It’s that time of the month when I re-visit a blog post written during our years in France. I’ve chosen this one because of the perspective it offers on rural life there, a hundred or more years ago. Because France – certainly where we were in the foothills of the Pyrenees – had no Industrial Revolution, country life continued more or less unchanged for many until villages devastatingly lost their menfolk during the First World War.
Country life is country life, and some of these occupations would seem familiar to our own grandparents. Others less so. Have a look and see.
Today we visited Benac, one of those small and almost picture-postcard-pretty villages outside Foix. I think it’s unlikely that too many horny-handed sons and daughters of toil live there these days. Too many freshly painted facades and cheery boxes of geraniums at the windows. Too many sleek and highly-polished cars.
But once upon a time it was a busy working community. For the last few years, every summer the villagers here and in nearby hamlets arrange carefully constructed and dressed figures into appropriate corners of both village and countryside. These figures celebrate the way of life that persisted here – and throughout France – for centuries, and only died out some time after the First World War. They call the route you follow to hunt out all these scenes Le Cami des Encantats: Occitan for something like ‘the Enchanted Path’. Come with me and take a look. Click on any image for a closer look and a caption.
The priest arrives at church.
Un poilu – a WW1 soldier, the French answer to a Tommy.
Then as now, it’s good to sit and watch the world go by.
Here’s the Garde Champêtre, paid by local farmers to keep local crops and stock safely in one place.
Pudding basin haircuts weren’t just for English children.
A colporteur: a hawker, purveyor of books and other good things.
The mobile distillery or alambic came round every autumn to distill some of the fruit crops into potent alcohol. It still happens.
An important craftsman: the nailmaker.
This man’s work is indoors. He’s at the forge.
Log sawing: always important in this wooded region, for building, fuel, joinery ….
A woman at the village lavoir, or clothes washing place. Sinks are fed from a natural water source and sheltered by a roof. One of the centres of village life.
The French love to hunt. Then it was a necessity rather than a hobby.
Le pelharot: the rag and bone man.
As in England, the pig played an important part in keeping the household nourished through the winter months.
L’estamarron: the tinker dips worn cutlery to bring it back to life
The church bellringer.
If you work in the fields all day you need water. This young woman brings it to you.
This shepherd will spend the whole summer at high mountain pasture with his sheep.
Preparing the soil for seed sowing.
She’ll sow the seeds.
We went to Foix today: county town of the Ariège, twinned with Ripon, not that anyone takes any notice of that.
It has a castle- a fairy tale castle if you’re that way out, or the scene of medieval jousting and chivalrous knights if you prefer. It’s a Proper Castle, anyway.
We always enjoy pottering down the city’s narrow little streets, and today these are what we found there…..
…. and beneath our feet ….
…and later, in the mediaeval abbey church of Saint Volusien…….
The church of Saint Volusien.
And near the altar, marching above our heads….
……these jolly creatures were marching above us, near the high altar.
Click on any image to see full size.
Yesterday, we walked in Les Dolomies, which you could confuse with the Dolomites with its craggy pillars and rocky outcrops: though actually it’s a small area between Lavelanet and Foix, just along from Roquefixade. After a few days of hot sun and blue skies, it was disappointing to have the threat of rain, but the slight mistiness brought its own beauty to the landscape, softening the distant views, and enhancing the vibrant greens of the springtime meadows. Everywhere, blossom and flowers.
We walked upwards through the woods. Anny and Maguy had a surprise for us. And quite suddenly, there they were. Daffodils. Thousands and thousands of them, extending upwards over the hillside, tumbling over rocks, leaving not an inch of path for us to walk along. The weather cleared. The sun came out. We were entirely happy.
Come and share the walk with us, along blossom-laden paths, through the daffodil woods, and then down into the valley, looking across at those still snow-covered peaks.
Craggy peaks above the blossom
Our upward path
First sight of the daffodils
At the edge of the woods: our view
Maguy enjoys the view
Now bluebells: Spanish variety, not our beloved English
Walking down to the valley
An early gentian
A magnolia in Soula
To view any of these photos full-size, click on the image.