Sarzay Castle – Chateau du Sarzay: DIY Castle Restoration

The site at Sarzay. Chapel tower on the right.

We had a second family summer outing last week, this time to Sarzay Castle – chateau du Sarzay. It’s only about half an hour away, very close to La Chatre. I have no idea why it’s taken us five years to get round to going there. But – we made it.

And it was brilliant. Sarzay is said to be one of the most photographed chateaux in France. Its five towers are very picturesque. I took nearly 100 photos while we were there, and I know Caiti outdid me. So we’ve contributed to its reputation!

These five towers are all that remain of 38 originally. That must have been an incredible sight. The castle was begun in 1348 by Guillaume de Barbançois as part of the chain of castles that the French built to keep the English at bay during the Hundred Years’ War. Guillaume fought the English at La Chatre and followed up with a spot of recreational looting before retiring back home. He built six towers, the moat and pond, and a large surrounding wall. His towers were fairly short. The chapel tower is the only one of these left and it was dwarfed by the later 32 that his  descendant Jean de Barbançois added, nearly a hundred years later in 1440. These are proper towering towers! If only they were all still standing. That would be a mesmerising sight.

Benj and Caits are right at the top.

Over time the de Barbançois fortunes declined, and in 1719 their castle and also the entire village of Sarzay were handed over to Charles de la Porte de Montval. This family had the castle until 1836.

Various other people owned it for short periods and then in 1912 it was designated as a national monument and left to crumble into ruins. It had been getting shabby before then. George Sand used it in one of her novels and referred to it as ‘the pitiful wreck of ancient grandeur’. But, to be fair, it had lived through the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Religion (1562-98), the Fronde civil war of 1648, and the French Revolution of 1789, and survived.

Chris and Rors are by the well - for scale.

But before it completely fell apart, along came Parisian Richard Hurbain in 1983. He brought the castle for 800,000 francs and promised to restore it. But the French government decided to do everything in its power stop him. Civil servants insisted that things be done just so, for no particular reason it seems, and put up as many obstacles as they possibly could.

Hurbain cleared 80 tonnes of rubbish from the old moat

Hurbain was even summoned to court for not filling in the correct paperwork before doing some repairs. He was fined, but the fine was suspended meaning he never had to pay it. However, he has a criminal record as a result of his incredible work to save a fantastic chunk of France’s heritage that the official bodies that should have been looking after were letting fall into ruin.

(This article about Sarzay is well worth a read.)

The restoration is ongoing. And I’m humbled. We’ve renovated two houses and it exhausted us and nearly drove us crazy. Hurbain is restoring a caste. OK, only five thirty-eighths of it are left, but they’re colossal.

Ongoing DIY restoration work

It’s the DIY feel to the place that we all loved. Every room in the tower that’s open is stuffed full of treasures the family found there – knives, axes, pots, barrels, furniture and a seemingly endless supply of boar heads!

You can get right to the top of three of the towers and look out of the little windows at the top. It’s fantastic.

The beams inside the very top of the tower

We visited the chapel and finished up in the Knight’s Hall where there was rather disappointingly a display of artwork. I’d hoped for suits of armour. But some of the pictures were lovely.

Finally we browsed the huge display of antique odds and ends out in the courtyard. We didn’t know what most of it was, but it all looked fascinating. We positively identified a huge stone knife sharpener, various tools and pans, and the watering cans were easy enough.

If you’re in the area, you simply have visit to Sarzay. You’ll be captivated, like we were.

And maybe you can work out what these are:

 

Croix de Peuple – The People’s Cross

A couple of days ago, Chris, Rors and I went for a bike ride to the Croix de Peuple  a few kilometres outside Vijon in Indre. Neither of our idle teens felt like joining us this time! The Croix de Peuple is a tremendous iron cross on a stoney platform on top of a hill (443 metres above sea level). I’ve hunted round on the Net but haven’t found out anything much about it, apart from the fact that there’s an annual pilgrimage to the cross, and also that on a clear day you can see the Cathedral at Chateauroux from it. Now that’s impressive as Chateauroux is an hour and a half’s drive from here.

