Even though we’ve been here fifteen years now, somehow or other we always seem to forget just how grim January is. It really is the worst month of the year for weather. Admittedly, for our first five or six years it would be excitingly awful weather, with deep snow that meant the kids couldn’t get to school (once for two whole weeks) but did let us do lots of sledging down our hilly big field, and follow animal tracks for miles. More recently January has become windy, grey and rainy, rainy, rainy. We splosh around in wellies, with mincing steps to avoid sliding on the mud. The animals and chickens wander around looking bedraggled, and the kitchen ends up full of dripping coats and soggy scarves and mittens drying near the fire.
This year it all feels grimmer with the black cloud of Covid looming over everyone too, and the continued Brexit-engendered anger that just won’t fade. And rightly so – one cannot simply move on from such a massive wrong, not to say evil, that is having nothing but a negative effect all round. We’ve only just taken our Christmas decorations down. We purposely left them up as long as possible to cheer ourselves up!
But it’s not all been doom and gloom. When we can we’ve escaped in Precious for sanity-preserving geocaching trips in the vicinity. The Forest of Tronçais has been a popular spot this month. This is a huge forest of 10,600 hectares, including 130 hectares of lakes. There are 100 springs that feed these various bodies of water, five in total. We walked round one of these, the Etang de Piron, last week. It was rather chilly so I never got round to taking my gloves off in order to take any photos I’m afraid!
Tronçais is principally an oak forest, dating back to the fourteenth century. Before then, the Romans had cleared the area and 108 Roman habitations have been discovered in the forest, though not yet by us. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled on future expeditions!
King Louis XIV’s First Minister of State, Jean-Baptist Colbert, organised the planting of oak groves beginning in 1670. These trees were destined to be masts of ships, but by the time they matured sail had given way to steam. Much of the splendid forest ended up as charcoal for the nearby iron foundries during the late eighteenth century, but fortunately regenerated during the nineteenth. The oaks are now harvested on a 200-year cycle. Yes, you read that right! Most of the wood goes to make barrels for cognac and Bordeaux wines.
The forest is popular with visitors, and there are plenty of picnic areas dotted around, together with interesting sculptures here and there. The downside is that hunting goes on in the forest on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the season. It seems a shame that the forest is therefore put out of action for the general public by a handful of hunters who really should take up a less violent hobby.
We haven’t got much done around the place because of the weather, but today we achieved something. The frame of Rors’ massive polytunnel had sheared in a couple of places and we were worried it would either collapse or blow away, damaging his treasured carnivorous plants. So yesterday, which was very windy, we moved the plants to spend the night in warmth and safety in the car, and today we removed two of the five segments of the polytunnel. It was a bit more complicated than it sounds, but we triumphed! The polytunnel won’t last an awful lot longer as the plastic is ripping along some of the seams, but it should hold on for long enough for us to source a new cover, or invest in a new model with an even more robust frame.