We were fortunate to be chosen by Caroline to care for her beautiful home and two dogs, Martin and Griboule, or Marty and Gribby as we fondly call them, for the month of November.
There are also two cats here, one is lovely friendly little black stray we have called Zorro because of her colour and that she a short Z shaped tail, maybe it was caught in a door or a hereditary trait as she is part of the *clowder* of cats from the farm down the road.
*I just recently learnt this new word ‘clowder’ which is a collective noun for a group of cats and have waiting to use it in a post.
The other cat we haven’t yet seen Caroline inherited when she bought this house. It has a chip that opens a door where her bed and food are, it’s getting eaten so she must be around, although we have not seen her in the ten days we have been here.
Caroline lives in a wonderful area of the Tarn Department, near the city of Castres, in an architecturally converted barn that sits on 7 acres.
The property sits at the end of a quiet road with only three houses on it.
As we entered through the huge iron gates and then proceeded along the circular drive that leads you to Caroline’s house, we both looked at each other and said, WOW we get to spend nearly a month here, so lucky!
The Tarn in Occitanie is a lovely area that we had not explored before. Mountains, forests, rivers, fortified towns and the vineyards that produce that delicious Gaillac wine. We have all heard of the wine regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy but this area has been producing wine for more than a thousand years more than those regions. Don’t forget that the Romans came from the south and they favoured hillsides for their vines, this area also had rivers for transport.
Castres is often called ‘Little Venice’, it even has a Carnival held in March every year. It is a lovely town built along the River Agout, which also, by the way, borders Caroline’s property.
In Castres brightly coloured 12th-century houses with corbelled facades and their basements immersed in the river make a good photo I think. For centuries they served as workshops for tanners and parchment makers who used the water from the river to work the skins. The drying rooms had the open balconies and the living area was the top floors.
We are still in one of the largest duck and foie-gras areas of France, they even have a special market that runs every Saturday from November until April in Castres called the ‘Foie-gras market’.
We have noticed many high sandstone, slate or tile-roofed towers with small vents very close to the top. Could they be for storing grain, corn? Maybe, but no, on further investigation we found out that they are Pigeon houses, des pigeonniers in French.
It was the Romans that first bought “columbaria'” or pigeons to France and since Roman times anyone who had enough land to support a pigeon population was permitted to build a place where the birds could breed and be protected from predators. Later, French kings tried to restrict the privilege to members of the aristocracy and higher clergy, but this rule was defied in the south, thus explaining why most of the older pigeon towers are in the south of France.
There are hundreds of pigeon towers in the Tarn.
They are built with external ledges to prevent rodents from climbing up to the accommodation area where the pigeons nested in alcoves or hanging wicker baskets. Access for the birds was through flight holes in the upper level, which were small enough to prevent owls and hawks from entering. Human access from the ground floor was usually by an internal ladder. As the tender meat of pigeons was and still is highly appreciated in Europe, and before chemical fertilisers emerged in the 19th century, the market for pigeons, and their droppings as fertiliser, was very profitable and, in these areas of poor soils, the pigeon was an important source of revenue to farmers and landowners. Pigeons were of course always used as “air mail’ and in WWl a pigeon house was erected in Albi to carry messages to the forces.
The pigeon houses were also commonly part of a wife’s dowry and considered very valuable, sadly nowadays pigeons are considered a pest.
Colombe is the word for dove in France, and the beautiful name of a friends granddaughter, French is such an exquisite language.
Albi and Cordes Sur Ciel that I spoke about in a previous post are in this area and if they aren’t enough to put this Department on your ‘bucket list’ I will just have to tell you more.
Regional Natural Park of the Haut-Languedoc
The south-eastern part of the Tarn department falls within the Regional Natural Park of the Haut-Languedoc.
The unique rock-strewn scenery of the Sidobre region centred around Castres features a wonderful landscape of balancing boulders and forests which is a great place to get out and have a walk with Gribby and Marty. Although with their own lovely 7 acres to explore every day, they don’t really need it, but with our daily baguette and lovely French cuisine, we sure do!
Granite extracted from this area accounts for more than half of the granite production in France. It’s commonly used in building, flooring, airport runways and headstones.
A few pictures from the lovely village of Lautrec below.
Tomorrow we will leave Castres and the lovely Tarn, heading in a southerly direction looking for sun and warmer weather for our second winter in Hermione, so the next time you hear from us will likely be from Spain!