I’ve shown these photos before. I’ve even shown them in a previous WordPress Photo Challenge. But I’ll never forget this February sunset from a few years ago in Laroque d’Olmes. ‘Dramatic’ doesn’t seem an overstatement here.
This is my contribution to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge inviting shots of a sunrise or sunset. Click on any image to view full size.
We had quite an arresting sunset the other night. As with all sunsets, it was evanescent: here at one moment and gone the next. I’ll show it to you at the end of the post, together with the rainbow that briefly accompanied it in a rainless sky.
That sunset though reminded me of another sunset, even more dramatic, which we experienced in France in February 2014. Evanescent it might have been. But it’s etched in my memory forever.
Now then. Here’s our English sunset, from just a couple of weeks ago. Which do you prefer?
We’re just back from France. Specifically, we’re just back from Laroque d’Olmes, the town which we left exactly a year ago, and which for six and a half years, we called home.
We felt anxious about this trip. What would we feel? Would we find we’d made a horrible mistake in leaving Laroque? Would our now rusted and un-exercised French measure up to a week or more of more-or-less constant use? Would people want to see us as much as we wanted to see them?
What actually happened was that for the first few days, we barely had time to think at all. As soon as we got there, we were launched into A Social Diary. We’d have lunch here with one set of friends, our evening meal there with another. We’d slot other friends in for morning coffee, or afternoon tea. One morning we even commandeered the local bar and held court there, in order to catch up with people whom we couldn’t see in any other way. We started to flag. We simply couldn’t keep up the pace.
And luckily, we didn’t have to. Saturday was the day the walking group had suggested we set aside for them. The planned ‘rando’ had to be kicked into touch because of the promise of rain and wind. Instead, a dozen or so of us walked for a couple of hours whilst Jean-Charles, as clerk-of-works, organised a team to transform a roofed shelter outside the church in nearby Fajou into a banqueting hall. As ever, this turned into a magical occasion in which home-made tarts and pies, home-cured sausage, cheeses, bread, wine, more wine, cakes and puddings of every kind were crowded onto picnic tables for us all to feast upon as we gossiped and sang and reminisced, trying not to notice the cold and wind only inches away from us. It felt as if we’d never been away. Part of our time was spent making plans for the group to visit us here in Yorkshire. Watch this space!
Malcolm’s been lent an Ariegeois beret, and here we both are with our friend and hostess, Tine at the end of the feast.
It’s the south of France, it’s Easter Saturday, it’s freezing… but really, we ARE having fun.
The walk home afterwards. It’s suddenly got sunny.
After that, life became so much more leisurely. Lunch in Foix on Easter Sunday with friends, then a lazy Easter Monday with our hosts, getting sunburnt in the garden, cooking and eating the traditional Omelette de Pâques.
It’s memories of all those moments with friends that we bring home with us. Memories too of the much-loved scenery of the foothills of the Pyrenees. Would we return there to live? Not a chance. Laroque itself is going through very tough times, and it shows. The shop, the once-thriving music centre, children’s services – all are struggling. Some of our French friends commented that perhaps we could have made our lives easier by not getting ourselves involved in day-to-day life there, and they could have a point. We plugged into the local networks that talked and acted against corruption here, services closing there, money talking somewhere else, when instead we could have been sitting in our little bubble on a sun-dappled terrace drinking wine and sun-bathing. But by getting involved, we hope we made friends for life, and understood a little more about the society we briefly became part of. But never fully part of. Our very different background, our lack of real understanding of certain basics of French culture left us always feeling to some extent outsiders, however much we were accepted and made to feel at home. It feels as if this is the right time to be involved in life in England once more.
And anyway, who could bear to be anywhere else but here when the daffodils are in bloom?
We’ve just had good friends from Laroque staying for the week. We’ve been obliged to polish up our French, which turned out not to be as hard as we’d feared. And we’ve been doing our best to show-case Yorkshire. We didn’t expect that to be hard, and it wasn’t. But we had fun exploring links between our two home areas, something I’ve talked about before here. Easy enough when you’re walking in the hilly limestone scenery of the Dales, or discussing breeds of sheep, or our former textile and mining industries, or bumbling along single-track roads in the country, with no villages in sight.
But it would be stretching a point to find a meeting point between the land-locked Ariège, and the East Yorkshire coast, surely? Well, as it happens, no. We had a day exploring the coast near Whitby: and I remembered that during the 1800s, Whitby and parts of the Ariège, Laroque d’Olmes included, had a thriving industry in common. Jet.
Back in the mid 19th century, the fashionable French and English alike couldn’t get enough of the gleaming, richly black fossilised wood that came out of local cliffs (Whitby) and river beds (Ariège) to be transformed by local workers into brooches, earrings and lockets. In its hey-day, the industry employed thousands of people engaged in finding and extracting the mineral, carving and polishing it. Queen Victoria ensured its continued popularity in England by wearing jet as mourning jewellery when her beloved Prince Albert died.
Its decline as a fashion item matched the decline of readily available sources of the material. Somehow, by 1900, jet had lost its allure, and both areas lost an important source of employment. Jet in the Ariège is consigned to history books and museums. In Whitby, however, there’s something of a revival, and there are once more a few shops selling costume jewellery and other items made of jet.
