No, it's not Laura or Alex. Read on...

Trip Start Nov 27, 2009
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What I did
Katie's Blog Hijack

Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bonjour. This is Laura and Alex's strange friend Katie.  I have hijacked their blog to tell you the TRUTH about Life in Brian.  I have been staying with them in an amazing place tucked into the hills outside Lalinde, a small town on the Dordogne river.  The lovely (I'm sure, not yet met them) owners are back in Blighty and Laura & Alex are looking after their smallholding and yurt camping site.  I am helping. Sort of. I would like to say I have been a rock to them during their time here, but as the photos will show this is probably not really the case.  However, I have had a LOT of fun.
 
So what have we been getting up to?  Well every day, twice a day, we potter down to the land to feed / water the animals / veggies.  This also involves taking supplies like freezer blocks to the guests and training the dogs not to harrass the rabbits (Laura has almost succeeded in this... almost).  We make sure Pepito the horse has enough water, and join him in a shower from the hose if it's hot enough.   The flies love him and so he loves cold showers that chase them away for a bit - a total sucker for attention which makes it slightly difficult to do other chores in his paddock as he'll often try and get hugs... and he has very big feet which means nimble footwork for those of us in flip-flops.  Then adding water, oats and corn to the kitchen scraps to make the food bucket for the chickens and pigs.  The chickens are curious but friendly, and occasionally provide eggs. Who knew?  There is one brooding over some eggs which are stubbornly refusing to hatch before I leave. Evil chicks. 
 
There are rabbits in hutches, the best being called Starsky and Hutch, one of whom tried to make a break for it (possibly let out by a chicken accomplice) only to be bravely cornered by myself and Alex.  It managed to get its revenge by almost disemboweling Alex as she carried it back to its hutch. Those things are brutal... good job they is for eating. Mwah, ha ha!!!
The pigs have a low electric fence around their enlosure in the woods that has to be checked morning and evening to make sure it's still live... they squeal like nobodies business when they accidentally crash into it so it must be working.  They are currently quite cute, but apparently you eat them when they get mean.  I am forbidden from giving them names.
 
The allottment has been an amazing source of both food and frustration this week.  We've eaten tomatoes, courgettes, raspberries, strawberries, aubergines, carrots and beets harvested there which have been delicious.  But the deer think so too.  Laura is on a mission to try and catch the little buggers... to the extent of going down in the middle of the night.  We've put the scarecrow back up and even resorted to some less obvious and more gross techniques but to no avail. It keeps coming back.  
 
Saturday is change over day at the yurts, so goodbye to one family including a little boy of 5 who helped with the animal feeding (and testing the electric fence) and hello to lovely young couple.  Laura and me on yurt cleaning duty... like being JLo in Maid in Manhattan but in yurts.  Lovely fresh bed linen, sunflowers on the table, apple tart baked and mountains of washing up later and the site is ready. Good job as guests are 2.5 hours early.  We are pros.
 
As well as keeping the small-holding ticking over and looking after the guests (who don't really require too much looking after to be fair) we have been doing some projects and trips.  Alex felled some acacia to make the uprights and horizontals for a grand wood shelter to be built near the family's yurts.  Tree felling is a tricky business.  Some trees fall where they should.  Others are directed by greater powers to fall in the opposite direction and get hung up in large sweet chestnut trees.  Laura and I swung into action to help. We made helpful suggestions. We got out of the way at critical moments.  Laura fashioned a weighted line to throw over the hung tree so that we could pull it sideways...  and it worked. We were all delighted as you can imagine, slightly less so when we realised we now had to cut up all 4 of them into proscribed lengths.  Ever tried sawing through acacia?  Don't. It's not fun. I think at one point Alex alomst died.  I helped a bit, mostly by applying my body weight on the ends of the branches to 'open up the grain' or something like that.  It helped apparently but I think it was the better end of the deal, although as Alex pointed out I would get bloody no-where with the saw so not really any point offering. She was very, very right. However, having failed at the felling I found my niche in the draw knife action.  Once the logs were brought back up we used a two-handled blade to strip the bark off them. This I was very good at. I got into a groove. I was INVINCIBLE!!!!!!  We also had some time for ballet practice and strange posing. But also hard, manly work people. The sections are now all ready for building when the family get back. Success.
 
