A Burgundy diary – 25 May 2021

Brenne and water

To the Brenne region of Berry in central France, this week-end. It is a rolling wooded and hedge-lined area south of the Loire, cut through by streams and dotted by small lakes and ponds. The streams all find their way north to the Loire.

The rock of the cliff behind our friends’ house by the Anglin is a form of limestone, between vey hard carboniferous rock and much softer chalk. It is quite friable. It was material for a now defunct, once substantial, four berth lime kiln. The machinery which once pulled the lime from the kiln to a higher level and the narrow tracks to it now nestle in the woods above our friend’s house. Jean-Paul has had built a set of steps up the cliff.

I was advised to wear a hat in the woods to avoid ticks; though one got inside my shirt and enjoyed burrowing into my skin for three or four hours. Dotted everywhere in the woods were wild asparagus which we collected and ate for Sunday lunch. (Saturday had provided a more conventional, cultivated asparagus.)

The Anglin is dotted every couple of kilometres with one-time mills. To judge by the photo below milling must have had a prosperous side to it; though – a mystery – this miller’s house (the mill was separate) had been extensively restored and then left. It had surely had little attention for two or three years I would guess: moss had recolonised the roof, and pebbles which had been spread in the garden had become over-grown by various forms of vegetation. The path on the left – including some slippery sloping clay – seemed to be the only access to the house.

Towns and villages were all built in variants of gentle stone – not all, though mostly, of limestone. The delightful, if sombre, romanesque church (below) is at Saint-Benoit-du-Sault and I was able to tell my French wife that Sault is old French for jumping: hence sauté potatoes, somersault and resulting trusts. (Yes, really. If Fred and Mary buy property, each put in money, but the property is conveyed to Fred’s sole name, then a trust jumps – or re-saults – onto the property to ensure that each get back a share equal to what they paid).

The local population has declined over the past seventy years, but some shops remain. Will on-line working begin to reverse that receding countryside tide. It will need more investment into the shops in the middle of small towns and villages if the gargantuan supermarkets are to be kept back.

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