Friday 28 April 2023

A Colony of Grey-backed Mining Bees


Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A colony of Grey-backed Mining Bee nest holes.

One day in early April we had some free time in Amboise and parked up on the Ile d'or, the island in the middle of the Loire River, with the best view of the Chateau Royal d'Amboise. On this occasion though what caught my attention was the activity of a large colony of bees flying around just above the ground in front of where the car was parked.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Female Grey-backed Mining Bee. (All the photos are of females.)

They turned out to be Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, as confirmed by one of the very generous experts in the specialist European Wild Bee Facebook group (thanks Nicolas). The soil on the island is compacted sand, ideal for this species, and being on the river there is plenty of their preferred food, willow pollen.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A typical nest.

Grey-backed Mining Bees have a wide distribution in Europe and Asia. They generally live in damp habitats, such as river banks and damp grassland.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The bee at top left is partially covered in pollen.

They are solitary bees, with each female living in a nest she has dug in the soil, but there may be dozens of others in the vicinity. When she leaves the nest she will usually carefully cover the entrance with sand. This behaviour, common amongst all the Andrena spp mining bees, probably protects her eggs from parasites and predators. It could also be to maintain a constant temperature inside the nest. The nest is not covered on days when the temperature is very high. 

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
This individual is a sort of buffy grey, which is not uncommon.

Females can sometimes dig false nests, not far from their real one, probably to fool parasites into looking in the wrong place. Occasionally the fake nest fools even its creator and bees will return from foraging and enter their false nest before realising their mistake and moving to the real one. This technique of fake nest holes seems to be particularly effective against Lathbury's Nomad Bee Nomada lathburiana, a parasitic bee that specialises in preying on Grey-backed Mining Bees. There was a Nomada sp bee, probably Lathbury's, lurking about while I was photographing. As well as Lathbury's Nomad Bee, they are also parasitised by oil beetles Meloe spp.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Grey-backed Mining Bees are specialist feeders on willow pollen, but they have been observed occasionally feeding on other plants. It is thought that they find their sources of pollen by scent. Research shows that their antennae react to active scent compounds in willow pollen that Honey Bees Apis mellifera do not react to.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

They commonly nest in company with the Vernal Colletes bee Colletes cunicularis, and that was the case in Amboise, with a few Vernal Colletes nesting on the fringes of the big Grey-backed Mining Bee colony.

Grey-backed Mining Bee Andrena vaga, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Thursday 27 April 2023

Look Out for Hedgehogs

It is the time of year when hedgehogs are waking up from hibernation and emerging ravenous to eat all the slugs in your garden.

The presence of a hedgehog in your garden is a good sign that your biodiversity is high. Sensible gardeners welcome these nocturnal insectivores because they also love to eat slugs. But this once common animal is now threatened in France. What is perhaps most alarming is that it is in rural areas that they are declining most.

A hedgehog being filmed for a nature programme at Chenonceau.

Hedgehogs have a naturally high mortality rate. One in five babies doesn't survive to leave the nest. Once out in the big wide world they can succumb to parasites, predators such as weasels and foxes, or not make it through a hard winter. But increasingly the cause of death is not natural. A million are being hit by a cars annually, and a similar number poisoned by pesticides. Some of them drown in swimming pools. Their habitat is being altered and degraded so they have to travel further and further to find food.

A hedgehog in our driveway.

In urban areas the population density of hedgehogs is between 15 and 37 individuals per square kilometre. In rural areas the numbers drop to between 1 and 4 hedgehogs per square kilometre. In the last 20 years the population has declined by two thirds. In the past you could expect a hedgehog to live about 10 years, but now the lifespan is about two years, because they are exposed to more risks.

Ecologists consider the hedgehog both an umbrella and an indicator species. What is happening to them is likely to be happening to other small wild creatures. The National Natural History Museum points out that if we restore habitat such as hedges, natural vegetation and enclosed bocage field systems for hedgehogs then other groups such as insects, snails and spiders benefit.

If you want to help your local hedgehogs the two most important things you can do is not use pesticides, so there is plenty in your garden for them to eat, and provide a 'wild' area of long vegetation and undergrowth that they can safely make a nest in. They like leaves, piles of light wood and twigs, moss and compost to hide and hibernate in. If it is practical (ie if your pets are not allowed out at night and you are not going to attract rats) you can leave out cat or dog food for resident hedgehogs in the autumn. This will help them reach a suitable weight for hibernation and increase their chances of surviving winter.
If you see a hedgehog, please participate in the citizen science survey which is gathering data about them. It takes just 5 minutes to record your sighting with this link.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

La Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon

Near Chinon there is a group of ten or so lumps in the landscape. They are known as the Puys du Chinonais, and they form a remarkable nature reserve, with a habitat unique in Centre Val de Loire. 

The Puys are limestone ridges with sandstone tops which have degraded so that they are no more than a hundred metres above sea level, and the sand from the top is now distributed all over the gentle lower slopes. They are extremely free draining and dry, and home to many curiosities and rareities.

Here is a selection of photos from Saturday 15 April from one of the Puys, known as the Butte aux Chilloux. The Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine had an outing there led by my friend Marie-Claude, a lichen expert.

Mountain Alyssum Alyssum montanum, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Mountain Alyssum Alyssum montanum (Fr. Alysse de montagnes). The photo also includes storksbill, geranium and grape hyacinth.

White Rockrose Helianthemum apenninum growing through Field Wormwood Artemisia campestris, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
White Rockrose Helianthemum apenninum (Fr. Héliantheme des apennins) growing through Field Wormwood Artemisia campestris (Fr. Armoise champetre).

Hen-bit Deadnettle Lamium amplexicaule, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Hen-bit Deadnettle Lamium amplexicaule (Fr. Lamier amplexicaule).

Typical low growing vegetation on the Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Typical low growing vegetation on the Butte aux Chilloux.

Typical low growing vegetation on the Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The vegetation includes masses of Common Storksbill Erodium cicutarium (Fr. Bec-de-grue à feuilles de ciguë), Grape Hyacinth Muscari sp, and Cypress Spurge Euphorbia cyparissias (Fr. Euphorbe petit-cyprès).

Spiny Heath Lichen Cetraria aculeata, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Spiny Heath Lichen Cetraria aculeata, outside of the Arctic, found on sandy sites.

Cup fungus Peziza cf badia, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Vinegar Cup fungus Helvella acetabulum (Fr. l'Helvelle en gobelet).

Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi (Fr. Thècle de la ronce).

Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A view over the lower slopes of the Butte aux Chilloux, looking towards Les Trottes-Loup. The buildings are the Chinon shooting club and was in constant use while we were there. Always a bit disconcerting to have firearms going off in the background.

Smooth Cat's-ear Hypochaeris glabra, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Smooth Cat's-ear Hypochaeris glabra (Fr. Porcelle glabre).

Info board, Butte aux Chilloux, Chinon, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
An info board telling you that this is a nature reserve funded at a European and French regional level and managed at a local level. "The Puys du Chinonais nature reserve extends over 125 ha, and abounds in emblematic landscapes and animal species." In order to preserve the site it is forbidden to ride motorised vehicles over it, dump rubbish, and pick flowers. You are asked to pay attention to fire risks and keep your dog on a lead.

Tuesday 25 April 2023

Refugees From the War

Recently Claudette, who grew up in our house, posted some interesting family photos on Facebook, so I got in touch with her to see if I could use the photos and tell the story. She rang me up and we had a nice chat, and she sent me the photos by email.

Women working for the Americans in World War I.

