Monday, 20 June 2011

The journey south

It can take between 5 and 6 hours of fast driving to get between JC's place and Rochefort in the Charente-Maritime area, Atlantic Coast of France. Prepared for changeable weather predicted, I settled in to the journey, watching the changing countryside.
In the Eure et Loir region there are a lot of cereal crops being grown but as we got further South this gave way somewhat to cattle, maize and sunflowers. Ah those tournesols (sunflowers). They make incredible impressions on the landscape and it was so unfortunate that we were arriving about 3 weeks too early to see them in full bloom. They are grown for their oil. It’s used in the commercial production of crisps and oil for cooking.

The countryside also included, along the way, great files of eoliens (wind turbines) marching along waving their arms like white skeletons or benign Martian machines. And the cooling towers of Chinon nuclear power station. Hmmm.

The architecture changed too. Here the houses have orange-tiled roofs and lighter coloured cladding. It’s less massive and more Mediterranean.

I was here in the Poitou-Charente region to meet members of my French family whom I have never met, distant cousins. It has taken me years to finally be able to arrange a meetup. In a future post I will explain the fascinating history behind this pilgrimage over the weekend. So, for now, it's enough to say this is a part of France very new to me but not my ancestors and French cousins.

We were headed to Rochefort for the night but stopped off at Brouage which is further South. It's a medieval town with ramparts which was once bounded by the sea but like so many towns like this the coastline has changed over the centuries and silt and vegetation have replaced water.

The town was key for defence in the region with all the struggles against the British and French nobles with powerful aspirations. You can still see the ancient walls as well as the old graffiti carved by residents and visitors. This is the village where Samuel Champlain, the founder of Quebec in 1608, was born. The connection with the village and Quebec is celebrated in the stained-glass windows of the town church.
The town also harvests sea salt. It was now time to head north a bit to Rochefort.

We popped across the newish bridge and looked back at the old one. Arriving at our hotel next to the famed Corderie Royale we wandered around the older area of the city. I was particularly interested in discovering examples of buildings my ancestors would have known around 1800-1840, such as the old Marine hospital and other key buildings. This city has changed a lot over the centuries. It is no longer representative of its important past, La Rochelle has surpassed it, but there are still a few things to see.

We polished off the evening by dining beside the Charente River, a river of great geneological significance to me.


Alison said...

Oooh - lovely! Quite close to my neck of the woods! You are certainly getting around - great stuff.

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, contributions and feedback.