An Introduction To The Bastides.

This morning I received an e-mail from the agent selling my French house. Attached was the document for me to sign giving the solicitor the authority to sign the contract on my behalf. Three of the original errors persisted. I responded by asking the agent whether I should alter these by hand. My signature has to be witnessed before I send it back by snail mail. I used the word “Aarrggh” in my e-mail.

Although I have featured the house in earlier posts, now is perhaps an appropriate time to respond to the request of Aussie Ian, the Emu, for images of the exterior of the house and its environs. This is a batch of colour negatives made in September 2003, five years before I bought the house from my friends Maggie and Mike. I scanned the pictures today.

No. 6 rue St. Jacques is an 18th century terraced house in the village of Sigoules. The longer of these two images includes Nos. 8, 10, and beyond.

As is evident from these views of the street, the house is situated at the top of a steep hill. Fortunately it is at the town square end. The first three pictures look down the hill from outside the property. The others look up.

Maggie and Mike in garden 9.03

There is a small patio garden which is a veritable sun-trap.


During my stay with my friends, we took a number of walks. Here Maggie and Mike pass a man-made fishing lake on their left. Berries, crocuses, and oaks all enlivened the countryside.

The path we were taking led to hills from which we could admire vineyards and the valley below.

Beaumont is one of the bastide towns to which my friends introduced me.

Built during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ‘bastides were developed in number under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1229), which permitted Raymond VII of Toulouse to build new towns in his shattered domains, though not to fortify them. When the Capetian Alphonse of Poitiers inherited, under a marriage stipulated by the treaty, this “bastide founder of unparalleled energy”[5] consolidated his regional control in part through the founding of bastides. Landowners supported development of the bastides in order to generate revenues from taxes on trade rather than tithes(taxes on production). Farmers who elected to move their families to bastides were no longer vassals of the local lord — they became free men; thus the development of bastides contributed to the waning of feudalism. The new inhabitants were encouraged to cultivate the land around the bastide, which in turn attracted trade in the form of merchants and markets. The lord taxed dwellings in the bastides and all trade in the market. The legal footing on which the bastides were set was that of paréage with the local ruling power, based on a formal written contractual agreement between the landholder and a count of Toulouse, a king of France, or a king of England. The landholder might be a cartel of local lords or the abbot of a local monastery.’ (Wikipedia)

During the medieval Hundred Years War between England and France, the French rapidly fortified those towns that had not succumbed in the early destruction. Ownership tended to fluctuate between the two warring Houses, and when it was their turn, the English made good use of the fortifications that had been so effective against them. In fact, various websites inform us that Beaumont-du-Perigord was founded by England’s King Edward I in 1272.

The main feature of all bastides is a central, open place, or square. It was used for markets, and for political and social gatherings. I will introduce some of these in a follow-up post featuring more of these photographs.

For our dinner this evening, Jackie reprised yesterday’s chicken and black bean meal with all its accompaniments and the addition of equal excellent chicken chow mein. She drank Hoegaarden and I consumed the last of the Malbec and a glass of the 2016 vintage.



The Fountains of Bergerac

It hadn’t been a good idea to sit up half the night watching the general election which resulted in a hung Parliament. Not when I had to make a start on putting together accounts information for my accountant. Not when we received a surprise visit from a prospective buyer for the house next door to discuss a boundary issue. Not when I had to deal with correspondence and phone conversations on that subject with the seller’s solicitor. Not when I was engaged in on-line communications of various other natures including reading and responding to followers’ comments. Not when all these activities were being juggled together.

I was beginning to wonder how I was going to summon the energy for photography when Sam came to the rescue.

When my son and his family left us in Portsmouth a couple of days ago they were en route to France where they spent the night in Caen and visited the Bayeux tapestry before going on to Sigoules to our house in that village. Because of the early morning trip to Southampton Hospital we managed to send them off without the keys. This necessitated my having to arrange for the estate agent out there to provide Sam with a set of keys, and to contain my anxiety until the handover had been accomplished. That had also interfered with my sleep the night before the election.

This morning the family explored Bergerac where the children enjoyed the fountains.

Malachi, Orlaith and friend

This one, where Malachi and Orlaith soon engaged with a little friend, is in the medieval Old Town. I have myself enjoyed many an ice-cream from the kiosk opposite while seated on that little wall.

Malachi and Orlaith 1Malachi and Orlaith 2Malachi and Orlaith 3Malachi and Orlaith 4

These further fountains must have been installed in the newer environs some time after my last visit.

In e-mailing these images, Sam had unwittingly saved my bacon. Given that Malachi’s new raincoat was also left behind in Downton it is just as well that they are clearly enjoying good weather.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s excellent beef casserole, new potatoes, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower cheese.

The UK Citizenship Test


Early this morning I wandered around Sigoules. Despite the fact that the last few days have been gloriously sunny, yesterday was the official ending of summer in France. Today the children returned, surprisingly eagerly, to school. They were certainly not, as Shakespeare put it, ‘creeping like snail unwillingly’.

