My Burgundy Your Burgundy

History, culture and nature

Category: Nature (page 1 of 2)

A short and not entirely successful mushrooming expedition

I was pointed in the right direction – pine trees, not too big but established, on a reasonable slope, and sent to look for ceps.

I didn’t find any of those … but I did find some interesting mushrooms, which with the help of this key I identified with a fair degree of confidence.

The closest thing to an edible mushroom I found was the Peppery Milkcap – described as semi-edible, or otherwise as fairly horrible tasting but it won’t kill you….

peppery  The most interesting thing I found was this leathery-covered, remarkably heavy lump about 5cm in diameter.

truffleCut open, it revealed a very dense, dark, earthy-smelling interior – certainly a truffle, although no idea if an edible one…


Also located were another milkcap that I couldn’t confidently identify … but it turmed an orangey-red on the edges of the gills and the stem when first cut, then brown later.


Also saw what I think is one of the most common mushrooms around here, Lactarius hepaticus, which I don’t think anyone would think was edible, and lots of red, “bruise” blue-green and purple lactariuses – ditto.

Also found a number of eggshells – which looked like they’d hatched chicks – on the floors under the pines – good to know they aren’t an ecological desert!


A walk around La Grande Verriere

A map of this walk

A good place to start this walk is the picnic spot beside the River Mechet, where there’s limited parking, picnic tables, and trout to watch in the river and (in summer) dragonflies and damselflies to watch on the banks. To reach it walk downhill from the Cecile’s (the cafe) with the baker on your right and the church on the left, then turn right past a magnificent kitchen garden, then left immediately after you go over the bridge and contine with the river on your left.

The walk proper starts from the picnic site, and the first part is very simple, just follow the river on the (unmade) road to Senavelle. (Do look out for the forest monsters – not dangerous – on your right.)


After Senavelle, there’s a lovely rest spot with a great view back towards the village ….


But if you can hold on a little further, it gets better. You’ll get to a ruined mill (only really the mill pond and mill race remaining)



In the trees before that I heard a racket in the trees beside the path, and sneaking up saw this red squirrel noisily barrelling around in the canopy. It didn’t really take to my presence – loudly yelling at me a call that sounded very like “go away!” (Taken with a cameraphone – a zoom would have been handy…)


Just beyond a path will take you beside the lovely Etang de Bouton (lake) – although you’re only allowed to go there if you’re a walker or a cyclist …


But swing instead right at the fork at the mill up the hill, then left at the next fork, which will take you around a large farm.

If you’re lucky, a local will be resident on your left … (definitely some draft horse blood there …)


Continue right on a tarmaced road, and that will take you past the rather grand Chateau Bouton.

It has a lovely old spring below it …


The chateau itself…

chateauAnd some fancy outbuildings …


Continue straight along the tarmacked (which twists and turns), past Le Grand Verney (which is a few houses), then continue on past the path to Monthelon towards Vourain.


Just before Vourain, I met this friendly local …


Watch out for some lovely flowers in the hedges along here …


Just after him, if he’s home, there’s a clear if rough fenced dirt road leading off to your right (there’s a handy French “turn right” walkers’ mark on the tree before it). It starts to head uphill (there’s a lot of uphill after this)..


…then there’s a confused four-way intersection at which you want to again follow the walkers’ mark, heading uphill to the right, not to Les Boulets (as the other uphill route is signposted).

You’ll know you’re going the right way when you get to this signpost …


You’re now going to climb, and climb and climb, frequently at 45 degrees or so, but there is an excuse for a breather about halfway up with a fascinating ruined farm on the left. There’s the farmhouse, now almost totally overgrown …

ruinedfarmAnd an old pear tree, still yielding magnificently …

ruinedfarmpear(There might have been a few less pears on it after I left had there not been a big clump of brambles between me and it …)

On the left as the track starts to level out the map says you’re at Le Cerisiers, and there’s a big grove of trees not seen elsewhere along the route that may well be cherry trees.

Finally you crest the hill and get to a plateau and a rather fascinating field, which looks like it’s been carved out of the pines – a sign perhaps that their march is finally on the turn?

Then you begin your descent into La Grande Verriere – pretty well as steep as the ascent. This is marked as a mountain bike route – I’d imagine Autun hospital is well acquainted with broken collar bones.

On the left are some unusually large, soaring pines, broader spaced than usual and unusually impressive, but also some lovely glades of scrub like this …


Finally you’ll get back to the road, at which you turn left and La Grande Verriere is about 10 minutes away.

I’d recommend at this point an ice-cream at Cecile’s – you’ll have earned it! (The map from the mairie, which I was more or less following, Circuit No 3, says this is 9.5km. Seemed to me a bit longer, but that’s probably age… took me about four hours with lost of dawdling and picture taking, but you could certainly do it in three.)

