Saturday, December 10, 2011

Helping out and being helped

our new woodland walk
I’ve spent a day helping out our local vet.  While he rushed around in his Citroën camionette dealing with poorly cows, I tamed an unruly hedge in his garden using my chainsaw, assisted by a sprightly octogenarian called Monsieur Galet.  I never got to know his first name, an etiquette of respect for his age, but neither did he get to know mine: nothing to do with etiquette but rather because he couldn’t get to grips with its un-Frenchness.  Despite repeating it several times, he never did grasp it, so, for a day, I became “eh-ho”.
we left this fallen tree in situ, there's a way past by the roots

It’s not as if we don’t have enough to do around the smallholding and, now we’re in winter, in our woodlands but this days work for Hammadi was willingly given and is another example of the many local exchanges we have going on here.  It’s also the time we host volunteers and we’ve just had two weeks of gold-star-top-drawer volunteers Sue and Andrew.  Suckers for punishment, they came for aweek in February and asked to come again for a fortnight.

Andrew built us our lovely bridge that links an existing path from the entrance, through a parcel of wild cherry, oak and goat willow, into another parcel of predominately ash, which is carpeted in bluebells in spring.  For some time, we have wanted to continue and create a complete nature walk that takes people through all the different parts of the woodland, leading them safely back to the entrance.

Two paths diverged in a yellow wood ...
One Wednesday, child-minding 10 year old Camille, we went for a tramp round the woods armed with long canes with coloured rag tied to the end.  By shouting and waving the flags, we were able to plot a path, leaving a trail of garden canes to mark it. 

During their visit, we spent four days in the woods with Andrew and Sue, hacking brambles, pulling roots, removing overhanging branches and some trees, finally rubbing our heavy-duty tripod lawnmower over the path.  It looks great; we couldn’t be more pleased with it.  I reckon that the hard work being done, it won’t take too much maintenance during the year to keep it like that.

The next job, and one to be done at the kitchen table, is to draw up a map so that holidaymakers in our gite can independently find the wood and navigate around the new path.  If they walk quietly and keep their eyes and ears open, they might see some of the wildlife along the way, such as roe deer, this fire salamander or maybe even a wild boar (we’ve got plenty of signs of visits but actually encountered one face-to-snout yet).

fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra)