During our many journeys around France, we have seen some truly beautiful sights, eg majestic Golden Eagles hunting over the vast, volcanic contours of the Auvergne; we had never seen a Golden Eagle before we moved to France. Short-toed Eagles, Eagle Owls with their huge, brilliant orange eyes, red and black Kites, and a host of other birds of prey that are generally only seen in television documentaries in the UK.
We once heard the low growl of a bear when we were camping overnight in the foothills of the Pyrenees. We were thrilled, not at all frightened or concerned for our personal safety. Brown bears in the Pyrenees are an extremely threatened species, quite simply, they kill sheep and are killed in return.
In Brittany, snakes were our constant companions! During the 2011 summer, a Western Whip fell from a skylight onto the bed in which Tom was sleeping. Considering that Tom had never been quite that close to a snake before, his reaction was extremely laid-back, he calmly called me! Western Whips are not venomous, but they can be rather feisty if they feel threatened, and they will strike and bite with speed if pushed into a corner! The snake slithered into a hole in the wall of the bedroom, shimmied its way down inside the wall, and popped out through another hole in the dining-room! We decided to open the patio doors that exited the dining-room into the tiny front garden of Nikki’s house, and we evacuated for a few hours! It seems that the snake took the hint, we didn’t see it again!
A few days later, whilst strimming a path through the meadow to Jerry the pony’s summer pasture, we came across a specific species of grass-snake, a Couleuvre vipérine, slowly guzzling a large frog for its lunch! At first, we thought it might be an adder, but swift identification via the forum on which I was a Moderator settled our nerves, although, not without some hilarity! Advice given included the instruction to ‘find out if the snake’s eyes are round or slanted like a cat’s eyes’! Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Who wants to get that close to a potentially venomous snake! However, at the end of the day, the frog had a lucky day, the snake was as startled as we were and released the frog before slipping away into the long grass. Somewhere in my on-line storage file, I have a photograph of that snake.
Just after my 62nd birthday in October, Nikki returned from the UK, and we returned to the wonderful Limousin lake environment where our friends had kept the caravan aired and open for another visit. It was during the following few days that we secured a long-term stay at a gites complex in Provence, to start at the end of October. The deal was this, we were required to clean and maintain the three gites and the gardens, swimming-pool and grounds, take bookings and sort out the changeovers, in return for sole family use of a two-bedroomed cottage in the grounds. We were also required to pay €100 per month towards electricity and water, buy our own gas for cooking and our own logs for heating. Now, some might consider that to be on a par with slave labour, but we welcomed the opportunity for stability.
The day before we were due to leave our friends and their cosy caravan, yet another snake was dragged into our lives by one of our friends’ cats! Another grass-snake, the very pretty, less than a metre long reptile was playing dead as the cat patted and toyed with it on the lawn. Fortunately, the cat was denied the chance of a coup de grace, and the snake was released into a safer environment out of the confused cat’s range of vision!
During the course of that day, one by one, all the menfolk were struck down by a bug that turned out to be a 24 hours vicious gastric virus! So, we were a very tired, drained and motley family group as we left our friends in the Limousin and headed for Provence. Little were we to know that, once again, as has happened several times during the past 4+ years, our homelessness would prove to be a wonderful opportunity for another British human being to kick us when we were down, and put us back in the tent!