The summer festivals may now all be over but they have been replaced with 'automnales', autumn fairs where local communities gather together to press apples, roast chestnuts, and generally catch up on the season's gossip. We were very excited to note that there are several 'cider and chestnut fêtes' coming up over the next month or so, and we visited the first of these at the weekend.
Farmers and villagers turned up in abundance with trailers full of apples which they emptied into a huge skip and, load by load, these were fed into the enormous mobile press that had been set up in the middle of the village square. This piece of equipment certainly looked as if it had been in use for several decades, but it did the trick as buckets full of dark sweet apple juice poured out of the tap at the back of the contraption. These were swiftly decanted into empty lemonade bottles and ferried over to the drinks tent where they were sold almost before they could be stashed behind the makeshift bar. Two euros for two litres of delicious freshly-pressed apple juice - it wasn't quite the 'cidre' we expected, but it was wonderful and definitely worth the effort.
On the other side of the square was an equally ancient contraption, a huge long horizontal barrel, looking like an over-sized cannon, slowly rotating over a trough of embers. Sweet chestnuts were being shovelled into one end of the cannon by a man who clearly took his job seriously as the look of concentration on his face was intense beyond belief. The chestnuts were gradually shimmied to the other end of the barrel, roasting over the embers as they went, and a quarter of an hour later out they popped, red-hot and cooked through with a charred coating. Picking off the blackened casing resulted in burned fingertips for impatient snackers, eager to taste the crumbly chestnut inside - then off to buy more 'cidre' to wash it all down!
While munching and slurping to celebrate the end of summer, a loud 'chattering' noise in the sky made us all look up to behold the most amazing sight. Hundreds of birds were flying in a 'v' formation, calling to each other as they followed the river south. At first I thought they were geese but I was soon corrected by an elderly man stressing that they were 'grues!' or cranes, large waterbirds with wingspans of two metres. We'd been told about this event but hadn't yet witnessed it - apparently over 300,000 cranes emigrate biannually, back and forth, between summer nesting grounds in Scandinavia and overwintering sites in Spain and Southern France. Around 20,000 fly over our part of the Charente, an incredible number, so no wonder they are noisy when they pass by. Since seeing these birds fly over the market square, I've been aware of the noise of even more passing over our garden - they sound like a distant crowd of schoolchildren, bantering and arguing, getting closer and closer, but within a few minutes they have passed by and all is quiet again. I will definitely look out for their return because then I know Spring is on its way!