a change in landscape

September 1, 2012

After many trips to Aix to see special people and enjoy the town,  it was welcome to view and be involved in the surrounding landscape at close quarters. Previously on the trips from Languedoc to this part of Provence,  I’ve  just had the tantalising glimpse of Mte Saint-Victoire whilst whizzing down the last part of  La Provençale – elegant name for a motorway. The muggy afternoon prompted the short trip to Le Tholonet, below the mountain which figures in Cézanne’s work. The white limestone of the summit contrasts with the red clay on the lower level.


Le Tholonet sits within the area of Réserve Naturelle. Rangers block off certain parts of the twiggy wooded areas at this time of the year as forest fires can ignite without warning. Fastigiate cypress punctuate against the rounded forms of the pines  – the look of Provence – vineyards and fields of wildflowers also form part of the landscape.

L’Arc et La Cause are the two rivers which wend their way through the Haute Vallée de l’Arc. Streams cascade down and bubble over the rock formations on their way to feed into the rivers creating a cool atmosphere. Also a wet and slippery playground . . . .

. . .  hardly a soul here. Plenty of space for all on a week day afternoon.

Holm and turkey oaks form the scrubby layer under the pines. Gorse, broom and rosemary figure too but at this time of year it’s predominately a green landscape with just the herb layer of grasses and thyme browning off.

Back in Languedoc, the agricultural feel dominates. There is heavy tall woodland here too – all holm oak – denser and rougher than in Provence. Some olive groves contribute to the look of the landscape but to a lesser degree. The olive has given way to the vine. The vehicles – tractors and white vans –  are more noticeable in the vineyards now denoting final tweaking in the last few weeks before the vendange.

Clematis flammula and oaty grasses greet me again on the verges of the tracks around the village. Love it.

I’m amazed the earth hereabouts

lets me breathe its atmosphere,

that the voices I hear

permit me to listen.

When a word soars: such a flight

through these distances,

you’d need the voce of a nightingale

to take its measure.  Jo Shapcott  Born Off

very close to home

August 6, 2012

Well, this post is entirely selfish – and a start on some visual notes that I need to record well ahead of the end of this sojourn – and yes, somewhat melancholic. But, also revelling in great enjoyment of the events that happen within this landscape. The events are mostly horticultural. There’s plenty of time, thank goodness, to absorb the changes in this close environment. This tree grows into the first floor of the house. the roots willl probably undermine the foundations – it’s hugely important – full of birds in early summer and increases the movement of  air in to the 1st + 2nd floor rooms. I can catch hold of the branches from all the windows and balconies and love to do so.  It is a Celtis. Graceful, non flowering, tough, reliable – is that enough to warrant selection for potential schemes? Yes, it is!

The strong thrusting growth of bupleurum- covering hill sides now, with the mustardy limey green umbels – small flat plates – floating on unassuming and waxy foliage and stems. Especially great visually bouncing off the silver foliage of olive trees. A good stand of olives here planted correctly on a grid. Well shaped canopies – set against the holm oak woodland backcloth. And with fruiting blackberries – mmm !

Clematis flammula is now covered in seed heads – what a great contribution it makes the ground layer here – early in leaf in April and then smothered in white flowers from June to August. Now, puffy in texture with a cobweb is caught within the seiderdown layer.  Mixtures of grasses – oaty and wheaty – line the lanes.

As the light drops, wildflowers and grasses on the uncultivated land, invite the gentle caress . . . .

. . . unlike the cactus. This sits below a bridge, almost hidden,  in uncultivated ground. Quite incongruous . . . .

. .  more understandable is the village pump, still recognisable as an engineered feature, under the very old silver lime. Maybe there were more of these trees – how lovely if this was so . . . enjoying  the big skies and expanses of light . . .

. . . this village, along with most in Languedoc, is set within an imprint of 2, or maybe, 4 crosses. I find I notice them now, and indeed, look for them entering other small habitations.

The morning glory – gorgeous, voluptuous and exotic – to be admired at opening time and allowed to sleep at closing time.

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity. Emily Dickinson  Nature Is.

évènements inattendus

July 30, 2012

Many of the walks out from the hameau are nicely circuitous and also flexible in length. Usually, my early evening routes are 7, 10 or 12 kms of up and down hill and through varied scenery – vineyards of course, holm oak woodland, garrigue type scrub, wild flower knolls, along streams, village roads – all without seeing another human at close quarters. Work goes on in the vineyards until dusk and many vehicles use the small road network – most drivers make acknowledgement (crazy English – walking!!). It’s possible to cast the eye across 180 degrees and see not a sign of human life – no buildings or roads – apart from the obvious tending of the vines. Yesterday’s stroll encompassed Les  Mattes and the wild flower knoll (on a previous post) now ploughed up for the planting of more vines. Areas get left fallow and then bought back into use on a cyclical system. I was keen to find the correct route, having failed last time, around Le Grange de Péret. Then I ended up ploughing through bramble and  jumping ditches!  The land that I presume goes with Le Grange is quite beautifully managed – as though unmanaged – with well selected objets left as though . . . .  such as this part of a camion.


