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They think it grows on trees…

I get my annual delivery of firewood about now and of course once delivered, it has to be stacked (neatly of course, we have to keep up with the standard of the French neighbours) to dry out for use the following year. I usually get through about 5 or 6 cordes of wood (depending on how cold/long the winter is) and that is quite a lot of wood! A corde is roughly 1 x 3m3, but this varies according to the type of wood, where you live and often who is supplying it. The locals around here are quite obsessed with wood – it is still one one of the more economic ways of heating, but wood prices are now increasing along with all the other fossil fuels as more people are using it to heat their houses instead of fuel, gas or electricity. Trying to explain that to gite guests isn’t always easy as there are so many trees around here I think everyone assumes it is free. In fact I pay more for wood here than my father does in the UK, 160€ per corde this year, for mainly oak (la chêne) with a little beech (du hêtre).

Anyway, the delivery fortunately ‘coincided’ with the visit of OH, who is an expert wood stacker (over 6 years experience now), so as a tribute to him, here are some photos showing How to Stack a Woodpile Properly:

A good base structure is important
The first few layers…
Getting there
5 hours later…finished

Of course you also have to be careful of the snakes – there are vipers about and they often hide in the woodpile. I’m not sure if they are protected in France as they are in the UK, but my old neighbour shoots them if he sees them, regardless of any legal protection the snakes have. He took great pleasure in showing us one of the dead ones he shot earlier this year – the trick is if you see one, look again the next day in the same place, at the same time and it will be there, and a sitting target, so to speak. Apparently snakes are creatures of habit, very much like my neighbour.




A rather lovely day

Not just for the wonderful weather we enjoyed here yesterday – 25°c and very sunny . The oldest resident of the hamlet came home today for the first time in 2 months. Maria Garner is 82 and had a second stroke in August. Since then she has been in a nursing home since then having also fallen and broken her leg. La Mancelière has been her home for over 50 years, she gave birth to 5 children here and it was very emotional for her and her familu when she came back for the day. We were invited over for an apéro and lunch and it was such a pleasure seeing her again. She has had a pretty tough life, married to a Breton paysan who is still incredibly chauvanistic, but she has never complained. She used to go on a bike ride every afternoon before her first stroke 5 years ago, then afterwards when the weather was OK she would go out for a walk every afternoon and I often met her on the road during my daily dog walk. Everyone here hopes that she gets well enough to live the rest of her life in her own home, enjoying the wonderful view over the valley that she has from her house.

The oldest and youngest resident in the village

Autumn in Brittany

The nights have been a lot colder this Autumn than in previous years. We’ve even had a couple of light frosts which is very unusual. September and October are lovely months to take a holiday in Brittany – the weather is usually quite good, not too much rain, the colours of the trees fantastic, and of course there are fewer other tourists around so that you can enjoy the attractions without having to endure the crowds. All the guests who are staying at the moment have even gone to the beach today! On all my local footpaths, the chestnuts are falling in enormous quantities everywhere.

Sweet chestnuts … Everywhere!

Not the horse chestnuts that are good for conker playing, but the sweet ones which are lovely to eat roasted on an open fire or cooked in the oven.

The maize harvest (encilage) is in full swing at the moment – tractors are everywhere  on the roads transporting the cut maize, stem, corn, everything to the various small farms everywhere. It is wise to add on a few minutes to all journeys at the moment as the chance of getting stuck behind one or several tractors is even higher than normal. The maize itself is grown widely here – not for Brittany the elegant refined vineyards! The maize is all used for cattle fodder in the winter. It’s amaizing (ha ha) that there is any nutritional value left in it at all, as by the time it is harvested, it is dead and brown and the corn itself has started to go black. Still, what do I know? This year’s harvest is quite good, I think, although the early frosts have meant that it is ready later than usual. There was an incident a few years ago following the heatwave (canicule) in 2003 – the harvested maize was so dry that a local farmer who fed it to his cows had the unfortunate experience of two of his cows exploding as soon as the maize reached their stomachs. Not a good year.

The maize is just about ready for harvesting

It’s cider time!

Cider is the local drink of Brittany. Many people who live in the countryside have apple trees and every year they pick their apples for the purpose of making their own cider. The apple trees are stripped in October and the apples laid out on black plastic sheets for 3 weeks or so in the open air to rot. The ‘pressoir’ is then booked for November/December – this is the mobile cider press on the back of a tractor, which presses the apples and the juice is then fed into large ‘barriques’  cider barrels, where the cider ferments. The cider is ready to drink in about 6 months time, and very good it is too! For breakfast, lunch, dinner – there is never a wrong time for the Bretons to drink cider.


Of course a beret and Breton moustache are essential for cider making;)

The older generation still have the right to produce ‘eau de vie’ – distilled cider, usually about 70% volume and a real throat burner. Traditionally added to a morning coffee (pre Sarkozy and his traffic contrôles, bien sûr!!). This right to distill used to be passed on to the children, but it is now illegal. Each cider producer had the right to produce up to 1000% per year, so around 13 litres. Another tradition that has now disappeared, although I’m sure there will be more healthy livers in Brittany as a result.