By slow stages….
A final flurry of family visits in York and Bristol and we head for Hull and the overnight Zeebrugge ferry – the quick way to the continent from up north. OK – we are trying to be economical in our travels and could have driven to Dover and saved quite a few pounds, but we have had a trying few months and it is now so late in the year that we just want to get over to France asap. In a car the fermette can be reached in a leisurely day’s drive from Zeebrugge; in winter an overnight stop en route is better so as not to arrive in the dark at a stone cold house in the middle of nowhere. In the van we need to make it two overnight stops – but that’s OK – aires are free and we are not pressed for time.
The Pride of Bruges noses into Zeebrugge as the chilly sun rises and we head for Roye in Picardy where the aire is in a car park near the town centre. It is a pleasant and unassuming little town which is nonetheless kind enough to offer us a place for the night and facilities to service our van needs. A walk around town shows the Christmas festivities are all set up except, being lunch time in France, everything, including the festive funfair, is closed. Portia is parked facing the school and it must be the last day of term – every parent in Roye turned up to collect their child and mayhem ensued in the car park around us for half and hour. Then I guess they head for the funfair and bright lights for a fluff of candy floss to start the holidays!
Second stop is in familiar territory in Burgundy – the historic city of Auxerre . An elegant city with a cathedral atop a hill it is the centre of production of Crémant de Bourgogne (champagne method wine made just the other side of the Champagne Appellation Contrôlée boundary – a good buy!). It is a scant couple of hours from the fermette and offers a moho parking (without services) just across the river from the old town. It was a beautiful evening, spent looking at their elegant Christmas decorations and trying a great big, warm, puffy, cheesy gougère for the first time – and we had a great view over the river to the town.
Big cheesy gougères in the Christmas market in Auxerre. Yum.
Our only significant van-related incident was that the gas ran out at bedtime. It was a cold night and we needed heating. This was the original 13kg English bottle and after all our gas issues over the summer we were apprehensive about changing to the new emergency 6kg bottle. Propitiously, the change went smoothly and the heat came back on. Phew!
Arriving at the fermette and the ground is frozen solid so Portia drives up the slope to the barn doors without spinning her wheels. She is oversensitive to mud and wet grass and it has been a struggle getting her up the slight slope in the past. We had come prepared with some mats for grip but this time we did not need them.
As we hunker down in front of the wood burning stove for what is going to be the best part of a month it becomes apparent that our wood pile is not going to last much more than a week – it goes down at an alarming rate when you need to keep the fire going all day. We are dependent on the stove for heat so it matters. The wood man is very busy with the temperature having plummeted suddenly, and it is the run up to Christmas, and he has illness in the family. But he obliges us with a trailer-full at the last minute and we generate our own warmth of an hour or two stacking it in the stable. Neil barrowed, I stacked.
The weather stays icy cold but clear giving a day or two of brilliant air frosts. Neil exercises his new telephoto lens to capture this frosted tree on our walk around the fields.
And I take this one with my phone…..across the field from the sheltered lane.
Racing on ….. our two pieces of festive tinsel are dutifully draped, presents from home are stacked around the “tree” we found in the woods and Neil checks out the seasonal viewing.
We are invited to have Christmas lunch with our lovely neighbours – Madame, at 96, the doyenne of the village, and her daughter. A real privilege to be invited to share their four courses each with its own wine! They are a very private couple so – no pictures.
Given the size of Europe and the benign weather in its southernmost parts, why are we in the middle of a frozen Burgundy? Easy – we have spent a week or so over Christmas here for the past few years but this year there is also work to be done that will keep us here until mid-January. It is a big job – the barn needs a new roof. Several spot repairs over the past few years have kept it going but our friendly local carpenter/handy man has finally said he can do no more – the slates are shot and the hooks that hold them up are rusted through. And it sags a bit. The roofer has promised to start on 3 January after promising, in May, that it would be done before Christmas. Fingers are crossed.