There’s a plaque below the cross, but wind and rain have made it illegible. The only thing  I could pick out was the mention of ‘quarante jours d’indulgences’ – forty days’ of indulgences. Perhaps the cross was erected so someone didn’t have to undergo this long period of privations.

Anyway, we set off along country roads lined with heavily laden fruit trees. There is going to be a super mega harvest this year. (In fact, this morning, on today’s bike ride, we came across a large branch that had broken off a pear tree due to the sheer weight of the fruit on it. Chris balanced it on his handlebars to bring home so the llamas could eat the leaves and pears off it.)

On the way we stopped for a map check.

We spent around ten minutes at the cross, admiring it, and also the view over Creuse. Or is it Indre? My sense of direction isn’t great!

We decided to take a new route home. We passed this sign. Someone trigger happy had been this way too.

See the bullet hole?

Not far away, we came across half a dozen donkeys. I’m pretty sure they’re Grands Noirs de Berry i.e. Big Black Berry donkeys. (Berry is an ancient province of France and famous for its black donkeys and black chickens.)

A few kilometres further on, we happened across this cross. It’s been broken quite recently and the top stuck back on with some concrete! Poor old cross.

It has a beautiful setting.

That’s why we never get tired of our cycle rides. We discover something new or see something interesting on every one. Rural Creuse is a treasure trove of hidden treasures which you just don’t see blasting along in a car.

Bike is best!

 

Oh Auntie and Farm News

Well, I’ve sold 4 copies of Oh Auntie on Kindle and 7 on Smashwords – and I didn’t buy any of them! A very slow start, but that’s OK. I haven’t actually done any publicity for the book. I just wanted to get an ebook out there to see how it all works. I’ll be getting my head down to plan a proper marketing campaign for future books. Heads Above Water, my non-fiction book about moving to France and our early experiences here, is nearing completion. That’s the one I really want to push, so I need to work out how.

You might know about Kindle, but perhaps not about Smashwords. That’s another epublishing site where you can upload your books for free. It’s an amazing site. It processes your MS into many different ebook formats, namely .EPUB, PDF. .RTF, .PDB, .MOBI, LRF and TXT, as well as into HTML and Javascript formats, so most people can read it in one way or another. Smashwords take a proportion of the sales price for each one you sell, as does Amazon with Kindle books, but that’s OK. It’s far less than traditional publishers take. Smashwords distributes to most of the major retailers, including the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Diesel eBook Store, so your ebook really gets out there.

Cadella diving under mum for a feed

On the farm front, Cadella is coming on well. Her breathing was a little laboured at times, and her nose seemed blocked, so we’d brought her and mum (reluctantly) into shelter for Monday night. On Tuesday she had a fine runny nose and she’s breathing much better now. Possibly she was born with a slight infection, or she inhaled fluid during the delivery process – I’m not sure but something had been irritating her nasal passages. So, we’ll keep an eye on her but she’s bouncing around happily at the moment. We didn’t rush to get the vet out. I took Nessie in to the surgery to have her stiff leg investigated – it’s arthritis – and noticed that the vet we trust most with our llamas is off on holiday. His younger colleague doesn’t have such a good success rate with our animals, shall we say! For that reason, so long as Cadella continues to make steady progress, we’ll manage the situation ourselves.

 

 

 

We put the three Suffolk sheep – named Lavenham, Debenham and Tuddenham after three villages close to where I grew up in Suffolk – into their field. We finally finished patching up the fencing along the back to make it what we hope is sheep-proof. Chris and Benj whacked in some more posts, and added more strands of barbed wire where it was needed. I did a bit of that too and this time didn’t make too many holes in myself. So out came the sheep from their stable. Chris had to carry number one ewe out to the field, and sheep are heavy, because she refused to walk on a lead. As did the ram, so he arrived in the field upside down being carried by his legs by Chris and Benj. If only I’d had the camera! However, we were all involved in the moving out process somewhere along the line, even Rors. Only the second ewe condescended to come under her own steam. The three of them seem very happy with their new home. I’ve been Pavlov-ising them for a week, and they are totally conditioned to come running over to me when I rattle a bucket of pellets and shout ‘Sheepies!’. I’m hoping that if they ever escape, that will make it easier to round them up. Time will tell, I dare say!

