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Here are some photos of The West Wing, including some showing the newly decorated bedroom with optional cot – for babies under 2 years.
If you’re staying at one of the Sandboys gites in September, you will have the benefit of all the summertime facilities of the seaside town of Fort Mahon, but with far fewer people about. The weather is often just as good as in July or August, too. Of course, after a while, the long wide beaches, rolling dunes, picturesque fishing harbours, bird sanctuaries, nature reserves, wave pools, golf courses, and other sporting and leisure facilities on the coast may begin to pall. That’s when you should consider a day out inland for a change.
Less than an hour’s drive from Fort Mahon, you’ll find the fine city of Amiens. There’s a magnificent cathedral, of course, the biggest in France, excellent shops, art galleries, museums (including the house where Jules Verne lived and wrote) and hundreds of restaurants and cafes, but the sight-seeing trip we suggest is to “Les Hortillonages”.
These gardens form a patchwork of 300 hectares (1.6 square miles) of vegetable, fruit, and flower gardens in the heart of Amiens. They are interlaced with 40 miles of small canals, known as “rieux” in the Picardy dialect, and you can visit them in special electrically-driven boats modelled on the market gardeners’ own traditional “barques à cornet”.
Les Hortillonages, surrounded by the Avre and the Somme rivers, have been cultivated since the Middle Ages. You will find them a peaceful and picturesque place, seemingly far from the modern bustle and noise of the city, yet within sight of the cathedral towers. This idyllic place is the work of generations of men and women who have created their fertile market gardens on land reclaimed from the river marshes. Until the early 20th century, fruit and vegetables from the Hortillonages fed the city of Amiens. Now, this rich land, which can produce up to 3 harvests per year, still supplies a regular Saturday fruit and vegetable market in the city, as well as an annual quayside floating market festival, where the growers in traditional costume sell produce direct from their boats.
You can expect to find radishes, cauliflowers, turnips, lettuce, leeks, artichokes, potatoes, carrots, onions and many other vegetables, as well as blackcurrants, redcurrants and even melons, on sale fresh from the Hortillonnages producers.
At the end of every holiday season we plan our out-of-season gite maintenance work. Usually it’s a combination of minor replacements (of small electrical equipment, furniture, etc) and buildings maintenance (redecoration, interior or exterior painting, flooring, replacement of fittings and major equipment) and it gets done sometime between Christmas and Easter.
But, in reality, keeping up with the general wear-and-tear maintenance is an ongoing job – it never stops. We had already planned to replace the picnic table on the patio at Sandboys Dune before the start of next year’s letting season, and then, suddenly, the job became more urgent. The old timbers in its benches and table-top began to sag. The rot had finally weakened the most exposed wooden parts beyond repair, and it was no longer capable of seating a family for an outdoor meal.
Initially I thought of simply buying a new picnic table. This one was 8 years old, after all. When I found out how much that was going to cost I began to consider more economical (and ecological) alternatives.
On close inspection it was clear that the base of the table was relatively sound and that it was only the table-top and benches that needed replacement, so I went out and bought 15 euros worth of pine planks. These needed cutting down from 3 metres to 1.5 metres – done in a jiffy with my hand-held Bosch circular saw. Then these pieces needed cutting down from 22cm wide to 10cm – easy again with the same tool. Some 5 cm wide pieces were needed too – piece of cake! (anyone from Bosch want to sponsor this blog?).
Having cut all the right pieces and stained and varnished them ready to be installed, I took a look at the base section. It was in pretty good shape, but there were some design flaws which gave it a tendancy to wobbliness. With some deft cutting and shaping (Newstar electric mitre saw, Stanley Surform, Ryobi Orbital sander – blog sponsorship still available!) I installed some bracing that completely eliminated the original instability. More stain and varnish – job done!
One week later, the totally refurbished, sleek and glossy picnic table is back at Dune, ready for another 8 or 10 years.
By then I reckon it will only have cost our gite budget 2 euros a year in capital and maintenance costs – and even then it might only need a couple of cheap pine planks to last 8 more years.
Wow! It was hot today
– and there was work to do, so there was no way a lazy day was in prospect. We got started early when M. Lannoy, the occasional gardener arrived at The White House. While he got busy in the early morning warmth we prepared the Garden Studio apartment for the next guests after the departure, yesterday, of regular visitors, the Griffiths.
By the way, the Griffiths tried the restaurant at Berck that we reviewed in our last blog post. They loved it and even went back there a second time during their 6 night stay. I seem to remember they also like the Auberge du Bahot, a little country-style place in the neighbouring village, but it’s not open on Mondays whereas “Les Pieds Dans L’Eau” at Berck is.
After the housework and some office work it was time to go out in the garden. By this time it was really hot, somewhere around 28 degrees in the shade. Of course, when you’re working in the garden there is no shade – at least, not when you’re mowing the lawn there’s not. Still I would rather have that job than the one Sue was doing – kneeling on the hot ground pulling weeds out of the flower beds. At least while you’re mowing you can look over the hedge and watch people passing by. Today a man, a holidaymaker I guessed by his clothes, went by on a bike with a parrot on the handlebars. Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera on me, and anyway I was taken so much by surprise that he had gone before I could have taken a snap even if I’d had one.
There’s plenty of time to let the mind wander as you push a mower, so a plethora of questions formed in my mind. Was it his pet parrot, or had it just flown down and perched on the handlebars for a ride? Would it take off from time to time for a quick bird’s eye view of the terrain, or did it prefer to let the cyclist do all the work? Would it talk to the rider, give directions, perhaps, or even swear at him if he took a wrong turning? What would happen if the parrot was spotted by a hawk? Thinking about all these possibilities took my mind off the tedium of mowing, and even the discomfort of the heat.
It eventually got too hot to mow any more, so we both stopped for lunch. Soon, though, it was time for a major shopping trip to the supermarket (it’s less busy there between 12h00 and 14h00). And at least it was nice and cool in the shop.
After the shopping there was laundry to collect from one of the Fort Mahon houses and more office work to do – bookings to confirm and payment reminders to send, while Sue did gite laundry and ironing (another hot job). Finally it cooled off enough outside to go out and do some more mowing. At 17h30 the mower ran out of petrol. There was more in the jerry can but I took the hint and called it a day.
M. Lannoy continued his hedge trimming until 18h00. He had worked solidly in the blazing heat since 08h30, taking only an hour’s rest in the shade of our avenue of pines, at around 12h30, for his lunch.
Bravo! M. Lannoy. Thanks for working hard in the sun on a hot day – and for seeming to enjoy it.