We awake in Poitiers. I am still waking early despite the lack of sunlight and the overcast weather. Breakfast in our room, packed up checked out then strolled the medieval city which has been transformed by modern paving in the narrow streets and limiting traffic to essential commercial traffic. But Mondays are strange in that none of the shops opened before 2.00 pm. Visited a Romanesque church Notre Dame Le Grand Dame said to be the oldest church in France (12th century) and it still has some of its original frescos.
As we walked through the old streets we entcountered a hairdresser with a big imagination. Spotted a cafe – well actually we smelt it first – so we shot over for a hot chocolate. Met a French woman who teaches French to foreign students and they in turn are teaching her English and she practised on us. We also visit another Romanesque church Eglise la Porchaine unusual because it is square and has a 3 storey square bell tower.
It was still raining and very little open so we decide to trek on to Dampierre sur Boutonne to visit cousin Terri and her husband Mick. We arrived just about lunch time.
Dampierre is a rural village of about 50 homes about 1 hour west of La Rochelle. Mick and Terri have lived here (I’m not certain) 15 years plus. Shortly after moving from Brighton to Dampierre, they renovated an abandoned house and create “gites” French holiday accommodation, Mick turned his hand to renovating for other Poms taking advantage of their EU status to invade France once again. One of the projects they have taken on is the renovation of a house at Leger. Mick’s youngest son Daniel is visiting (he also has bought and renovated abandoned houses) and over lunch we talk them into showing us the progress with this renovation (Daniel says it still looks like a WW1 house on the Somme). So we drive toward Aulnay through the back blocks of the back of beyond to Leger.
It is as pretty as I remember it. An abandoned house with granny flat looking across open French fields. Today one of Terri’s neighbours is planting a plot of potatoes with a garden fork – a centuries old scene. There is still a lot of work to be done but they are both still enthusiastic about the project. A combination of poor holiday seasons and Mick’s health not permitting him to work has seen a shortage of cash for the project but still Mick has performed a lot of the fundamental reconstruction needed. Personally and Mick now agrees he should have bull dozed the house and started again but that would not have the same charm, Back to Dampierre a warm fire and hot meal. Kerry has developed a sore throat and goes to bed and I bore Terri, Mick and Daniel with photos and we reminisce about Dad’s emigration as a 19-year-old to start a new life in Australia.
After a relaxing night in the piggery (now renovated as a gite) I awake early once again – I cannot seem to sleep past 4.00 am. Still dark and cold but it must be time for a cuppa to start the day. It is the end of February and we are still in winter. It is raining windy and cold. We thought we would visit the donkeys and then go to La Rochelle to see if our memories of the town are accurate.
So we drove over to the donkey farm where we saw the local breed of donkey brought back from extinction through one stallion and careful breeding. The Poitou donkey or Poitou ass, also called the Poitevin donkey or simply the Poitou, is a breed of donkey originating in the Poitou region of France. Long ears and a hairy coat they look a little strange.
Then we travelled out to the coast to La Rochelle. It was windier and colder making it difficult to find the town we remembered. But we did buy a Euro millions ticket and out popped two tickets = a good omen and Kerry who had been longing for a crepe citron got her crepe. The weather does not improve so we head home for a warm fire and a cuppa. Mick and Terri arrived later and we put on some nibbles before dinner. Terri pulls out her Euro Millions ticket and we agree to pool our chances.
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However we had an important stop to make. We had to visit Aulnay and the Church of St Pierre d’ Aulnay and view the ancient tower.
