This shot was taken in the Corrèze, a rural part of France where the cow is – er – queen. The header photos shows that within living memory, oxen were still used as tractors. This area still has the feel of somewhere that time has forgotten. Happy souvenirs of a wonderful holiday of walking in gentle countryside with the ancient town of Corrèze as our backdrop.
We both had an affair on holiday. It was a delight while it lasted, and when it ended, as it had to, there were no hard feelings. We’d like to do it again.
We both fell in love with the Corrèze in the Limousin. As far as the eye could see there were majestic rolling hills: forested, green, largely uninhabited other than by the occasional herd of Limousin cattle. Settlements were well-ordered and charming towns and villages, often demonstrating a history dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Of course we were smitten.
Then we continued on to our old stamping ground in the Ariège. Not all of this département is actually in the Pyrenees, but the mountains are always visible. And as soon as we saw them again, we knew our affair was over.
The Pyrenees tug at our hearts like no other landscape. The gentle foothills are given added character by the backdrop of the mountains. We used to watch for the first flurries of snow on the peaks, maybe in September, while we were still in t-shirts.
Anyone living in the Ariège could name the peaks, count them as their friends – Le pic de Saint-Barthélemy, le Pic des Trois Seigneurs, Montségur. Locals would tell you, every spring, exactly how little snow should remain on the high slopes before you could plant your spuds and beans. They would be the ones to relish the mountains in every way. They’d grab their snowshoes as the snow deepened to enjoy a silent walk in the crisp, cold empty landscape.
They’d know where to look for alpine strawberries in summer, and have secret places that they wouldn’t tell their closest friends about where they’d gather mushrooms in autumn.
They loved the rugged beauty of the mountains as we did, from the majesty of the snow-covered peaks, to the riot of wild daffodils, then gentians in spring, to the muted soft green palette of the hillsides at dusk on a summer’s evening, to the rich russets and golds of the autumn woodland.
Springtime wild daffodils in the Dolomies.
Gentians at Roquefixade.
I can’t visit the mountains though without being aware they demand our respect. They’re mighty, rugged and visually stunning. As we gaze at lines of rock, crumpled in geological eras long past, as we look at tumbled boulders lining the valley floor, or delicate but dangerous sheets of scree, they remind us that, compared with them, we are here on earth for a very short space of time. They have witnessed civilisations and religions rise and fall, harboured refugees from war and conflict, provided impenetrable barriers to would-be conquerors and generally put us in our place. It’s this combination of love and respect for them that draws me and moors me to them. Mere hills and plains simply can’t compete.
As we say goodbye to Corrèze for now, it seems fitting that the Ragtag word for today is ‘crepuscule‘. It means twilight, and I always thought of it as an evening word. But it can mean dawn as well. So was this photo, taken from Sharon and Andrew’s house, and home to us for a week, taken in the morning or the evening? What’s your guess?
I was going to write a final post from the town, the region where we have been so happy this week, just taking life s-l-o-w-l-y. I’ve decided though to let a few pictures do the talking. Landcapes, townscapes, doors…. whatever took my eye, in no particular order. Best come and visit for yourselves, I think.
Corrèze old town.
Set into a house wall in Corrèze.
The gates into Sharon and Andrew’s property. You can stay here from next year, when all the work is done.
Corrèze old town. Another view.
A cagadour, or latrine at the top of an old house in Corrèze.
A spot of history, a spot of lunch, a new village to explore …. had to be done.
Orliac-de-Bar is only a few miles from here. Like so many others in the area, it has a little building, the village oven, built once upon a time to bake the loaves of those villagers who had no oven of their own. These days, when everybody uses the boulangerie or a bread-making machine, they’re generally dusted down and used only on high days and holidays
We arrived as the oven was getting going. As visitors from afar, the organisers seized on us, anxious to show off their little bit of village history. A couple of men thrust bundle after bundle of brushwood into the glowing maw of the oven. When the oven was judged to be hot enough, the woody embers were swept out, and the oven allowed to cool – just a little.
Our new friends popped an ear of wheat into a wooden clasp and introduce it into the heat. It singed. Nope. The oven was still too hot. The wheat should be burnished gold, not burnt. Try again soon…..