Morning gloriesLeavesSignalling autumn, the low sun cast long shadows from fallen leaves. Conkers looked ready to drop. Morning glories mingled with the ivy climbing the walls of the CartWar Memorial garden, and flowers still bloomed in the old cart resting in the grass around the community centre.FootpathStream

I discovered a wooded footpath I had not noticed before. Signed ‘rue de la Moulin Cave’, it ran along the backs of houses until it emerged on the outskirts of the village on the road to Bergerac. A stream accompanied it on the final stretch. Beyond this, stone steps led up to a private garden.

On my return to the house, the female partner and one of the young men who had been occupying it, were waiting to collect their clothes and shoes. I helped them carry out the eleven bin bags, two travelling cases, and one briefcase. I also handed the woman a batch of letters I had managed to extract from the box on the wall outside.

Later, Brigitte drove me to Bergerac airport.

On the day of Michael’s Shampers birthday celebration, Tess was also rejoicing in having passed the UK Citizenship Test that day. She is now officially one of us. The flyleaf of Iain Aitch’s ‘We’re British Innit’ claims that unlike Tess’s test, ‘this is the real Britain’, that of mushy peas, haggis, corner shops, Coronation Street, horse racing, and fox hunting. Those of us around the table struggled with some of the historical questions Tess reported, but all would have recognised what goes with fish and chips.

Aitch casts his humour over all levels of society and all corners of Britain. He mixes clearly invented facts with those that are accurate, in a most amusing, often rather scurrilous, way. The book’s title had made it impossible for Becky and Ian to resist buying it for my birthday. It provided welcome light relief over the last harrowing week. I finished reading it in the airport lounge.



Farmhouse strip

Memorial cornerIlluminated by a strong sun in a clear blue sky, the same paths I walked yesterday looked very different. Washing line The dripping pegs now held a line of washing. Butterfly Pumpkin holesThe pumpkins had been harvested; Windfallsthe windfalls seemed more palatable; and butterflies flitted among the vines.

Today Moreen drove us to the marvellous house, built by Paul and his father-in-law from lessons taken from the internet, in which they are to spend their next six months. John moving in at Bourlens Perched on a hilltop on the outskirts of Bourlens in Lot it offers wonderful views across sloping fields and woods.  The Bastide town of Tournon stands on neighbouring heights.

Views either side of the winding route from Sigoules were shrowded in haze.Haze from N21

After carrying in some of my friends’ belongings in preparation for their move tomorrow, we lunched in the superb Le Beffrois restaurant in Tournon.  Our meal was an excellent salad followed by well grilled chicken kebabs and beautifully presented profiteroles.  We shared a full-bodied bottle of choice Cahors.

The bill was presented in a delightful manner.  A small hand stretched out from the side of the waitresses left lower limb.  Shyly sheltering behind her mother was a little girl of about four years old who could count in English.  This was Leona, who was soon to enter into an arrangement with John.  She is to teach him French and he will teach her English.  Le Beffrois barJohn and Mo will go there again.

Landscape from TournonAfter the meal we walked around the town, and looked down over the valley below.

I did, of course, fall asleep on the return journey, to awake as Mo drew up outside an antiques shop.  There my friends bought me a mirror of admirable quality to replace the bathroom one which has collapsed.  Unlike Michael Palin in ‘The Life of Brian’, John demonstrated admirable haggling qualities. This being their last night, we visited Le Code Bar.

That Champagne Moment

Mist over Sigoules

The mist that enshrowded a recently slumbering Sigoules rousing, stretching, and rubbing its eyes this morning augured as well as yesterday’s clear sky.  We were not disappointed.  We had a gloriously sunny day when Mo, John and I later ambled around Bergerac and did some shopping.

House in mist

Pegs and web in mistAs I walked up past Les Caves, from which, on our return from Bergerac, my friends chose some wine for a December wedding, I turned left along a simple road leading to rustic lanes I had not explored before. Yard with artefacts Shed with tractorThere I saw yards and sheds full of materials Pumpkinfor various farming activities, Windfallsallotments with, among others, some fine pumpkins, and windfall apples beneath a gnarled old fruit tree. Somewhat surprisingly I emerged from these, to me, ‘untrodden ways’ opposite the cemetery.  I spent most of the rest of the morning discussing the work with Saufiene, after which I and my two friends lunched at Le Code Bar on vegetable soup; stuffed eggs and pastrami; roast chicken complete with heart and liver; and pear flan, all prepared to perfection.  We shared a half carafe of red wine.