Aulnay, commonly referred to as Aulnay-de-Saintonge, is a French commune in the Charente-Maritime department in the Poitou-Charentes region of south-western France. The Church of Saint-Pierre d’Aulnay (12th century) is reported by Wikipedia to be “One of the finest surviving Romanesque churches. It is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is unknown why the church was built so far from the town but it may be related to the site of an old cemetery along the Roman road. At the end of the 11th century the building that preceded it belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Cyprien in Poitiers who, around 1045, received part of the burial rights and wax offerings from the church as evidenced by a donation by Ranulfe Rabiole. Pierre II, Bishop of Poitiers, around 1100 confirmed the ownership of the church by the monastery and Pope Calixtus II followed his example in 1119. In 1135 however, the parish belonged to the Chapter of Poitiers Cathedral which retained its rights until the French Revolution. Papal bulls dated 1149 and 1157 list the Aulnay church in the list of properties of Canons who were calculating their costs. Numerous oriental influences can be seen in its designs. For example the first arc of the gate is inspired from Oriental designs. Designs of elephants also originate from Oriental designs. The Church contains several items that are registered as historical objects….”. For further information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aulnay,_Charente-Maritime.
We were told this church is on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, but apart from its obvious history we could not see evidence of the walk. So I went to Wikipedia and this is what it says ” They follow many routes (any path to Santiago is a pilgrim’s path) but the most popular route is Via Regia and its last part, the French Way (Camino Francés).” So I guess some pilgrims’ include it on their trip from Limoges (on the French Way see map at the follow link)
The Viscounts of Aulnay (or Viscounts of Aunay) were descendants of other noble families in Poitou and Saintonge and lived in a castle which was demolished in 1818 but whose tower still remains. It is this tower near the town hall (Hotel de Ville) and its unusual coloured memorial to the soldiers of WW1 that we went to visit.
Part of the old Abbey remains but it now forms part of the centre of the village and a restaurant precinct where we had a slap up dinner as a thank you to our hosts that evening.
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It is nearly Xmas so we leave Palaeolithic Lascaux and head for Dampierre sur Boutonne and my cousin’s gites where we will celebrate Xmas. The drive was long and tiresome. As planned we arrived at Dampierre on December 23 to a warm welcome and hot cuppa tea.
the old pig sty
Thistle and the main building
We had been driving for most of the day so a stretch of the legs was in order. A brief walk to Chateau Dampierre then around to the church before having dinner did the trick. The chateau has a history dating back to the 10th century and if you want to read more go to http://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Dampierre-sur-Boutonne. The chateau was partly destroyed by fire in 2002 and has recently been restored but is only open for visitors in the warmer months.
The village church is an interesting relic. It appears there was a church on this site from roman times and that it was later in the 12th century replaced by a Romanesque church which over the centuries has had many alterations and additions. It is standard in its layout (the cross running east west with a nave, transept and altar) and includes the town clock in its bell tower which appears to be added on to the main church building. Further you will see that some of the windows are gothic in shape and that a section of wall on the southern side has been replaced but the new wall does not exactly line up with the original.
Church in Dampierre
southern wall of church
It has never included a graveyard but the earth wall supporting the church grounds overlooking my cousin’s house has given up a skull, leg bones and other bits of human remain. When reported to the Marie of the town some explanation about many people being killed in the religious wars and these remains probably belong to that era was offered.
Wikipedia records the following about The French Wars of Religion (1562–98). “….. is the name of a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise (Lorraine), and both sides received assistance from foreign sources.”
Seriously, these bones are sitting in dirt and now exposed to the weather – I don’t think these are left over from the 16th century, but the authorities were unconcerned so now it is up to Mick to cover them up again.
The next day we had to buy some provisions (including mistletoe and holly) so we travelled to St Jean D’Angeley as there are no grocery stores in Dampierre (500 people) and then back to our village and a walk down to the local pub (cafe restaurant and hotel of sorts) for a quick drink.
the village cistern/well
Then we had to lay in some provisions for Xmas day and Mick had to buy his lotto ticket, so we went to the Supermarche at Aulnay (another town nearby) and bought two 5 litre cartons of the local red and white plonk, two bottles of Mercier champagne and one bottle of the local “champagne style” sparkling wine. Whist there Mick showed us what was left of the Chateau at Aulnay.
the markets St Jean D’Angeley
market square St Jean D’Angeley
St Jean D’Angeley some of the earlier buildings
Hotel de Ville St Jean D’Angeley
Palais de Justice St Jean D’Angeley
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