Monthly Archives: June 2013

LE LOT – FRANÇAIS MISCELLANIA

View down the Combe de Filhol.

To tie up a few loose ends I’m adding this post.

As I mentioned the weather was starting to improve just as we were going to leave!  On one of the evenings the ‘Supermoon’ appeared above the hills, giving a spectacular sight. So much so I forgot to fetch my camera.

“The moon reached its closest point in its orbit this weekend, June 23rd, during a full moon, giving rise to the “supermoon,” appearing 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than a typical full moon. While the supermoon is mythically associated with werewolves and strange natural phenomena, really it’s just a good reason to gaze skyward. If you missed it, the next one will pop up in August 2014.” newsfeed.time.com

Credit: Tim McCord

Maybe it was the effect of the moon but I was awake very early the next morning and was lucky to see a small flock of Hoopoes on the boules court in the garden. They seem to be regular visitors this year.

Below is my poor attempt to photo them……..

The other regular wild life are the deer in the woods and sometimes they come into the garden for fallen fruit. Again another poor photo…….

The wild boar are more seclusive – but they are out there.

Within easy walking or cycling distance of the house is a most beautiful courtyarded house which has recently been resurrected as a cafe, Le Caillau. This proved very popular this trip as an afternoon refuge for coffee and cake.

What a great ambiance. If only the guy would smile a bit more!

The house has a good example of a pigeonnier tower. This was traditionally used to house pigeons as a food source and also to collect their droppings as a fertiliser. These structures are common place throughout the Lot area.

To revert back to our friend from Martignac  he is an excellent bread maker and appeared one evening with this magnificent offering….

The Breadman.

I am the Breadman.

So we had to reciprocate and arranged an evening’s dining at a local restaurant. Unfortunately we chose the night when the electric storms were at their worst and the power was off and on all evening. They still managed to cook us an excellent high class French dinner – ‘haute cuisine’ – elaborate preparation and presentation served in small and numerous courses and accompanied by fine wine. You have to experience this fine hospitality at least once on any trip.

That man again…

The Lot 027All at a price! I still feel that the lunch menu at the Duravel cafe gave a far superior culinary experience and much better value. Not to mention our own cooking at the house……

Bon appétit

         J’adore la région du Lot!             Jusqu’à la prochaine fois.

LE LOT – UN APERÇU DU SOLEIL.

As the week progressed the weather began to improve a little, sometimes the sun shone between showers. Managed a few short swims in the pool most afternoons and shivered myself dry. We even ate outside a couple of evenings. A friend lives in a nearby village, Martignac, where he is doing up an old house. This is an interesting place with a 12th century church well known for its painted frescoes. We were invited for coffee and to see the progress in his renovations. Whilst the others would drive up I decided, as the weather was fair, to leave earlier and walk the 12k or so.

From the house one goes on tracks through the vines passing the beautiful Chateau Gaudou, whose wines are available in England.

Looking back to Chateau Gaudou.

Looking back to Chateau Gaudou.

Going over several small ridges you enter Puy-l’Évêque by a bridge over the River Lot. Here one has an impressive view of the medieval village with buildings dating back to the 13th century.  Wandering the alleyways of Puy-l’Évêque is like stepping back in history. This was once an important port on The Lot for timber, limestone and wine before the coming of the railways. In recent years the locks on the river have been restored in an attempt to make this section of The Lot navigable again. There are canoes available for hire on this stretch  – great fun gliding down the river.

Puy-l'Évêque

Puy-l’Évêque

As I walked up into the village I realised I was way behind schedule but luckily the others passed in the car and I was able to get a lift up the hill through the village for a couple of kilometers. I was dropped off so I could follow the old lanes up into Martignac.

Further on you pass the village washhouse which has been recently renovated and provides a pleasant barbecue area.

Washhouse

Washhouse

As you enter the village on the edge of a field there is a very good example of a  caselle or gariotte. This is a dry stone hut once used as a shelter for shepherds in this area of France.

A Caselle.

The village of Martignac consists of a few scattered houses [one restored wooden building was once a tobacco drying shed] surrounding the church which has a prominent elevated position.

It is inside the church that the faded but still discernible wall paintings are the great attraction. Above the altar is the God of all the world. On one side are the Seven Heavenly Virtues and on the opposite aisle are the graphic and imaginative Seven Deadly Sins to scare the congregation!

Seven Deadly Sins.

Seven Deadly Sins.