A couple of quickies to finish. Two daft search terms that brought people to my site this week were ‘Mark Cavendish naked’ (!) and ‘Llamas at the Tour de France’. Both had been used several times. I can understand the Cav one, but cycling llamas? Hmm.

And should you want to buy Oh Auntie for your Kindle, go to Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and type the title in, making sure to opt for the ebook option, or here for a Smashwords edition. Thank you!

Tour de France – Costs and Benefits

The peloton on 9 July at Nouzerines

I’m suffering from Tour de France withdrawal symptoms. For three weeks we had the telly on in the background in the afternoons, so we could keep tabs on what was going on and sit down and concentrate for the exciting bits. The cats still haven’t adapted. They end up on my chair about 4.30pm every afternoon, waiting for my lap to appear to watch the last hour or so of the race. It’s going to be a long time till next year! But luckily we have the Tour du Limousin in August so that will give us an excellent bike racing fix in the meantime. We may be able to take in two days of it.

So, I’ve been digging around to see what I could find out regarding the benefits of the race to France. First up, the environmental ones. A German study found that on the day the Tour passed through Karlsruhe, there was a significant reduction in air pollution, up to 25%. This quite simply resulted from closing the streets to traffic. It was also reckoned to result in saving public health costs by several tens of thousands of euros. Many tonnes of carbondioxide weren’t emitted, noise levels were dramatically lower and road traffic accidents were reduced. Multiply that by 21 days and France is a lot better off for all the disruption to the roads and traffic that the race and the caravan cause.

Economically the gains are huge. When the Tour started in London, it generated 73 million GBP in London and 15 million GBP in Kent, and a futher 35 million GBP in publicity. It’s reckoned that the towns that host stages earn around €100 million in free advertising, get 50,000 visitors, receive €250,000 in hotel fees for putting up the teams, and have an increase of 120% in turnover in the week of the stage. French TV receives more than 20 million euros each year for providing feeds to other channels.

Talking of economics, how much do cyclists earn? I’ve come across widely varying figures, some suggesting that Contador earns around €5 million a year from the sport and sponsorships, Cavendish around a million, potential stage winners €300,000, and humble domestiques around €30,000. The yellow jersey gets an extra €450,000 prize money, which is usually split between the team. And by the way, the pretty girls who hand out the prizes at the end of each stage are said to earn €2,500 each.

And what do the team sponsors spend per year to keep their cycling team going? Estimates are Team HTC-Highroad € 17 million; Rabobank €15 Million; Sky Pro Cycling €14 million; Pro Team Astana €13 million.

A few last Tour facts and figures:

Riders: 198 cyclists with 300 direct support staff, and 17 commissaires.

General support : 4,500 people; 2,400 vehicles.

Haribo sweets coming Ruadhri's way!

Media: 2,400 journalists and photographers and 1 600 technicians working for 650 different media stations from 35 countries, and 370 newspapers, magazines, press agencies and Internet sites.

Police: 14,000 gendarmes involved, 9,000 national police and motocyclists; 1,000 representatives of préfectures.

Spectators: Up to a million along the route and 4 million TV spectators a day.

And 1.5 million bags of Haribo sweets get handed out by the caravan!

In-faux-mation

We’re used to journalists getting things wrong when they write about us and our llamas in papers or magazines, but the lastes example takes things to extremes. The Pays du Limousin summer special lists things to do and see in Limousin over July and August. A guy showed up a month or so ago to take a few photos. He wasn’t a journalist and only had a scrap of paper with him which I assumed were directions. He scribbled a few names down on it and that was all. So it came as a complete surprise when someone said what a nice write-up about us they’d read in the magazine.

My heart sank. What had they said? So I went to get a copy and, oh boy, it’s worse than we feared. I appreciate that they want to promote us, but I’m aghast that no one thought to let me know what they planned to say about us and check some of the details. They’re pretty much all wrong!

