Easter Morning – Treasure, Lambs (Chocolate) And Seeds

I was up at the crack of dawn – well, OK, 7 o’clock but it felt like the crack of dawn – laying out the clues for the Ruadhri’s Easter Egg treasure hunt and Caiti’s Easter geocache trail. It’s our Easter tradition to make the kids work for their chocolate.

One of Ruadhri's clues

A cuckoo was calling and I caught a glimpse of it flying between trees.

A geocache for Caiti

There were some deer in Dog Leg Field which I saw and the cats saw, but Nessie the dog didn’t!

Unobservant dog in foreground, deer in background

Dog Leg is a huge field, currently with cereals in but we’re thinking of grassing it for next year.

Wendy and Voltaire tagged along too in case food was involved somewhere. They went on strike part of the way round.

Can has rest pliz? (I'm speaking Lolcat here btw)

Rors was soon up and completed his trail successfully, without any help at all. He demanded harder clues for next year! They weren’t that easy, but I learnt not to be too cryptic with our Benj. He’d get into such a sulk if he couldn’t work out a clue. So, Rors got his reward – possibly the only lamb we will see today. No. 27 is still holding out but her belly is practically dragging along the ground so surely it can’t be much longer now!

Easter chocolate lamb

I did Easter boxes for everyone this year, including Chris. He got a garden gnome for the polytunnel and coriander seeds in his.

Talking of seeds, we’ve found a good way to get seeds germinating. One lot of tomatoes and my anis (aniseed) and pepper seeds were staying soundly asleep, so we sprinkled some more onto damp tissue which we rolled up and put in a plastic bag in a warm spot – on top of the fridge just above the heat displacement thingy. Lo and behold, they’ve sprung into life.

Sprouting anis seeds

I’ve also been making some recycled seed pots out of toilet roll inners. Very easy. Cut five slits  a couple of cms long at roughly even intervals around one end and then tuck those in and you have a little pot. They tend to be a bit wobbly so you’ll need to put them in a container of some sort or tie them together with string for stability in the greenhouse. But once the seedling is growing well, dig a hole and shove them out as they are into the garden. The cardboard will soon rot away and you’re left with your healthy plant.

That's my homemade egg rack in the background, courtesy of Rors and Chris

And don’t forget to enter the Expat Blog Hop on 23 April. No catches, just fun! Sign up on this page.

All that remains is to say is Happy Easter!

Rors and his Easter box of surprises

 

 

 

 

Plumb Dumb

To celebrate (Chris and I), and at the same time commemorate (Caiti and Rors), the last official day of the winter holidays (weekends don’t count), we headed off in the sunshine this morning for another spot of geocaching. It gets us out, we all enjoy it and it’s nice family time. We found 3 out of 4 caches again – a 75% success rate seems to be our specialty these days! It gave my car a little run today, which it needs since on Monday it will be doing a 500 km round trip when we go to collect the Renault from the garage at Faverolles sur Cher, where it’s been since the breakdown last Saturday.

This afternoon we had the plumber out. The chaudière (boiler) for the gîte succumbed to le grand froid, despite Chris’s best efforts to keep it going. The cold was just too much. Le plombier has done what he can for the moment, but Chris still has a few more fuites (leaks) in pipes to fix. He’s been soldering for most of the week. Every time he thinks he’s done the last one, he discovers another one. None of us is over-optimistic that the boiler can be saved. It’s likely the main unit of it has burst in the cold, so we’ll be looking at a new one. Which is bad news this week after discovering that the Renault’s repairs have come to a staggering €2,500. That was a very, very nasty shock. It’s only some kind of electric motor that’s gone wrong in the power steering unit, but the only way to repair it is by replacing the whole steering column. It’s a sealed unit and alone comes to a few cents short of €2,000. That seems absolutely wicked to me. We’ve contacted Renault Ireland (we bought the car before we came here) to complain vociferously about this policy of supplying car parts in big expensive chunks instead of cheaply and separately. It makes us feel a bit better, even if its likely impact is minimal.

Anyway, back to pipes. Once Chris has finished soldering, we’ll be trying the boiler out to see if it still leaks. And if it does, then we need to call the plumber’s colleauge out. He’s the fuite d’eau guy. Our chap today was the broken boiler guy. He was a little out of his comfort zone. Apparently I should have said that there was a leak in it rather than simply declaring it broken on the phone, and then the most appropriate technician would have been sent out. Well, they didn’t ask for specifics, and beyond the fact that elle ne marche pas, I couldn’t really elucidate them further!

The plumber was far from impressed with the original plumbing for the boiler. At the time were a little surprised at the web of pipes leading everywhere, but you rely on a qualified expert to know what he or she is doing. It looks like some of them don’t.

