Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Driving in France

Posted by Rosie

If you are heading to France in your car this year, are you sure you know all the ins and outs of driving à la française?  There is a little bit more then remembering to drive on the left and going the opposite way round roundabouts (for those of us used to driving on the left).  You also need to know exactly what you should carry with you in the car as well as some different French laws.  This way you'll not risk getting a dreaded on the spot fine.

So, first of all what must you carry in (or on) your car?  Failure to have something on this list could result in a fine so do make sure you have:

* GB sticker
* Headlight adjusters
* Warning triangle
* Luminous vests - one for everyone in the car.  They must be in the car (NOT the boot) with the theory being you in case of an emergency you should be able to put them on before you get out of the car.
* Breathalyser kits - 2 if they are disposable.  After much moving of the goal posts it appears now that whilst it is compulsory to carry these you will not be fined for not having one ... but as they are very cheap to buy I would recommend getting them, just to keep on the right side of M. Gendarme.
* Your UK driving licence and insurance documents
* Spare glasses if you wear contact lenses
* First aid kit
* Spare bulbs - technically it is not a legal requirement to carry bulbs but you can be fined for having a broken light so it would be a bit daft not to have them.
* Fire extinguisher

OK - so that's the car and contents sorted out.  There are however a few more things that are different in France from the UK and other countries:

Devices for Detecting Speed Cameras

CAUTION!  Speed/radar trap notification MUST, by law, be disabled whilst driving in France.  Failure to do so can result in heavy fines up to €1500 and/or confiscation of equipment and vehicles.  Previously, warning signs showed where speed cameras were but the authorities are now removing these signs.  The French police also love hiding behind trees with mobile speed cameras so my advice is at all times, know the speed limit and stick to it.

 Speed Limits

Variable speed limits exist in France depending on the weather conditions, your age and if you are towing a trailer.  This page from Driving in France clearly explains all the differences and how to recognise what speed limit applies where.

 Children and Car Seats

There is considerable confusion about what the exact law is around children and car seats.  This is what I understand from the "clear as mud" French websites:  No child under 11 is allowed in the front of a car that has back seats.  All children under 11 must be in or on a car or booster seat.  However the law seems to rather unhelpfully state that if the child is under 11 is - "big enough" - then no booster seat is needed.  Quite what big enough means is not clarified but I would hazard a guess that when the seat belt sits comfortably on their shoulder, as with as adult, and not across their neck then they are big enough.

 Drinking and Driving

The legal alcohol limit in France is 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood as opposed to 80mg in the UK.  This equated to about one small 125cl glass of wine.  It isn't much but at least you'll have your breathalyser to check if you are over the limit or not!

 Minimum Driving Age

In France this is 18 so even if you have your UK (or other country) licence but you are not yet 18, you cannot drive in France.

 Priority to the Right


This is the possibly the oddest driving rule of any country and the one most likely to cause confusion - even amongst the French.  It doesn't apply on many main roads but does on some smaller roads and in towns and villages so you need to be aware of how to recognise it.  Cars at a junction on your right have priority over you if their junction has no give way or stop line across it.  They do not have priority over cars going in the opposite direction; not that that means they won't pull out without looking at times!  On main roads a yellow and white diamond indicates that there is no priority to the right rule but once this has a black line through it, then the rule then applies again.  On rural roads a red triangle with a black cross will often indicate a side road where you don't have priority (but not all such side roads have this sign!).

 Confused?  So are many of the French but as a general rule, if in doubt, slow down and let them out.

If all this sounds rather daunting don't panic - I was nervous about first driving over here in France but once I started it all dropped into place.  Just take your time, enjoy the scenery and make the journey part of your holiday!

Travel Tuesday

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Eggs eggs and more eggs!