She is only a year older than me, but both her grandfathers fought in the First World War (neither of mine did, as I think they would not have been quite old enough). Although mobilised right at the beginning of the War, and one later wounded and the other receiving a citation for bravery, both survived and lived to return to Preuilly at the end of the War. Their names were Georges Poupineau and Valentin Touchain. Valentin was older than Georges and had already done his military service a decade before the War. By the time the First World War broke out he was married with two little children.

During the First World War there were displaced persons from the north of France in Preuilly. Historically we've always taken people fleeing conflict. They came as a result of the Prussian war, the First World War, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and now the war in Ukraine. Claudette's grandmother and other female members of her family ended up in Preuilly in this way. She has a very interesting photo showing her grandmother, one of her grandmother's nieces and a cousin and some other women, all of whom are wearing a rather distinctive outfit of a sort of forage cap with a tassle and a long white belted dust coat. Claudette says they were working for the Americans, probably at Saint Avertin, and the photo is dated 30 December 1918. 

Berthe Maurage and Georges Poupineau, c. 1918, Indre et Loire, France.
Berthe Maurage and Georges Poupineau, Claudette's maternal grandparents, c1918.

And that's all she knows. Between us we haven't been able to find out what the women were doing, but Claudette assumes they were employed in some sort of workshop or factory. Her sister-in-law has a vague idea that it was a munitions factory. Claudette thinks a trip to the Archives in Tours is in order.

Anyway, her grandmother, Berthe Maurage, arrived in Saint Avertin with her mother Marie Gabrielle Maurage and her sisters Léontine, Eva and Georgina, her brothers Lucien and Justin, her niece Louise Molard (the daughter of Léontine) and her first cousin Jeanne Dépret Delcroix. Eva remarried in Saint Avertin in 1918 and a number of family members returned to Jeumont in the north in May 1919. Jeanne Delcroix later became a midwife. Claudette doesn't know how the rest of them ended up in Preuilly, but her grandmother met Georges Poupineau, married him and stayed, and Lucien married local girl Raymonde Arnault and stayed.

Georges became the owner of our place when his parents gifted it to him in 1945.

Today is ANZAC Day in Australia, the most important memorial day for Australian and New Zealand war dead, and the last Sunday in April is the Journée des déportés in France, when those forcibly deported to work camps and concentration camps in the Second World War are remembered.

Monday 24 April 2023


This is the vintage refrigerator in one of the food preparation rooms in l'Image Restaurant. I suspect it is not as old as you might think. I'd say mid-20th century, but it might date from the Seventies, or even Eighties. 

Vintage fridge, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
I'm intrigued by the mirror on the middle door.

Francois Pouzioux, who is named on the black plaque as the maker, died in 2004. His company still exists in Chatellerault though, still specialising in commercial coldrooms and fridges.

Vintage fridge interior, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
It was the material used to line the fridge that initially made me suspect it was of a later date than you might think.

The fridge is oak on the exterior. Pouzioux were certainly making fridges that look a lot like this in the late forties or first half of the 1950s. I know that because I found one for sale, with a three digit phone number listed on the maker's plaque, which allowed me to date it. The phone number on the one in l'Image is longer, which means it is later than that. I could of course email Jean-Michel Chedozeau, who owns the fridge, or indeed Pouzioux, and ask. But where is the fun in that?

Saturday 22 April 2023

The Lion of Waterloo

William I of the Netherlands ordered the construction of a huge earth mound at the site to memorialise the dead at Waterloo. The site was chosen because it was believed to have been where his older son had been wounded in the battle. The design was chosen in 1820 and the work was completed within a few years.

Lion of Waterloo, Belgium. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The mound is 41 metres high, with a staircase that allows visitors to reach the top and take in the view of the battlefield. The conical shape was achieved by excavating 290 000 cubic metres of earth from the battlefield itself. The soil was carried to the site by labourers from Liege called boteresses. They wore baskets on their backs called hottes and trudged back and forth moving the earth.  It is topped by a colossal 28 tonne cast iron Belgian Lion set on a brick column. The steps allowing relatively easy access to the top were added in the 1860s.

