

Charcuterie platter, Refuge d'Essom, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Charcuterie platter at the Refuge d'Estom, 1801 metres above sea level.


Brasserie de Bigorre - in Cauterets, where we had dinner and ate locally produced smoked trout, mountain lamb and moelleux de chocolat (squidgy chocolate cake). Booking essential.

Black-striped Longhorn Stenurella melanura and a ringlet Erebia sp on Eryngium bourgatii, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Female Black-striped Longhorn beetle Stenurella melanura (Fr. Lepture à poils durs) and a Piedmont Ringlet E. meolans (Fr. le Moiré des fétuques) on Eryngium bourgatii.

L'Abri du Benques - up the hill a couple of kilometres from Cauterets at a hamlet called La Railliere. The restaurant sits right by a waterfall and serves a daily changing three course set menu. The day we lunched there it was garbure (a very traditional regional soup with white beans, root vegetables and meats), locally raised trout, and blueberry melba (lime and blackcurrant sorbets with stewed blueberries).

Local trout served in a restaurant near Cauterets, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Locally farmed trout served for lunch at L'Abri du Benques restaurant in the hamlet of La Railliere.

Many menus feature local lamb, veal, trout, charcuterie, cheese and blueberries (Fr. myrtilles).

Dinner is surprisingly early in Cauterets, possibly because there are so many families staying there. If you are not seated at a table by 7pm or have a booking, you may have to go further afield.

Lutour valley looking towards Estom, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The Lutour valley looking towards Estom.

How we got there: We drove our own car. Once there we parked in the free parking near the station as our accommodation did not have parking. 

Large Red Slug Arion rufa, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A Large Red Slug Arion rufus (Fr. la Grande loche) in a colour morph I've never seen before, at about 1700 metres above sea level.

Where we stayed: A one bedroom first floor apartment in an old residence in the centre of the village, a block from the town hall, owned by famous mountain guide Jean-Louis Lechene, who lives on the top floor. Plenty of space, well equipped kitchen, excellent bathroom.

View from a holiday apartment in Cauterets, Hautes-Pyrenees, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The view from our apartment balcony.

Conclusion: You could easily arrive in Cauterets in the summer, unload the car, park it, and never use it again until you left a week later. There is easily enough to do with all the hiking and other outdoor activities accessible from the town (cycling, rafting, fishing), as well as the spas, swimming pool, national park museum, games arcade, free street concerts and restaurants.