Christmas eve and the countryside is stark and brown.  Mist rolls in from the river filling the valleys below, but up here on the high ridges the early morning sun hangs low in the winter skies stringing the hedgerows with diamonds.  I huff and puff to the top of the hill, gathering juniper berries and prickly tangles of garnet-studded rose as I go.  There is no holly on this limestone hill-top, but I pull streams of ivy from the great oak that has somehow forced its roots down into the uncompromising rock.  A shrill yelp sounds at my feet, as Hebe, my Jack Russell pup, tumbles into the base of an ancient rose and emerges with tail well tucked in and one earring.  Very hip, I tell her. She gambols and frisks whilst I turn slowly, my arms full of winter riches, and gaze across the vast expanse spread out before me.  I can see the whole of south-west France.  And there, at the very limit of my horizon lies the only snow we’re likely to see this Christmas, the summits of the lofty Pyrenees, two hundred kilometres to the south.

We wander down through the forest to find moss and lichens and maybe some bryony.  After a ten minute trek a tiny and long deserted stone cottage hoves into view.  An enchanted place, deep in the woods, sliding slowly into disintegration, it’s no more than twelve feet square, with the addition of a huge, rounded bread oven at one end, totally out of proportion to the minute cottage.  There must have been a finely planted garden here once upon a time, the remnants of the herbs, long gone wild, still remain, and the whole is surrounded by sturdy stone walls entwined with thick trunks of ivy, delicate coils of honeysuckle and, to my utter delight, red bryony.  It hangs temptingly from the highest wall, glistening with dew, its deep red berries, the colour of Snow White’s lips.  But this plump, enticing berry is deadly poisonous.  Decorative, of course, useful medicinally, but definitely a vine to be handled with extreme care.  I hide a string of berries deep in the capacious pockets of my battered Barbour.

We start for home, Hebe always fifteen feet ahead, and I turn to gaze once more at this solitary, sleeping sanctuary.  A witch’s cottage – waiting for better times, waiting for a re-birth.  As we all are at this time of year.


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

© Amanda Lawrence 2012

Post sponsored by Voile d’Ombrage France, fabricant voile d’ombrage.

voile d ombrage

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A Very Merry Berry Christmas from French Vie

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