|The nativity scene in the village of St-Martin-Ste-Catherine in the Creuse|
Christmas in the Creuse
It was a genius of an idea. A spur of the moment change of plan that immediately felt so perfect it actually ignited my Christmas spirit – something that never happens in November.
Let me take you back a few weeks, to early November, when Ed and Pearl were home for a weekend visit. We checked our calendars and found a weekend when they were free to dog and house sit for us, so we could escape on the bikes in the hope of catching some fine autumnal colours and exploring some more of France. Adrian, being our chief planner, had found a few accommodation options, when he stumbled upon a bargain that couldn’t be ignored. Rather than a bijou studio apartment for two, with just enough room to squeeze the folded Bromptons in, he’d found a gite that slept six people and was happy to accept dogs, for the same modest price we always search for. A quick chat with Ed and Pearl confirmed they were happy to join us there, direct from Poitiers, and have fun with Mini exploring some new walks. As we won’t all be together for Christmas or New Year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to combine a weekend away and a family pre-Christmas celebration.
|An evening stroll, autumn in the Creuse|
Adrian and I arrived on the Friday, just as the sun was setting, bathing the rural landscape of rolling hills, fields of Limousin cows and autumn-leaved trees in a soft gold. The fire had been lit, adding to the warm welcome we received from Sally and Mark, who had even thought to add some Christmas decorations when we’d explained our weekend plans. We unpacked the car that was stacked to bursting with bicycles, walking boots, food, drink, clothes and the dog, before setting off along the lane for a quick evening stroll. Mini met the resident dogs who were as welcoming as their owners, and they all got on just fine once the ritual bottom sniffing had been attended to.
When Ed and Pearl arrived, it was quickly decided that Pearl would be our weekend fire chief. While our heating has always been of the push-button boiler variety, her parents have a woodburning stove and all Adrian and I had succeeded in doing so far, was either letting it go out or, poking it and stoking it, thus filling the room with smoke. With Pearl in charge, we were nice and toasty.
|Setting off for 70km on the Bromptons|
Once the morning fog had lifted on Saturday, Adrian and I set off for a 70km ride on the Bromptons, exploring an area where the cycling was hilly enough to be challenging, but the autumn colours were stunning and the scenery was gorgeous. We are used to rural French cycling, following the back roads between villages and rarely being bothered by traffic, but the Creuse took quiet, lost lane cycling to a whole new level. It was as if we were the only ones in the world, as village after village slumbered behind closed shutters. Luckily there were cows to keep us company, lots of cows. Their gentle eyes lifted from the seriousness of grass chewing and followed us past their fields, their chestnut colouring blending perfectly with the trees and hedges framing the landscape.
|The scallop shell that marks the Camino pilgrimage routes|
Once again fate had thrown us onto the path of one of the French Caminos, the long-distance pilgrimage routes that cross France heading towards Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. This time it was the route from Vézelay that then heads through Limoges and Bergerac on its way to St Jean-Pied-de-Port in the Pyrenees. So many of our adventures cross the camino, the call to follow it becomes stronger each time.
|The 16th Century frescoes in St-Martin-Ste-Catherine|
As the afternoon drew on, we realised it wasn’t just us who were thinking of Christmas. A pause to rest our legs and look at the sixteenth century frescoes in the rather damp and crumbly church in St-Martin-Ste-Catherine, revealed the nativity scene tucked under the altar, ready for the first Sunday of Advent. The figurines were chipped and worn, no doubt touched by many hands over the years, the manger empty and waiting for its Christmas Day arrival. It was about this time that I began to doubt myself. Daylight was fading fast; the air had become noticeably colder and my legs were tiring with each pedal stroke. What 51-year-old fool thinks she can cycle 70km in an afternoon and then prepare a special four course feast for dinner? That fool would be me!
|A family festive feast|
It was dark before we returned, but the chatter over aperos soon revived me enough to put together my Christmas flavours risotto; chicken, pumpkin, mushrooms and cranberries, served with side dishes of spicy red cabbage (prepared in advance) and sautéed lardons, leeks and walnuts – the leeks were a good substitute for the Brussels sprouts that didn’t look very appetising when we shopped. We dined like kings, pausing between courses to play games like Boggle, Uno and Head Bandz as the music played and the fire crackled in the background. Ed was our chief entertainer and when I could no longer sit upright, we sprawled on the sofas as he played his guitar.
The gite had everything we needed, including an enclosed garden, endless walks that took in views of the lake, woodlands and fields, and cosy, comfortable beds topped with soft flannelette sheets and heavy, down-filled duvets. The icing on the cake was that it was owned by an Australian ex-pro road cyclist who was happy to talk about cycling and share his knowledge of the local routes. A weekend here was not long enough. For more information you can contact them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Sunrise from the bedroom window|
Life has been turned on its head a number of times since the summer and sometimes you just need to stop the madness for a moment. This weekend gave me the chance to reset my head and experience the sunrise from another bedroom window, and it’s always good to see things from a different angle.
Thanks for the fun and great memories. You guys are the best.
|My family - an autumn walk in the Creuse|