Early days .. August 1993. Very very hot! On impulse, and despite the workload, we decided to be naughty and grab a week in France. In a gite. In Brittany as it’s very handy to nip over to Roscoff from Plymouth.
The lawn leading down from our cottage ended next to a field of maize. The sun seared down, the only sound was that of the sauterelles, the grasshoppers. We were hooked. Our gite-owner knew someone who knew someone who showed the English round properties for sale, and by Thursday we had singled out Poulmarvezen, (which had long since ceased to be a farm), and left power-of-attorney with the notaire.
At the time Poulmarvezen was nothing more than stone walls and leaky roofs, set in four acres of weeds and chest-high brambly woodland. But we loved it. It too simmered in the heat, at least four centuries of honey-coloured stone, with the ghosts of generations of people who had lived out their lives on the land. Swallows swooping everywhere. And all around nothing, absolutely nothing, but silent heat-hazed farmland and woodland. Perfick!
That was a lifetime ago. Blink. The cottages are all now renovated. To a high standard, (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) There are lawns, brick pathways, a woodland walk that skirts the Coet-Even, our very own stream. There are ridiculously mature flowering bushes, (where does time go?). Now normally hard-pressed people unwind by the pool, next to, this year, a field of barley. Kids make new friends in the woodland, the kind of freedom we enjoyed a very long time ago, while the oldies, (they’re half our age!) give the barbecue a run out, spatula in one hand, glass of wine in the other, job and mortgage completely forgotten. Sometimes, if they choose, they make new friends too, but with less abandon.
We’re real francophiles now. And why not? The locals are very friendly. They never change, they still take life at the same steady pace, they all know each other for miles around, (assuming they’re not actually related), and always very very polite, especially the younger generation, who never seem to be surly, and will cross the street to say “bonjour”. It’s so nice to see teenage lads shaking hands, or kissing girls on the cheek, with total nonchalance. They seem a lot more self-assured than I ever was at that age.
There is no traffic either, (well not literally no traffic, but you get the idea). You can roll along the lanes round here as if you were back in the thirties. Look daddy, a car! Very nice for cyclists too.
Speaking of traffic, you can park anywhere you want in Gueméné-sur-Scorff (pronounced GayMayNay), our local decent-sized town, ten minutes away, with plenty of shops, banks, bars, restaurants, doctors, dentists, vets and everything else. No double yellow lines, no wardens, no fines. There’s a wonderful French buzz about the place. On the last Sunday in August every year there is an open-air Fest-Noz, a “Night Party”, with the magical Breton line dancing and the very hypnotic Breton music, with its Moorish sound. It completely paints the magic of Brittany and seduces you into loving the place even more.
Must mention our local village, Ploerdut, only 3k away. In my completely unbiased opinion this is the nicest village for as far as the eye can see. A lovely central square, where they hold a medieval festival every June, a beautiful old church dating from 1089 (We, the Ollerenshaws, are in the Domesday book of 1089!!), a couple of bars, boulangerie, and last but definitely not least the Chez Marie Thé (Shay Marry Tay) restaurant where weekdays you can get an all-you can-eat-and-drink lunch for 11 euros; help-yourself starters (Plat d’entré a volonté), choice of main courses (proper food cooked in the kitchen at the back), bread and cheese, help-yourself desert, mineral water, and all the wine you can drink, though nobody takes a liberty.
Breton summers are luxuriant, longer and more heat in the sun than in the UK, but not too much, Susan and I wouldn’t like that. We like the winters too. Not too cold, some rain, that’s why everywhere is so green, but also some wonderful frosty mornings with massive azure skies. If we’re lucky we get a few day’s exciting snow. Every year Spring is full of green promise, every sad Autumn magnificent in it’s colours. You feel part of the earth here, even if you never actually broke your back behind a horse and plough. The place is timeless. It gets in your blood.
Ron & Sue Ollerenshaw