Our friend is doing well with his home improvements but I think he is enjoying the French social life a little too much to get his house finished on schedule. Can’t blame him – it must be good living out here. Didn’t have to walk back.

LE LOT – PAS DE AMELIORATION DANS LE TEMPS.

Another couple of days passed by with damp conditions. Mike and I checked out the orienteering course in the nearby woods and caught up with the gardening. Meanwhile the ladies hit the shops – that’s a big disadvantage of the bad weather. Not able to make the most of alfresco dining at the house we went into the nearby village of Duravel for lunch at the Restaurant de la Mairie.

This traditional cafe caters for workmen, locals and tourists at lunchtime with it’s ‘menu du jour’ ……

The board in the window doesn’t do justice to the feast inside. A large tureen of country soup arrives with a basket of bread and a bottle of red wine. After enjoying their lovely flavours you go up to the salad buffet for a selection of fish, meat and salads. Don’t overdo it as you have only just started. The main course is served next – often some obscure French specialty [ie gizzards] but today, a Friday,  thankfully fish, ‘filet de merlu’. By the time you have finished this another bottle of wine has appeared on the table.

The cheese board comes with a selection of local and regional cheeses. Linger over this with some more fresh bread and red wine.

Next you have to choose from the extensive sweet menu – gateaux, tartes aux fruits, crème glacée etc…. Then you can relax with the strongest cafe you have ever tasted. All for 13Euro!!

The only downside today was that  I had to ride back to the house a ‘new’  bike bought at a sale. Thankfully all the lower gears worked. The lanes around here are perfect for cycling as there is so little traffic, but there are some sharp hills. There is lots of opportunity for ‘off road’ cycling in the forests and vineyards.

BEAUCOUP DE PLUIE DANS LE LOT.

I’ve been going out to The Lot Valley in France for several years in the same week of June and have always enjoyed wonderful weather. Well this year things were different, as many of my other endeavors have been, and it was dull and rainy most days. The sun bathing and swimming were off the menu but there was so much more to do. Restless the first morning – so despite the gloomy outlook I went off for a stroll up the combe behind the house intending to traverse the ridge past a communications tower in the picture below.

Communications Ridge.

Communications Ridge with Clos la Coutale vineyards.

Most of the other properties were shuttered up as it is still ‘pre-season’ for the French.

Coomb de Filhol.

Combe de Filhol.

The next field had not been cut so there was an abundance of flowers, orchids and butterflies…….

I was wet through quickly from the long grass but once up onto the ridge there are good tracks. The usual views across the valley back to the house were  disappointing and there were no buzzards circling.

Once at the base of the ridge a track winds between the wooded slopes and the vineyards all the way back to the house.  I always think how well tended the vines are in this area.

There was a new addition to the scenery this year, possibly an old Simca or a Panhard??        Where did it come from?

zsimca copy

Soon I was back enjoying a glass of white fizz [£1 a bottle at local supermarket!] and a fresh salad. The misty afternoon was spent at  the nearby Château de Hauterive tasting their latest rose and red wines, along with the potent Eau de Vie made from their prunes. The Filhol family have owned this land for five generations. They cultivate with traditional organic methods.  The gravelly/clay soil is particularly suitable for vines. Malbec grapes form the basis of the richly coloured and tannin full Cahors wine. Nowadays Merlot grapes tone down the wine which is much improved with age.  It’s a pleasure to talk to Mr. Filhol and his two sons and we came away with enough wine for the week.

THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – off the ridge. Day 3

Hampton to Whitchurch.                               Click photos to enlarge.

Farmyard Pump.

Farmyard Pump.

Sun streaming through the curtains this morning and a hearty farmhouse breakfast were a good start to my last short day. Also staying at the b&b was a gentleman from Germany who was on his eighth day cycling from Lands End to John o’Groats. Of course he spoke perfect English so we dallied over tea and toast discussing long distance walking and cycling, their ups and downs. He was trying to keep to the smaller byways but finding this gave him lots more climbing. This last week, whilst the weather was fine, he had been battling with a constant head wind; the cyclists nightmare. Seeing today’s forecast he will probably be blown along with a strong tail wind and the rain it will bring.

Off to John o'Groats!

Off to John o’Groats!

A stretch of field walking took me off the ridge with views south to The Wrekin and other Shropshire hills. This reminded me of a walk I did with a friend in 2005 called simply The Shropshire Peaks Walk. Those 100 miles incorporated the main summits of south Shropshire ie Titterstone Clee, Brown Clee, Wenlock Edge, Long Mynd and The Stiperstones. A beautiful area and a reminder of the good hillwalking one can access away from the traditional mountain areas.