First up, the intro says that you can have rides on llamas. Horrors! You can’t ride llamas, end of story, as their backs aren’t strong enough, and no one has ever ridden ours. So where this came from, I have no idea. Somebody’s overactive imagination! I hope we don’t have the crowd from the DSV round again this year. They turned up out of the blue last August, saying they were in the area inspecting riding stables and had come to check out our llama riding. We patiently explained that we were about trekking alongside your llama, not on it, and they went away happy. I’ll be cross if they do come round again because of this crazy article.

Next up, it says that we left Ireland because we couldn’t find land to set up a llama farm there and so came to France for that one purpose. We had seen three llamas at an agricultural show in Ireland and thought they looked interesting, but that was it. It developed into a joke with our eldest son after our arrival here, which is what led us to go and visit Bernard Morestin’s llama farm. We ended up buying our first llamas from him. Our llamas have only ever been a hobby, and still are.

And it goes on. Llamas don’t like rain (nonsense), apparently we offer ‘sportive’ treks with our animals (?), and people can stroke, feed and brush our llamas. The llamas could cope with the feeding, although Katrina would get grumpy, but as for the stroking and brushing – no way. They are happy to come up and sniff visitors, but don’t want to be fussed over. Llamas aren’t into that. The anonymous writer then says that we let children who weigh less than 40 kilos have a ride on our animals. And that they’ll also happily carry our visitors’ luggage.

Annoyingly the article says we’re offering free guided visits on Tuesday mornings, which was news to us, and that we have pigs, along with poultry and rabbits. Well, we have guinea-pigs. It also implies we run a pet farm, which we don’t, because that would open up a whole new can of worms concerning business registration, safety regulations etc. Oh boy.

I know someone meant well by writing about us, but they’ve potentially caused us a lot of problems with their rash and just plain wrong  statements. And I hoped for a nice, stress-free summer!

 

 

Cadel Evans Wins – Cadella Cavendish Arrives

I’d been planning a blog about the economic impact of the Tour de France. I’ve done lots of research and it’ll make for interesting reading. But as I sat down to make a start on it this evening, in between watching the exciting last stage of the Tour, I noticed an unfamiliar shape out in the llama field. Very small, medium brown – definitely a newcomer! I did my usual ‘just seen a baby camelid’ sprint outside, closely followed by the rest of the family, and we all went to make the acquaintance of Cadella Cavendish of Les Fragnes.

For non-cyclists out there, Cadella is after Cadel Evans who won the Tour de France this year, and who we’ve been cheering for, and Cavendish is after Mark Cavendish, the green jersey winner and phenomenal sprinter. Cadella has been born on Elrond’s first birthday. July 24th seems to be a good day for alpaca arrivals.

Cadella’s mother is Kiera (the suri alpaca formerly known as Popham Acoria) and her father is our very own Brendan. She has his colour, maybe just a shade or two lighter. And we’re pretty sure she’s a suri, judging from her slightly curly wool. However, we’ll see what happens as she gets bigger.

What a wonderful surprise on Tour de France final day!

 

Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Want

The latest Direct Delta catalogue has come. These arrive in the post box, roughly once a month, announcing that the Direct Delta lorry will be pulling into a car park near us soon to sell us all kinds of things we never knew we didn’t want. They make for fascinating reading.

The catalogue has changed. In the early days it predominantly advertised tools, like these handy looking ones.

And of course, this being France, there was always a page of mole mangling devices. That hasn’t changed.

Something very French too is the page dedicated to selling equipment needed for jam and preserve making. That’s very popular here.

Since it’s summer, pools are on offer. I love the picture of this one full of midgets! I think some photo doctoring has been going on.

And also since it’s summer, it’s time to think about your winter wood as I’ve pointed out in several of my blogs. Direct Delta are in agreement with me and have this lot for sale.

But Direct Delta is branching in new directions. It’s realised there are women out there too. And of course, all women are obsessed with keeping fit, so it’s got all kinds of fitness equipment on offer. They may be shooting wide of the mark in Creuse where the population is elderly and on the sturdy side. And I don’t think this page of stuff will pull in many Creusois either!

We are actually going to buy something from the lorry this time round, a chapiteau (canvas gazebo) for the back garden. So I have carefully filled in the coupon on the back page. I didn’t do this the last time I wanted an item, thinking it would be OK just to tell them the reference number, but no, the system (i.e. the salesperson) couldn’t cope without the coupon and they wouldn’t sell it to me. Since I can’t even remember what it was now, then our lives evidently weren’t too disrupted.