Plum dumb is also the description for the proud headline from the government announcing its wonderful road safety figures for February. At 201 casualties, they’re down a quarter on last February. This ‘historic’ reduction is being attributed to the zillions of new speed cameras that have been going up. Which is crazy. February was the month of le grand froid. Hardly anyone could go anywhere due to the icy roads and the snowdrifts! Several official commentators share this view, and another campaign body sensibly adds that the rocketing cost of fuel is meaning people are driving less. But the government prefers its version!

And talking of politicians, Francois Hollande still wants €2 from me. Not this week, mon brave.

Sunshiney Fun

This spring weather is wonderful and we’ve made the most of it. This is hang-on from our fifteen years in Ireland, one of the more meteorologically challenged countries in the world! The moment there was a glimmer of sunshine, or even a break between rain showers, we’d drop everything and rush outside to enjoy it. It would never last for long.

So, despite feeling rough, I went off with Benj, Chris and Rors for a spot of geocaching this morning. We got our first FTF, which is very cool in geocaching terms. FTF = First To Find. We were the first ones to uncover one of Zephyrsailor’s new caches. Here’s the proof! I hope you’re impressed.

We found another one at the source of a certain river – a tributary of the Loire. We also found these lovely snowdrops.

Not such a nice find was the one we made back home. Treacle the cat had the most enormous tick on her neck that we’ve ever seen. The 10 centime piece is 2cm across to give you an idea of scale. And it was almost completely spherical. We call these guys elephant ticks because they’re so big. Euuwww.

This afternoon Rors and Caiti went down to their new den by the stream that runs from the middle lake. The silver lining to the cloud that was repairing Denis the llama’s fencing was that we cleared the way for Ruadhri to get down to the water. There’s a waterfall over some tree roots. He spends hours making whirlpools while his big sister practices her weaving.

I even felt inspired enough to do some spring cleaning. Just some, but it’s a start.

Eldest Son had gone back to Limoges this afternoon, leaving behind happy memories, his jeans, his jacket and a book – and that’s just for starters probably! Tomorrow I requisition the car to take Caiti to Angers for a JPO at the University there. It’ll be a long day but interesting.

And if you have a moment, you might like to drop by my Books Are Cool blog. There’s a book giveaway there at the moment – The Emerald City by J. A. Beard, and an entertaining guest post by the author.

Benefitting From Our Bonus Day

We’ve been making the most of our bonus day, 29th February, as well as the wonderful weather. We were down to teeshirts today. It seems incredible that only a week ago Chris and I were bundled up against the vicious cold, dragging wood across the firmly frozen lakes. They’re all thawed now and full of life. The fish are stirring again and wild ducks are swooping in from every direction for a paddle. A few cormorants have made an unwelcome reappearance – we hope not for long.

We went on a family geocaching trip this morning to play our part in the world record breaking geocaching event I mentioned the other day. We found three out of four. We’ll be back to track down the one that eluded us in a quarry. The clue wasn’t the most helpful – sous les pierres (under the rocks). You get a lot of those in quarries! However, we weren’t defeated previously when faced with sous l’arbre (under a tree) as a hint in a wood. Occasionally caches are moved or taken away by muggles (i.e. non-geocachers) so maybe this is what happened today. We certainly had a very good hunt around. And even if we didn’t have a 100% record today, we enjoyed ourselves. Two of the caches were in the vicinity of old stone crosses. Here is the one at St Sauvier in Creuse, dating from 1817,

and here is the one near Archignat in Allier. This appears to be much older judging from the amount of erosion that it’s suffered.

While we have an extra pair of hands around the place in the form of Eldest Son, Benjamin, we moved on to phase two of the branch clearing programme around the lakes – piling up and burning. Actually, we mainly just piled since the wood is still rather wet and the fires we started didn’t last very long. Long enough to take a rather good action pic though!

The arrival of leap year lambs would have been the icing on the cake, but our girls are not going to be rushed, that’s for sure. And to finish, a gratuitous pig picture. These are some Gloucester Old Spots that belong to friends of ours. Aren’t they great?

 

 

Année Bissextile – Leap Year

Caesar from the Asterix books

As I’m sure you know, this year is a leap year. In French that’s année bissextile. A what? Well, bissextile comes from the Latin bis sextilis which means ‘twice sixth’. None the wiser? OK, leap years were introduced under the Julian calendar, after Caesar’s Egyptian astrologer Sosigenes advised him that a year was actually 365 and a quarter days long. An extra day every four years was introduced, after the 24th February. Now, Romans counted backwards in months so the 24th February to them was sexto ante calendas martii (sixth day before the 1st of March). So the extra day that was slipped in fairly logically became the second sixth day before the 1st of March – bis sextilis. Now it all makes sense!

