Monday, 26 June 2017

Visit to arboretum

Our last visit was to the Arboretum de Balaine.  It's a bit farther South from where we were staying, so not strictly on the way home, but we incorporated the visit into our journey back.

It's a very different garden from that at Apremont, with a feel much closer to a big (English-style) public park than a private garden.  The route around the garden is signposted, and visitors are expected to follow a specific path that takes in all of the important features.   The ways are fairly narrow so perhaps this constraint is for when the garden is busy, although we were the only visitors that morning, as far as we could tell.

An average tour around the grounds takes about two hours, and we found it very relaxing.



Definitely worth the detour.



Friday, 23 June 2017

The rides

We did two cycle rides on our short break, both on relatively flat terrain along waterways.  We started both of them from the big lock on the canal that runs alongside the Loire, marked by the pointer on the map below.  There is a hotel there (The Auberge du Pont Canal) that serves seriously strong coffee to get you going in the morning, and after one of these, we set off.

The first ride was northwards along the Loire as far as Marseilles-les-Aubigny, and the second one was eastwards along the canal that parallels the Loire, as far as Chevenon.  Each one was about 17Km each way.   Google maps seems to scale the map according to the size of your reading device - you might need to enlarge it.


I find it quite impressive how well-maintained these cycle tracks are - the surface is smooth, not quite as smooth as a metalled road, but pretty good, and well signposted.

We passed a very quaint looking restaurant in Aubigny, but unfortunately it was shut.  I hope that the bowl of cherries they left out was intended as an apology; the ones I tried were very nice.   We rode on and had lunch in the nearby marina on the canal.  I particularly liked the sculpture of the mariner at the wheel of a boat.





Monday, 19 June 2017

The aqueduct

There is a canal that runs alongside the Loire, called the Canal Latéral la Loire, and it crosses the river Allier not far from Km0 on the Loire à Vélo trail, via an aqueduct.

The aqueduct is quite high, and gives spectacular views over the surrounding countryside, and down to the Allier below.   You can walk along it; cyclists are asked to dismount, although not everyone did.  At the western end there is a deep lock, the deepest I have seen, to take boats down to the next level.


I liked the decorative lions on the handrails along the aqueduct, and also the flower boxes on the beams of the lock gates.  Nice touches, both of them.


The river below was glistening in the morning sun.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

La Loire a Vélo

We took a few days' break to check out our bikes, and to ride along a bit of the cycle path that has been created along the Loire valley ("La Loire à Vélo").  This is in fact part of a route that runs from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast; the Loire bit of it is 800km long.  That should be enough to keep us going for a while.

We decided to start from kilometer zero of the "Loire à Vélo".  This is not at the source of the Loire, but is near Nevers where the Loire is joined by a tributary nearly as big; the Allier.  Looking at a map, the Allier upstream of where it joins the Loire is about as long as the Loire upstream of that point, but I guess it must be slightly smaller.

On the way, however we stopped off near our destination, at the Parc Floral at Apremont-sur-Allier.  It really is a remarkable garden.  Just about every vista is picture-postcard quality, and it is superbly maintained.  It was created by a guy who just wanted to bring some people into the village, and was opened to the public about 40 years ago.  He bought up the chateau and a few houses, had them refurbished and planted the gardens. A fine job.  Here's some pics, although they can't really do it justice.




You will have gathered that there are some water features, and that inevitably means frogs.  They hopped into the water with a small splash as we walked by.  I managed to sneak up on this little guy who seemed braver than the rest.  Or stupider.


And here's something I hadn't seen before:  A wide area watering system.  Water arrives along the hosepipe at the bottom right, goes around the hose reel a few times, and then shoots off down the straight black pipe to the right where it is fed into a sprinkler jet that waters a large circular area.  The sprinkler jet is on wheels, and the water movement powers a mechanism on the hose reel that slowly reels in the hose.  So it covers a very large area, given time.  Neat.




Friday, 9 June 2017

Mill near Mayenne

We looked at this mill the other day, it's about 12 minutes from the town of Mayenne, out in the sticks.   Not for us, but the location is wonderful.  The mill wheel is still present, but needs repair, and is mounted on a modern metal shaft and what I take to be a ball race.

Here's a link to the ad if you're interested.




Saturday, 3 June 2017

The bus

In Britain, you have to get your car tested every year; an MoT test.  The Ministry of Transport no longer exists, but the test they inaugurated for cars lives on.  In France cars have to have a contrôl technique once every two years, and once every ten years the test is a more comprehensive one.

