Saturday 31 October 2009

Cotoneaster at Hallowe'en

This Cotoneaster shrub is bright with red berries and green foliage. It helps us with decorations for the birthday party for our clients tonight.

This misty image of the nearby hills appealed to me on the way home from collecting the client's birthday cake, and makes a nice contrast to the roaring open fire back in the dining room.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

The Belvedere and Wolf Stone

OK, so perhaps I'm star-struck with my new camera, or perhaps I need a theme to motivate my blog posts. But I have a little book of riverside (or at least, river-related) walks, and there are 52 walks in it. This looks like a walk per week for a year. Now I'm definitely not into giving myself any artificial targets, timetables or goals, I've had too many of those in my working life.

But it looks like fun and so, with no promises whatsoever, I'm looking at doing a walk per week, barring illness, foul weather or foul mood. We'll see how it goes; the intention is that we'll get a look at the seasons in the Mayenne, and enjoy some walks too. Here's the first one.

I went to this belvedere in springtime, but the weather was misty and I couldn't see a thing. Today being bright and beautiful I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to revisit it, and see what there is to see. Pictures can never do justice to the feeling of being there, of course, the sun warming you, the breeze chilling you, and the fading of the view into the distance seems right and proper when you are there, but just makes the photographs look like they've faded out. But the belvedere is as impressive as I remember, and the views from it, this time, spectacular.

After the views from the tower, a short walk through mixed woodland to a rocky outcrop known as La Pierre au Loup, the Wolf Stone. According to the guide, views are promised from here also, but they are obscured by young trees that have grown up. The moss-covered rocks are impressive, about 6 metres high, and fun to climb up on and over.

What has all this got to do with the Mayenne River, you ask. Well, I was coming to that. In the opposite direction from the Wolf Stone is a similar short walk that takes you to the source of the Mayenne. The wife was with me, and tired so we didn't go that way. Another time.

Monday 26 October 2009

Wood delivery

Getting winter fuel deliveries is a matter of timing. Too early and there is not enough space for the wood in the bunker. Too late and the boiler runs out of fuel and the guests get cold and then unhappy.

The wood comes in a great big lorry fitted with a fan which blows the wood into the bunker. This technique saved us from having to build a big ugly ramp for lorries to tip their load into the bunker through the roof.

Today was delivery day. The lorry backs up to the bunker, the driver connects the pipes, the fan blows for half an hour, and Bob's your uncle. There was even enough space for ther whole load.

And just for the fun of it, here's one of my fuchsias, still blooming.

Sunday 25 October 2009

The ends of things

Traumatised as I was by the Caterpillar That Got Away, I decided it was time for a new blogcam. This decision was made easier by the fact that my old, old camera was on its way out. You could turn it on and only sometimes would the lens come out of the case properly; usually it would just get stuck and beep at you.

It is so old it doesn't tell you how many megapixels it offers (2 I think) and the biggest memory card I ever got for it was 128 Megabytes. But it used to take fine pics, and some of the pictures on this blog are taken with it. I bet you can't tell which ones. Here is the old camera, and this is the last picture I did finally manage to take with it, a sad, rainy car park in Laval. How fitting. The camera is for the bin. Someone recently got a Nobel prize for inventing the CCD, the device at its heart. Hmmmmmm.

This is the new camera, a Digital Ixus from Canon. With a viewfinder so you can take pictures on bright days without having to guess what's on the screen (Just like the old camera, really, which came from the days before they tried to persuade you you didn't need one). And here is the first picture I took with it. Ohhh you lucky readers! Never again will you miss any of those minutae of daily life here in the corner....

Thursday 22 October 2009

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Caterpillar that got away

While I was gardening the other day I came across an enormous, huge, as big as my index finger, hairy, caterpillar trundling its way across my path. Knowing how this would fascinate you, my avid reader, I went indoors to fetch my trusty blogcam to take a picture.

Tragedy! When I came back, it was gone. Disappeared. Never to be seen again. Knowing how disappointed you would be to hear this, I have done my best to recreate the scene for you.

This is where the caterpillar would have been if it hadn't scarpered.

This is how huge it was

This is how furry it was.

But it did make me think that I should perhaps invest in a small pocket-sized blogcam that I can keep with me at all times, so this kind of disaster doesn't repeat itself. It doesn't have to be very fancy; most of the pics on the blog are at 600x450 only, but it does have to slip into my back pocket, and therefore also withstand being sat on. I will keep you posted.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Plant mobilisation

Auntumn is here. We've had a hot, dry Summer, and the plans are gasping for whatever rain will soon be coming our way. (Today, according to the forecast). This is the time of year for moving plants around the garden, splitting up big clumps of perennials so they have better access to nutrients, re-homing plants to where they will get more of their preferred sun/shade, etc.

Now it is the turn of the tall, white, Dutch Iris. These grow in big clumps dotted around the garden. Some clumps are too big and need splitting up, some are just not where I want them. So I have prepared a big space for them, between two hazlenut trees, where they will form a green backdrop to the various other plants I will be putting in the bed.

They take a couple of years to settle in to a new home, so I won't be moving all of them this time, or I won't get any flowers next year. But a select few will be a nice new home with plenty of space.

These iris are far too crowded....

So I move them to a nice new home, giving them plenty of space to grow.....

Leaving behind some space for something new.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Nespresso Pro

I don't know about you, but personally I do like a good cup of coffee. And I can't stand it when the coffee on offer is instant in some huge vat, or filtered into a jug which is left to stand for ages and go stale.