Flushed with having been so useful a lot of time was then spent celebrating in a hammock with a good book or eating. I have eaten VERY well this holiday. We made pizzas from scratch, risotto with garden veggies, chips and eggs from the chickens, bacon in suet pastry, pasta bakes... I have never been so full.  And what with all the fresh bread and cheese we are all now waddling a little bit. But in a really happy way.  We've walked down to the local town Lalinde for bread some mornings, eaten brioche others.  Lalinde is beautiful, right on the Dordogne river and has a wide selection of bakeries. Cakes very good. Almost too good. 
 
We went to market day at Issigeac, an amazing medieval town south of Lalinde. We met the only crap crepe maker in France - tasted good but 2/10 for style. Amazing overhanging buildings and winding streets.  Good fun times in taking pictures making it look like we were supporting the buildings... we are so mature. And not at all touristy.
We then got all prehistoric and took a trip east to the Vezere Valley where there are more caves than you can shake an acacia stick at.  We chose the Grotte de Rouffignac.  You arrive early and get on board a little electric train which takes you 10km down into the most incredible cave network.  The guide talked constantly in French, of which we understood about 3 words... however when he swept his torch up the walls and mammoths, rhinos, horses and other creatures appeared it was just magic.  I can't imagine how brave they must have been to walk into the dark for so long with nothing but torches to draw and carve these images so deep under the earth... with cave lions and bears for company.  Really breath-taking.   From there we headed back into the light and pottered along the road in Brian to La Roque St-Christophe.  Originally a prehistoric settlement, there was later a whole town built into the cliffs using the most amazing natural overhangs. A strangely beautiful place to live, lifting supplies up in baskets from the river and nestling in with your back to the cliffs.  We marvelled, took some silly pictures (standard) and then hurried back to let the dogs out of the kitchen before they wet themselves.
 
I have not until now mentioned the pets. I am trying not to get too attached as I leave tomorrow but this is hopeless.  Hairy (named after Hairy McLarey) is a small, black dog with poodle-like hair which is constantly picking up burrs, leaves, straw, bits of dead thing. He is like a very small What-a-Mess.  I have spent a not inconsiderable amount of time grooming him this week and in one memorable instance bathing him in a wheelbarrow when after having a little accident he was surrounded by a cloud of flies. He bounces around and loves the rabbits. They do not love him. Neither does the other dog Vegas, who being older and wiser is getting used to having a ball of black energy bouncing around him 24/7... and occasionally humping him.  He has the patience of a saint, most of the time. When pushed he'll just try and eat all Hairy's dinner.  There are 4 cats, 3 of them black which means we think we haven't seen one of them but it may have been here all along.  Midnight is the newest and least popular with the other cats.  She is also a cunning little minx and is trying to seduce team-dog onto her side by sidling up to Hairy and rubbing herself against him. This appears to be working and there has been some rather distturbing inter-species glances flying around outside the yurt of late.  It's so nice to have animals around again... endlessly entertaining. I've had cats sleeping on me in the night and have woken up a few times to find they've crawled between the layers of the duvet and are purring around my feet. They potentially have fleas but I'm trying to ignore that.
 
Today, my second to last day, we went to a chateaux. It had towers. It was big. It was awesome. Chateaux de Biron is south of Lalinde, close to Monpazier, and amazing old bastide town.  Biron looked to have been built over a many centuries with very little in the way of a plan but some very good ideas. The towers were cool and for some reason it had a porticoed courtyard with fairly minimal defensive purpose but looked damn smart.  We had ice-cream. Good visit all round.  Then into Monpazier where we ate too much pizza and almost died. Gorgeoous little market town though, with amazing arched walk ways around a market square. We waddled back to Brian and then had a very lazy rest of the day.  
 
I've had the most amazing time, and it's been great to sit and chat to Laura and Alex about the places they've been, the people they've met and the things they've learned.  It's an incredible way of life.  There's so much satisfaction to be had from seeing the tree you felled, stripped and made into something useful, or eating veggies you harvested from the garden that afternoon with an egg you collected.  Simple things but a lot to think about, and I'll be going home with my head in a slightly different place.  Thank you guys for an amazing holiday and thank you to Alex, Clare, India and Finn for letting me stay in your lovely home. You are so lucky... it's a magical place. 
 
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Comments

KB on

Thanks for looking after us so well at Ecovallee.

Being back in London is not good! Everytime I need to get rid of waste food I look for the "pig bucket".

J is desperate to have a dog now and mentions you all on a daily basis.

xx

Linda Edwards on

Sounds like you are all having a whale of a time. Glad to see you eating a small pizza Laura. Love from Italy

james mair on

i want some of that pizza
x

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