An interesting fact. Sweden not only has 29th Februari, but has even had two 30th Februarys, one in 1700, and one three hundred years ago in 1712. This was because the country had managed to get out of sync with everyone else while attempting to gradually introduce the Gregorian calendar, rather than do it brutally as in other countries where eleven days suddenly disappeared. This had led to riots and protests on a wide scale so the Swedes decided to be more cautious.

And another one. Leap years don’t happen every 4 years. Under the Gregorian calendar, they are the years that are divisible by 4 but not by 100, or which are divisible by 400. This is why 2000 was a leap year, but not 1900.

Leap years should be celebrated since we get to have a whole extra day for free.

Three things to do on 29th February in France

1. Propose to someone if you’re a girl. At one time there was a law in Scotland that meant a man couldn’t refuse the proposal! And yes, I know in this day and age women can pop the question any time, but Leap Year Day is the official day to do it. I won’t be since I think Chris would be upset and anyway, I can’t think of a better guy to be married to. Caiti tells us she won’t be husband hunting either on Wednesday.

2. Buy a copy of La Bougie du Sapeur (The Fireman’s/Engineer’s Candle) a humorous French magazine that only appears every 29th February. This year’s will be number 9. Apparently, on the back page is a coupon offering you the chance to subscribe for 25 issues i.e. for the next 100 years at a cost of €100. I shall see if I can find a copy this year.

3. Go geocaching. Geocachers in every country are being asked to find a cache on 29th February so as to set a new world record for the number of geocaches found on a certain day. We’ll be joining in.  In 2008, 36,696 caches were found. Geocachers.com is hoping to double that amount this year. Anyone who finds a cache and logs it on the site will get a special souvenir on their cache profile.

Whatever you do, have a nice 29th of February this year.

 

Préveranges, Cher – More Than Meets The Eye

The day before the kids went back to school, Black Monday as far as they were concerned, we went off to a spot of geocaching in Préveranges, a large village about 20 km away in the département of Cher. Chris, Rors and I went to the pumpkin fair there back at the end of October.

Anyway, we parked on the outskirts of the village and walked all the way through it. Préveranges is a very spread out settlement. I was surprised to discover that it has a population of only around 770. You’d think it was much larger to see the place. It’s well served with a dentist, pharmacie, assortment of bars, a general store, a couple of garages and a hotel. A joyful one at that.

And it once had a magnetiseur. We passed by the abandoned shopfront. Can you guess what a magnetiseur is? Not someone who makes magnets, but a healer. And to think there was one in this, old-fashioned part of the world. I’d have thought a healer was far too new-fangled and trendy an idea.

There were a lot of Christmas trees in the village – a veritable forest, festooning and often blocking the pavements. Each one was decorated with shiny metallic paper bows and tinsel. Someone had been to a lot of trouble to annoy pedestrians in such a festive manner.

We passed a garage that specialises in renovating classic vehicles, some of them clearly in need of a lot of attention!

Then we went by this intriguing wooden cross, which has hundreds of small wooden crosses nailed to it. I’m intrigued by this but haven’t yet been able to turn up any information about it.  Now, one of the pilgrim routes of St Jacques Compostella passes close by to Préveranges, maybe even through it, so perhaps this was a point on the way? This is only a suggestion – I have more research to do.

Passing by this pterosaur,

we came to another park. We’d left the car by one. It seems very greedy to have two parks in a village! They’re both big and very well maintained. Cher definitely has a lot more money than Creuse, where even a town the size of Boussac only has a couple of pocket handkerchiefs of greenery for kids to play in. We walked round the lake, then headed for home. Along the way Ruadhri found his first geocache, all on his own! Well done Rors. It was a good way to finish the holidays.

 

 

Hidden Treasures of Bois du Lassoux

Boxing Day saw us geocaching again. We went for it big time, tackling our first multi-cache challenge. This one had been set by zephyrsailor. There were seven caches altogether to find, but we had to find all of the first six because each one gave a digit to slot into the GPS reference for the final one.

It took us five hours to do it. Be impressed! But luckily I’d made a hearty picnic to keep us going.

We had plenty of noms on the way round!

Caiti, who is a Noz addict (that’s a chain of discount stores in France) had brought along some self-heating hot chocolate. I took a pic of the pot after we got home. It actually seemed to contain more heating chemicals in the bottom of the pot than chocolate to heat up in the top, but it was very welcome and warming on a cold, winter’s day. Sadly I fear it is horrendously un-ecofriendly, even if it’s ingenious.

