Easter weekend, the promise of a change in the weather and advertisements for a lot of events throughout the Dronne valley and beyond; sounds like the recipe for a great weekend. Surprising as it may seem we set off from Bon Abri gites towards Bourdeilles (see previous post). The weather was dull, grey and rather unpromising. We didn’t stop in Bourdeilles but took the road along the north side of the river Dronne that leads through the limestone cliffs along le forge du Diable.
The grotesquely sculpted cliffs loomed above us and in some cases hung above the road in sensuous, mossy, green draped curves. Between the road and the river the tangled and tortured trees dripped with ferns and mosses framing small views of the twisting water.
In areas where the cliffs dip or move further from the present course of the river large farmsteads, small castles and pompous chateaux rise from the trees.
In Brantome, after accidentally driving through the market that flowed and eddied along the sides of the river, we parked in Jardin de Moines on the opposite bank to the Abbey. For a couple of hours we walking through the stalls and the streets, visited the new Tourist Office (in the converted Église Notre-Dame) and finishing with a coffee in a busy bar. We left Brantome and set off to Saint Pancrace. On the road north out of Brantome we passed a huge stele built in monumental style.
In geometric relief were the names of 26 men and women who were executed on 23rd August 1944. Turning off the Nontron road and following a narrow lane that wound through the thickly wooded and rolling hills we passed a resistance memorial to three people executed on the 27th March 1944. About 200m further along, deep in the shade of the dripping trees, we came to another memorial to a further 2 who were executed on the same day as the other three.
We stopped for a picnic in a very quiet wood close to the road before setting off to visit a retirement home. It was not your normal retirement home, sombre, smelling of pee, with bingo and non-stop tv; this was acres of green fields immaculately tended with a large stone built farmhouse, a gite, wooden stables and an exhibition room. This was ‘Brantome Police Horses’ and we had come to meet some of the residents and have tea with scones, cream and jam.
These horses, retired from the Metropolitan and Bristol and Somerset Police for financial or health reasons, are brought here to live out their days in the rolling hills and open spaces of this charity farm. Some of the animals had been walked in from the fields and we were introduced to them, given a brief, censored, summary (there were young people present) of the animals previous life and given the opportunity to get close and familiar with them.
An 18 hand horse is a massive beast. Strange as it may seem it was an incredible way to spend an afternoon and we were only about an hour and a half from Bon Abri and our gites.
We spent the night in a chambre d’hote below the stark walls of the castle in Bourdeilles. Next morning, after a leisurely breakfast with the chambre owners, we drove through the villages on the right bank of the river before taking a picnic close to the Bourdeilles lavoir. Here we met up with an organised group for an accompanied nature walk.
The promenade nature was led by Bernard Bébé and his wife Nicole.
They are knowledge, passionate, interesting, entertaining and completely obsessed with, by and about flowering plants.
Over a fascinating 2 hours we covered less than a mile walking from clump of green to clump of green with our heads bent and backs stooped.
Bernard and Nicole are the authors of a massive, well-structured reference book to the flowering plants of the Dordogne.
On the return home we went through more stunning limestone scenery along the river to a small walnut oil mill (Moulin de Rochereuil) that clings desperately to the rocks in mid-stream.
This had been a great couple of days out and only an hour or so from Bon Abri.
If a visit to the ‘Brantome Police Horses’ should inspire you to try your hand at riding we have been to talk to a couple of local stables that provide riding facilities for all levels of skill and experience around Bon Abri.
Bernard et Nicoles book – http://www.tela-botanica.org/actu/article6599.html
Brantome Police Horses – http://www.brantomepolicehorses.com/