Communal éstivities and local lakes
Having failed to buy any Comté from an authentic supplier we found good range in a local supermarket – still in Franch Comté. We bought a couple of chunks: one for us and one for some English friends who has asked us for apéro when strictly speaking it was our turn. The six month old comté was lovely – and went well with the magnificent spread Karen and Peter had laid on for us. A cross between a French apéro and an English high tea but with mediterranean delicacies.
The apéro is a great little institution over here. Happening at six or six-thirty you should prepare to leave after an hour, maybe two, and after a glass or two. The first time we went to one particular French neighbour he thought, correctly, we may need educating in how it worked and helpfully said “Let me offer you a second drink before you go”. So now we know. Having said that, the first time another set of French neighbours came around to us it lasted several hours and got very lively. But – always good to have a rule of thumb!
Karen told us of another, public, vernissage the next day. Having missed the last one I was keen to go. This one was a preview for an exhibition of many local artists – painting, sculpture, working in wood, jewellery, appliqué. It is amazing how many good artists there are lurking in the french countryside. Equally amazing is how many bad to indifferent ones are willing to exhibit in public! Then two brocantes in quick succession resulting in a cow bell for nostalgia, and a musical phonograph for Nipper back home.
Having discovered that the President of the local Red Cross lives around the corner we have now found a handy way to recycle earlier brocante purchases:-(
We needed another trip in Portia. On their perch at the back of the van our bikes had started to get restive. The Canal de Nivernais runs right through our area. Put these three things together and an obvious outing suggests itself. The canal is carefully maintained for boats and the tow paths for walkers and cyclists. We had already walked several sections of the canal nearest to us and had planned to follow it all the way from Auxerre to Decize on bikes. The canal links the Seine in the north and Loire in the south and performs this neat trick by having extensive man-made lakes on the watershed, the Etangs de Baye et Vaux, which feed water into the canals downhill in both directions.
There are basins and ports along the way with services and parking. The nearest one to us is at Chatillon-en-Bazois where a chateau overlooks water gardens beside the port, and where boats and motorhomes can pass a quiet night or two. One end of the port has neatly laid out moorings for paying boat renters and the other has a makeshift free tap and electric point for everyone else. This is a really lovely spot with a floating crêperie and friendly boaters stopping to chat – some English from the Isle of Wight and some Ozzies spending six months cruising the canals. Disappointingly, no pink gins were forthcoming .
There is a proper motorhome aire in the centre of Chatillon as well but it is in a sun blasted car park with no trees. We use its services in passing quite a lot, as it it closest to home for an empty-out on the way back, and it is handy for the shops. But for an overnight – the canal port is just perfect.
Finally, moment of truth, the bicyclettes get a trip out! It is a tow path yet, under my wheels, it managed to be uphill in both directions! Hmm. Neil whipped along it OK. I laboured along and had to get off and walk at the tiny slopes up the sides of locks or bridges. Feeble:-( We managed nine kilometres though, so not that bad for a first real effort on a hot day!
At least I remembered a flask of tea for a shady spot.
Back at the van a Dutch couple had parked up near us with the ubiquitous two bikes on the back. Theirs were electric! And they let us have a go!! Brilliant!!! They don’t do all the work for you, just enough to avoid a heart attack. When you come to a slope they silently cut in and you can pedal up it with no extra effort. I want one. Neil probably wants one. The £1,000 price tag is a bit steep however so the hunt for a second-hand ones is on. And you can charge them up on a solar panel in the van. No brainer!
The main problem with canals is that you cannot swim in them. So after a beautiful, peaceful night we picked a route home that went past a lake or two. We are only half an hour from home here by the direct route, but going north first you get to the Morvan National Park. This is a kind of Lake District without the millions of visitors – not well known at all really. Hurrah! Two lakes with aires were available so we headed for the first, keeping the second in reserve in case there was a space problem. There wasn’t and we got the last-but-one spot beside the Lac de Pannecière. There was some question about whether we were parked in the bus stop bay or a moho spot but since everyone else was already in it we felt OK.
Besides, being a bank holiday weekend, in the middle of holiday season, in the middle of nowhere, we felt the chances of a bus coming along were slight.
We sat in the shade of the trees and cooled down with a swim. It was not overcrowded.
It is a huge lake with a huge scary dam at one end: two hamlets were submerged in the making of the lake in the 1930s. Their remains can still be seen during the deccenial emptying of the lake (…and the sunken church bells toll eerily on the night air when the moon is full…..).Apparently during the now infamous rains of earlier this year it was a fine balance to hold back the enormous quantity of water in the lake and threaten the integrity of the dam, or release it and risk flooding the villages, and ultimately Paris, downstream.
Home again and a quick mention of an impromptu musical evening in small terrain just up the road. Alain, a local resident, organises musical events and Tribal Veda, his band of the year, had just finished their tour so came for a small goodbye performance at his place. There was a bring-a-dish buffet and a big campfire – for effect rather than heat. About one hundred people materialised from the deserted countryside; the horse and donkey in the adjacent field came for a look over the fence; strains of Balkan-meets-north-african melodies streamed out on the night air. A real unexpected highlight.