As I mentioned previously The Sandstone Trail is well signed and waymarked with bright yellow discs. I did not have a guide book [out of print] and my old 1:50,000 OS map did not have the route highlighted. But for two days I’d not gone astray.

The Sandstone Trail. 232

Things always get more complicated in lower farmland fields and maybe one becomes a bit laxer with navigation. It doesn’t help when the land you are passing through is Bickley Hall farm admirably managed by Cheshire Wildlife Trust. They have preserved some of the meres in the area to provide wild life habitats and set up marked trails through the farm to appreciate the diversity. I think it was one of the marked trails I was following towards Bar Mere when I realised I was heading East instead of South and there were no TST yellow markers. A minor diversion but it shows how easily an extra half hour is added to the day.

A happy group of schoolchildren were pond dipping across the field – what a delightful pastime – where’s my net?

Pond Dipping.

Pond Dipping.

The farm also bred Hebridean Sheep and traditional Longhorn Cattle.

What a contrast at the next rather unwelcoming farm -this was the sign on the right of way through their yard….

The field paths abruptly finished on the tow path of the Llangollen Branch Of the Shropshire Union canal at Willeymoor Locks and inn. A waiting queue of narrow boats were going down the canal here.

My last stretch was 3miles along the canal to the outskirts of Whitchurch. I had barely begun when with a clap of thunder the heavens opened and I was subjected to a torrential downpour. All the canal boat enthusiasts seemed happy as they drifted past and the ducks were in their element.

Garden boat.

Garden boat.

Wet ducks!

Wet ducks and camera!

Walking quickly in the downpour I soon arrived at Grindley Brook Staircase Locks but I was slowly drowning, so made a quick dash into The Horse and Jockey pub. Despite my soaking appearance I was made to feel welcome and enjoyed a pint and a chat until the rain ceased. Top marks.

Disappointingly there were no boats using the ‘staircase’ when I returned to the canal.

Grindley Brook Staircase.

Grindley Brook Staircase.

A short walk brought me to the small branch canal leading to Whitchurch, I crossed to it using a Van Gogh style bridge.

This was the end of the canal and the walk petered out in  Jubilee Park, not a very satisfactory ending so maybe I’ll walk the route in the opposite direction next time. There is  lots more to explore on this trail which I either missed or didn’t have time for this occasion. Certainly worth another look at this great little route which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

End of the Line.

End of the Line.

THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – a connoisseur’s route. Day 2.

Utkinton to Hampton.               Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge.

The eggs at breakfast really tasted freshly laid – which of course they were. The weather was OK. In a good mood I set off wandering through potato fields towards my next objective on the sandstone ridge – Beeston Castle.

Beeston Castle.

Beeston Castle.

First I had to cross the Shropshire Union Canal and the rail link to Chester running together in the valley. I arrived at Wharton’s Lock on the canal just as a boat was passing through. Everyone having their own adventures.

Lanes took me up to the restored gate house of Beeston Castle. The castle is sited on an impressive sandstone bluff and was started in the 13th century to protect an Earldom. Apparently the view from its walls extends to eight counties, I did not test this as time was pressing and the admission fee only worth it for an extended stay – which I’m sure would be magical.

A delightful interlude through fields full of poppies followed.

On the next part of the ridge was the Victorian Gothic Peckforton Castle inspired by Beeston castle.

Peckforton Castle

Thankfully some of the estate is open for a footpath climb back through trees up onto the ridge.

A great stretch of walking brings one out onto a minor lane near Higher Burkwardsley where I had heard rumours of a good inn half a mile off route. It doesn’t take long to walk half a mile and find oneself at The Pheasant Inn.

I was intending just  having a pint of the local Weetwood Cheshire Cat blonde ale until I saw the menu – I was tempted by smoked salmon on a bed of rocket and cottage cheese  bagel. The staff were very friendly and I enjoyed my sojourn in the sunshine on their patio.,with views stretching to the Liverpool cathedrals.

An afternoon of a roller coaster along the sandstone ridge lay ahead. First over Bulkeley Hill with its ancient sweet chestnuts….

…. and views eastwards to Jodrell Bank, the Pennines and Derbyshire.

Soon I was climbing again up to the highest point on The Sandstone Trail – Rawhead 746 ft / 227m,  identified by a special trig point.