Saut de Gouloux – history, calm and swimming

Saut de Gouloux in the Morvan National Park is a lovely spot where you could combine ice-cream, swimming, views and quite a bit of history. All in a lovely calm environment that just makes you want to sit with your feet in the water and chill.

What’s not to like?

You can follow the short walk from the carpark (300m, or 800m if you go via the viewpoint) to the “jump”, to go for the literal translation of “Saut” – a lovely, powerful waterfall of about 10m or so in height, formed during the Miocene, when the Alps were being pushed up, when the granite at the top and bottom of the wtaerfall slid against each other.

Below it is now an informal pool for swimming – not huge or deep, but enough to get thoroughly wet in, and to enjoy the “spa” effect of the force of all of that water.

To the side is a romantic-looking ruin, although actually it’s only one of two 19th-century mills that were built to take advantage of the water’s power). You can still see the remains of the mill race and the hole in the wall for the wheel’s axle. One specialised in “turnip oil” the signage said … (Google seems to suggest it still exists, though not very often…)

Just downstream on this Caillot River, it joins the Cure.

The bridge over the Cure River, quite spectacular, is 18th century, and its construction was key to opening up this part of the Morvan – before there was only a footbridge.

Then there’s the romantic story, which runs that in 1396 Lord Montenoison, taking advantage of the absence of the Count of Nevers, went to seek the attention of the beautiful Elvis. He failed, and on returning home found the bridge guarded by soldiers and the river swollen by autumn rains, so he rode upstream to the waterfall, where he set his steed to jump the gap. They made it, almost, but the earth beneath the horse’s gave way. The horse still eventually made it. He didn’t. (This Mr Google doesn’t seem to be able to confirm…)

It’s an ideal spot for a picnic – if you fancied getting away a bit you could follow the Caillot down through the pine forest (very springy underfoot), but there’s also a restaurant here built on stilts above the bridge that does a lovely line in ice-creams. Definitely recomment the “intense cassis sorbet!”

* A useful PDF leaflet in English and French.

An August walk in the Morvan forest

France has 15.5 million hectares of forest, the largest area in Europe. And while this is very much a human-shaped environment, it can be gloriously diverse. (And worth remembering that while the this is 80% forest now, early this century it was 50%, and in Roman times 30% …this has all been shaped and reshaped – and sometimes the traces are visible.

First on the road out of town, a dangerous resting point…


(You do see a lot of squashed frogs on the road, but you never seem to hear them…)

More biodiversity – on this single plant, a dozen insects, several large bees, a couple of beetles, some hoverflies…


(Didn’t manage to catch them all in one shot, but there’s at least four insects there.)

Flowering in fields of mauve … this heath-like plant amidst recently planted pines.


(There had been lots of blackberries here, but they’d been slashed down.)

And hard to photograph, but I’m pretty sure that at least one wild pig had visited the stream …


The mud was deeply imprinted — something heavy came this way. (And no it wasn’t a cow – you’re a long way from a cow here.)

And a lovely stream, classic Morvan ripples over granite, although hard to photograph in the shade…


The road turns sharply uphill here, through a very old section – stone piled along its side with beech trees growing on top of it. The road is also a stream, and around the spring that is its source there’s a wealth of moss, lichens and ferns – much faded now, but no doubt in winter they’ll be back to full glory….


A bit of a steep climb, but a lovely view from the top – a range of forestry in action


Turning across the hill, you’re into fairly young deciduous forest, including this artistic beech…

Then there’s a sudden ecological shift to a mature pine forest – the ground underfoot is extremely springy, and the odd animal burrow seems like it could stay for a long time. In the middle is this nest of rocks – it feels very primeval, like some ancient beast should be sleeping within …

Perhaps it had been chewing at this pine – certainly something that taken out its base, and now it’s half-fallen, trapped in suspension by its still-living fellows…

Then I’m back into beech, and this small piece of human history. Anyone able to date this car? (Admit it’s in a pretty bad way.)

Although it should be possible to find out who once owned it…

This is now old, perhaps centuries-old beech forest, with the characteristically wizen, folded, curved trunks – nature as sculptor….


Beech really is a tenacious tree – when it gets knocked down, it just keeps coming back…

Back across the stream – still trickling gaily, then into more deciduous forest, maybe a couple of decades old and including quite a lot of oak, which may explain the profusion of fungal life.

A very yellow toadstool, pushing up through the pretty tight-packed road surface…

And another large and evily slimy example…

More signs of wildlife – definitely a deer track…

And then to this curious patch of clover in the middle of a pine forest – clearly a spring is dampening the ground, but I’ve never seen anything like it…

Here’s a map tracing this walk.