Our Renault Espace has just had its ten-year contrôl technique, and it passed, which is a bit of a relief.  It is a diesel, chosen for the fuel economy, and because the government (French) seemed to think they were a good idea, reflected in the lower price of diesel fuel.  The Renault garage offered a free "pre-contrôl" test, which sounded like a good idea, and when we came to pick the car up, we discovered they had sorted the test with the test centre up the road.  Result.


Frankly, we don't drive it much, but we are in the peculiar position of it being essential to operating the gîte.  We bought it for its seating capacity (6 people + driver) and its carrying capacity (you can take the seats out and fill it with shopping).  The seating capacity was for transporting gîte customers to and from railway stations and airports, and the carrying capacity was for all the food we have to buy to cater for guests.  Food for a gîte full of people for a long weekend, including two chilled hampers, fills it up.  As it turns out we have used it about twice for ferrying people, but use it for carrying food every time we have guests in the gîte (say, 20 times per year).

As a consequence, although the car is ten years old, it has only 55,000 Km on the clock; as a diesel, it's barely run in.  I have been assuming that it will see me (us) out, that I will drive it until either I can't drive or it can't be driven any more, and that will be the end of it.

In the mean time, diesel fuel is dropping out of favour.  A manufacturer been found to be cheating on the pollution figures, others are suspected, and all of a sudden, news coverage is all about what nasty stuff diesel smoke is.  People are assuming that diesels will be banned at some time, which will mean that I will have to buy a new car.  My careful considerations of future utility have been thrown out of the window by changes in government thinking.  It's by no means clear what I should replace it with, should the need arise: electric? hybrid? petrol?  Perhaps, if we're not running the gîte, we won't need it at all.  That might be the best solution.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Pump appreciation week

This week we learn a new fact about each of three different types of water pump.

Firstly, if you have an automatic watering system for your garden, don't leave it in a state where the watering pump can turn itself back on but with no water flowing through it.  It overheats and causes the capacitor to swell and leak its insides everywhere.  The pump stops working.


Secondly, if you have a plumber replace a pump, make sure you re-pressurise the system before he leaves, even if he has used mastic that takes an hour to cure.  This avoids a second visit to fix the new leaks.


Thirdly, if your heating system develops a leak and starts pissing water over the electric pumps, cover them with a plastic bag or clingfilm or anything that will stop the water getting in.  This will avoid your having to try to dry it out with a hair dryer in the hope that you can get it to stop tripping the overload cutout so that it can heat the pool for your next guests who are arriving tomorrow.


Stand by for more useful DIY tips as they arise, here in the "it's-all-happening" heart of the Mayenne countryside.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Something new

I must be getting out of date.

I often browse the hi-tech area of our local supermarket, to see if there are any bargains to be had, and to keep abreast of new developments.  I watch with amazement the continuous lowering of digital camera prices, together with the increase in zoom capacity.  60x optical zoom anyone?

I saw for the first time a range of VR headsets.  Here they are alongside the cameras and GPS systems.



The thing is, I have no idea what I might use one for.  I guess they're good for some games, although I'm not sure my PC is fast enough.  But what would I do with one?  I don't know any VR games nor VR software apps that might interest me.  I'm completely out of touch.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Nice mill

Just had a chat with Mick who has been renovating the mill down the road.  Looks nice, eh?


Saturday, 13 May 2017

An apology

I have really sorted out the watering system for my veg patch this year.   An immersible pump pumps water from the well (27 metres deep) into two one-metre-cubed vats.  From there a different pump sends it to a spraying system made from little red nozzles set into a hosepipe, that makes a fine spray just above ground level.



So it's going to piss down all Summer.  Sorry about that.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Revolving doors

Revolving doors are widely used by shops; they are quite effective at keeping heat in during Winter, and cool, conditioned air inside during Summer.  Since shops are keen on not getting sued by people losing a limb or suffering other injury in doors of this type, the doors are fitted with some kind of emergency stop, whereby they cease revolving if anything untoward is happening.

Around here, a few supermakets have fitted shiny new, larger revolving doors with super-sophisticated safety systems: if you touch the door it stops, and a proximity detector works such that if you get within 30cm, it slows down to a snail's pace.  This works fine if there are only a few people in the door at once, but the fun starts at busy times.

Since the new doors are larger than the old ones, the temptation is to fill them to capacity with people and trolleys.  The problem is then that the proximity detector trips and slows down the door to almost stationary.  Arguments then ensue as to who might be responsible - the people at the front, or the people at the back, each group defending itself vigorously.