And Rors can turn the rest of the catalogue into a paper briquette for burning in winter. So all in all, the Direct Delta catalogue is a very useful item – entertaining and warming.

Chilliness and Silliness, Camelids and Kindles

My hands are usually the same colour as Chris's!

It’s been like March or November most of this week – cold and wet. But I girded my loins and went for quick dip in the pool today. I can’t bear to not use it since we’re so lucky to have our own pool, and it’s useable for such a relatively short time, late May to mid September if we’re lucky. Anyway, it was chilly, about 20 degrees. I only did about 30 lengths before my fingers went this rather scary shade of white so I figured it was time to get out! I feel the cold, being on the skinny side, but my fingers and toes take it to extremes at times. It took me an hour or so to warm up, but it was worth it to have a swim.

We’re having the usual problems with llama visitors this year. All our publicité specifies that you have to make a rendez-vous, but, as in previous years, people just turn up anyway. It’s annoying, because we obviously need an appointment system to keep things running smoothly, and make sure we don’t have too many people coming at once. And they do insist on turning up every time we sit down to eat! We seem to be fighting a losing battle. Anyway, Caiti has taken over the business of giving guided visits this year, so she’s happy to have extra folk show up if it means she makes more money! However, we will be locking the gates on Sunday afternoon. Nothing, but nothing, will tear us away from watching the last day of the Tour de France live. We’re a little bit cycling obsessed in this household.

Cover as it will appear on the Kindle itself

Well, I’ve uploaded my first Kindle ebook to Amazon today. Big cheer! It should be up for sale within 48 hours. It’s Oh Auntie which was originally published in 2005 by Mentor. After Mentor stopped its children’s publishing programme, the rights for the book reverted to me, so I’ve updated slightly, got a new cover drawn and re-released it. I’ll be doing the same with all my other Mentor titles since they never achieved the level of sales that I feel they should have.  I formatted the book using Mobicreator, and then checked its appearance using Kindle Preview, both excellent – and free – tools that I downloaded off the Net. I’ll be describing the process in more detail on my Books Are Cool blog imminently, so if self-publishing is something that appeals to you, do keep an eye open for that.

Here are a couple of photos of what Oh Auntie’s going to look like on the Kindle, using Kindle Preview on my laptop.

 

First page

 

 

And to finish this slight mish-mash of a blog, a cute and silly photo. Here’s Wendy listening to music on Caiti’s smartphone! Wendy misses her twin brother a lot less than we do. (The twins were named after the gun Smith and Wesson, what with Chris, Benj, Caits and Rors being gun club members! But Smith turned into Mr Smith, and Wesson into Wendy Wuss. Who knows why!)

French Revolutions – Book Review

Time for a seasonal book review. The Tour de France is in its last exciting week, so here’s a look at French Revolutions: cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore.

I stumbled upon this book listed on Gerry Patterson’s cycling website. Parsimonious as ever, I got a budget copy from Amazon marketplace since there was no Kindle version. I figure if I’m doing book reviews that may mean the author makes a few more sales, then I’m allowed to buy a cheap version! (I have recently become a part of the Readers’ Favorites  book reviewing team and am actually getting my hands on some free ebooks to review –  which is more like it.)

Anyway, Tim Moore (no relation to Sir Roger although he tells one hotel owner that he is), is a travel writer and has written about arctic travel, trekking with a donkey and canoeing, amongst other things. Certainly versatile. In French Revolutions, it becomes apparent very quickly that he is a writer first and a cyclist last, although he is a keen cycling fan. As he says, before ‘old Father Time’ catches up with ‘old Father Tim’, he wants to experience what it’s like to ride in the Tour de France. This is a sporting event that has long captured his imagination. I love the way he describes it as ‘the only sporting event … with its own personality’.