Posted by Rosie

So Tom might nearly be a teenager and Ben only is 16 months behind him but they proved on Monday that they are not too old for an Easter Egg Hunt.  I hadn't thought they would want one but I was wrong so supplies were hurriedly bought.  I read of others doing their hunts on Good Friday - but that was no good as it is not a Bank Holiday here in France and the boys were at school.  On Saturday there were normal sports for the boys - athletics in the morning for Tom and rugby in the afternoon for Ben so no time then.  Sunday should have been ideal but for the fact it was raining and Ben had designated Easter Sunday a Pyjama Day meant the Hunt was delayed again!  

Monday it was then.  Boys were told to stay in the house and eggs were hidden. 

Ready, Steady ... GO!!!

They're off

Ben finds a big chocolate bunny

Searching through the herb bed

Easter Sunday was not without egg discoveries, though.  When we eventually persuaded Ben out of his PJs he went out for some fresh air and whilst nosing around in the empty pig field he found 2 duck eggs in the shelter!  That makes 3 nests of eggs we currently have and only 2 ducks! I have no idea who is laying what or where or how old these eggs might be but the water test revealed them to be relatively fresh. (They sank in a bowl of water where-as old eggs sort of bob on their ends and off eggs float).

This stash was not as large as the one of hens' eggs I found in an abandoned hen house last year mind.  Naughty hens!! 
Egg stash!

Did you get up to any fun activities this Easter?  Do let us know in the comments and then you can head on over to the Let Kids be Kids linky where I am sure there will  be more Easter related blogs to read!

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Monday, 21 April 2014

Chess Boy!

Posted by Rosie

Tom came in from school last week saying he had signed up for a small chess tournament at school.  He often play chess in break times with friends, plays with Simon occasionally and has even got to play with gite guests.  

Tom concentrating on a practice match with Simon

Day one of the tournament loomed and we wondered how he would do.  On coming home he announced there was both good news and bad news!

"The good news," he said looking very pleased with himself , "was that I won my match against A and I am now in the semi-finals!" Tom is only in his first year at secondary school and his opponent was in his third year so we were really pleased and proud he had won.

"But the bad news is I am now going up against the best player on the school," he continued.   G is also in Tom's class but has been playing chess at a club since he was five and is ranked the 12th best player in France for his age group.  "I don't think I'm going to get to the final," he said, "but I'll give it my best shot!"

And he was beaten although not without holding off his opponent for a while and managing a few good moves.  Well done Tom!  For some-one who is pretty much self-taught we are really proud of his progress and this achievement.  Chess is a brilliant game (one I wish I could play) and for children it offers numerous benefits.  Research indicates it can help to:

  • Raise IQ
  • Increase creativity
  • Improve memory
  • Improve problem solving skills
  • Improve concentration
  • Teach planning and foresight.
  • It may even help to ward off the onset on Alzheimer's .

So Tom - you have chosen well in learning to play chess and we are very proud of you.  Keep at it and one day you may well win beat G and win that tournament.  In between I am sure you will have a lot of fun!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Where's Elliot?

Posted by Ben

We went to look for Elliot but when we got there he wasn't there.  Nor were some of the trees.  What had happened?

Elliot was a very old fallen tree friend who looked like a dragon and we imagined we flew across the fields on his back.  When Mum and I walked to the woods on Wednesday we found that the wood men had been in and felled some of the trees and cut up Elliot.  Whilst we were very sad to see Elliot gone we also knew that the felling of the trees is not actually a bad thing.  This felling is called coppicing and each cut tree will actually regrow lots of new stems that in time can be cut to make broom handles and chair legs etc.  In this case the wood is used for firewood. When the trees are cut there is more light so more flowers such as wild garlic and bluebells can grow.

With the trees cut we were able to find new path and we explored it.

We found a dead tree full of woodworm and woodpecker holes:

We climbed trees, or rather I did and Mum didn't!  If you click on the picture you can make it bigger!

We found some mating snails:

And we looked for animals in holes:

We bashed our way through the undergrowth which as prickly:

And we stroked soft moss on a rock:

It was sad to see Elliot gone but because of that we ended up have a great walk.
Have you got some favourite woods you like to explore?