It didn't become a tourist attraction until the middle of the 19th century. Wellington visited a few years after his victory there and proclaimed that his battlefield had been spoiled and no one would understand the battle as the terrain had been changed so much in order to construct the mound.

We stopped off on our way past in March and took a photo from the main road.

Friday 21 April 2023

Baby Wol

We were surprised yesterday on our walk - this fledgling Tawny Owl was sitting on the wall surrounding an 18th century chateau the other side of the river Creuse. Our presence didn't perturb it at all,

Wednesday 19 April 2023

The View From My Office

We had an excellent day yesterday, visiting the chateaux of Azay le Rideau and Villandry.

While I was parked at Azay le Rideau I pondered on how many people enjoy the view from their office as much as I do. Which is lucky really, because after almost 14 years this is the longest I have ever worked in one job.

Tuesday 18 April 2023

What Did Our Monday Look Like?

Yesterday was a busy day.

We spent the morning preparing for work today. That means admin stuff, and at the moment trying to work out where we will buy fuel, SP98e5 (Claudette's drink of choice) being sporadically difficult to find. We then had to pack for a night away, because Claudette needed washing after muddy car parks last week. These days we no longer leave home at 06:30 to wash the car in readiness for a day's work, preferring to reduce stress and washing her the evening before.

Chaumussay, yesterday afternoon.

Then we did our regular Monday afternoon walk (6.8km by my watch, results may vary) before driving to Tours. A brief stop at Norauto to buy black car wax and tyre black, before some classic car pampering. Once Claudette was covered and put to bed we called in at Action (a Dutch discount store) in Chambray les Tours to buy some non-essential supplies before heading to the hotel.

This morning we're up and out at 08:00 for breakfast in a cafe before meeting our clients.

Monday 17 April 2023

We're Not Millennials

You can easily tell Susan and I are not Millennials.

We went for a very good lunch yesterday at L’Auberge de La Roche, in la Roche Posay, somewhere our neighbours Anne and John recommended which had somehow slipped under our radar. The food was extremely well prepared, tasty, and so beautiful we thought it deserved being photographed.

We have hundreds of photo of entrées (starters for you North Americans) taken at restaurants across the globe. What we don't have is photos of main courses, because we forget. Even more galling is that when an amuse bouche is served before the entrée we have no photos of the entrée, no matter how pretty it is. The photo is yesterday's amuse bouche, a feather-light mousse of truffle infused lentils.

And that's the only photo of yesterday's Silver Anniversary lunch. Having grown up when photography involved rationing what we took photos of because of the expense and time involved, we have never quite got into the rhythm of taking pictures of everything. Thus we don't have any photos of main courses, desserts, and us.

So you'll have to take it from us that lunch was lovely, and it was as tasty as it was pretty.

Sunday 16 April 2023

A Surprise Post

Today is an auspicious day, and not one that it ever occured to me I would see. Not because I thought it wouldn't last this long, but because when things happen you don't think about such things as  anniversaries.

Twenty-five years ago Susan and I were married. It happened at the Plashet Grove registry office in east London, and apart from Susan and I and the Registrar, the only other people there were our witnesses - my Mum and Dad. If we hadn't needed to supply our own witnesses even Mum and Dad wouldn't have been there: that's how low key we wanted to keep it. We told no-one else and the whole thing cost about £100. The people at Susan's work bought her flowers even though she had only been working there a short time. Afterwards we had a half pint of beer at the nearest pub.

We got married for reasons of practicality: because the laws in the UK were so archaic, despite being an established couple of about 5 years duration when we arrived in the UK we weren't each others next of kin - that was our respective fathers, both in Australia. If  something serious had happened or either of us had been hospitalised it could have been a real problem. So we got married in our local registry office, an attractive 19th century building that had a former life as a Carnegie library. Susan took half a day off work and the next day I went off to Australia and America on my own.

