September is such a great time to visit France. The weather is still warm – even very hot – and there is so much going on. Despite all the noise in the media this year about the gilets jeaunes, I haven’t seen any in this corner of France. Having travelled by car back to the UK a couple of times, I can say that by avoiding the big cities, which you can easily do when coming by ferry from the UK, you have a free run with not a yellow vest in sight.
And there is so much going on here in September. The 21st and 22nd September are celebrated throughout Europe as Heritage Days, when historic monuments, civil, religious, hospital, judicial, school, military and industrial buildings are opened to the public, mostly for free.
In France, it is known as Patrimoine Weekend and there are a number of places locally open to the public over the weekend. Our closest is a working mill at La Grimaudiere, where the same family have been in residence for several generations. The mill, Surin, is the last of four that once worked in the village. There are a number of water sources dotted about the village, the main one sending out three square metres of water from the ground every second. It explains why the village was established there in the first place! From the pond that surrounds the source, clear water flows along the river leading to the mill, about half a mile downstream and a favourite place to take Ella for a walk. Through the crystal clear water you can see fish, on occasion animals swimming, and the beautiful trailing weed, rocks and sand on the bottom.
Just short of the mill, a leet takes the water for 200 metres or so to a channel under the mill.
There, inside the building, an oak paddlewheel made around 1640, with 32 blades and with an impressive 4.3 m diameter powers the working machinery of the mill where, on Patrimonie days, Bernard, the owner, produces flour for the visitors. The mill was bought by his great-grandmother and he was brought up in the tradition of millers in the area. He’s been carefully restoring and maintaining the mill since it came into his possession. Many visitors from the village and further afield enjoy visiting here and the beautiful garden on the edge of the river on these special open days.
Yesterday, whilst planning where we were going this year, we began the day with A testing out a recipe for fig jam. Last year a flock of starlings descended and stripped the tree of all the fruits in minutes. This year the fig tree is bursting with fruit. We’re determined not to let the birds get them again and are going to make batches of jam and preserves as they ripen. After soaking the fruit overnight with lemons, it boiled away merrily. Without a thermometer, we tested the jam on a chilled plate, declared it at the setting point and potted up three jars. It tastes delicious and we are preparing today to make the next batch. Possibly the easiest jam to make!
Having satisfied ourselves in the preserving department we set off for a rather quaint mediaeval castle, about half an hour from here. The English owners have restored it and decorated it in mock mediaeval style with gallantry and aplomb. With a tower, drawbridge and a moat, it is any little boys dream castle and of a size that is not overwhelming. The small black pig in the pigsty was generating a great deal of interest from visitors, as were the beautiful red roses in the garden, which were flowering prolifically.
The grandchildren of the owner had been busy making cakes and their stall seemed to be doing very well. We bought some and greatly enjoyed them with tea when we got home. Despite the entrance fee, which we hadn’t expected on Patramonie day, the castle was bursting with visitors and the narrow spiral staircases caused quite a jam. It was quite a climb to the top floor of the tower and I have to say, I felt for the poor housekeeper who has to climb those stairs with bedding! I thought our staircase was bad enough, but we have the width and fortunately, although it goes up three stories, it is less steep and arduous than the one in the castle!