Sunday, 20 September 2009

A Girls Night Out

After much preparation finally the day had arrived. Debbie and I joined about 350 other women on Angel Hill. After a registering we all warmed up to music although we felt we were using too much energy which we would need later on. At 8p.m., by this time it was dark, off we set off complete with police escort. The route took us out on Northgate Street and then we followed roads leading around the edge of the town, through the various housing estates. As we passed ASDA supermarket, we were offered water and apples and some took advantage of the toilet facilities there. We continued on around the west of Bury until we came to the Hospital, this was about half way. We made a detour up to the Hospice where again water was on offer. They had supplied portaloos outside, but there were only two, which meant a long wait in line. We think we waited 20 mins, but when you consider there 350 women it could have been even longer. Then it was off for the final leg, we were on familiar walking territory as we had been out many times training in this area. Eventually four hours after starting out we arrived back at Angel Hill where there was hot chocolate and bacon rolls. It had stayed dry all evening and was not at all cold. I think we caught up all the news but there may be a few things we forgot to discuss, we may need to get out and do some more walking.

We were tired but really happy and pleased that we had completed our walk - I knew we could do it but on the day it did seem a little daunting.
This video was taken while waiting to register.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Milk, Cream and Butter; Melk, Room en Boter; Lait, Creme et Beurre

Milk Milk every where, yesterday we got together with our Dutch neighbours and armed with large quantities of fresh milk, our cream separator, their cream separator, and the guests staying in their holiday cottage. We inherited our cream separator with the house and it is in excellent condition. It was a wonderful opportunity to try it out. Having got it spinning at speed milk was poured into the large bowl and the tap opened - wow we were all covered in milk. Out came the other one to compare and we found that ours was missing a vital bolt which holds the conical disks in place.

Not to be deterred we assembled the other one and started again. Litres of milk were poured into the top bowl and milk gushed out of one spout and then amazingly cream started to pour slowly out of the other - a rich thick cream - it was working. All the men got involved with the spinning of the handle and the topping up with milk and the collecting of the skimmed milk. There were the usual jokes about how many men does it take to separate 35 litres of milk.... 3 men and 3 women. We had great fun despite us being covered in milk and the floor awash with it too.

This morning the fun continued when we assembled to churn the cream in to butter. We now know why farming families had so many children, as we all took a turn at swing the handle.
Two hours later - about two kilos of butter was ready - possibly the most expensive butter ever produced considering the man hours involved but never mind it was a good experience and we all learned a lot from it. Next time will be easier - we hope.

We also had a day on the coast this week. We went to the small village of St Jean le Thomas, situated on the bay of the Mont St Michel between Avranches and Granvilles. We collected some cockles as we walked on the beach then had a good lunch in the Hotel des Bains. One day we will remember to take our foraging gear with us - bucket and rake etc., anyway we improvised with a large handkerchief tied into a bag to hold the cockles and oysters we found. On the way home we stopped off on the off change of finding some family friends at their house. We spent a pleasant hour or so catching up on the news with Allan. We ate our cockles and oysters for supper along with a salad of garden delights.

The garden continues to feed us well. I started to harvest the carrots - and as well as being tasty they also have amusing shapes. As the summer comes to a close I am surprised by how much we have grown, broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, red onions, garlic, swiss chard, potatoes, courgettes, blueberries, radishes, rocket and lettuces. The aubergines are still growing bigger everyday, the butternut squash are starting to ripen. Another crop of peas is heading skywards and the late crop of runner beans are in full flower. The leeks continue to get bigger and there are second crops of beetroot and carrots. The jerusalem artichokes have grown well as usual and have been trimmed down a couple of times to keep them under control.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

September arrives

Yesterday we enjoyed a warm sunny day - a good way to end August. While Rob walked around Bagnoles de l"Orne taking photos of the houses which were built in the late 19th century when the town became a spa resort.I walked through the wooded area there looking for bilberries. I found a few but I think it was just luck as the plants appeared to have been stripped of their fruits. At least there were plenty of healthy looking plants so next year I will get there earlier in the summer.

I have finally found some local history material in our local library. Alain Hairie, who family lived in Domfront has written a few small booklets about the second world war, in particular, how Jewish children were hidden and cared for by the local community and about the relgious community in Perrou - a nearby village- where the sisters ran an orphanage, old peoples home and cared for the sick. They also took in Jewish children and some of their mothers before the community was taken over by the Germans towards the end of the war and used it as a hospital to care for soldiers injured on the front. He has interviewed some of those who lived in the area and whose families were involved. He has also tracked down some of the children who were hidden. Of course the information they have given is very limited as all those interviewed were very young during the war and have limited memories of the events that happened around them. He has realised that he has undertaken this research rather late in the day and has missed the chance to interviiew those who were active both in the resistance and in the community.
One of his books covers some of the bombing of the area and reference is made to the 'flying fortresses' attempting to destroy the fuel depots which were hidden in the forests between Domfront and Bagnoles. Apparently there is still evidence of bomb caters to be seen in the woods, just like we have around us in Bury St Edmunds.  See the link for more information

Last week we visited the village of La Gué Plat which was purpose built in the 1920's to house the mine workers of the iron ore mine which was opened there. There are still remnents of the mining activity to be seen, strangely set against the local forest landscape. We learned that iron ore mining has been taking place in the area for a very long time as there is a band of iron deposits which came to the surface in this village and the pits can still be seen where the ore was excavated.
We have since discoved that the Orne Valley south of Caen has been the most important source of iron ore in France and the reason that the canal was built from Caen to the see, to export the ore and import the coal needed for the furnesses.

The garden continues to feed us well, and I am now planning next years vegetable garden. The ground has become rock hard due to the lack of rain, but I continue to water the beans and the butternut squash and hope to get a good harvest from them. There is a severe drought in a large number of departments, including the department of the Mayenne which is just a couple of kilometers south of here. There have water restictions and the television news shows the land dry as dust and crops such as the maize and sunflowers wilting in the fields. We noticed this when we went down to the Loire Valley a couple of weeks ago. The maize fields here are lush and the crop at least 2.5m high. As a local farmer said last week, we can sometimes be glad that we are in Normandy and get as much rain as we do.