We never found a single piece, but not for want of trying. Instead, we had a more traditional day at the sea. We ate large plates of fish and chips. We seagull-watched. We paddled on the beach and investigated rock pools. And we ended the day at the higgledy-piggledy and charming settlement of Runswick Bay, clambering up and down the cobbled streets and admiring the quaint cottages with their views across the bay.
Whitby Old Town seen from a ginnel.
The harbour at Whitby.
Fish and chips at the Quayside Fish and Chip Restaurant.
Dog at play on the beach at Whitby.
A young herring gull.
Beach huts at Whitby.
Cottages at Runswick Bay. It’s not raining. The flowers have just been watered.
The final post about le Tour de France. I promise. Because it’s actually over, as far as Yorkshire’s concerned. And as far as poor old Mark Cavendish is concerned too.
But Saturday was all about Stage One of the Tour. Up early, I dashed over to the next village, West Tanfield, to buy a paper before the road closed for the day. Six mini buses were disgorging security guards who immediately took up positions round the streets. What could be going on? Later, I found out. ‘Wills and Kate’ ( the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to you, please), due to open the Tour at Harewood House between Leeds and Harrogate, were to be helicoptered into West Tanfield at 1.00 o’clock. Later still, we discovered that my friend Penny was among those who had been presented to the Royal couple – and to Prince Harry too – since her husband’s Chair of the Parish Council there.
West Tanfield would have been a good place to be for other reasons. The riders swoop down a hill into the village and make a sharp turn over a narrow stone bridge before the long straight run into North Stainley. So there were vans from radio stations, cranes ready to hoist TV cameras aloft, and would-be spectators galore, already taking their places at prime spots and keeping the local pub and shop busy.
But we’d decided to stay put. Daughter and family had come over from Bolton and we decided that we should profit from the fact that the Tour actually passed the end of the drive. We sauntered down to the village to the stalls on the cricket pitch, and watched a little of the early action on the big screen in the village hall. Back home, we spent a happy quarter of an hour chalking ‘Ey up, Laroque’ on the road to greet all our friends in France when the TV cameras passed over. It worked, as my camera shot of the TV screen proves. But it only lasted a second and nobody but us saw it. Ah well.
What we saw though were billboard adverts that appeared for the duration all along the roadside for companies that don’t exist in England – PMU, Carrefour – and which had already disappeared an hour after the racers had passed through.
Then, finally …. tour officials in their Skodas…. British police on motorbikes….. French gendarmes on motorbikes….. support vehicles… and the publicity caravan. It wasn’t as extensive as it had been in France, but there WERE vehicles advertising French companies we don’t have in the UK, as well as British ones too. The total haul of freebies my grandchildren had thrown towards them consisted of two Skoda sunhats and a key ring. And then …….. the riders. Amazingly, after five hours up hill and down dale they were still riding in a solid phalanx, whirring towards us as a purposeful army. And then…. they were gone. Team vehicles loaded up with spare bikes aloft, more police and ambulance support followed…. and it was over. For us. Time to switch on the television and follow the action into Harrogate.
Disappointingly, my crop of Tour photos is exceptionally poor. So I’ll focus on a final look at North Stainley, which took the Tour to its heart, and delivered a very special homage to France and the Tour de France.
An early rider on the Tour
Here’s a close-up.
A decorated wheel.
A garden decorated for the occasion
The Brownies decorate the cricket pavilion.
Bunting and yellow bikes.
A French lawn.
Another yellow bike.
Frank Bailey’s extremely clever revolving sculpture.
The village symbol, constructed from bicycle parts.
All the school children re-interpreted French Impressionist paintings.
The village had to have a few knitted Tour jerseys too.
A re-interpretation of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’ on the village pond.
The church gets in on the act. ‘Le Moulin Jaune’.
Younger children at the school decorated pennants.
One of the banners at the school
Another wheely good decorated wheel.
North Stainley’s own ‘Man of the Mountains’ house.
Bill? Ben? Or a TdF cyclist?
Ooops. Someone just crashed.
The garage, now closed, has a special display of 2CVs
You’re making your last visit to Laroque today, for the time being. We left 3 days ago, and now we’re in Ripon. Those last days were a furore of packing, cleaning, ‘goodbyes’ (though never, never final farewells), and two visits from the removal firm, who couldn’t fit everything in, first time round. At this moment, perhaps, the person who bought our house is planning his own removal to Laroque.
I never told you, probably out of sheer superstition, the story of the house sale. The housing market’s incredibly tough in the Ariège just now. House prices have tumbled 25% since 2008. Properties remain unsold for one, two, three years, as unhappy owners reduce the price of their homes in hopes of at last attracting a buyer.
Whereas we had nothing but luck. A man from near Paris, house-hunting here, in the area where he’d grown up, saw our house, arranged to view, and said he liked it. A week later he came again, showing his ‘coup de cœur’ off to his mum and dad. He made a low-price offer, as you do. We refused it, as you do. But we offered him our non-attached garden, being sold separately, at a generous discount, and said we’d include some of the furniture in the house sale. Reader, he offered full price, and the rest is history. Vue-vendue.
So here we are in Ripon, ready to house hunt and begin our new lives here. Oh, and there’s the Tour de France starting in Yorkshire too, in a couple of months. We’ll keep you posted.