Friday, 18 April 2014


Posted by Rosie
The Reading Residence



the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

I love language, both written and spoken.  I love the history of words and the way language develops.  I love writing and I love a good chitter chatter with friends.  I am a native English speaker but as an ex pat in living in France I can also speak French to some degree. I arrived here nearly 7 years ago with O' Level French and through lessons, talking, reading, watching TV and various other means I have slowly increased by vocabulary and improved my grammar a bit.  Now I can get by OK in a wide variety of subjects and am fairly confident on the phone so long as the other person slows down a bit for me.

The boys arrived here with no French but aged 4 and 5 their brains were at that stage when they would absorb any language they were immersed in.  Whilst for the first week or so they were a bit lost at school within a month they were getting by and now they are fluent to the point that French speakers do not realise they are English until I speak and let the side down!

I will never get to that level of fluency - I will always have an English accent and I will never, I doubt, get to the talking the language like a naive born French person.  This weekend we had French guests in the gite (my French is good enough to arrange that) and on Saturday night we ended up having an impromptu BBQ with them and our French friends who were here - now that is where my lack of real language skills becomes much more evident. There were more people talking at once so concentrating is harder and once a few wines had been drunk the speed of talking increased and the language became more relaxed. Then more idioms tend to get used.  

With idioms I can often understand all the words said but have no idea of the actual meaning.  A classic (that I do now know) is "Tomber dans les pommes". It literally means to fall in the apples and refers to when someone faints! Or what about "Avoir un poil dans le main"? It translates as "to have a hair in the hand" and means that some-one is lazy!  And what about things are are just known about.  People of a certain age may well understand what I mean if I were to say (in a disapproving voice) "Language, Timothy!" but many others would have no idea!*  Now add in all the proverbs, expressions, local variants, accents and abbreviations native speakers use and I am lost!  Both French and English is littered with these uses of language and I bet if you were to record your spoken language for a whole day you would have used them hundreds of times without even realising. As for what they were speaking about - I know it was about films and I heard mention of horror and Will Smith - over and above that I have no idea!

Language is something we take for granted until we are in a foreign country and our native language isn't spoken.  Suddenly with this important facet removed from us we can be extremely helpless.  I will therefore keep working on trying to improve my French language skills so the next time our guests are discussing what-ever it was about Will Smith they found so interesting, I will understand.

If anyone loves learning about the history of words, I recently read The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth and highly recommend it.  It may not help you speak a foreign language but it will give you an insight into how interconnected many languages are and you might be surprised at the history of some of our words.

Do you speak more than one language? Are you fluent or just good enough to ask for a beer and a glass of wine?  Or do you have a language faux pas you would like to share with us?

* "Language, Timothy!" was the catchphrase from the 80's sitcom "Sorry" starring Ronnie Corbett as a downtrodden 40 something son still living at home who mother frequently uttered these words.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Hungry Gap

Posted by Rosie

This time of year is what vegetable growers often refer to as "The Hungry Gap".  Outdoor winter vegetables are just about finished, summer ones are not yet cropping and the stores are all but empty.  We have 3 rather sad pumpkins left, no potatoes, no onions and no outdoor leeks.  The remaining parsnips, kale and brussels have gone or are going to seed.  In the past this was a very bad time for people who had no shops supplying vegetables and fruit of every conceivable type all year round.  We take it for granted that we can have what-ever we fancy but this really is a new concept and in years gone by people often went hungry at this time of year.  They supplemented their diet with what they could forage for and would have preserved what they could in salt but pickings were meagre and stomachs were rarely full.

For those people like us here at Eco-Gites of Lenault who aim to be as self sufficient as possible the Hungry Gap is ameliorated thanks to 2 modern lifesavers - the polytunnel and the freezer.  The polytunnel brings vegetable harvests forward by several weeks and the freezer means we can preserve the excess harvest of one year to see us through until the following year.  We do not head to bed hungry.

