The River Sarthe at Avoise

Weekend escape

“…And for the weekend  a  band of heavy showers, moving in from the Atlantic, which could merge to become torrential downpours in places and temperatures rather disappointing for the time of year – about 17 degrees….”  The sunny smile of the weather presenter did not quite sit right with the news she was imparting. We were due for another typically English bank holiday.

I know, I know. We had only been back in England for less than a fortnight. We weren’t due back in France until October. But the prospect of yet another dismal, wet Bank holiday was just too much to bear. During a text chat with one of our French neighbours, earlier in the day, she had been complaining about the continuing canicule, heatwave, and how the garden was suffering. That clinched it then. Jump online, book tickets and shoot off after work on Friday to arrive in the early hours of Saturday morning.

A few hours of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep later, we set off into the bright sunshine to get supplies for the weekend. Saturday is market day in Sablé sur Sarthe, our nearest town, about 10 km away. We love strolling around the stalls, bursting with every kind of fruit and vegetable, mostly grown by the stall-holder themselves. A visit to the stall of our favourite fromager, Monsieur Souchet, is compulsory.

fromagerie Souchet

Not only does he always have a wonderful selection of cheeses but he is a consummate showman, wielding his cheese knife across the top of the cheese held above his head, until the customer is completely happy with the size of the piece to be cut, then entertaining his audience with his jokey banter, giving advice on the best cheese to select for a particular dish and teasing elderly ladies about the wildly romantic meals they are going to be preparing for their toy boys. Next, some fragrant apricots and a couple of small, juicy local melons. Having served us with our apricots the young girl calls over the stall owner. Madame always asks when you will be eating your melons, then carefully selects those of the exact ripeness required from the pile in front of her, writing a number on each to indicate the order in which they should be eaten – and she’s not been wrong yet. Last stop is to pick up some young lettuce plants and pain de sucre winter salad leaves, to take home for the allotment. The grey-haired market gardener nods in recognition – we are regular visitors to his stall- and offers a few tips on how to care for his babies. I don’t think he is too confident that we can grow anything in the frozen, northern wasteland that is England!

After a leisurely lunch in the garden we strolled down to the river to spend the afternoon lazing under a willow tree, reading and watching the kingfishers and martins swooping about across the water. An incoming text message from one of Colin’s mates, bemoaning the fact that the Bristol –Swindon footie match had been abandoned due to the appalling weather, just added to our enjoyment.

Having been forced to dine out that evening (well we’d packed all our kitchenware hadn’t we?) we returned home to indulge in our favourite evening pastime of ‘gate-hanging’.  A glass of sun-filled red wine in hand we hang over the front gate, discussing the day’s happenings, planning the next project and watching the oblivious owls and bats that silently hurtle around our heads and between the ancient, terracotta-tiled roofs of the village. We can be found here most evenings, winter or summer, but tonight, with the heat radiating out from the sun-baked stone walls and a glittering array of thousands of stars sliding slowly across the sky, I felt gloriously contented and ‘at home’.

It doesn’t get much better than this – I hope we’ll be as happy in the mill as we have been here.

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