… the brushwood ….
….the ear of wheat ….
Eventually the oven was pronounced to be not too hot, not too cold, but just right. A small team of villagers jammed pizzas (that well known French country delicacy?) and apple tarts into the oven to be baked.
Twenty minutes later we were sitting down at long refectory tables arranged in the village square, doing what the French do best: sharing food, wine and conversation. No photos. I was too busy enjoying myself, and never gave it a thought.
The village also had an exhibition of aspects of its history. Here are some photos of a not-so-long-departed way of life. I think they need no explanation.
Ploughing with oxen. This photo is in colour, so can’t be so very old.
More ploughing. Love the head gear!
Doing the wekly wash at the communal lavoir. Many lavoirs are much smarter than this, with stone walls and a pitched roof.
One woman’s spinning wool, another flax; another one is knitting, and the fourth is basket making. Even whilst having a natter, the work must go on.
The family pig, before being slaughtered.
And here are our new-found friends, waving us off after a day well spent.
Back at home, we had a fine solid Orliac-baked loaf to accompany our cheese and salad.
Click on any photo to view full size, and see the captions.
Corrèze. It’s a town in the Département de la Corrèze. With a name like that, you’d think it would be Chief Town. But no, that’s Tulle, a city just down the road. Corrèze has fewer than 1200 inhabitants and is reached up a winding forest-flanked road with no dual carriageway in sight. It’s the River Corrèze, flowing through the edge of the town that gives it, and the département, its name .
It’s one of dozens of beautiful and ancient towns and villages in the region, but it hasn’t made the A Team. It’s not been designated one of the most lovely villages in France, and I hope it’s grateful for that. The ones that have, like Collonges-la-Rouge are tourist meccas. Doing a spot of DIY or trying to relax in your garden if you live there must be a real pain, with rubber-neckers down every street and alleyway throughout the summer.
Though it is popular with tourists, it’s not a must-see destination. And yet just look at its historic town centre.
The gate into the historic town centre.
Just inside the gate: the church of Saint Martial.
The town square, glimpsed through the doors of the church.
The Notaire (lawyer)’s place. Built during the Renaissance.
Near the town walls, a couple of houses still have evidence, high up, of the sanitary arrangements….
The old town centre, as seen from Sharon and Andrew’s house.
Who’s this little devil, spotted high up on a house wall?
The town was largely neglected by the big events in history, though the English burned it down in the 100 years war. The French Revolution passed it by, but sadly not the First World War. The town never really recovered from losing 100 of its young men. Its war memorial makes for affecting reading, recording the deaths of two, three, even four young men from the same families.
Just enjoy a few pictures from the old historic centre of this town, which has supplied all our needs all week without our needing to travel further than the country paths surrounding it. There’s far more I could show you. It’s a thoroughly civilised place to be.
Blogging has been an enriching experience for me. It’s made me write, observe, record the moment with my camera. It’s brought me a whole community of blogging ‘friends’ (you know who you are: I love the contact I have with you). And some of those virtual friends have become real friends. There’s Kathryn, who with her husband, has a holiday home in the village near where we lived in France: we’ve seen them both at home and away. There’s Ros, who once contacted me to tell me she enjoyed my posts: she’s been a good friend for several years now.
And there’s Sharon. She started to follow me when we moved to France, because it was her dream too. We’ve returned to England. She and Andrew moved to France just under a year ago, to Corrèze in the Limousin, but we’d already met a couple of times before this. We followed their progress in their new life through their blog, and recently, she announced they needed help. They had to go away for a week or so without their dog Mortimer. Dog sitter required. We applied. We got the job. And here we are.
Corrèze has seduced us completely. Here’s the view of the town from their garden.
I’ll want to share our discovery of this place, settled since the 9th century alongside the River Corrèze. But for now, come with us on our walk with Mortimer on this misty moisty morning (it was 30 degrees yesterday – but that was yesterday) through the quiet countryside. The conditions prevent my showing the gently rising and falling hillsides, thickly forested, with meadows between for the Limousin cattle, so important in the area’s economy. But it’s lovely: relaxing and restorative. Corrèze and its history tomorrow!
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