25 years, though. Blimey.

Saturday 15 April 2023


Simon planned our itinerary so we could stop at Rocroi for lunch while travelling from Troyes to Tervuren. 

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Its claim to fame is that it is one of Vauban's famous star forts [link], and we always have to stop for them.

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The church dates from 1844.

It's very small, and packed full of solid looking dark stone buildings. Once upon a time it was a border town, swapping from French possession to Spanish, or more laterly, Prussian possession. Now it is somewhere you stop to have a picnic lunch under the covered marketplace in the central square, and try (unsuccessfully in our case, because it was Sunday) to buy some of the local cheese.

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

It was Francois I who first had a fort erected on the site, in 1545. Earthworks in a pentagon form were constructed and five star points radiated out. The garrison lived within the pentagon, which also protected their stores. This fort withstood attacks from the Spanish on several occasions before it fell. Then it was sold back to the French who set about improving the defences again. To no avail as it fell to the Spanish, then returned to France as part of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Vauban, the military architect working for Louis XIV, got his hands on the place in 1675 and created the current heavy stone arrangements. 

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The garrison housed 400 men at the time of the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century and in 1815 they were overwhelmed by a Prussian force of 10 000. The Prussians captured it again when they invaded France in 1871. 

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

With the development of high explosive artillery shells this type of fort became obsolete and the garrison was withdrawn in 1888.

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Today the two entry gateways have been demolished to facilitate exit and entry, and it is just a charming historic village in the French Ardennes.

Rocroi, Ardennes, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Friday 14 April 2023

Busy in Springtime

I said the other day (see the previous post) that we have been busy, so much so that our focus fell away from the blog and onto remembering how to do stuff that used to be normal. We had two years (more or less) away from life as we knew it, and returning to normal procedures requires memory of how things used to be done, and thought into how to adapt that to the new world we find ourselves in.

One of the most obvious changes has been in the amount of traffic on the roads. We were in Tours at 6.00pm on Wednesday, which would normally mean a traffic snarl from the Autoroute to the station and beyond. This week the traffic was more like what we'd normally see on a Saturday afternoon. The traffic along the Loire levee bank was about half of what I would have expected four years ago, even though the options have been halved by the road through Montlouis being closed and traffic diverted.

The photo today is the tulip and daffodil combination at the chateau of Amboise, with the soon to be unveiled recently restored chapel of St Hubert in the background. What you can't see is how windy it was, or the menacing storm clouds on the horizon. It was taken on Wednesday morning 

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Underway for 2023

The year really has started properly now.

After our winter holiday (not Paris for RetroMobile this year, but Amsterdam in springtime) we have made a delayed but quite frantic start. We worked two days last week with Claudette, and have another day of work today, again with Claudette. I have started riding my bike on days we're not walking or working, and as reported before we are doing renovations again. Suddenly life feels busy.

Edward looking happy with Claudette last week 

The weather today is a bit of a concern, very windy with some rain. I dislike driving Claudette in the rain and wind, as her wipers flap hysterically at the rain rather than wipe it off the windscreen, and she does get pushed all over the road. Luckily we're doing a short distance tour, about 90km, so it shouldn't be too stressful.

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Buying Paint

Once our new windows were installed it became obvious that our back door needed attention.

Twelve years ago I painted it the blue/green colour we had decided for the shutters, but all that time on the western side of the house had faded and worn the paint.

I decided that it would tie in nicely if the door was the same colour as the new windows, a pebble grey colour that to our eyes has a greenish tint. The colour is one of the few colours approved by Bâtiments de France for this area, and we chose it because we had to choose something. We noted down the colour number on the small tin of paint the window installers had bought along (7032) and when the opportunity arose visited some hardware shops in Chambray les Tours.

