Monday, 8 February 2021

08/02/2021 11 years ago today I started my very first blog....

My first blog was My Life in the Charente which after a number of years got so slow to work with that I started  My Life in the Charente 2.  Because this was supposed to be mainly about the Charente, the last year has seen very few entries, as thanks to COVID we have just not been anywhere! I mustn't forget of course my third blog My Life Before the Charente, which includes our overland trip from the UK to what was then Rhodesia, in 1953! 

While these 3 were ongoing, I started up Photodiarydps which originally had daily entries, but this got a bit too much and I never had enough time!  More recently, I was only managing a couple of entries a week and since COVID the updates have been even less than that, but it is still alive!   

Then just a few years back, I decided to take the bird photos from the photodiary and start a blog that was just birds.  Again I have been struggling to keep it up to date weekly, but most of the time I have managed, with help from Christelle who has sent me photos of birds from South Africa. Sadly we do not visit there often enough, and COVID has certainly prevented visits/holidays anywhere.

I also joined Blipfoto  on which I enter one photo every single day. It is very seldom I miss just this one daily entry under the name of "Charente"  Quite often they are EMs (emergency photos) from my backup but generally, they look better than I was expecting!  It is a great community and I now have so many Blip friends from around the world!

Here are just a few photos over the past years that I have enjoyed.

Looking at our French home before we bought it in 2005.
The very first picture on my first blog.

April 2007 What the garden looked like then!!

Holiday 2008 - Notre Dame de Paris, (before the fire!)  also known as Notre Dame Cathedral. Construction began in 1163 though it was not completed until around the mid-1240s.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010 Reims Cathedral, travelling with friends.

2013 - Snow on the Pyrenees - a rare sight in May, we are told when we were there!

May 2013 - Myself and Nigel dressed up and ready for our second night on the ship, a very special dinner at the Captain's table! With thanks to our friend Gunter who arranged the amazing cruise for us on the Royal Caribbean liner, Liberty of the Seas.


October 2014 - Numbers 11 and 13 Rue Francois Miron, two of the last 14th century houses seen on another visit to Paris.

10 February 2015 House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) versus Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) in the garden.


30 March 2017 Resistance Memorial at Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure.

06 July 2017 - White Admiral (Limenitis camilla).

February 2018 - Great tit (Parus major) yes we had snow!

22 May 2018 Dramatic skies and rainfall.


January 2020 Bluetits (Cyanistes caeruleus) on the window sill.

10 June 2020 Little Owl (Athene noctua) in residence locally.

08 July 2020 - Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) in the garden.

15 September 2020 - Sunset at home in France, almost as good as a South African sunset😊.

2021 - The house as it is today after lots and lots of work.

The garden now in summer.....

and in winter.


Take care everyone and stay safe.
Copies of this blog are on each of my blogs, normal service will resume as on as possible!!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

A visit to Balluet

A day trip in the Charente, while hopefully avoiding the virus!


Before the motorways came, much long distance travel through France involved the use of long, straight, two way roads, often lined with plane trees for considerable stretches. Low morning or afternoon sun flickering between the trees caused vision problems for drivers  and accidents were, I believe, far from rare!


Fields of sunflowers everywhere. In this time of the season, their "sunny" seed heads are beginning to die off and dry out.

The most unprepossessing main entrance to Balluet, a family run cognac producer since 1845!! The quality is within!

This alambic is a kind of pot still, hand made in copper sheet, of a design peculiar to the Charente department. In simple terms, white wine (usually made using the ugni white grape) is boiled in the left hand pot and the alcohol vapour rises in the top tube and  distils in the centre section, which has a downward spiral pipe inside. The distillate cools in the spiral and runs out to collect in the end tank. The first and last thirds of the produce in this tank are discarded; only the middle third is kept, transferred to oak barrels for aging.


Old and disused boilers. Despite the basic and industrial design, the builders had taken the trouble to apply moulded mortar gods' heads with beards of grape bunches.

Barrels of different sizes are used for aging. These barrels are 3000 litres, but Balluet use barrels varying in sizes from 600 litres to 25,000 litres! Often old red wine barrels are used, to add different attributes to the finished cognac.

These barrels hold, i think, about 12,000 litres each. Plenty of storage here, but aging can last from 5 years to 40 years and more for the older cognacs, so plenty is essential! We were told at another firm that cognac stops maturing after 80 years, at which point it can be decanted into glass jars!

This is a view of the chateau in the village (Neuvicq_le_Chateau, which is actually in the neighbouring department, Charente Maritime) taken from the top of the  20 metre high tower on the adjoining Balluet premises. There is quite a climb to the top, up several flights of a very narrow staircase and not for the faint hearted!

This neat little 360 degree panoramic map of the landscape visible from the tower. The altitude of 95 metres refers to the height of the village above sea level. It's an accurate painting, as can be seen by comparing the features on the photograph below!

Another view from the tower, showing the cognac sheds surrounded by vineyards of the ugni blanc grape, ripening and ready for harvest in the autumn.

Twenty year old cognac. It is only brandy made near the town of Cognac which can be named "cognac". We were fortunate to meet and have a quick chat with the current Monsieur Balluet. A very pleasant, but down to earth, gentleman with a serious and long term responsibility on his shoulders!



See also my

 Bird blog

and my Photodairy where this will also be published


Monday, 10 February 2020

10/02/2020 A day out in the Charente.

This post is also copied to my Photodairydps.

Leaving home we headed out on an empty road towards Saint Claud...

Saint Claud.This road used to be the main N141 trunk road before the bypass came!

Soon all these trees will be sprouting; the only green at present is the ivy which is taking over.

Through the village of Grand Madieu.

The narrow roads of Champagne Mouton.

We crossed over the L'Or (gold) river.

Through the village of Benest where we saw this 2CV minus a wheel...

and at the war memorial, we turned here towards Chatain on the D4

Hmmm, somewhat narrow streets in Chatain; we just managed to get out of the way for the truck to come through...

To drive past the church of Saint-Pierre.

Over the 17th century vaulted arch bridge called Pont de Chatain that crosses the Charente river..

The beautiful avenue of trees that should have taken us to Charroux; somehow the satnav missed the village going this way, but we discovered it on our way back home!

Finally the sign to Saint Romain, our destination. There is another of the same name 4 miles away, so it's confusing!

 The church in Saint Romain...

and the restaurant - Bouton D'Or, with its baguette machine outside for the convenience of local residents.

Inside the restaurant.  We were early, so I managed this photo before any more arrivals.  We actually had a bit of a floor show later with a gentleman on the piano, and presumably, it was his wife singing along!

We started out with soup, not a very interesting photo, followed by this charcuterie, and of course French bread...

The main course was sausage, meatballs and haricot casserole; it was very tasty but did not make a very good photo.  Then came the famous French cheese board with dried fruit, nuts, chutney and jam. Delicious.

Dessert was a crepe with some fruit, flavoured with cognac.  Not forgetting the bottle of red wine that came with the meal.  All followed by an espresso coffee.
A bargain at only €16.50 each for the lot!

Returning home, we went through the town of Charroux which we somehow missed on the route going !!
The colour of this photo was very odd so I decided that black and white would be better.
You can see part of the ancient covered market on the right, and beyond it is the Charlemagne tower, the remains of the ruined Charroux abbey. You can read about it HERE.

The beautiful covered market. 

and finally you can see just how much rain we have had, by this shot of flooded fields.


See also my

 Bird blog

and my Photodairy where this will also be published