Google reckons it is about a 6km walk – well-shaded for the most part for a hot day, and it took me about three hours with lots of dawdling to look at things, pick blackberries etc…

La Grande-Verriere – history and economics

After a guided walk on the weekend, organised by the local commune, and run by a local guide from St Prix who also works at Bibracte, Marie-Paul, I now have a much better idea of the history of La Grande Verriere.

Its Roman name referred to it as a centre of glassmaking. Finds of Celtic coins show there was probably a settlement here, and glassmaking was probably among its commercial activities. (My personal conclusion was that the centre is likely to have been near the ruined “white mill”, on the main, River Mechet, as I noticed when I was walking there how sanding the riverbanks and bed are, which in my experience is rare in the Morvan.)

There was almost certainly a Celtic oppodium on the hill above the village, above the Roches de Glenne, which then became the site of a large medieval chateau, with a commanding view for many miles around. That was destroyed in the 16th century and now only vestiges of the ditch around it survive. It was an important and rich feudal centre – one of its owners was at the head of a Crusade that left from Vezelay (just up the road). He would have taken half of everything the peasants produced – shades of a book I’ve just been reading.

This area was rich and important in Roman, Celtic and medieval times as a trade centre, being roughly equidistant from the Med, the Atlantic and the English Channel. But now, as Marie-Paul wryly noted, its been bypassed by road and rail links, so is very quiet. (Rather to the better for people seeking peace and quiet!)

The area was only about 30% forest in Caesar’s time – it was rich and developed – and probably 50% at the end of the Second World War, with large amounts of arable farming in the remainder. But depopulation, and the march of the pine forests, mean it is now 70-80% forest, with cattle grazing on most of the remainder.

Tha village now has a bar/paper shop, bakery and a cafe/restaurant with attached small shop, but there used to be a lot more. The butcher’s house is just down the “main road” from the hotel – with the workshop out the back where he used to killed and butcher cattle, and just across is the old blacksmith’s shop. It was apparently left with all tools and materials intact, and was completely transferred to the museum at Le Cresuot. There were also at least two hairdressers!

Many of the town houses have outside steps to the upper floor – that was where businesses such as clogmakers would have been based: a reverse of the tradition Asian shophouse.

The church is 19th century and not very exciting, but it stands where there was a 9th-century original.

we walked up to Le Crot-au-Meunier, the second-biggest settlement in the commune, about 3-4km up into the hills – though you can still hear the church bells most of the time. It’s a hamlet of perhaps 150 houses, a lot o fthem holiday homes, though once it had a school of its own. (Probably 100 years ago, certainly more than 80, since I know someone who went from here to La Grande Verriere for school in the 30s/40s.) Looking at plants along the way, including floxglove, which grows in poor soils.

I’d love to know more – if anyone can point me to print or online sources, in English or French, I’d much appreciate it! (There’s quite a lot of useful links here.)

And here’s what the local paper had to say about the day.

Friendly (mostly) local animal life

He was, I think lost, almost certainly a hunting dog, and very keen on chorizo. And not very well socialised to the idea of relating to humans or to the idea that barging into the house mightn’t be appropriate. He was also very, very wet.

I was struggling to read the (roughly hand-written) telephone number on his collar to call his owner (and yes the French comms would have been a challenge) when a local stopped and offered to help. Said dog last seen disappearing in the rear of his car, shaking himself dry vigorously…

Then there was what I’m going to call a banded grasshopper, to coin a name, with a smaller friend in the background…

And an insect I’m struggling to categorise – maybe a dragonfly relative?

Fruits of the late summer garden…

Well, okay not my apricots – don’t think it is warm enough quite where I am, but my cooking…

But this definitely my home-grown radish…

And what you’d call a serious squash…

And finally what I hope will be a real harvest of Jerusalem artichoke. Certainly the above-the-ground action is looking promising…

L’Alice – wonderful film, wonderful life

To a packed salle de fete in Etang sur Arroux for a showing of a documentary film, L’Alice, a fly-on-the-wall style documentary about the life of a woman farmer in the hamlet of Dront, near Anost, in the Morvan.

Alice Dumont, in this film made between 2006 and 2008, is a widow who runs a traditional farm with her odds job man Pierrot Garnet. (I should preface all of the following by saying that a large part of the French of the film was too colloquial and too fast for me – I mostly got by through looking at the pictures, and while that meant I missed a lot of the laughs, I still got a huge amount out of it, but I may have got some details askew.)