Although it's a locally approved colour, it's not one that features as a colour in any paint range. Leroy Merlin could mix 7032, but didn't have any base. Castorama did have base so we had them make up a 2.5 litre tin. The paint mixing lady showed us the result (that didn't look like anything we remembered) and asked if that was right. We supposed it was, and on Saturday I started painting.

It's a perfect match - to the extent that where I dribbled some of our paint on the pre-painted windows I was able to invisibly blend it on.

I'm quite pleased.

Monday 10 April 2023

Blood Oranges in Red Wine Syrup

Blood oranges appear in the supermarkets in late winter and I always buy them. This is a simple dessert using them.

Homemade blood oranges in red wine syrup. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Peel and slice the oranges (remove any pips). Lay them in a shallow bowl, one orange per person. Then make a syrup from one tablespoon of red wine, one tablespoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla essence per person. Pour the syrup over the orange slices and leave to marinate.

Just before serving drizzle custard, cream, yoghurt, fromage blanc battu or sabayon over the marinated oranges.

Saturday 8 April 2023

Welcome to Belgium

French Belgian border. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

Like most (all?) borders within the Schengen zone there is nothing much to indicate you are going from one country to another. Nobody stops you, nobody checks your passport. You just drive through. This photo is of the French Belgian border, which we crossed on 19 March 2023.

Friday 7 April 2023

Signs of Spring Around Bossay sur Claise

On Monday 27 March we joined the Phoenix en Claise walking group for a 5 kilometre ramble through the countryside around Bossay sur Claise. There were plenty of signs of Spring, with both iconic early emerging insects showing their faces, and wild flowers heralding the longer days and warmer temperatures.

Male oil beetle Meloe sp, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Male Violet Oil Beetle Meloe violaceus (Fr. Méloé violet).

Chemin de Saint Martin pilgrim route marker, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A waymarker for the Chemin de Saint Martin pilgrim route.

Toads Ear Otidea bufonia, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
I think this cup fungus is Toads Ear Otidea bufonia or a close relative.

Cowslips Primula veris and Long-leaved Lungwort Pulmonaria longifolia, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cowslips Primula veris (Fr. coucou) and Long-leaved Lungwort Pulmonaria longifolia (Fr. la Pulmonaire à longues feuilles).

Walkers in winter wheat fields, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Walking through fields of winter wheat.

Unidentifiable male Andrena sp bees on canola, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Male Andrena sp mining bees on canola.

Justyna Kierat, a Polish bee expert, thinks these might be A. lagopus, which are brassicae specialists. What we can see of the wing venation supports this (A. lagopus is the only Andrena to have two rather than three sub-marginal cells).

Cowslips Primula veris naturalised in a farmhouse lawn, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cowslips popping up all over a farmhouse lawn. Many of them have mutated to have red flowers.

Taking the photo above involved jumping a ditch and clinging on to a mesh fence. I let my friend Jim display his athletic prowess to take this photo with my phone. He then promptly dropped the phone. For a second I thought it had landed inside the fence, which would have involved knocking on the farm door and hoping someone was home in order to retrieve it. Luckily it was outside the fence and landed on soft grass covered earth, so no damage done.

Farmstead, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A farmstead.

Walking along a greenway, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Walking along the greenway (Fr. voie verte).

Thursday 6 April 2023

Seven New Windows

It's taken a couple of years from grant application to installation, but we finally have seven new double glazed windows. We had hoped to have new shutters too, but Batiment de France refused our request to switch from 19th century louvred shutters to simple plain solid shutters and it was too expensive to include new shutters in the project.

Retro-fitted double glazed window in an old house, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The new window in our dining niche/my workspace.

Our grant, through a government agency known as ANAH, pays for a percentage of the work on the understanding that we improve the energy efficiency of the house sufficiently. So the full project included a new hot water system and in the future insulation and dry lining of our sitting room and bedroom. 

