A curious mountain adventure (part 2)

I’m back. I just had to check I hadn’t forgotten to latch the orchard gate.

Yes. The llamas are still here. And one of the them was advancing merrily towards the lush grass on the garden side of the orchard.

Luckily it was latched and I headed back here to the office to write. The alarm noise the animal makes is extraordinary.

It’s a cross between an angry duck and an old Ducati motorbike that refuses to start. A honking juddering noise.

But let’s back up. And I do apologise for the technical glitches. Our wifi and internet connection died last week and we were bereft for five days before I finally got it sorted. (And no, you don’t want to know how much time I wasted on that. It did involve two round trips totalling 180kms. One of which was a complete bust.)

The llamas belong to a neighbour called Hélène. Down the mountain, in a field.

I had heard about these beasts she owned, but never saw them. Right now I see them between 8am and 10am each morning as we are now on their official roaming circuit.

Hélène has not bothered to repair a broken gate. And it took quite a while to work out why we were graced with their presence.

And of course you could just say ‘why didn’t you just ring your neighbour up and ask?’

Well, quite. But rural life is often a delicate dance of social complexity. And I had heard from another neighbour that she was having a tough time. Father died, husband with cardiac problems, house not sold, retirement on hold. Winter…

I wimped out and sent her a text. To which she didn’t reply.

I also contacted the local camelid association of France (yes, I know) who has someone about half an hour’s drive away to sound them out.

And in the meantime I decided to do a bit of exploring and just track the beasts after they had munched some grass on our lower terraces and ambled off.

I had in mind finding the broken gate and fixing it. But also having a bit of fun. I don’t often explore this close to home on the mountain top. I generally walk round not down.

So after the morning circuit down we went. I lost sight of them pretty quickly so went the other way round the route I expected them to go. And to see if Hélène was home.

She was at work but I had a good look and couldn’t even find this mysterious one hectare sized field in among the trees on her property.

The sun was shining and I didn’t have any internet and therefore work waiting for me, so I decided on proper explore.

We have a grand total of two hermit houses in our area. Not bad for a commune of 304 souls. One belonging to a gentleman who fell out with his siblings and was pretty much left alone for about forty years. He has one kind neighbouring family who shop for him. But everyone else gave him a wide berth owing to a rather ferocious dog and his propensity to turn up with a shotgun at the entrance to the forest track when confronted with Administration.

He would have stayed The Official Hermit of the Hamlet had his house not been spotted by a helicopter checking on the tree growth over the telephone lines a few years back. And he was rumbled. Trees too close to the house, trees growing out of part of the roof, trees crowding the telephone lines. They thought it was abandoned.

The solution was to slap a weekly fine on the proprietor that was eye-watering in its sum and went up in weekly amounts to really stir the homeowners into action. And suddenly two elderly siblings appeared from further south and set to with chain sawing and generally rumbling the presence of their odd and cranky brother.

That is the shot of it now that it has been cleared.

I’m sure he’s still there at La Borie. I never walk that way owing to the high chances of being savaged by his dog. But I did want to see if I could find hermit house number two which everyone told me was ‘just below Hélène’s.

I looked online first. But it’s a case of not being able to find the house for the trees.

So I did what would have made my old geography teacher Mrs Linda Viner proud. I used my head. Two things will denote an isolated house in a forest round these parts. A Protestant grave or cemetery and that whopping big tree. A cedar. I could see it in the shot on the map.

So once I had walked about enjoying the sunshine I spotted the grave and went from there. (Famille Robert and Dujour if you are curious.)

The challenge was that there were just so many forest trails to choose from.

But as I had completely lost sight of the llamas and wouldn’t spook them I just ambled along most of them until I found the tree.

And the entrance to the house’s grounds. (Well churned up by wild boar.) And the mystery was solved. I found La Vigne.

The man who lived here for decades died I think three or four years ago. But surely it takes longer than that for a house to become a ruin.

But with hermits you never know. Maybe he just gave up on half his house and let that part fall in.

It wasn’t spooky or even gloomy. Just sad to see all those old stones and foundations heading down the mountain. It faces south, has a pretty gorgeous view and lots of land.

And that gorgeous cedar will probably be all that’s left of this magical little farm.

(I did ask Hélène once about the house and all that land and she laughingly explained that there are 22 inheritors who all have to agree before a sale can be achieved, so I won’t be putting in a bid anytime soon.)

I was so thrilled to be that close to a cedar which actually had cones I could reach. I nabbed a few and walked laboriously up the hill to see if I could get some viable seeds.

Aren’t they gorgeous? I had to do a quick identify check on the tree. Just calling it a cedar was never going to suffice.

Three mighty names for one mighty tree.

And I was disabused. I thought they were Cedar of Lebanon trees. But with the difference being these ones have a more upright top. So Atlantic Cedar it is.

So the walk turned out to be both educational and enjoyable. And it now means I don’t immediately think of that fabulous character Miss Dunstable in the Barchester Chronicles who made her fortune from Ointment Oil of Lebanon when I spot these trees in the landscape.

We are long way from Trollope here. No one is going to fling open the doors of these hermit houses and decry ‘welcome to Ointment Hall!’ And fend off the suitors.