Then came that champagne moment.  When we returned to No 6, Saufiene greeted us with a puzzling question.  On my arrival two days ago, we had all shared a bottle of Metz champage.  Saufiene had immediately extracted the bottle from the fridge and placed it on the table.  John grabbed it and proceeded to open it.  We all enjoyed a couple of glasses.  Alex, who speaks no English sat in a corner rubbing his eye (into which he had scraped some grit) in discomfort and smiling when Saufiene or I translated.  Neither he nor Saufiene questioned John’s action.  Today, as we entered the house, Saufiene asked John: ‘Did you buy the last bottle of champagne?’.  The question puzzled us both.  I had to translate for John.  I knew the words, but I couldn’t understand the question.  ‘What last bottle?’  I asked. ‘The one we drank on Monday’, was the reply.  ‘Yes’, said John. By now, I hadn’t a clue what was going on.  Saufiene burst out laughing.

Champagne bottleThis lunchtime, Alex had found an identical bottle in the boot of Saufiene’s car.  He had been delegated to put it in the fridge on Monday.  Saufiene thought he had. John hadn’t realised Saufiene was supplying the champagne.  One Frenchman and one Englishman had had the same thoughts and the same taste in champagne.

Jackie and I, it seems, are soon to have our own champagne moment.  Yesterday she had told me that ‘The Old School House’ was a goner.  The owner had not replied to the agent’s e-mails and the father was insisting it be taken off the market.  She had therefore made an offer on The Old Post House.  Today the offer was accepted.  The Amity Grove House sale should be completed by Christmas.

As I wrote up this post in the bar this evening I managed to fall over backwards and do the chair ireparable damage.  Two young frienchmen hauled me to my feet.  I was unscathed.


Dawn over Sigoules

Filigreed leavesThe pastel shades of the marbled paper that was the dawn sky over Sigoules looked promising this morning.  I walked the La Briaude loop.  Filigreed leaves along the Eymet Road confronted the rising sun whose light gradually crept across the fields.

Birds sang, cocks crew, and hens cackled.  The enraged bellowing of a man seeming to occupy a house in the middle distance ceased as an anxious-looking woman drove up the winding road leading to it.

Field at dawnCabbages grown by the gardener I have often seen toiling away coolly glistened.  We exchanged greetings as I stepped into the now otherwise empty maize field to photograph his produce. Cabbages He had, as usual, nicked the edge of this land to sow his seeds.  Slugs were doing their utmost to produce filigreed greens.

Saufiene has said he likes to approach No 6 as if it were his own house.  I have told him to feel free.  The consequence is that I am receiving ‘presents’ over and above the contracted work.  Benoit is in the process of redesigning the garden to accommodate plants that can survive in the prevailing conditions with limited maintenance.  A long wooden table, chairs, and a parasol have appeared there.  CurtainHeaterAn extremely efficient and unobtrusive electric heater now stands in the fireplace of the sitting room which has new curtains.  Light in back passageTable coverMo just happened to bring a cover for the table that matches these and the bergere suite.  She has also donated a couple of attractive bowls.  A light has been fitted in the back passage.

SarlatLunch at Le Code Bar consisted of superb onion soup; avocado with a prawn dressing, coarse pate and cornichon; pork cheeks and rice; and profiteroles.  Mo, John, and I shared a half carafe of red wine.

This afternoon John drove Mo and me to Sarlat and back.  This is a most attractive town full of history and fascinating shops. Its church, although building commenced in the thirteenth century contains artefacts from its first conception in the eleventh.  It was a pleasant trip.

Keats’s Season

Loft insulationWall of back hallApple treesYesterday the loft insulation was carried out.  A damp beam betrays the broken tiles which need replacing on the roof.  The back hall was prepared for specialised papering.

Maggie and Mike collected me in the evening and drove me to their home at Eymet where we enjoyed a meal focussing on a Russian fish pie, followed by cheese and melon; with some red wine and an evening’s convivial conversation.

BerriesGrapesFir conesOnce the morning mist had cleared, a fine autumn day revealed the poet’s ‘mellow fruitfulness’. Sigoules landscape I walked the loop centring on the Thenac road, up along the main route through Sigoules and down the narrow winding track to the Cuneges road.  Although it dulled over before I had returned the day began bright and sunny, and continued to be so after I had returned.

ButterflyHigh on the vine-covered slopes a proliferation of butterflies flitted here and there.  Bright yellow ones in particular chased each other around, reminding me of yesterday night’s courting couple.  Up and down, round and round they yo-yoed, never settling for the camera.

Some grapes seem to be allowed to fester on the stems.  I gather this is a necessary process of viniculture.

SunflowersThe sunflowers also looked rather past their best, until one remembers that it is their oil that is harvested.

Distant bonfire

What must have been a seasonal bonfire sent up spirals of smoke in the far distance.

Max’s lunchtime offerings in Le Code Bar began with noodles and a variety of vegetables soup; then a soft, dressed, avocado at its peak, served with salami, coarse pate, a green salad and a cornichon; next the usual daunting, perfectly cooked succulent steak plentifully garnished with garlic, pepper and onions, accompanied by crisp, glistening, freshly fried chips; and finally a pear tart with chocolate sauce.  And it bears repeating that all this comes at a price of 13 euros.