In the past couple of weeks my exploring has slowed down a bit. There are personal reasons for this, but I now feel that it is time to restart my exploratory engine, albeit on a much gentler note for a while. I have returned to England after finishing a wonderful few days in the village of Roquebrun in the Languedoc region, an overnight stay in the Camargue with my patient travelling French teacher, Gillian and a last night in Avignon.
My last post gave you a taste of Roquebrun with its steep, narrow winding roads (no – pathways, really – we nearly got stuck in one!), magnificent River Orb and our successful attempts to sail Stand Up Paddleboards.
The Camargue is entirely different – an area of marshy terrain which comprises the delta of the Rhône River and is famous for it’s magnificent white horses, flamingos and Spanish flavour – bull fighting still happens here. There is a long tradition of association with some special saints who are celebrated in colourful celebrations – the Saints Maries and also Saint Sara who is the patron saint of the gypsies. Gypsies come from all over Europe to celebrate her feast days.
Gillian and I stayed in Saintes Maries de la Mer, swam in the Mediterranean (the north coast o NSW still wins in my opinion!), ate crevettes (prawns), drank white wine, wandered through the town, were approached by gypsies, visited the church with its quaint Spanish appearance. The original building of Roman origin and added to by various cultures and it’s interior with haunting echoes of prayers for those souls lost at sea and religious relics thought to have miraculous powers. You do sense both the beauty and menace of a life lived in this wide, watery landscape. After some fruitless exploring, Gillian found me an enormous flock of flamingos and we spotted many white horses along the way.
It was then back to Avignon where I got soaked in a thunderstorm but managed to visit the Petit Palais (des Papes) where there is the most magnificent collection of early medieval and renaissance paintings and icons that I have ever seen.
I parted ways with my travelling companion and caught the TGV back to the Gare de Lyon and into a taxi for the trip to the Gare du Nord with a taxi driver who carried on a conversation in French with me all the way – such a nice guy – I gave him a tip just for the conversation. It is the only way to get fluent, so I really need to talk to more taxi and uber drivers!
The Eurostar was again fabulous – such an easy way to travel and so back to London and on to Essex near Radwinter. A week of grandmothering and walking miles in the glorious summer countryside – to the villages of Wimbish and Radwinter.
I met locals on huge horses who told me which public footpaths to take across fields, was lucky enough to walk into Radwinter on Wednesday morning when there is a village ‘cafe’ from 10.30 – 12 in the local hall. A cup of coffee, cakes, a donation and lots of conversation about Australia – everyone has a child or relative of some kind in Oz and has visited or is about to visit. Talk was about snakes and spiders, the cleanliness of Aussie public loos(!), the Ghan and more….
I commented that I had come to see the local church which dates from the 1300s, only to learn that it is only open to the public on the first Saturday of the month, but Wendy, who had the keys was in our midst, so my luck was in! Wendy showed me around an absolute jewel of a country church with it’s carved Flemish reredos behind the altar, precious iconography behind bullet proof glass, stained windows, 14th century corbel carvings and the most impressive architect designed (to fit in with all this history) cloak area and toilet I have ever used.
The following day I got a lift into Saffron Walden – which I have written about before – and again, using local knowledge found a walkway to Audley End House, a huge English country house in the manner of the house seen in the TV series, ‘Downton Abbey’. It is the seat of the Lords Braybrooke and goes back many centuries. It was extensively remodelled in the 18th Century and the grounds were laid out by ‘Capability’ Brown’ and are extensive (I walked miles – some the result of a wrong turn – pretty poor signage).
The flower beds, follies, the river, bridge and clipped topiary hedges are amazing but the house is something else again. The lower floors designed and decorated by Robert Adam and the bedroom suites are wonderful but most fascinating of all was the children’s nursery. This was right at the top of the house and was almost another house of its own. At one time there were eight children in the family and they basically lived here, seeing the outside world in bits and pieces and visiting their mother for an hour a day. The boys were sent to Eton and the teaching was otherwise by governesses. Fabulous views of course and a great insight into the social history of the aristocracy of the times.