Removing an old door in a house renovation, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
One of the masons and one of the joiners remove the crappy old side door into the sitting room. It had been glued shut to prevent drafts and probably hadn't been opened for forty years.

We chose Brice Bois Concept for the windows and have been very happy with them. They are based in Loches and have been easy to communicate with, and perhaps most importantly, understanding of our financial constraints, especially once Covid hit. 

Removing an old window during a renovation, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The joiners struggle to remove the non-standard old window on the street front of the sitting room.

Brice Bois came and measured up then sent us a quote which we passed on to ANAH for approval. Brice Bois have the required RGE certification and approval wasn't a problem. We signed the agreement and paid the deposit, which Brice Bois passed on to the window manufacturers. 

Attic bathroom, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
I hid in the attic while the joiners worked.

Once the windows arrived there was a bit of negotiation. We needed to get the mason to come to replace wooden window sills with stone, and to change a door into a window. I couldn't get the mason to commit to a date and Brice Bois didn't have the space to store the windows. So we agreed a compromise. We paid the balance of windows materials portion of the bill and took delivery of the windows, on the understanding that the installation would be at some later date.

Masons at work, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The masons at work on a couple of windowsills.

So the windows sat in our barn for a year, propped up against a pillar and covered by a tarp. Finally we agreed a date for installation in the last week of March. It had to be no later than then as Brice Bois was in the process of restructuring their organisation and needed to finish all the jobs on their books before 1 April. We had to return from the Netherlands a couple of days earlier than we'd planned in order to be here when the windows were installed.

Joiner applying finishing touches to a retrofitted double glazed window in an old house, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
One of the joiners (Fr. menuisier) applying finishing touches to the new bathroom window.

The blokes from Brice Bois were quiet, competent and polite. We were very impressed by their skills and can do attitude. They had made sure to talk to the mason so they knew what he was doing and what they needed to do on the relevant windows. None of our windows are standard and I'm sure they were faced with some challenges. They just quietly problem solved, with no teeth sucking, no complaining and no swearing. They even fixed our back door, which had started sticking due to the house moving in the dry weather.

Double glazed window retro fitted into an old house, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Exterior view of the new window and windowsill for the dining niche.

After three days they had taken away the old windows and we had seven newly installed double glazed windows. The next day I paid the final balance of just under €2000 to cover the labour. The total bill came to just under €9500, with the most expensive window being the big front sitting room window at €1700 and the least expensive being the dining niche at €750. The window frames are pre-painted in 'pebble gray', one of the Batiment de France approved colours, and made from exotic hardwood. The mason's bill will, I think, be about €1500 and the limestone for the windowsills came from a quarry in Vienne.

Mason and joiner at work on an old house renovation, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The mason finishing off the windowsill for the side of the sitting room.

The next challenge will be getting the sitting room and bedroom insulated and lined. We have twelve months to complete the work to ANAH's satisfaction before our grant will be rescinded. Wish us luck!

Joiner renovating a window, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The joiner working on the front sitting room window.

But for now we are just grateful to have windows that are easy to open and close, don't leak and don't let in draughts. After all, in France, one is taught to have an absolute horror of les courants d'air. That's why they all bundle up in scarves, even in high summer...*

Further Reading: Brice Bois Concept website (in French) [link].

The mason was Franck Sully from Martizay [link]. 

The stone came from the Carriere de Tervoux [link].

Renovated window, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The new side window for the sitting room, exterior view.

Renovated window, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The new side window in the sitting room, interior view. My insistance that this window opened either by tilting in at the top or by swinging on its side hinges meant that we had to go up a range for all our windows, making them more expensive.

*JOKE. A gentle dig at the French penchant for wearing enormous, and to my mind thoroughly inconvenient and uncomfortable, scarves.  I should also point out that the French will open all the windows once the temperature gets above about 15C, to air the house and to fling all their bedding out onto pigeon poo covered windowsills to soak up a load of vehicle emission particulates. Go figure.