When we sat down to our stir-fry last night a good chunk of the vegetables we ate either came from our polytunnel or the freezer.  Here's a taste of what we are currently harvesting:


Peas (wish I had sown more as these have done very well this year)

Broad beans.  Shhhh, don't tell anyone but so far none have made it back to the kitchen as I have eaten them all straight from the pod!


Salad leaves including these peppery nasturtium leaves and their even more peppery flowers.


Add to these leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, lettuces, oriental greens and chard and we are not short of fresh veg.  The rhubarb is also going great guns outside and we still have plenty of last year's harvest in the freezer.  All I can say is we are very lucky to live in 2014 and 1014!

Are you harvesting anything right now?  Why not see if any of the other gardeners are who have linked up with Annie's How Does Your garden Grow linky over at Mammasuarus.

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Butterflies galore but where are the ladybirds?

Posted by Rosie

Peacock butterfly.  Image from Butterfly Conservation
After a Winter with no snow and no prolonged cold spell, it would appear that the butterfly populations have benefited greatly.  From the first sightings of yellow Brimstones and watchful Peacocks with their huge warning "eyes" in February there has been a positive explosion of butterflies this year.  Luckily the wild flowers are fantastic this year too so there is plenty of nectar for these much loved insects.

Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Commas and others I don't recognise have all been fluttering aroung in large numbers this year.  Today I saw my first Orange Tips and yesterday a Blue.  As a vegetable gardener though I have to say the Cabbage Whites are a bit less welcome as I sense they are already eyeing up my cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings.  Caterpillar control will be starting early this year!

Despite all these colourful butterflies fluttering I have still not seen a ladybird this year.  Lily Beetles - yes, Carpenter, Honey and Bumble bees a plenty but no ladybirds.  And I know other people have as I have seen pictures on their blogs but I haven't.  Stamps foot!

So, no ladybird pictures and I'm afraid my camera skills are not up to snapping butterflies .... you will have to make do with this butterfly that I caught a couple of years ago.  

In England they are very rare and restricted to East Anglia.  Over here in France they are more common although we are at the Northern end of the range so do not see them every year.  It is a Swallowtail butterfly.  The caterpillars feed on plants of the carrot family including dill and fennel and are as fabulous looking as the adult.  They even have small red "horns" they protrude in a seemingly menacing manner when threatened. The adults are on the wing in July and August so Summer guests may have the chance of seeing them.

Have you noticed greater numbers of butterflies this year and have you seen a ladybird?  On second thoughts, don't tell me if you have seen the latter or I may well sulk!

Post Comment Love

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Thrill Seeking in Normandy!

Posted by Rosie

One of the things we most pride ourselves on here at Eco-Gites of Lenault is offering our guests peace and quite, time to relax and get away from it all for a while.  We have no immediate neighbours (if you don't count the animals) and the nearest road is 300m away .... and it is incredibly quiet anyway!

But what if you are looking for something a bit more exciting?  What if you want to get your heart racing?  Fear not, we can oblige.  Well, not us personally but around and about there is plenty to do that will get the adrenalin pumping thorough your veins.

Photo from Calvados Tourism
Horse riding 
There are 2 local riding stables where you can walk, trot or canter round the local footpaths or why not head up to the beach at Ouistreham where you'll get to gallop along the beaches?  Guests last year said it was the most invigorating ride they had ever had!

Mountain biking 
Bring your own bike or you can hire them in Clécy and enjoy the ups and downs of our beautiful Normandy countryside.

Car Rally
OK so this is more of a spectator sport but the Annual Swiss Normandy Car Rally comes down our road in April every year.  It does mean access in and out of here is limited and for that reason we offer a reduced rate for anyone whose stay includes the rally. This year it is on Saturday 26th April - 3 night stay reduced from £195 to £150 and a reduction is also possible for longer stays including the Saturday.  Further details are here.

Kayaking and Canoeing 
If water sports is your thing you can canoe or kayak on both rivers and lakes locally.  For children under 8 you can take the more gentle route of pédalos, rowing or even electric boats!