On the way along the ridge there were some spectacular views of the sandstone cliffs

Apparently the sand stone from here was used in the past for scouring the stone flags in the local houses. The path went steeply downhill from here only to reascend up onto Bickerton Hill. This is owned by the National Trust and they are trying to re-establish the important heathland of heather and bilberries. To this end they are grazing with ponies to remove saplings and other vegetation.

This hill top is also the site of one of the six Iron Age Forts along the ridge. Because of the trees it is difficult to see any fortifications. I was able to get  good views back to Rawhead and Bulkeley hills before cloud and drizzle moved in from Wales.

Plunging down now through wet vegetation brought me through fields to the horse racing training complex of Manor Farm where ex-Liverpool and England soccer star Michael Owen has invested millions. Looks a very impressive place from the periphery which is as close as one can get, some rights of way having been diverted to protect the rich and famous.

A few small lanes took me to Hampton House my accommodation for the night. Another excellent b&b run by retired farmers, [ had to get out of dairy farming because of low profit margins]  Whatever their profit margins are now this was one of the better b&b s I’ve ever stayed in. Just like going home to your parents , if you know what I mean.

http://www.hamptonhousefarm.co.uk  to give them a plug.

Another eventful day’s walking.

THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – a hidden gem. Day1.

The Sandstone Trail is a 34mile/55K walk along a ridge of sandstone from Frodsham to Whitchurch. That statement really doesn’t do this distance walk justice. I have just returned from two and a half days glorious and varied walking – one of the best short routes I’ve experienced in England.

There is good transport to either end; there are excellent friendly pubs, cafes and b&bs along the way; the waymarking faultless; the varied scenery and walking underfoot superb.  Used all my hyperbole in one sentence!  Just go and see for yourself.

Frodsham to Utkinton.                     Don’t forget to click on the photos to enlarge.

After two weeks of dry sunny weather the forecast was not good and as my train arrived in Frodsham the rain had just stopped. I’d traveled via Warrington where I was given a chocolate bar to warn of service disruptions in the near future. A unique gesture – which I’ve eaten.

I knew I was in the right place when I alighted from the train ….

….and wandering through the town came across this unusual phone/stamp/posting box.

The start of the walk was soon found outside The Bear’s Paw inn

Dull weather accompanied me up onto a morning’s invigorating 5mile walk along the sandstone ridge. Notice the distinctive yellow footprint waymark logo. This wooded escarpment is composed of  sandstone with several lines of rusty red outcrop cliffs giving  views over the Wirral on a good day.

 

Helsby and the Wirral.

Helsby and the Wirral.

Coming off the escarpment I was pleasantly surprised to come across a cafe at Manley. This is Stonehouse Farm [b&b] which has been in the same family for 6 generations. As all the seating was outside I was glad that it was dry, even if a little chilly. Soup and coffee were great, I passed on the scones [see later].

            

This was followed by  different walking through the vast Delamere Forest. There is a maze of tracks in here, all well signed for walkers and cyclists. The tree population is varied with mixed conifer and deciduous  and areas of undrained ‘meres’ giving  further habitat diversity.

Good walking took me back up onto the ridge continuation for three or four miles.

Came out into more rural farming land with the distinctive metal kissing gates installed on the trail  —–

----- after you.

—– after you.

Couldn’t help but come across another wayside cafe with friendly staff. Felt I had to support them with a minor purchase of tea and scones. They were telling me of being cut off for a week in the snow storms at the end of April, the cafe can only be reached by very minor steep roads. Nevertheless today it had a steady  stream of regulars. What would the British countryside be without these simple institutions? Happy to give them a plug.

By now the day had brightened up and there was some warmth from the afternoon sun making the last 4 miles or so a delight, with views to the Clwydian range of hills in North Wales. A feature of the whole walk was the ever present crying of Buzzards circling overhead. Hopefully this gives some indication of a healthy population of these majestic birds.

The distant Clwydian Hills.

The distant Clwydian Hills.

My accommodation for the night was a beautiful old Cheshire farmhouse, just off route, and well used by walkers.

Neighbouring properties were more along the lines of those seen in Cheshire Life and costing the earth. As a measure of the wealth I noticed a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Porsche all in one drive, I kid you not.

My more humble working farm  turned out to be an excellent b&b and I was well looked after. Didn’t need to go out at night as I still had my lunch left over -made redundant with the day’s two cafe stops!

Yew Tree Farm

Yew Tree Farm

Very relaxing rural evening after a full and interesting first day.        http://www.yewtreebb.com