Friday, 17 May 2013

Road trip in the Beauce region

La route du ble en Beauce is a road trip you take if you want to see the main cereal-growing region in France. It starts not far from JC's home in Ymeray.

It's a big place and took 6 hours to drive between the stages indicated on a map. Animals you'd see are likely to be perdrix grise, a small bird that eats grain, berries and insects and prefers to run rather than fly (hunters target it), and pheasants. The later are very good at squatting down in the fields and hiding.

They really are the most dim-witted birds with suicidal tendancies. People scare them but they have no fear of cars and in fact seem to be attracted to them. I've lost track of how often I've been driving at open road speeds and had to slam on the brakes for a cock or hen. It's usually a daily massacre on the road from where I live to work so it was no surprise to come across some of these silly birds on the road trip [can you see it?]

The other sort of bird you see a lot of in the Beauce is aoliennes or wind turbines since the area is generally plat with enormous fields and lots of wind. Other things with wings are the old windmills which are only there as curiosities and tourist attractions. I'm quite familiar with how they work and especially the pivotting sort. Here's a closeup of the mechanisms.          

They are quite majestic on the landscape, you can't miss them, surrounded by the flat plains covered in brilliant yellow and green.

One of the windmills had some little cabins on wheels parked nearby. These are very old.Originally they were little 'huts' for shepherds and their dogs to spend the night, then wheeling them along to the next location as they minded the flocks. Such an uncomfortable arrangement.

Yet another feature of the Beauce is the very large ancient farms. They were built in stone and featured house, accommodation for workers, barns, storage for equipment, walled gardens. They are impressive in size but the inhabitants appear to have no interest in making them aesthetic so no flowers or trees around their inner courtyard. Bare ground, messy stacks of things. Many are disintegrating though others are clearly inhabited and truly working farms.

Though most of the Beauce is flat, windswept and cropping there are little pockets of woods and dreamy little streams. This being Spring I found their aspect charming. Along the sides of the road, at intervals, you can see calvaries, wild orchids. Cruisng the updraghts are birds of prey, falcons looking for mice, voles, baby animals. There seemed to be a lot of these birds. And , of course, there are the black crows everywhere - intelligent birds that don't get dun over on roads. They have even inspired the design of kite-like bird scarers to discourage pigeons from eating sown seed.

We stumbled across a decaying chateau stuck in the middle of nowhere, the Chateau de Cambray.
On 28 March1575  Fran├žois Lambert, advisor to the King of France bought Cambray. On the left is the old chateau dating from the 15th century, The central part in stone was dedicated by Louis XIV, between 1650 and 1700. The two wings were built later. There's supposed to be an Orangerie for functions but I couldn't see anything that looked functional or welcoming. Just the building in the left-hand corner was inhabited and the main chateau was shuttered and very sad looking in a truly bad state. It must have been wonderful once with its 4000 hectares of French gardens and forests. At least the lawns were mowed. I wonder what happened to all the furniture.

 Crops grown in the region include wheat and rapeseed (yellow flowers), sunflowers (not many of those now as they are less profitable), maize and peas as animal fodder, white sugar beet for biofuel.

You can see what it looks like after it is harvested and while it's waiting for collection.

It's not an exciting road trip. I'd suggest following the Route for the first half of the trail and then doing something else because after fields and windmills for a few hours you've had enough.

  Photos by F Harrison and JC le Roy


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