Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Vaux Stream


Druance Valley
My second walk of the afternoon was slightly longer than the first at 8km (5 miles) and as I left midway through the afternoon it was always going to be a little bit of a race against time to make sure I got back before it got dark.  However, with clearing skies and plenty of sunshine beckoning I was eager to look more at the local countryside from the gite (see last walk).
Marsangle Chapel
I retraced my steps down the sunken lane down to the right after leaving the gate and back down to the road that we had walked up from previously.  Strangely the countryside looked rather different heading down the hill versus coming up – have you ever noticed how a direction change along the same path can alter your perspective completely?
Marsangle
When I got to the bottom I turned right along the road and was almost instantly confronted with a rather stereotypical old French fellow riding a bike.  He smiled and greeted me as I passed, although he looked at me slightly suspiciously.  I had a feeling that walkers aren’t particularly common in these parts, or maybe I stood out as a foreigner?  For my part I did think that the only thing missing from him was a string of onions around his neck – everything else was there including pencil moustache, long coat, old fashioned bike and beret!
Druance Valley
Luckily this stretch of road walking wasn’t too long but the scenery was quite special.  As I headed along the small valley the countryside opened out and the autumn colours seemed heightened by the sunshine that lit up the landscape.  I turned right through the hamlet of Marsangle, passing by a small chapel and a couple of very attractive looking houses as I did so.  It wasn’t totally obvious but I think one is an old watermill converted to a house.  Unfortunately I couldn’t see for sure as it was mostly hidden by a high hedge and gate.  However, the large millstones laid against the hedge were a pretty good clue.  The chapel is also a very attractive little building, founded in 1685 by Etienne Sebire who took a vow to build a chapel here in honour of the Virgin Mary.
Marsangle Woods
It was here that I left the road and took a steepish climb up the side of a field to woodlands beyond. Behind me the view of the Druance Valley opened up and made a delightful scene of all that is good about autumn.  I was pleased that we had elected to come in October half term – I can’t help thinking that the landscape here really looks at its best at this time of year. 
Ferme de Gournay
Having admired the view for a short while it was onward and through the woodland.  It was already getting pretty dark in the trees and the path took a route through that resembled a tunnel.  Over to the left I sensed that there was a steep slope/ cliff not too far off the path but decided not to investigate too much.  I also wondered whether there might be a wild boar roaming around in the woods?  They can be quite unpredictable and didn’t fancy encountering one.  At the side of the path I saw a couple of signs that I don’t think I have ever seen in the UK telling people not to pick the fungi.  I couldn’t decide if that was because the best edible ones were becoming scarce or whether people were picking toxic ones?
Gournay
As I emerged from the woods the clouds had almost completely disappeared and I headed up through more fields with views now opening up towards Le Plessis Grimoult and the communications mast that dominates the landscape for miles around here.  A little further on and I passed by the ruined Ferme de Gournay.  I got the impression that this might have been a victim of World War II fighting such was the overwhelming damage to the place.  Hard to believe that mere neglect could have resulted in the ruination of the building.  Whatever the cause, it seems likely that this will only be a ruin for the rest of its existence.
Autumn Colours
I took another right hand turn just past the ruined farm and headed down yet another sunken lane to the hamlet of Gournay, a settlement that amounted to no more than half a dozen houses.  As I wandered through I was greeted by another barking dog and a stern faced French woman soon emerged from the adjacent house to shoo him back in.  As I looked around at the other houses it looked like most were deserted and I wondered how many might be holiday homes.  I passed by a caravan; one of the very few I have ever seen in France.  It looked like it might be temporary accommodation for a run down looking house along the way which is surely ripe for redevelopment.

Autumn Colours
The sunken lane had also given way to a tarmac lane and this made for quite speedy walking.  When I reached the more busy road heading towards St Jean Le Blanc I had a choice.  I could continue on towards the village or I could take a longer loop that took me round another valley.  As the weather was so good I decided to take the longer route rather than more main road walking into St Jean.  I turned left at the next junction down another tarmac lane bound by trees that were the most magnificent colours.  This was surely the zenith of autumn?

Tree Tunnel
I dog-legged around a largish property and headed along an unmade track between fields and as I did so the colours of the trees seemed to get better and better.  Most of the beech trees were a delightful golden colour and they seemed to shimmer in the low sunlight.  Eventually I came to another road and turned right then left to take a path that led along the edge of the river flood plain.  It was along this section that I had a particularly exciting encounter for as I entered the side of another woodland the silence was interrupted by a couple of buzzards who came below the tree canopy as one was chasing the other.  I'm not sure whether this was a territorial battle or courting for it was over in a flash but they were so close I could almost reach out and touch them! 

The Druance
This section of path seemed as lonely as you could think of - there were no houses and no roads.  All was silent except for the babbling stream next to me.  The dappled sunlight was quite warm by now but I could see that it wouldn't be too long before I would lose the light altogether.  I quickened my pace as a result, which was a shame for I would have liked to linger here a little longer.

Approaching St Jean-Le-Blanc
I reached another road and after crossing I almost immediately turned right and headed up a much narrower path that led slowly uphill.  Although not especially steep the length of the climb certainly got the heart pumping a bit.  I was very pleased to see the view open up behind me across the Calvados countryside, which was becoming more orange as the sun started to sink lower in the sky.  Ahead of me was the church of St Jean-Le-Blanc, lit up by the sunshine.  It was now a fairly easy walk into the village and at the junction of path with road I passed another impressive looking crucifix.  I've never quite decided whether I like them or not - some of the Jesus figures can be quite graphic.  I imagine that is probably the idea though?  This particular one was guarded by a couple of angels and is a rather grander affair than the one in Lenault.

St Jean-Le-Blanc Crucifix
St Jean-Le-Blanc is a more substantial village than Lenault and the church has a completely different style.  It looked particularly good in the late afternoon sun.  This time I didn't have to work out whether the church was open or not for a French couple tried the door as I passed by and concluded very quickly that it was locked.  They were the only people I saw in the village - it was otherwise quite deserted.  This is a phenomenon I have noticed a lot in these French villages - not sure if it is because most people are at work, or whether the shutters make it seem as if houses aren't lived in, or perhaps the houses are weekend/ holiday retreats?

St Jean-Le-Blanc Church
I passed through the village quite quickly and realised now that I would not have very much sunlight left.  I also realised that to get to Lenault there would be a steep valley to cross.  Heading down the hill was nice and easy although as soon as I dropped below the slope the woods were quite dark and I would not have wanted to be even half an hour later.  As I slogged my way up the other side the sun finally gave out just as I got to the top and the gathering gloom accompanied me all the way back to La Causserie.  Fortunately it was open road walking all the way back and so I was able to get back without the dark really affecting me.  I did have an encounter with some rather large verge cutting machines on the way down the lane.  I gave them a wide berth as they slashed the hedgerow - neither of the drivers took any notice of me.

St Jean-Le-Blanc
This was a slightly ambitious project for the amount of time I had available, taking just over two hours to complete.  Yet somehow the walk seemed much further than it actually was - not in terms of difficulty but in terms of the amount of countryside that I saw and different types of terrain I covered.  This walk could easily be combined with the other one I completed with the family earlier in the day.  The resulting loop would make for an extremely satisfying loop around the countryside surrounding Eco-Gites of Lenault.  In my opinion autumn is a particularly good time to do the walk so that you can see all the colours of the trees and absorb the atmosphere of the countryside.

Sinking Sun

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