We’ve been practising our French, so it’s a minor disappointment when the owner of the gîte, Mr Brouillard, speaks perfect English. Our directions have taken us to the ‘manoir’, which turns out to be a castle. This is no ordinary pile of medieval rubble, but an entire fairy castle with slender turrets, topped with pantile cones and colourful pennants poled on the peaks. We stand on the drawbridge by the heavy oak door as he hands us the keys and gives directions to our accommodation. I wonder if he’s a ‘Duc’ or ‘Comte’; not plain ‘Monsieur’.
It’s 1976 and the long hot summer in England has stretched to Brittany in late August. The temperature gauge on our trusty Hillman Minx has been hovering by the red for the last few miles and it’s a relief to arrive at the gîte. We get out of the car and survey our home for the next fortnight. She holds my hand, nestles her head on my shoulder and breathes a contented sigh. A heron heaves itself from the mossy lip of a fountain and flaps away with spindly legs trailing.
It’s a two-storey building in large, irregular, blue-green stones fixed with a thick paste of cream mortar. The deep-set doorway and leaded windows have pointed arches, which lend a church-like appearance. But we’re in a place of ancient standing stones and druid magic. The aura is more one of pagan enchantment. She pulls me though the door into the quiet cool of the interior. We sit together on a stone window seat in our bedroom, gazing at the view across meadows and corn to the wide meandering of the river Aulne.
We stroll, hand in hand, down through the fields. This is the first time we’ve seen maize close up and its height surprises. The tight, yellow-stippled cobs are ripe for harvesting and sit oddly among the jumble of parched stems and brown leaves. The lazy chirruping of the crickets fade as we leave the corn behind and follow a path through scorched grass to the river.
It’s a large stretch of water with commercial and pleasure boats rippling a gentle wash to the river bank. We sit with our legs dangling the edge taking in the languid colour of the scene. A yacht with limp, white sails passes nearby and a young couple pause from work with ropes and wheel to wave. We return their welcome and watch as it glides around a bend towards the estuary.
I’m struck by a thought that I must store the memory of these special moments to warm my older self on dark winter days.