Thursday, 1 November 2012

Rambling about the Charente-Maritime

The white chaton, currently under our cat-sitting care
The rain did let up eventually and we've had some beautiful autumn weather to go exploring and to get the vessel snugged down for winter. All the sails are washed, dried and put away, ditto all the lines. Inside the heater is seeing daily use now, but luckily the colder weather has knocked down the mosquitoes. The other good thing about the cool weather is that we have refrigeration again (i.e. the forward cabin, which we now keep closed off from the cosy saloon) and can buy and store cheese and keep the beer at a more palatable temperature. Condensation is the one fly in the ointment, but leaving the hatch wide open overnight keeps it to a minimum.

Poitou donkeys, the local breed
Cycling along the riverside plains, we find a mini ecosystem in its small drainage channels: kingfishers, crayfish and even muskrats! The muskrats are not native so we were very surprised to see several of them merrily swimming along. The birdwatching is very good among the marshes and reed beds of the estuary, hundreds of herons, waders and warblers.

Wish this cafe were still in business, at the original prices
We've upped the ante on our cycling tours, doubling our distance from 30 km to 60 km on a tour to the pretty mediaeval town of Pons, which happens to be on the Chemin St Jacques (French for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) so we are still on the pilgrim route.

The Donjon in Pons (it rhymes in French)
The pilgrims' hospice, Pons
The small country roads are ideal cycling terrain, but the sign-posting is a bit haphazard and we've had a few involuntary detours. The countryside is very pleasant, mainly arable, dominated by vineyards and dotted with cute villages and hamlets centred around picturesque churches.

Detail of the church in St Germain du Seudre
The French (the rural ones, at least) seem to be preserving more of an unhurried pace of life and who can blame them? Shops still have rather limited opening hours, for example, and tradesmen seem to take a lot longer than in northern Europe. The flour mill had to wait seven months for seven of its windows to be double-glazed and reinstalled. But then if they can maintain this lifestyle in the face of global competition, maybe they're on to something.

Right now the wind is howling through the harbour with gusts of up to 45 knots, but we are nice and snug in our sheltered berth. Tomorrow, winds of 35 knots, gusting 50, are forecast. Looks like another restful day in store.

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