First foraying

Here I am in the middle of nowhere in rural France making a first foray into house and pet minding as a possible way to travel cheaply. I am in a remote old house, converted from a barn. It has a charming, mature garden but the house needs a lot of renovation, the water is even pumped from the pictured pretty well, covered in roses and clematis. I am looking after four chickens and three cats. After a few days of this, a first, experience I have concluded that, whilst remoteness makes for great star-gazing, when you are travelling alone it can be disconcerting and even scary at night. If I am to use this method in future I may need to be in a closer community.

Un étang

Un étang

I am in the Creuse area of the Limousin region. The nearest place you might have heard of is Limoges, famous for its china, but I have not made it there as I have been happy just exploring the nearby area. The lush green countryside is extremely beautiful with an abundance of wildflower meadows, now so rare elsewhere, and is peppered here and there with attractive étangs (large ponds).   It reminds you how spacious France is and how sparsely populated some areas are.

I have meandered around the local villages and had a marvellous time discovering their history and beauty spots. Meandering is apparently a lost art. I recommend it. On my wandering I came across chateaux hardly marked on the maps, medieval churches (one with an exquisite ceiling), gardens and an abbey.

Moutier D'Ahun Abbey

Moutier D’Ahun Abbey

I especially fell for the village of Moutier d’Ahun with its ancient monastery and beautiful roman bridge with flowering weeds waving with the current in the Creuse river beneath. Little remains of the 997 AD monastery to visit now but it has an extremely peaceful aura and an intricately carved sandstone porch dating from 1489. Alas, many of the little saints and angels had their heads smashed off in the French Revolution, but it is still a feast for the eyes. Inside what remains of the church the transept is heavily decorated by baroque wood carvings, reaching up the ceilings and covering the choir stalls.

The Milestone

The Milestone

My favourite item though was the rare milestone standing silently outside in the church grounds. Built amazingly in 243 AD and still there, it was telling travellers over a thousand years ago that Lemovices (Limoges) was CLL XXXIII, 34, roman leagues away. And there was I, standing reading it too, all these centuries later. I loved that.

Nearby, the granite hilltop hamlet of Masgot is cashing in from the antics of a former inhabitant, the stone mason François Michaud, who lived there from 1810 until his death in 1890. He left behind many amusing statues atop walls and pillars.

 

François Michaud's house, with the naked lady wearing a hat.

François Michaud’s house, with the naked lady wearing a hat.

I was pleased that I was visiting this little village and its statues out of season, the size of the car park indicated it could be rather cramped in the summer.   As I strolled around this tiny hamlet looking up at the stone carvings, I wondered whether Monsieur Michard’s neighbours would really have welcomed the statue of the naked lady displayed in a prominent position outside his house. The modern day villagers are glad of the income and fame he brings them now, but how did fellow citizens see him in those days? Did they see him as funny old François, or as he is now apparently recognised, as one of the first known practitioners of “l’art brut”?

 

A trip to the larger town of Guéret was a disappointment. The old town was deserted and had an abandoned air, with many closed shops and businesses. Doubtless other areas of this large town are livelier but its heart had faded away. The guide book told me that the old granite water fountain outside the préfecture was an important emblem for the town. Legend has it that the water contained reinvigorating properties, but symbolically it had dried up, and the sign on its front said “eau non potable”. Woefully this seemed to speak volumes.

On my meandering I saw a small leaflet advertising a classical concert that very evening in a nearby church. I went along to the pretty chapel, along with about a hundred other neighbourhood residents. We packed the tiny building and were treated to a sublime performance by two very talented local musicians playing the piano and violin. Magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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