So anyway, when we set up the gîte at Domaine de Hallais we decided to make sure that we had decent coffee on offer. We got a Nespresso machine, so our guests can make coffee whenever they like, and it comes with a frothy-milk maker so you can have cappuccinos and lattés. So when you stay here you can drink Nespresso coffee all day if you like. For free. Well, included in the price of accommodation, anyway.

Like all machines it needs a service from time to time and the Nespresso man came today. A fine job he did, too. Here is picture of the machine guts. I thought it was nicely put together. (And as Tim pointed out below in the comments, enough tubes to make a French sausage)

Saturday 10 October 2009


I was once gently but firmly taken to task by a botanist for calling this plant a Fuchsia Riccartonii. It's a Fuchsia Magellanica Riccartonii, but whatever, it survived the drought and is celebrating the arrival of rain in grand style.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Rose cuttings

My Dutch friend Leo has a garden full of lovely roses, and this is the time for cuttings, so he invited me round to take some. He has scores of varieties, but since my garden is still "under development" I asked for cuttings from just three varieties: an exquisite climber with little blue flowers, a lovely brown/orange climber and a gorgeous white bush.

Three little bundles of trimmings ready to be planted

A row of three varieties of cuttings, waiting for watering, and the seasons of Winter and Spring to put their roots out.

This afternoon I have the happy task of planting out the rose cuttings Leo gave me this Springtime, into their permanent positions in beds I have prepared for them. ("Come, and enjoy crowns and rewards I have prepared for you" from Song for Athene, played at Princess Di's funeral (my italics))

Wednesday 7 October 2009

A day at le Mans

The background to today is that the wife is away on a miniatures tour, and today she brought some of the people on the tour to see her collection of miniature dolls' houses.   She had parked the people-carrier at Le Mans station to bring everyone here when they all arrive from Paris on the train, and will leave it there at the end of the day when she takes them back again.   Meanwhile I will drive to Le Mans in the little car to meet the party, and collect Dick, who is on the tour with his wife, and who is not a miniatures enthusiast, but is a car nut, and take him to the world-famous 24 hour race track at Le Mans. The good news was that the car park was having some work done so they didn't charge us for having parked the people-carrier for five days. Can't be bad, 45 euros saved :)

We start at the museum at Le Mans that has been completely revamped recently, and is now focused on the 24 hour race rather than a general history of automobiles.  Dick was delighted, his favourite was a Ford GT4. Here is a picture of him next to it, and a general picture of the museum.

After the museum visit we drove on to a restaurant called "Le Casque" for lunch, recommended to me by Marie who runs the restaurant near my house and who used to work there. It is used by the racing drivers, and the glass panels separating the tables are signed by some of the drivers. A very pleasant meal, by the way.

After the meal I took a wrong turning and we found ourselves inside the race track compound. What a shame! We couldn't find the way out again very easily, so we had to drive all around the place......

Then on to the go-carting track, where we met Marie's husband who showed us round.

To round out the day before I took him back to the station, we strolled around Old Le Mans and had a quiet beer in the square. It was warm, sunny, windless. Fantastic.

There is an epilogue: I took Dick back to the station; I could have just dropped him off, but I hung around waiting for the wife just to say 'bye, and confirm that all was well. Her passengers arrived, but she seemed to be taking ages to park the car? Eventually she arrived, from an unexpected direction, and panted "The-long-term-car-park-is-full-so-I-left-it-in-the-short-term-parking-can-you-sort-it-please?" And disappeared in a rush for the train. The short term parking is free for half an hour but exhorbitant thereafter.

So I'm there with two cars, doing the car park shuffle, waiting for the Paris commuters to come home so there's some space in the long term parking. 3/4 hour later I get a space, but, with perfect timing, while I am in the car park, the heavens open. It is a deluge. We say it's raining cats and dogs, but the French say it's raining like a pissing cow, which I think is just delightful.

I'm staring at the rain from inside the station, it shows no sign of letting up, so being both decisive an impatient, I decide to leg it. After the first ten metres, I can't get any wetter so it matters not a jot that the car is 40 metres away. But a nice finishing touch, I thought, was that the rain had formed a puddle around the driver's door, so my shoes filled up as well, as I was getting in.

So there I am at the barrier, and the machine that reads my ticket has no electricity, so the barrier won't go up and let me out. Eventually I manage to contact the attendant by phone, who takes 15 minutes to arrive, while I watch the rain ease off to a light drizzle.

"You do know there are two umbrellas in the people carrier, don't you?", says the wife, later, on the phone.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

The Erve at St Suzanne

St Suzanne is a spectacular medieval castle overlooking the River Erve, which downstream flows nearby Les Hallais. The wind chose to take me there today, but I decided to explore the river valley and the bluff opposite, rather than the town itself. A quiet walk threading past the mills (one of them was a paper-making mill), and climbing up to the hill for the view over to the castle. Here are some pictures.

It's always a picture-postcard view of St Suzanne, here from the hill opposite that is known as the Tertre Ganne. William the Conqueror tried to take the town from this position, but failed.

These streams were laid out to form part of the mill irrigations, but now just serve as decorative backdrops to veg patches, cottages, and garden flowers.

And finally, a look at Autumn at the Tetre Ganne

Sunday 4 October 2009

The Mayenne at Montflours

The wife is away at the moment, so I can go anywhere the wind takes me, and today it took me to a section of the Mayenne river, just north of Montflours.

The bridge over the Mayenne at Montflours

Maintenance work is being done on the river at the moment; it happens every three years. One year they work on the Mayenne, then the Sarthe, then they skip a year. They maintain the banks, the locks and the mini-hydro-electric generators. They drain the rivers by opening the sluice gates, and you can see in these pictures how this affects the water levels. There is normally a good couple of metres of water here.

And the autumn colours are starting to show in the trees now....
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