Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Brenne and Lanternes des Mort and Dolmen

We visited this area known as the ‘Park of the thousand lakes’ the last time we stayed in this area. The lakes are artificial made by monks in the medieval times to keep fish in. Peter canoed on one of the biggest Lac de Bellebouche and found some of the water tortoises that are only found in these lakes. They are tortoises and not turtles. He canoed out again to find them but it must be too early in the year as there were none to be found.

We camped there overnight and heard strange loud, chirping noises and Peter went to investigate… he found a pond near us with loads of frogs in that were all croaking and chirruping! The next day he took this picture but not a frog to be seen!

The map we bought in France has paces of interest marked on it and we noticed several called ‘Lanternes des Morts’. We had no idea what these were and even the people we asked at the ‘Rasso’ did not know what they were. On our way to the Brenne we passed through a village called Ciron and I noticed that there was a Lanterne there so we investigated… and found this!

When we eventually found an internet connection I ‘googled’ Lanternes des Morts’ and found an entry in a French version of ‘Wikipedia’ that once translated informed that these dated mostly from medieval times – 10th/11th/12th century and by raising a lamp by a system of pulleys to the top, a light would shine over the countryside to guide the souls of the recently departed home. If my translation is correct, I believe more modern Lanternes were erected in the graveyards dating from the First World war and that there may a few in the UK.

We hunted down a couple more local Dolmens, this one in a field near Montchevrier called the ‘Pierre de la Marthe’ and this one the Dolmen de Passe-Bonneau near St Benoit-du-Sault.
We spotted this statue of Jeanne D'Arc as we passed through Orsennes.
We also found another Lanternes, this one is at St Agnant-de-Versillat just North of the town of La Souterraine.

This one is actually in a graveyard and unlike the one at Ciron this one is hexagonal.
We walked round the graveyard and spotted this memorial plaque on the grave belonging to Albert Labrousse.

It says … ‘To the memory of the martyr Albert Labrousse born 9 November 1896 arrested by the traitors of Vichy assassinated on the 2nd of August 1944 in a torture wagon by Hitler’s monsters’. Strong stuff eh! For those who don’t know Vichy is a large town in the Allier district of the Auvergne region in Central France that collaborated with the Germans during the war.

Meeting ‘Mercotribe’

The new gasket hadn’t arrived by Good Friday so we booked another 5 days at the campsite with a view to making it a base for exploring the area. We went to the supermarket in Eguzon to stock up with food and wine and beer, all the necessities! And a trip round the village for fresh bread from the excellent boulangerie. When we were on our way back to the campsite Peter noticed a piece of paper under the windscreen wiper.

I was quite pleased with myself that I was able to understand most of it. It was an invitation to a gathering of Mercedes trucks that was being held very near to our campsite at the bridge near to the dam across the Creuse.

We had no idea what this was going to be. We were a little reluctant thinking it might turn out to be a real anoracky do, with lots of old men and their vintage Mercs! We couldn’t have been more wrong! It was actually the meeting up of people from all over France and other Francophone (French speaking) countries who live in or go travelling etc in old Mercedes vans and trucks – camions - who otherwise meet up in virtual space through an on-line forum and call themselves ‘Mercotribe’. is the web address. Here is their banner/logo.

We were the oldest people there, but despite this and our lack of fluent French, and only a couple of English speakers, we were immediately accepted and felt very welcome.
Here are some of the various vans and trucks.

… and some of the lovely lads we met …

especially lovely Lolo ( Laurent Kami) a French white Bob Marley who we have a special connection with … That's him again on stilts!

and Lulu (Ludwig… yes that’s his real name, don’t know his last name) with Jojo (from Paris)…

and Syb or Seb (Sebastian whose real name is Pierre!).
This is Lulu being dragged off by Seb as he is trying to make sure he gets to sleep and goes to his work in the morning!

Mercotribe collect money at their meetings for an organisation called Azzeka, a charity that cares for children in Morocco, by selling bottles of Moroccan wine (good wine!) and selling cooked food – lamb tagine (also very good!).

We stayed there overnight, and although the ‘rasso’ short for ‘rassemblement’ meaning a gathering or assembly, was going on until Easter Monday, we decided to leave and come back on the last day as we felt a bit out of place not speaking French and being older. We did a bit of Touristy sight-seeing at the weekend to Crozant and Fresselines; both villages famous for art-related reasons. Crozant is famous for a school of painting that was started by an artist living there and Fresseline is famous as Claude Monet lived there and did a lot of paintings of the area including the ruins at Crozant.