. . .  opera pours out of the open windows of Le Grange and lots of German voices to be heard yesterday – thought so!   Just before the buildings I found 2 plants of Echinops ritro, thrusting out of the path edge. That was my ident anyway! Native to here, yes, but strange in this very rural landscape although there is plenty of a dwarf and very pale papery Eryngium which looks at home with the other flora.

Round the bend into the back end of Lenthéric and its many domaines, decided to stop by some varied cultivation – quite a relief after acres of vine stripes – and monitor the tomatoes.  There should be a photo of the guardian – four paws – here, but he was too busy trying to eat the camera. Farm dogs – usually hounds for la chasse – make a lot of noise and fuss, need to sniff, and quite often accompany whoever for a few metres along until boredom sets in. Sort of predictable and quite amusing!

Strolling out off the village to the moulin, a strange sweet smell wafted from the west. Very sweet but also pungent . . .

 . . . dark skinned blacks, of course, to avoid skin cancer. A big surprise to see a herd – more than 50 – in this area. We’re used to goats and some pale cattle inhabiting the oak scrub, but the warning is the sound of bells as against  ‘perfume’!

Little piggy bottoms! And a poem that some might find tasteless and some tasty! and a video – poem by S. Milligan.

In  England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn’t read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, “By gum, I’ve got the answer!”
“They want my bacon slice by slice
“To sell at a tremendous price!
“They want my tender juicy chops
“To put in all the butcher’s shops!
“They want my pork to make a roast
“And that’s the part’ll cost the most!
“They want my sausages in strings!
“They even want my chitterlings!
“The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
“That is the reason for my life!”
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grizzly bit
So let’s not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
“I had a fairly powerful hunch
“That he might have me for his lunch.
“And so, because I feared the worst,
“I thought I’d better eat him first.”  Roald Dahl

Just another strange sighting of a doorway in Aigues Vivres – close by here. Hooves, yes, but of what. I’ll stop now as it’s getting ghoulish! 

Many vineyards stretch between this  hameau and Caussiniojouls. Many paths meander through this landscape offering varied experiences. All paths, verges and areas of vegetation are now filled with flowering Bupleurm – small umbels of lime green attracting butterflies and other insects with wings. Clematis flammula  –  frothy and white – is still flowering after a month – lovely to see it spread across the ground like a white lacy cloth  . . .  

 . . .  just after taking this photo, a hare appeared on the path and stopped, stricken with shock at seeing a human, before bounding away.

Beautiful, strong and now, sound stone work on the Château walls. It’s in the process of restoration . . . .

 . .  12C buildings with a 18-metre high castle keep that dominates the area.

Le chat du Château?

Some areas of the village have received the seed sown wild flower mix – decorative but nothing like the natural verges . .

 . .   the odd althea (hollyhock) seeded as village merges with the vines. Just after taking this photo another hare leapt across the path. Two hares – surely that is lucky?

At the eleventh hour he came,
But his wages were the same
As ours who all day long had trod
The wine-press of the Wrath of God.

When he shouldered through the lines
Of our cropped and mangled vines,
His unjaded eye could scan
How each hour had marked its man.

(Children of the morning-tide
With the hosts of noon died,
And our noon contingents lay
Dead with twilight’s spent array.)

Since his back had felt no load ,
Virtue still in him abode;
So he swiftly made his own
Those last spoils we had not won.

We went home delivered thence,
Grudging him no recompense
Till he portioned praise of blame
To our works before he came.

Till he showed us for our good–
Deaf to mirth, and blind to scorn–
How we might have best withstood
Burdens that he had not born!  Rudyard Kipling The Vineyard

les trois tours

July 1, 2012

The recognised walk  ‘Les Trois Tours’ covers 13 kms of vineyards, woodland, hill contours, hedged lanes and plateau to the west and north west of Faugères. There is the odd glimpse of the tours over tops of holm oaks and through the occasional gap in the vegetation but, it isn’t until one gets within a couple of kilometres, that the ‘goal’ is seen clearly. This is tantalisation in the French manner!!! There is a quick 10 mins walk directly from the heart of the village and there is car access for those less energetic! Perfume from the Bruyères wafts in the air well before the yellow flowering shrubs are seen – more tantalisation! 

Originally, in 16C  there were 3 buildings or towers – the mills used for grinding wheat,when this land was covered with céréales long before vines were planted. Now well restored as a functioning mill with middle building used as living quarters for mill worker and the half tower as a lookout. 

From the half tower, on a clear day it’s possible to see the sea 40 kms away to the south, and the Pyrénees to the southwest, the Caroux to the west, the Cevennes to the north and Agde and Narbonne to the east . . . . 

