Footpaths and woodpiles and falling down farms ~ these are a few of my favourite things

Le Chatelier

I live in the small hamlet of Le Chatelier in the commune of Paulmy, South Touraine (37).

One of the best local walks I and my wife, Sandra, take from time to time is along the disused railway track between Le Chatelier and Neuilly le Brignon.

The French do not appear to have the network of public footpaths like we do in the UK. I often wonder why there is this difference between the two countries.  It’s got to have something to do with the different evolution of land ownership. Perhaps it’s to do with the revolutionary period when the peasants took over the land from the French aristocracy ~ did they,  along with the mass destruction of land records, also destroy an existing network of footpaths as part of the new republican regime? It is curious ~ I’d be keen to hear the thoughts of others. Anyway, so long as you are respectful of crops and livestock no one seem to mind you walking along the edges of fields.

Now, back to the track between Le Chatelier and Neuilly le Brignon. According to locals we’ve spoken to the wide track exists because it used to be the route of an old railway line. Another area of our local history I’d like to find more about.

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I love this walk. As you approach Neuilly there is a collection of typical regional farmhouses and I always find them of visual interest. I happen to love buildings in decay. It’s sad, I know, but it’s their beauty and the impermanence of human activity they represent that I like.

To me each building reflects the economic harshness of running a small farming operation. The buildings remind me of farms up in my native North Yorkshire where locals, on the whole, are not into DIY in the way that urban people may be, they rarely buy new if they can help it and use and re-use materials to fix, mend and make do.

The other thing I love is the woodpiles that every dwelling has. No two the same, each (apart from ours!) a wood-crafted work of art. All dwellings have a wood burning stove in the kitchen which is often the heart of the home ~ frequently combining the cooking and

Weir, Neuilly le Brignon

dining areas and also the living room. The majority of the small farms in the area have their own small copse or woodland that they harvest for their fuel supply. The wood is then stacked in the open for 2-3 years in order to dry out. This carbon efficient system of heating and cooking has gone on for millennia and you can spend a pleasant half hour or so talking about how someone’s wood is drying out, the types of wood they are storing and the burning merits of each. As the old English poem (with royalist overtones) goes….

Beechwood fires are bright and clear, If the logs are kept a year.

Oaken logs burn steadily, If the wood is old and dry.

Chestnut’s only good they say, If for long its laid away.

But Ash new or Ash old, Is fit for a queen with a crown of gold!

Birch and Fir logs burn too fast, Blaze up bright and do not last.

Make a fire of elder tree, Death within your house you’ll see.

It is by the Irish said, Hawthorne bakes the sweetest bread.

But Ash green or Ash brown, Is fit for a queen with a golden crown!

Elmwood burns like churchyard mould, E’en the very flames are cold.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke, Fills your eyes and makes you choke.

Applewood will scent your room with an incense-like perfume.

But Ash wet or Ash dry, For a queen to warm her slippers by!


About Jim McNeill

I am a blogger on 'The Social History of the Touraine region of France (37)' and also 'The Colonial History of Pennsylvania and the life & Family of William Penn'. I am a Director of Fresh Ground Group Ltd.
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3 Responses to Footpaths and woodpiles and falling down farms ~ these are a few of my favourite things

  1. Pingback: Jean Vimenet ~ painter, sculpter and actor of the Tourine | Social history in the Touraine ~ Central |France

  2. Jim McNeill says:

    Thanks Colin. By the way – some time back you wanted me to send you the details of the Slow Food/Manger Slow Movement (Tours-Val de Loire): 82 qai Paul Bert, 37100 Tours, tel: 06 33 47 67 45 ~ cheers, Jim

  3. Colin Dyson says:

    Love your photo’s Jim, particularly he ones of wood and the passing nature of buildings

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