We came back on Monday night, which we thought was the last night but just about everyone had gone, but Lolo, Lulu, Seb and Jojo. They were all having a drink in Jojo’s caravan and they invited us to join them.

We stayed up late talking to them, luckily Lolo’s English is very good! We found out that when they were at school and learning English they had a book similar to our ‘Janet and John’ books (if you’re as old as us!) where the main character is called ‘Brian’ and one of the phrases that was quite popular was ‘Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen’! I told them that my Dad is called Brian and he is often in the kitchen doing the dishes ! They were taught to speak English as though they had a potato in their mouths to get the vowel sounds! This became a sort of catch phrase with us all. Where is the sister of Brian is also featured and Lolo said at one point “where is the daughter of Brian? He doesn’t know…somewhere in Europe!” We stayed overnight there again. We swapped email addresses and phone numbers with Lolo to keep in touch when we left to go to the post office to see if the gasket had arrived. He invited us to his home in a village near Eguzon to fit the gasket, but it had not arrived and we decided to go and visit the Brenne Natural Park area for a couple of days.

Eguzon encore !!

We arrived back in Eguzon on Monday 2nd April and went to ‘Les Nugiras’ the municipal campsite a few kilometres from the village. The cost is very reasonable – 5.60 Euros per night for a place and 2 people (about £3.75 per night). This includes all the facilities except electricity hook-up, which we didn’t bother with, and washing machine, which we did!

The gasket that Peter had fitted in Aberdeen blew again, as he had not used new studs and nuts) and was making a noise so Peter phoned Bell’s Trucks in Spennymoor near Darlington, near where his brother stays in Mickleton (see previous post!) as they do Mercedes parts, and got them to send out the bits to the post office in Eguzon. We booked in four days initially. We also decided to do a bit of house-hunting as we had seen a few old properties we liked the sound of on the internet.

We approached one of the ‘immobliers’ – estate agents offices I Eguzon and I prepared what I needed to say in French in my head – only to be met by a ‘hello’ in a Herefordshire accent! Hilary had previously run an auberge – an inn with a pub and this was her first day in her new job in her new office. Unfortunately the company catered specially for the Brit market, and so unless you wanted to pay through the nose, or join a British Ghetto, they did not have the kind of property we wanted. Finding some of the properties was an adventure in itself as directions tend to be very sketchy. This is probably deliberate as negotiations with the seller could prove to be a lot cheaper than through one of these agencies. Anyway there were no properties anything like what we wanted so we have put house-hunting on hold for a while as we have found that we quite like this nomadic life and discovering new places!

End of part 1

Friday, 13 April 2007


Heading away from the snow we decided to find out what the country was like south of the Central Massif and headed for Rodez.

We found a Camperstop that was by a park near a river and had drinking water and dumps for chemical toilet etc. Perfect – what a great country this is!

Walking the dogs through the park we saw this stone crucifix on a medieval bridge crossing a mill-race.

Hollowroot Corydalis cava a member of the Fumitory family, which doesn’t grow in Britain.

Jay Garrulus glandarius.

Speckled Wood butterfly Pararge aegeria
...and this big shiny beetle… I’ve no idea what his name is…possibly ‘Alexander’ (one for Pooh fans) ;o)

There are loads of these graveyards with the graves covered with greenhouse like constructions… no idea why.

I managed to get this picture of the hill-top chateau at Onet le Chateau just outside Rodez as we whizzed by!

Enquiries at an estate agent in Rodez revealed that house prices were way too high for us in this popular area so we headed back up to Eguzon, the area we knew and liked.

Le Pont Chretien-Chabenet, Eguzon and a night on a bare mountain!

We whizzed through Nantes and Poitiers and as we are quite close we deviated towards Argenton sur Creuse and the area where we spent a holiday three years ago. We knew there was a little campsite near le Pont Chretien and headed for there but it was closed. We had a look around Pont Chretien but there was nowhere to stop. So we headed for the nearest camperstop in the book which was at Eguzon. Failing to find the camperstop we found a pull-in near a small river ( La Claviere) that had plenty walking through woods and meadows, and spent a lovely night there.

These plants were all from around the area where we camped up near Eguzon.

Cowslips Primula veris meaning pensiveness or You are Divine! The heady scent of cowslips is said to calm the nerves and the wine that is still from them today, noted for alleviating insomnia.

Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys In the language of flowers the Speedwells represent Semblance and female fidelity.

Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca - a natural remedy for digestive problems and diarrhoea can be made by infusing 2 teaspoonsful of the chopped leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drink three cups daily.

Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis- it is a so-called ‘signature plant’ because in ‘the Doctrine of Signatures’ –that stated that the shape, colour etc. of a plant gave an indication or ‘signature for its beneficial properties or uses. Because of the blotched lung-like leaves it was seen as a remedy for chest complaints. The leaves and stems are, however, diuretic and expectorant; so an infusion can help soothe sore throats and coughs!

Sorrel Rumex acetosa – The leaves of sorrel have an acidic, lemony flavour and can be added to salads for a ‘zing’! Sorrel soup is a country favourite now gaining popularity through ‘The Covent Garden Soup Company’

Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea called ‘pixies’ in Somerset – anyone picking it is likely to be ‘pixy-led’.

Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes – growing up to 15cm on walls and rocks.

Wood Anemone or Windflower Anemone nemorosa

Burnet either Greater or Salad Burnett, probably Greater Sanguisorba officinalis – The name comes from sanguis (blood) and sorbere (to absorb) and refers to the plant’s ability to reduce bleeding.

Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea- formerly used to clarify and flavour beer and known as ‘alehoof’.

And finally… an odd one –these low growing purple flowers that I have never seen or heard of! I think they are parasitic and will have to do some internet investigating!!

These caterpillars were in a meadow and the warm sunny day had brought them out of hibernation. They are caterpillars of a Fritillary butterfly that spend winter in a silken tent.

We saw these butterflies in a wood just before Argenton where we stopped to walk the dogs.

A Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa this must have just come out of hibernation as it was a wonderfully warm day, the warmest since our arrival.

And this Large Tortoiseshell Nymphalis polychloros now extinct in Britain.

We studied the map and decided to head for Riom es Montagnes which was up in the mountains of the Central Massif to see what this area was like. We passed through Aubusson, Ussel and Bort les Orges (a lovely little hillside town as a lot of them are).

As we drove through this area where it took us through hillier terrain, it took on a distinct look of Scotland with pine forests with lots of moss and lichens and blue hills.

Looking at the France Passion book, we saw that there was cheese farm that sounded as though it was nearby and looked like it was on the map. Little did we know that the apparently short distance was up, and up and up round and round little roads up a mountain. We eventually found the farm high up in the mountains, introduced ourselves and settled in for the night. We were a bit taken aback when we woke to this scene!

It continued to snow all morning and we were worried we would not manage to get out, but with Peter at the wheel of our trusty truck we slowly wound our way back down the mountain when we were able at last to breathe out a sigh of relief!!


Arrived in Carnac and went to the museum to get info on where the tombs and circles etc. were. I bought a book and was given a free map of the megalithic sites in the area around Carnac. It’s amazing the place is just crowded with massive dolmen and alignments of many, many huge stones.

Here are some views of one of the longest alignments at Menec, just outside the town of Carnac.

And this one at Kerlescan or Kermario ( I can’t remember which it is now!) a short distance away also has a dolmen, a tomb of huge stones which would have been covered over with a cairn of smaller stones.

We found a campsite near Vannes about 20 minutes from Carnac that was beside an aerodrome and army parachute training base. We stayed two nights here and saw loads of these guys drifting down on parachutes!!

We tracked down this huge chambered tomb at Mane-lud near Locmariaquer, another lovely seaside town along the coast from Carnac. A house has been built right beside it as you can see. There were many carvings on the rocks inside the passage and chamber.

We went in search of others but they were in a poor state. We came across a little chapel of St Madeleine where we spotted this little building. It houses a special sort of font thing for blessing cattle!

Some plants we saw around Carnac …

Butcher’s Broom Ruscus aculeatus or Jew’s Myrtle. Butchers apparently found this plant useful for sweeping their wooden chopping blocks. It was also used by grocers to protect Christmas displays of bacon and cheeses from mice.

Lords and Ladies (flower) Arum maculatum covered in previous blog.

White Campion Silene alba meaning youthful love in the language of flowers.

Meadow Buttercup Ranunculus acris a more delicate plant than the more common creeping buttercup R. repens. A posy of buttercups can mean prosperity or ingratitude in the language of flowers. Irish farmers used to rub their cow’ udders with buttercups, in imitative magic, to increase the milk yield and the richness of the butter!

And this white member of the fumitory family which I have yet to identify its name etc.

We also spotted this Brimstone butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni The herald of spring!

Heading off towards Clermand-Ferand tomorrow! Saw these wonderful tree stump characters decorating the area around a pub/auberge on the road from Carnac!!

Don't know who this is!