There are ducks and geese and hens, all fed, as Alice tells us, on proper grains, none of that pellet stuff; cattle and sheep (and the scene with Alice massaging the tongue of a milking cow, which chews on her hand as gently and affectionately as a puppy, is an unforgettable image of inter-species understanding); rabbits, a traditional source of protein in the Morvan – there are cages still in my garden; and plentiful vegetables (we see Alice transplanting the lettuce seedlings, hard work at any age). And of course cats and rather plump dogs, and horses around, although apparently no longer in working use.

This is country life – almost no scenes barred from the camera, including animal death and human mourning. It was interesting that the audience, pretty well entirely local, gasped and exhibited shock at the killing of a rabbit by the traditional method here – it was stunned by a punch to the head, having been held upside down until it was still, then the throat cut with a thin-bladed knife. Yet there’s much compassion and care for the animals – Alice practically talks to them and they appear to understand, most notably in a scene where some hens wander through the house.

The audience were interestingly also rather uncomfortable with the making of blood sausages – into pig intestines, then boiled in an outside vat; something that was probably one of the highlights of their parents’ year, and certainly something Alice and her friends much enjoyed.

So the life is fascinating, as a fast-disappearing, but highly sustainable and ecologically sound one (I’d love to be able to put together some of the older people still living this life with some groups I know of that are trying to in effect re-create it from scratch, because I think at the moment there’s little communication, but much that could be learnt).

But it’s also a wonderful human and often also wonderfully funny story. The scene of a cat clambering backwards down a snowy ladder in mid-winter; Alice’s discovery of the accident of ploughing that left lettuce seedlings wandering across the field; neighbours getting together in cheery if rather alcohol-fueled fraternity.

And the total star is Alice herself – her energy and enthusiasm for life are breathtaking. The scene of her chasing at full speed runaway cattle through the forest – well one can only wish to be capable of that at 80. And she’s clearly someone who’s suffered a lot in her life – her husband I gathered was killed in a tractor accident, and since then she’s carried on the vast work of the farm almost single-handed (inside and outside work), with only the rather limited help of Pierre.

She’s utterly unself-conscious in front of the camera – utterly comfortable with herself and who she is – and director Alice Comode has done a wonderful job of bringing it all together. She was at the showing and indicated, I believe, in questions afterwards that Alice died last year –

One Facebook commentary describes the film as “une formidable leçon de vie”, which I think sums it up pretty well. Even if you don’t understand a word of French, it’s a film you could get a lot out of.

More about the film.

Peacock butterfly caterpillars (I think) on my nettles

Seen this afternoon amidst a vast (I’m cutting them down in stages) patch of nettles, the following formidable-looking collection of caterpillars…

Close up…

What seemed surprising was that they were concentrated on a couple of stalks of nettles, although closer examination reveated that close by were a couple of stalks that seemed to have been stripped by them and covered with a spider web-like netting.

There also seemed to be signs of their droppings on some stalks nearby.

I’ve come to the conclusion they are probably peacock butterfly caterpillars, based on the facts that they feed primarily on common nettles, that “large vigorous plants in the middle of nettle beds are often selected” as a place to lay eggs, which fits this description, and they are “very conspicuous in June ” (well it has been a warm year).

Fascinated to read that they hibernate over winter so can live up to 11 months, can fly up to 90km, and that they appear to be doing well out of climate change.

Also nearby was this butterfly, which confused identification, but I don’t think it was related to the caterpillars, just in close proximity to them….

(It’s not really as blue as that picture suggests – the base colour of its wings was really white.)

Do you know what the butterfly is? If so please leave a comment!

Update: Further support for my butterfly identification comes from my copy of Vents Du Morvan, which had an illustration of common Morvan animals, in which the Peacock butterfly is the only butterfly.

Ecouter le Monde… Sculptor Bernard Dejonghe at the Bibracte Museum

When I read that Bibracte Museum was not going to have an archaeological exhibition this year I was disappointed. I much enjoyed last year’s Gallic heads exhibition, and the previous year’s La Tene display, and was looking forward to something similar. (The Museum also traditionally has an annual small modern art exhibition, but I’ll confess none have stuck in my memory.)

But after seeing Ecouter le Monde (Listening to the World), by sculptor Bernard Dejonghe, I am disappointed no longer. To start with it is not just modern art, but it starts, temporally if not physically, in the far distant past, with astonishing curiosities from North African deserts.

Among these are pieces what is known as Libyan desert glass, thought (although this is still a subject of much controversy) to have been formed by meteorite impact some 26 million years ago.

There are also fulgerites, formed by lightning strikes on sand, millions of joules of energy trapped in fragile equilibrium.


And then there’s the grand daddy of geological moment, 77 fragments of the meteorite gathered from Tafassasset in Niger, gathered by the artist over three expeditions and arranged here from largest to smallest like the tail of a comet. The massive heat of the force of the passage through the atmosphere is visible on some of the pieces.
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