(This entry should follow on from Great Finds in Fortified Farmhouses – je m’excuse).
Bowling on northwards I see a big sign for Antiquités. Following a narrow road down the side of a forest I find the tiny hamlet of Lernay. Placards and signs indicate that Lernay is up in arms against les aeoliennes – a new word for me – wind turbines are proposed nearby. I drive up to another high walled stone farmhouse with square tower. By good fortune Monsieur and Madame, an elderly couple, are returning home in their small white van and Monsieur is opening up the massive wooden gates. May I come in? I call out. Monsieur checks with Madame, who gives a curt nod, and I am permitted entry. A door leads directly off from the vaulted stone porch and Monsieur bustles in to switch on lights in the high, dark beamed room, with one small cob-webby window and dusty steps leading up somewhere. He stands back to let me in. I actually want to stop and oggle a bit at the building, but feel Madame’s glinty stare on me from the house. It is very clearly her business! An oil painting of a town square attracts my eye, bold colours, big, confident brush strokes. A lovely chestnut table has a patch on it exactly the shape of an old smoothing iron – an echo of someone’s calamitous ironing session!
I need extra funds to buy the painting and am directed to Montreuil-Bellay a few kilometres away. What a fabulous small town with chateau perched on the edge of a valley. It is Monday so most places are shut, but I have a coffee on a hotel terrace looking up to the chateau and find a florist who has beautifully decorated her shop with brocante – café tables, jugs, napkins, rusty tins planted with little plants! I bought a small mirror with a fronton from her.
Arriving back at Lernay I turn the van around in the lane and three white goats pop their heads round a barn door to watch. Monsieur appears from across the lane brushing the mud off his hands, “j’étais dans mon potager,” he says. I buy the painting and am looking inside a vast old armoire in the porch, full of dusty things but with no prices. Madame arrives to tell me that I am rummaging in her reserve stock! I humbly apologise. It’s getting late and I am still south of the Loire – I take the autoroute with radio warnings of a wild boar on the loose, and get to Ouistreham for dinner and the 23h ferry.