Rock climbing
On the cliffs above Clécy there are a number of marked ascents you can do - bring your ropes etc and up you go!

If you don't have your own climbing gear then why not do the cliff-side walk also at Clécy - climb up narrow ladders set into the cliff and then across the cliff face on a series of rope and plank walk getting back to ground level via a 250m zip wire.  It sets my heart racing just thinking about it but the boys, friends and Simon all had a go last Summer and said it was fantastic!

Tree top walks 
For more high walking what about a treetop walk?  There are various locations locally where routes have been set high up in the tops of the trees and those a bit lower down for younger children, so you can to feel like our ancestors up in the tree tops (with the added benefit of ropes to clip you safely on!).  A great family outing for those who like heights!

Photo from AJ Hackett
Viaduct de Souleuvre 
Here things are a bit more serious!  For everyone there is a giant toboggan run - 1km long where you can reach speeds of up to 42kms per hour.  For the more daring souls what about the 2 giant swings over 60m above the ground where you can swing from 0-120 km/phr in 3.5 seconds?  However possibly the biggest attraction at Souleuvre is bungee jumping.  For those foolish brave enough you can throw yourself off the Viaduct down to the river blow with nothing more than a giant piece of knicker elastic to save you! Would you do it?

Or what about what may be the ultimate thrill and what one of our guests this weekend did - paragliding at Saint Omer!  This is possibly the world's most appallingly edited video but I think you'll get an idea of what you could be doing if you had a go.  Are you brave enough to try?


If thrill seeking is what you are after then there is plenty to do in Normandy.  Some of these activities have age restrictions and others are for adults only but a lot (riding, biking, tree top walks, boating and the giant toboggan) are possible even with very young children.

Do you enjoy thrill seeking?  Have you set your heart racing doing any of these activities?  Please do let us know!  
Travel Tuesday

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Monday, 14 April 2014

One Swallow does not a Summer make ...

Posted by Rosie

.... but it means it's definitely on it's way and I saw the first 3 swallows of 2014 on Saturday at the neighbouring village of Pontécoulant.

I love swallows - I love their colour, I love their their shape and I love the way they swoop through the skies searching for insects and dip low over ponds to scoop up water. I also completely admire the fact that a bird that weights no more than 25g can fly 6000 miles from South Africa to Northern Europe, twice a year for as long as they live.  They fly 200 miles a day at an average speed 20 miles per hour taking a month to complete their journey.  It truly is a feat of nature that we can go nowhere near to matching.

Is it any wonder any bird survives this journey?  Whilst a lot do others do not make it.  Each year countless birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms.  4 years ago this swallow arrived here at Eco-Gites of Lenault and I found it lying on the front drive, exhausted, panting and barely alive.  

It would had flown up from South Africa, diverted along the west coast to avoid The Sahara Desert and flown on into Morocco before crossing the Pyrenees and eventually ending up here.  Swallows always return to the area near to where they were hatched and breeding birds return to use the same nests year after year.  How they navigate back to the same place is still not fully understood.

I drip fed it a little water but sadly it died a few minutes later in my hand, a brave little soul that had pushed itself to the absolute limit.  It did however give the boys and us the chance to have a really good look at this marvel of nature before we buried it near to where it fell.

For the last 2 years we have had very few swallows here - 2 years ago we had none and last year we had a few around, but none breeding.  It was so sad not to see the eager beaks of youngsters stretching out from the nests as the parents returned to feed them or see the aerial acrobatics of the adults as we looked out of the window. 

It did however mean we could go in the feed shed or pig pens without the risk of having a swallow crashing into us and did not find swallows sitting on our clothes drier!  However I can put up with that if it means we can have our breeding swallows back. Hopefully 2104 will see swallows once again breeding at Eco-Gites of Lenault ... please!

For me, having swallows around is both magical and ordinary.  It's magical what they go through to get here yet we almost take them for granted all Summer until one day in Autumn they are gone again.  And in between they swoop a thousand times above our heads and weave a thousand stories.