To correct the problem, those at the front just have to stand still and wait for the door to move on a bit, but those at the back have to shuffle forwards in the limited space, compressing the people in the middle, until the door catches up with them again and slows down.  Although it's easy to stay 30cm away from a door that is moving away from you, it is remarkably difficult to do the same with a door that is creeping up behind, especially if there are people in front of you.

Meanwhile, since it's a busy time, queues are forming outside of the door, with encouragement to the occupants from people who are keen to get on with their shopping.



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Snake on the woodpile

They like the warmth under the tarpaulin.


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Seasons

At this time of year, the onions are right at the end of season.  We get them in bags of 6 or 7 at our local restaurant supply shop, and often there is one in the bag that is squishy.  You have to choose carefully.

On the other hand, these fennel are maginificent, and I guess we must be right at the start of season.  They're firm, white, crisp and flavourful.  The fate of these is to be finely sliced and sprinkled over a smoked salmon starter for our guests.


I can assure you they were delicious :)

Saturday, 29 April 2017

No bamboo

What I hope was the last frost of the season was last night.  It managed to do some damage to my potatoes, but not too much.

I figure that now it's safe to plant out some of the tender plants, so I set about making some supports for the runner beans.  Failing to find any good straight plant stakes of the right length (at least two-and-a-half metres) I set off to the local garden centre to get some cheap bamboo stakes.  Except they don't have any.  They could flog me some nice, green, plastic-covered metal ones of the right length for a bit over four euros each.  No thanks.

Back to the drawing board, and I raided the hazelnut trees for a few of their longer branches.  Not as straight as bamboo, but functional, and they add a bit of rustic charm to the garden.  And they're free.  Should have thought of that in the first place, I guess.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

On railway tracks

One of the things you can do with disused railway tracks is turn them into bike trails or hiking routes.  There's a few that have been so converted in Mayenne; the one we tested runs from an unremarkable and un-named place north-east of Laval, North towards the town of Mayenne.

The start point is quite literally a point where an old railway bridge crosses a road, and there is a slip-lane you can take that leads up to the track.  There is no parking there, so we drove along a couple of Km to where there is a proper car park.


As with the towpath along the Mayenne river that we tested the other day, the railway line was very close to level, but unlike the towpath it was straight.  This made for a rather boring ride.


There were occasional points of interest as the track passed old station buildings, or went over or under bridges, but the interest to be had was in spotting landscape features through the trees.  The track had been well signposted, with adequate warnings for what used to be level crossings, with notices showing how grinning cars will joyously crash your bike if you're not careful.


We had a pleasant pic-nic when we got to Commer (About 10km from our car park) and then set off back.  The weather was fine, the route calm and quiet, and the general atmosphere peaceful.  We will doubtless test other sections of the track, but the winner so far in terms of interest en route, is the Mayenne towpath.



Friday, 21 April 2017

Pesky Russkies

We have clear blue skies but the air is cold with chilly winds coming in from Russia.   This means that we are getting ground frosts and I am having trouble protecting my potatoes.  It's clear that the Russians aren't content with interfering in our free and fair democratic elections, they are trying their best to ruin our potato crop as well.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Bike ride

One of the things we intend to do with the new bikes is grab short holidays where we can ride them.  The gîte seems to limit the opportunity to take long breaks, so we figure that short breaks of a couple of nights, combined a not-too-difficult bike trek along, say, the Loire will give us the chance to visit some châteaux, as well as keeing us fit.

As a feasibility study, on this glorious Sunday (cloudless skies, 25 degrees C) we took the bikes to Entrammes and rode down the Mayenne towpath to a créperie for lunch, and then back again.   The views along the river were fabulous.


The crêperie doesn't serve crêpes on Sundays; I think there's too good a business opportunity to dissipate it on low-cost lunches.  The place was busy, and the quantity of bikes in their thoughtfully-provided bike racks told us that we were not the only ones with an idea for a Sunday bike ride.


On the way back I noticed an unusual construction that I had not seen before.  I think it is a windmill, possibly for pumping water from the river.   It appears to be made of iron, now rusty, with a spiral stairway up to the top, and a little platform to stand on.


I used this opportunity to check out a bit of Android software that records your tracks using GPS.  I used to use Quechua Tracking, an excellent app provided free (with in-app purchses) by Decathlon, a sporting goods company, but they have withdrawn it.  Grrr it was an excellent app.  I have since installed iPhiGéNie that does the same thing but is harder to use.   Here is what it produces in terms of a mapped track output.


I only recorded the trip back up the river; it told us we did 17.8 Km in almost exactly an hour.
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