Today we moved off to Damvix. This was a bit of a mental challenge. The journey was a mere 65 miles but it was 65 miles north and we don’t usually do north only halfway through a trip. Logic and emotion dictate south but, this year, logic has to be discarded. France continues to be very unsettled vis-a-vis the weather with the south and the east seemingly taking the brunt of the storms. Counterintuitively, the more settled weather has thus far been in the west and the north.
Casting tradition aside, we set out and headed north. Shortly after leaving we began passing dozens of stork nests built on the side arms of electricity pylons. Since French roads are largely straight and largely empty, especially on a Sunday, even the driver gets to snatch glances without much danger. To make sure we continued to concentrate, after we had entered the Marais Poitevin area, a stoat shot across the road in front of us. Rarely a dull moment.
We made the short trip in a little under 2 hours and received a very warm welcome from the campsite owner who remembered us from previous visits. Such a greeting instantly makes one feel at home. We arrived to a marché fermier (farmers’ market) in full swing in Damvix so we pitched up and wandered off to investigate. The first thing we bumped into was a very chirpy man selling all manner of live poultry: chickens (both hens and cockerels) ducks, young geese, quail, guinea fowl – very French. Amongst others, there was a lady making cane work for chair seats, another lady with a bread oven, a young blacksmith and, of course, a man selling goat cheese so I just had to dip into the food budget.
The star turn, the one that really got my digestive juices flowing, however, was a couple of guys barbecuing anguilles (eels). This being a marsh area of apparently reclaimed land, now drained by an extensive network of drainage canals emptying into the La Sèvre Niortaise river, eels are plentiful and very much a local speciality. Unlike Carol, I love them. Cheap they weren’t but €8 just had to be sacrificed to buy an assiette des anguilles. They were excellent. As I walked around the market happily munching away, a few people greeted me with a cheery, "bon appetit". So polite, the French.
We returned to Billy for lunch outside where we were causing a pair of chaffinches to fret because we were too close to their nest in one of the trees on the edge of our pitch. We’ll try to ignore them and, hopefully, they will become accustomed to us.
In the later afternoon we cycled the short distance, about three miles, into Arçais to find Mike and Linda’s house. Now armed with a complete address, we realized that, on two previous trips when trying to find their house just on the off chance that they would be here, we had been looking on the wrong side of the road. That was because I knew they had a barque (local boat) and the canal was on one side only. It seems that all houses, however, have right of access the the water. Live and learn.
Much to Mike’s delight, over a drink or two, Carol found some as yet undiscovered lizard orchids growing in their garden. One had fallen to the lawn-mower but more care will now be lavished on the survivors.
There was quite a gathering for the evening with Linda’s family being in residence as well as some of the colourful and friendly locals joining in; eleven in all. Mike and Linda are pretty well fluent in French and some animated conversation flowed. Carol and I followed some of it though not, of course, all; the occasional translation was necessary. Damp and overgrown barbecues were dried out and eventually encouraged to burst into life and a great time was had by all.
Cycling back in the fading light, a dark shape began running along the roadside before us. I accelerated and closed in on it just before it crossed the road and disappeared into the undergrowth. It was a pine marten. Not a bad wildlife way to end a good day.