 . . . .  from the brochure: “The noise is tremendous! It’s almost scary, as we’ve just been told that the roof weighs 7 tonnes , and that to be able to turn the sails in function of the wind direction, the pointed roof is not fixed to the walls!!! The noise comes from all directions… the sails themselves, but also the octagonal axle that taps against a wood carved horses’ head, which shakes free the grain, down between the 700 kilo round stone block, which rotates onto the 1000 kilo “fixed”stone. What a racket… impossible to hear yourself talk! It’s almost a relief when the guide puts the break back on!”

The dry stone walls and their restoration is impressive . . .

 . . . All impressive but this one’s not impressed!

I’m amazed the earth hereabouts

Lets me breathe its atmosphere,

That the voices I hear

Permit me to listen.

When a word soars: such a flight

Through the distances,

You’d need the voice of a nightingale

To take its measure  Jo Shapcott   Born Off

Above Lenthéric, there is a knoll that faces due east. It’s a perfect place to scramble up to past the buildings of La Grange  – opera floats out of the windows –  before flopping down in the sparse wildflower layer with many scabious to view the surrounding landscape . . .

. . and on the way back to La Liquière, there’s a very small piece of land belonging to Clos Fantine that seems quite breath-taking in the early evening light. It’s all vines and wine here – very dense and focused on the product –  but also plenty of recognition and allowance for nature. Clematis flammula spreads across any horizontal and vertical surface – flowers like an icy breath – beautiful and undisturbed.

Dipsacus fullonum stretches up through the verge sides and the caper is flowering  – fine straight purple stamens on the flowers – in contrast to the thick, tough and scrambling nature of the plant itself . . .

. .  all to be admired! Also lying back in it all and watching the sky!

At  Le Jardin Sec, the Filippis grow plants that are tolerant to the dry conditions of the Mediterranean basin. Many plants here are native to the area including the grass with wavy florescence, Stipa pennata.

Some landform provides the height for plants that relish even more exposed and drier conditions than those planted and growing on the flat. Sophora japonica ‘Pendula’ cascades over Stipa gigantea and yellow flowering Cistus atriplicifolius. Scabiosa cretica, evergreen and shrubby, billows out in the foreground.

Gravel paths give access through the informal planting. Delicate Gaura, seen in many situations around Languedoc in these months – roundabouts, mass planting, retail parks and town parks and garden – is now springing into life and attracting all insect life.

The silvery foliage of Ballota makes a great contrast to the red leaves on the Cotinus – surprisingly drought tolerant and also seen effectively in landscape plantings – simple and aesthetically pleasing. Favourite of mine,  Bupleurum, lime green and waxy, is flowering on verges and in woodland edges, both above Lenthéric and in Le Jardin Sec. Happy in itself! It’s a dream!

I went outside looking and looking

for a garden and the hill. I have lost

my shadow and my oak and my night sweat.

The field was just mown and the summer

so hot there was no green in it,

layers of russets and yellows,

and I was swelling with mosquito

bites and I was listening to Fado.

The trees around the perimeter

were a block of solid colour,

shockingly uni-green by contrast.

(my stomach fluttered at the sight – and

gut epithelium is five days old at most)

Look further into the stands of trees

and everything changes (my cerebral

and visual cortex is as old as me). The eye

can’t locate an individual shade:

it’s all delicate tips and hints

of green rolling in the wind.

We are moving and I can’t see a thing.  Jo Shapcott Viral landscape

above Cabrerolles

June 13, 2012

Learning lessons from my last post, when I discovered how quickly the visual aspect of this landscape can change, I thought to record the swelling nature of the terrain looking down across Cabrerolles to the south and the sea. The slender brush strokes of the vines within the vineyards will become a mass of green very soon as the foliage develops into frothy mass when seen from from above.  

This village grew because of the potential strategic situation within the area of mountains to the north, the valley of the river Orb weaving through east to west, and the great vantage point of being 700 metres above the plain of Béziers. The sea to the south visible within a 180 degree panorama. An ancient route for travellers and a military landmark.

Parts of the castrum – the ruins of the keep and 2 rectangular watch towers  – give clear indication of the historical buildings set within the rock face. Notre-Dame de la Rocque sits on the top of the rock but below the mountainous backcloth. Sober Romanesque architecture, modest in size as this is a rural environment.

Desuz un pin, delez un eglanter

Un faldestoed i unt, fait tout d’or mer:

La siet li reis ki dulceFrancetient.

Blanche ad la barbe et tut flurit le chef,

Gentad le cors et le cuntenant fier.

S’est kil demandet, ne l’estoet enseigner.

Under a pine tree, by a rosebush,

there is a throne made entirely of gold.

There sits the king who rules sweet France;

his beard is white, with a full head of hair.

He is noble in carriage, and proud of bearing.

If anyone is looking for the King, he doesn’t need to be pointed out.

La Chanson de Roland  Song of Roland  1140 – 1170

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