We made some mistakes in our cache hunting to start with, but to be fair, a lot of the clues were tree-related and the caches were largely hidden in and around a forest! Also, one of the caches wasn’t where it should have been, and as you can seen, has been well chewed by something small and furry who had also taken it for quite a long drag!

However, we Daggs are nothing if not determined so we stuck with the programme and it all came together. Even if it hadn’t, we’d have enjoyed ourselves since we love the Bois du Lassoux where the activity was based. We’ve trekked the llamas there in the past, but haven’t been for quite a while. The kids love the zipwire. Here are the two eldest having a go, first Ben …

… and then Caits.

Rors was still feeling a little travel sick after the windy drive to the Bois and didn’t fancy trying it out this time round.

I love this suspension bridge. It takes one car at a time, but even when a person walks over it, it vibrates and rumbles.

For the first time we visited the Chapelle de Ste Radegonde. (We call her St Ragondin – we have an ongoing battle with ragondins (coypus) in our lakes.) This is a beautiful medieval chapel set on a hillside above what’s now a reservoir. It, and a small graveyard, are all that’s left of a village, le Châtillon d’Entraigues, which was established in the eleventh century and inhabited until the 1800s.

Ste Radegonde is the patron saint of anything to do with running water, tempests and shipwrecks. Legend has it that when there’s a thunderstorm you should run to her chapel and ring the bell, and that will make the storm abate. I’m sure it’s good advice, but it’s a bit far from Nouzerines! Pilgrims to the chapel also believed that they could see if things were going to go well or otherwise for them by the way the light played on the face of the Saint’s statue.

The statue isn’t there any more but there is this intriguing wooden sculpture.

Ste Radegonde’s chapel is well worth a visit. It’s in a stunning location and is a fascinating building.

Back to our geocaching. The final cache contained a log to sign – but again, we had no pen. Duh. I’d had one in the car ready to put in the rucksack, but where it went to, heaven knows. So we’ll have to redo the trail sometime and sign it. There were a few items to select from as a momento. We took one and replaced it, as is the custom. We also took this. It’s a geocoin, or travel bug. It moves from cache to cache with the mission to travel around Europe. This one is ‘snixx’ and has the ambition of making it to Australia. So, we have two weeks in which to move snixx to another cache for someone else to find and move on. We’ve decided we’d better head southwards for our next geocaching session tomorrow to get snixx going in the right direction! Everyone who finds it in logs this info in on the geocache.com website. That’s where you find all the info on where the various caches are, register ones you’ve introduced, sign up your own geocaching team – we’re team Llamagems –  and find out all about geocaching.

 

Caiti takes five

We’ll be investing in a couple of geocoins to put in caches we create for other geocachers to move around Europe. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

Caching in on Christmas – Geocaching, Gold Mines, Muggles and Viaducs

The weather finally cleared on Christmas Eve and, since most of us were feeling better after going down with various coughs and colds, we headed off for a spot of geocaching. Chris, Rors and I haven’t done any for ages, and Caiti and Benj had never had a go. So it seemed a nice way to make the day a bit special.

Chris tracked down four geocaches quite close together not far from Chambon sur Voueize. The first one was labelled as Le Mine d’Or – the Gold Mine at Chatelet. Gold was discovered there in 1886 when the railway station at nearby Budéliere was being built. We had no idea previously that there was a gold mine in the area. It’s currently being restored.

The search for the cache took a while as we were on a fairly busy road so we had to stop searching every time a car came by. You must never let any Muggles see what you’re doing when you’re geocaching. (Non-geocachers are Muggles, in case you were wondering!) Benj eventually came up trumps.

Rather chilly, we moved on to the next spot. There were three caches at different points along a section of currently disused railway track. Now, this is a stretch of the railway line that ran from Montluçon in Allier to Ussel in Corrèze. It was taken out of service in 2008 due to safety issues, but it hasn’t officially been closed. It’s state owned, since it runs through three departéments and two régions, so any definitive decision regarding its future will take a long while. Its condition had been steadily deteriorating since the 1950s apparently and in 2008 it needed 40 million euros of repair work to bring it up to standard. Presumably that’s what all the problem is. It’s a lot of money. However, it’s in a touristy part of Creuse, and has Néris Les Bains and Evaux Les Bains, two thermal spas, on its route. And the countryside around is fantastic. Wait till you see the viaduc in a moment. I hope it will be saved. We need more railways.

Anyway, we set off along the railway line. It’s surprisingly tricky to walk along a railway track.