So, he prepares for the trip. Or rather doesn’t. I have to confess I found the first couple of chapters irritating. As a keen cyclist and cycletourist, the total lack of proper preparation is very annoying, bordering on the irresponsible. You just don’t set off on a cycling holiday without decent large-scale maps or having made more than a vague attempt to get fit. Buying lots of top-notch gear is fun, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be any the more ready. But the author is buoyed along by optimism and enthusiasm and that’s contagious. So, although gritting my teeth and muttering from time to time, I forgave him and read on. Husband Chris couldn’t though.

How Moore managed to cycle having drunk half a litre of wine every lunchtime, I have no idea. The few times we ever had a glass at midday were disastrous. It makes you lethargic or giggly, neither of which are much good for cycling. Tim has an enviably iron constitution is all I can say.

The idea of the book is that Moore will cycle the route of the 2000 Tour ahead of the riders. OK, roughly the route of the Tour. You can’t help thinking it might have been more sensible to do it afterwards, since there’d be plenty of details and maps out there and it would have been easier to be accurate. He relies on a tiny map in Procycling and asking locals if the Tour is going to be coming this way.

And so he sets off, and the book becomes more a travelogue with observations on French places and habits. But he’s not always accurate. I can’t forgive him for being so dismissive and nasty about Limoges, which is a smashing city, if you bother to take the time to discover it properly. A spin along a few of its roads and one night in a hotel doesn’t count as a proper exploration. But the author doesn’t hesitate to trash it on his limited knowledge. Humph. (Reading reviews of his other books, it seems Moore has a knack of getting people’s backs up at times!) And other irritations are that he recounts shamelessly how he runs slugs over on purpose (it doesn’t even occur to my youngest son  to do something as spiteful as that – you simply cycle round them), nicks drinks from the back of a van one day and gets a friend who comes to cycle with him to act as his windbreak most of the time. This sort of thing makes him look like a silly schoolboy rather than an intelligent author. But at least he has the grace at one point to realise that his family, who come along to be his support team in the Alps, are having a pretty crappy holiday, being stuck in a hot car most of the day.

Moore also makes some rash claims. He says that the life expectancy of cyclists is short, barely over 50 years. This seemed counter-intuitive. Apart from a few deaths during races, and one or two notorious drug-related ones, cyclists are generally a very fit bunch. So I did a bit of research. Yes, some ex-Tour cyclists have died in the fifties, such as Nencini, Anquetil and Fignon, the latter two of whom both died of cancer. In contrast, Eddy Merckx is still going strong, if tubby. Raymond Poulidor is still with us, as are Hinault and Roche. Giordano Cottur died at age 91, and the winners of the 1956, 1959 and 1967 Tours are still going strong. Nope. There isn’t a pattern of early deaths. Most seem to be living average to long lives.

The ending of the book is disappointing. It turns out the author wrote his name on one of the Alpine roads during his journey, for the world to see during the Tour de France. Not the name of one of the current cyclists he admires, or one of the great heroes. No. His own. Kind of sad, isn’t it?

OK, on balance this book is probably worth reading. You pick up some interesting snippets along the way about the Tour, although the author tends to overdo the ones about cheating and drugs. What sport hasn’t suffered from those? And Moore can be an entertaining writer, when he’s not being aggravating. But, as you might have guessed, I find him very aggravating!

Haute Touche Parc Animalier Revisited

Porcupines

Our first visit to Haute Touche parc animalier (wildlife park) was in August 2006, shortly after we’d moved to France. We combined a trip there with a visit to a prospective fish supplier at nearby Le Blanc in Indre.

This year’s visit had a fishy connection too. This time we dropped into Vigean’s warehouse at Clion first to stock up on bags of hemp for our fishing clients. Vigean also process and sell nut, vegetable and flower oils, and it has a wonderful shop of organic products where we had a good browse. But more about that in another blog.

 

 

 

What wonderful horns

Then on to the animals. Haute Touche is France’s largest animal park. It’s a safari park crossed with a zoo. You drive the first 4 km from the entrance gate (where I paid €33 entrance for two adults and two children, a good bit more than five years ago!) past enclosures of rare varieties of goats and deer before you get to the parking. We had our sandwiches in the car while we waited for it to stop raining, then set off, cameras in hand and raincoats in bags.

