Thursday, August 4, 2022

The tree of the year

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
The tree of the year 2021



As our third canicule (heatwave) of 2022 gets going with temperatures of 35º as I write this, it has struck me that not only has the beginning of August often been significant for us over the years, but its weather can be unpredictably changeable too. One year ago, we helped Ed and Pearl move into their new flat and the first photos of them on their balcony shows them in long trousers and jumpers, dodging the rain – something we got quite used to doing last August.


Two years ago, we were in the Pyrenees having conquered the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet, among other iconic mountain passes, on our Bromptons in temperatures that reached the high 30’s. Our next stop was the Pays Basques, where the cols might be lower, the mountain profiles less jagged, but the gradients of the climbs are killers – although we can’t wait to return.


Three years ago, we were in London celebrating all things bike, including enjoying the Brompton factory tour, the London Freecycle and completing the Ride London 46 sportive (46 miles or 80 km). In a sea of lycra and high-end road bikes, we did it on our Bromptons, with huge smiles on our faces and I was wearing a dress.


Four years ago, Ed had just completed the Ride London 46, raising money for the mental health charity MIND on the coldest, wettest August day you could imagine.


Five years ago, we were into the final preparations for our Tour de Rêves four-hundred-and-fifty-kilometre charity bike ride around the Deux-Sèvres department raising money for a children’s make a wish association.


Probably the most significant event was eighteen years ago, when we were just days away from packing the cars and moving our lives to France – although how has it been 18 years, I have no idea. Our arrival in France coincided with the end of a heatwave and the beginning of a wet and stormy few weeks.

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
The V93 between Melle and Celles-sur-Belle

holiDAYS out and about


Memories and good times are not always about the big events in life or the long-distance adventures, or even the impressive mountains we climb, sometimes it’s the simple things that put a big smile on my face. This summer, rather than going away for a holiday we are making the most of our holiDAYS out and about, mostly involving the bikes.


This week’s first adventure might have only been a twenty-one-kilometre bike ride from the local market town of Melle, but with some clever planning it was still a fabulous day out. We set off along the old railway line voie verte (green way) that is now part of the V93 cycle route, that crosses the southern end of the Deux-Sèvres department. It has been a favourite route for us for more years than I care to remember and comes into its own on a hot summer day.


We took our time to enjoy the cool, shady path, where trees and ferns line the sides of the old railway cutting, and it feels like you are in a green tunnel, before you emerge back out into sunshine and fields of sunflowers all around. It is only eight kilometres to Celles-sur-Belle, but rather than follow it all the way, we dropped down at a bridge to make an exciting detour. 

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
The tree of the year 2021

The tree of the year 

Last year, a local chestnut tree was voted l’arbre d’année (tree of the year) and cycling to see it was on my summer wish list. Sitting at a crossroads of quiet, rural lanes this chestnut tree, named "La talle à teurtons" which roughly translates from the old French dialect as the people’s tree, is thought to be at least six hundred years old. It is mostly hollow on the inside, with patterns on the gnarly bark that were mesmerising and had to be touched, traced and hugged. Over the years it has held a reputation as a meeting point, where lovers could conceal themselves within its trunk, although we saw no evidence of any secret trysts. It was difficult to drag ourselves away from such magnificence, but there were other local treasures awaiting us.

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
Lavoir de Villiers in Melle


Back onto the V93, we stopped at a shady bench by a spring and enjoyed a homemade flapjack, before heading back to Melle, arriving via one of the most impressive lavoir (wash houses) in the area. 

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
Lavoir de Villiers Melle

The oval pool surrounded by a cobbled path, reflects the stonework of the temple-like structure with high arched windows. The traditional lavoir roof was designed to encourage air flow while allowing some protection from the elements for the women doing their weekly washing.

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
Les Rêves du Monde, Melle


Our first point of call in Melle was the church of St Pierre, one of three impressive Romanesque churches in the town. Every two years Melle puts on a contemporary art festival that this year has the theme of Les Rêves du Monde (the dreams of the world). Outside the church, we found our first art display, a collection of wooden bricks that children of all ages can use to build their dreams. Having built a mini tower, while Adrian looked on, we set off to the marketplace, admiring the super cycling facilities outside the office du tourisme – lockable bike parking, with power for charging batteries and a fully equipped tool station with air pump.

French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
Melle cycling facilities


The kiosque, or bandstand, housed another art installation, the lattice work creating some stunning light and shadow patterns. We then followed the narrow streets of the old town ramparts, passed the summer beach at the Hôtel de Ménoc, which isn’t a hotel, but was a noble family home that in parts dates to the fourteenth century and is now an exhibition space. Our final destination was the St Hilaire church where the ornate stone carvings, especially of the knight on his horse are always worth a moment of careful inspection.


French Village Diaries tree of the year days out Paysmellois
Eglise St Hilarie, Melle

We are incredibly lucky to have all this on our doorstep, but sometimes it is easy to forget that there is always something to see, we just have to make the time to slow down and enjoy what is around us.


Thank you for all your lovely comments on Ed and Pearl’s challenging week. I’m happy to report that their second week went without a hitch, and they packed in lots of days out before safely returning their first set of holiday makers to Poitiers. They are currently in a beautiful gîte situated in the middle of a forest in the Creuse. The trees are proving a cool and calm oasis from the heatwave raging outside of the forest - proof, if any were needed, that it is essential we plant more trees, everywhere.



  1. Melle looks so interesting. How often we forget what's on the doorstep! Glad the second week of Ed and Pearl went well -- and what a gorgeous tree!

    1. That's the great thing with cycling, you can explore in more detail places you often drive past in the car.


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