The sleepers were slippy so we had to walk on the gravel between them. But the sleepers were unevenly spaced so we had to watch our step all the time. But it was still pretty cool. We found the first two caches – Benj, who’s obviously a natural at this, got the first one and I got the second.

Caiti examines a cache

Then we came to the viaduc. Oh boy, it’s incredible. Possibly this is one of the safety issues responsible for the line’s suspension. Caiti and I headed out across it.

The dots in the distance are me and Caits!

Chris who’d stayed back with Rors yelled at me to move to the side since he noticed that the metal plating I was walking on was incredibly thin. This temporarily freaked me out as we were a very, very long way up. However, my daughter was carrying on across it so I did too.

Bits of metal were missing here and there and the poor old bridge looked the worse for wear in places, but wow. What a feat of engineering! I have no idea how you can build something so tall across such a precipitous gorge.

See what I mean about being high up?

There was a very stiff breeze blowing and we were, as I’ve mentioned before, extremely high up so we didn’t hang around for long! Caiti and I went all the way across, and then Chris had a walk over it too. Rors wasn’t keen on venturing across and Benj couldn’t be bothered.

We got all the way across

On the drive out we’d been amazed to see four wind turbines up. Only a couple of days ago there’d been only one and a half. So I took some photos on the way back.

We’ve also discovered that we can see one of them from our garden. It’s a long way off, but because it’s so tall, there it is, in view. An elegant new addition to the skyline.

It's very faint - can you make it out?

We plan to go geocaching again on Boxing Day. It’s an addictive pastime. There are people who have clocked up thousands of finds. We have a total of six between us for this year so far, so we have a way to go yet!

Smashing Geocaching!

We have three anglers on Alder Lake this week. They were dropped off here by the dad by one of anglers who, with a friend, has gone on a week’s geocaching and wine tasting around France. The wine tasting you’re probably familiar with. But geocaching?

GPS treasure map

It all began in May 2000 when ‘selective availability’ meant that everyone, and not just the military, got to use GPS. This meant treasure hunting could move into the twenty-first century. No more ‘three paces south from the oak tree’ and ‘X’ marks the spot on a tatty map but a string of GPS co-ordinates that you can download.

Chris, Ruadhri and I went on a geocaching expedition on Wednesday, Ruadhri’s school-less day of the week. Our first stop was at Toulx Ste Croix, a village about 10 km away. It’s famous for having the oldest Christian statues in France – two well-worn lions. We followed the track shown on Chris’s GPS and found ourselves behind the Panoramic Tower, on a rocky field. According to our hardware, we were slap bang on the little treasure chest that marked where the cache was. We poked and searched for a while, and then decided to decode the clue. This was given in a straightforward code on the sheet we’d printed off from the geocaching website.

Ruadhri with the cache

Aha. Now we had a better idea where to concentrate our search. Rors and I went one way, Chris went another. We were in shorts and there were a lot of brambles to push through. Ouch. I made a mental note to wear trousers for geocaching in future. And since we’d seen a snake earlier, a harmless one though, I added gloves to the list of necessary items. I wasn’t going to stick my hand into any crevasses!

Then Chris gave a shout. He’d found it! Carefully wrapped in an padded wallet and then a plastic bag, was a small plastic box. The cache.

 

 

Rors opened it to discover what treasures there were. How it works is that, for most caches, you take something out and leave something in its place, and also sign the log that’s there.

We replaced the wizard figure Ruadhri took a shine to with a polished amethyst. Fair exchange is no robbery. Then we wrapped everything up again and replaced the box exactly where we’d found it, reinstating the rocks and leaves that had been around it.

The list of everyone who has found the cache so far

Feeling well pleased with ourselves, we went up the Panoramic Tower to enjoy the view. We also watched while the ancient sarcophagi were put back into place in the old bell tower. I imagine they’d been taken off for a clean-up.

Then we went onto Les Pierres Jaumatres, where the next cache was waiting for us. Chris navigated us to the right spot up beyond the main rocks, and we began hunting. This time I found the treasure, which was in another well-concealed plastic box. The log showed that several people had found this one by accident.

Rors took a small plastic car and we left one of my handmade silver and Peruvian bead mobile phone charms.

Last stop was for a micro-cache at the Lavoir in Boussac. This time there was just the log to sign in the film canister. This one, like the Toulx one, had been put in place by Fred & Michelle. (The Pierres was put in place by Fildefred.)

A micro cache this time

We didn’t do badly at all for our first go at geocaching – we found 3 out of 3. We’ll definitely be doing it again. It was a great way to spend a morning. We’re also planning to devise our own geocaches for other people to find.

 

Today’s French word: le trésor – treasure