Inspired by our first enjoyable spot of fossil-hunting, and since it was still the school hols, we loaded the car up with Tobi the Enthusiastic (our dog loves her outings in the car), Ruadhri the Reluctant, and rucksacks containing packed lunches and hammer and chisel,. We headed off northwards into Indre. Today the goal was Vouillon as Chris had found a walk that went past the ‘field of ammonites’. How could we possibly resist that?

Ammonites, or more correctly ammonoidea, are extinct marine molluscs. The ‘ammon’ part of the name comes from the Egyptian god of that name, who was always depicted with curly ram’s horns. Pliny the Elder described the fossils as ‘ammonis cornua’ – horns of Ammon. They first appeared around 409 million years ago, and became extinct at around the same time as the dinosaurs, 66 Mya. In medieval times the fossils were thought to be petrified (as in ‘ossified’ rather than ‘scared rigid’) coiled snakes and were called snakestones. Enterprising souls would either carve a snakes head or paint one at the appropriate end and sell them. No doubt it’s their descendants who stick modern insects into cracked bits of amber to sell on Ebay!

Vouillon isn’t a user-friendly little village. There were plenty of places where you were expressly forbidden from parking, but finding somewhere where you actually could leave your car took some doing. We ended up at the stade (stadium). Our walk started off along the ‘chemin des eoliennes’ – the windmill path. Just before we reached it, though, we made a quick detour to the lanterne des morts (lantern of the dead) for a spot of geocaching. A lantern des morts is a stone monument, typical of central and western France, with small openings at the top. A lamp would burn at night, indicating where the cemetery was. This monument has no surrounding cemetery, and apparently it’s far from alone in that respect. It’s thus thought that the name for such monuments could be a misinterpretation of ‘lanterne des maures’ – lanterns of the moors. Why these would have lights burning at the top of them, though, is another matter. A warning to the unwary traveller of hostile terrain ahead perhaps?

Photo: vouillon lanterne des morts

Geocache found, we set out on our windmilly walk. We passed half a dozen or so, whooshing steadily in the stiff breeze. Our local eoliennes, several of which we can see from the garden, are Vestas, but these ones are ‘abies’. From the ground, and with a preceding logo, ‘abies’, with its elongated ‘i’, looked rather like ‘wobble’ with one ‘b’, not the best name! We trudged along the hedge- and tree-less landscape, buffeted by the wind and scouring the earth in the fields to either side for ammonites, even though this wasn’t meant to be the fossilly bit of the walk. One should always “travel in hope”, as the saying goes.

Photo: vouillon boyz

The walk improved as the scenery did, and we came to patches of woodland. One contained the now-abandoned quarry from where the stone to make Bourges Cathedral was taken. We had a quick nose in there before continuing. As we ambled through the wood, the boys whacked open a few likely-looking small rocks. They discovered a few shell fossils amidst a very pale, fine-grained limestone. Very pretty.

Our walk was turning into a bit of a trek – it was 14km in total – and energy levels were waning. However, we soldiered on and eventually came to that fabled field of ammonites. At first we didn’t see anything. We were looking for lumps of rock with ammonites protruding from them, but we quickly realised that these ammonites had been freed from their rock matrix, by erosion and, more recently, farming action. Once we’d retrained our eyes to pick out the tell-tale curly-horn shape, we spotted loads. It was amazing! Our search was limited by the winter wheat that was growing in the field so we could only hunt at the edge, but we found more than enough to make us happy. We’ll have to return in autumn after ploughing.

Photo: march ammonites mum

Chris found this wonderful fossil sponge.

Photo: march fossilsponge dad

We had a spring in our step as we covered the last few kilometres back to the car. We stopped for a rather late lunch before passing through the windmill park again. We hadn’t had much of a break until that point, which probably explains why we felt so tired. Our rising blood-sugar levels brought with them a greater appreciation of Vouillon and its surroundings, including this old rusted bus in the middle of nowhere. Presumably it’s a hunters’ hang-out.

Photo: vouillon bus

And we even passed some parking places (unsignposted and well-hidden away) on our route back through the village.

All in all, a rather rewarding outing.