There had been a sort of treasure trail for kids to follow, we remembered, so we called to the small shop to ask if there was still something similar. Caiti did the talking. The shop assistant had to ask her to repeat the question more slowly since she hadn’t caught what Caiti had said. That was quite a marker of how French my kids have become since our last visit! The upshot was that the quiz no longer existed. The shop now hires bikes and binoculars out at a furious rate, so I guess the free treasure trail went by the wayside in favour of earning more income.

Vicunas

The first animals we saw were, rather mundanely for us, llamas and alpacas! However, not far away were their wild ancestors – guanacos and vicunas respectively. That was much more interesting, especially as one of the guanacos only had one eye. Spooky.

 

 

 

 

Wandering alpacas

Four alpacas were wandering loose, intentionally, which was a surprise. I wouldn’t leave an alpaca to mix freely with people, especially kids. My mild-mannered Plunkett kicked Brendan’s front teeth out last year. Alpacas have a powerful kick and it would be very easy for a toddler to get to close to an alpaca’s back end, something they don’t like. Also, one of the alpacas was in very bad need of having his teeth filed. That was pretty unimpressive.

 

 

 

 

Milling around the alpacas were pygmy goats, zillions of them. We’d seen a sign announcing goats for sale at the shop. Caiti had read it at €6, which was tempting. It was, in fact, €60, not such an inviting prospect. Besides, I don’t think a goat would have sat quietly on anyone’s lap on the way home.

Laid back striped hyena
Dholes

You do a lot of walking at Haute Touche. It’s well spread out over 500 hectares, but despite that, a few of the enclosures seemed on the small side. In my opinion, the tiger didn’t have much space and neither did the very large pack of dhôles, which were Ruadhri’s favourite animals of the day. As you can see, they are very fox-like. They alternatively growled and whimpered at us. There were a couple of youngsters but they never ventured very close to the wire netting.

We had an interesting encounter with an ostrich. Remember yesterday’s photo? The male ostrich trotted up to the fence to look at us, then threw himself onto his hocks and began waving his wings up and down and his head from side to side. I’ve been to plenty of zoos in my life and a couple of years ago, I took the kids to an ostrich farm with hundreds of ostriches in it. I’d never seen one acting like that before. We eventually worked out it was Caiti’s coat that was causing this behaviour. When she took it off, the ostrich went back to normal. Some quick research on the Net revealed that this is ostrich mating behaviour! He’d taken a shine to Caiti’s black jacket.

We wanted to see the lemurs being fed at 1.30 so charged from one side of the park to the other, just in time. It began with a lot of talking which I soon switched off from, being tired, but then the keeper brought out the tray of food to cut up. He explained how they fed their lemurs fruit and vegetables. In the wild, they’d eat leaves rather than vegs, but those are the best substitute for when they’re in captivity. He told us how the lemurs prefer sugary things, and how they’d eat the banana first, then the apple and then they’d suck the juice out of the little lumps of orange he’d cut up for them before spitting the peel out. Only then would they reluctantly start on the vegetables, very much like children. And sure enough, George and Georgette started with banana, moved onto apple and then finished with the orange, tipping their heads back so the juice could run down their throats. They didn’t touch the veg while we were watching.

We had a revitalising coffee break at the café before continuing. During this break, Caiti and I spotted this swallow’s nest above the exit sign in the toilets …

… and Chris and Rors found a display of antlers. Antlers weigh a ton, believe me. I feel sorry for deer.

There was one puzzling exhibit. One enclosure had two signs on it. One was for lynx and one was for racoons. We could see two furry grey things curled up in a shelter, but couldn’t work out what they were. It’s noteworthy that the sign for racoons gave their main predator as lynx! Seriously. I hope they hadn’t put the two species in together!

Lynx or raccoons?

My only grumble was that it wasn’t easy to see the meerkats (suricates). The vegetation had grown up high around the fencing, and the wooden panelling with small holes for observing them was hard to see through.

It was a great day out. We saw some fascinating creatures and only bought a few rubbishy souvenirs on our way out. And the icing on the cake was a visit to McDo’s on the drive home, due to an unexpected detour!

To answer yesterday’s questions: I’ve dealt with the ostrich and the antlers : Ruadhri and Caiti were looking at the meerkats and the animal with the long horns was a wasuti.