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Another wondrous wander into the idyllic land of the 'hunter'.
This time a visit with the family on the invitation of Michel, 'Le Chasseur' (The Hunter) for a fun evening fishing, followed by a 'backwoodsman's' barbeque.
A first visit for my wife, Lucy, and son OJ. Ellis, our 6 year old son, was with us, along with Fabrice and his two children, Marie and Martin.
Another fun-filled excursion amongst the beautiful landscape and extensive waters and grounds of La Loge. All set in the stunning countryside of Forez within the region of Le Roannais. (Visit our previous 'blog' on this amazing place, 'A Day In The Hunting Grounds Of Le Roannais').
Michel's open-ness and welcoming manner makes us all feel at 'home' once again!
Lucy, slightly underdressed in summmer flip-flops, was amazed by the beauty of the scenery and the size of the grounds and the several large lakes.
Not actually a country girl at heart (normally preferring the seductive comforts of 5 star hotel luxury with in-house waiter service), she did actually enjoy the wander along the wooded lanes of La Loge. She even helped and encouraged Ellis to reel in his very first fish!
It was quite late in the afternoon when we arrived at the hunting lodge, and the sun was already low in the sky. The sunlight, glistening and dancing across the still waters, created graphic silhouettes of the trees and reeds against the dimming blue-yellow sky of approaching dusk.
Once the sun had dropped and set into the trees we all lazily trudged back in the balmy warmth of the evening to the lodge, hungry and thirsty, ready for the traditional barbeque.
On our walk back Michel checked a few traps for the infamous 'ragondin' (coypu), or anything else that may have wandered unexpectantly into the hunter's domain!
He then gave the kids a short ride on an old tractor, normally used for various maintenance around the lakes and cutting the grass and hedges down the many lanes that criss-cross their way through this natural paradise.
Almost a dream come true, the kids just loved every minute of it!
I think the images, here, speak for themselves, and seem to reflect a rural age gone by.
And, yet, we can still grasp an occasional 'taste' of the simplicity and honesty of a past way of life by entering the wonderful natural world of 'La Loge'.
How lucky we are! Thanks, Michel!!
My Second Visit In A Month!
Now, we may have come to the end of our family excursion into Michel's country life, but I was encouraged to return later in September for a hunting expedition, and my first 'sleep-over' at La Loge.
So, I continue.
This seemed a great opportunity to get to know the workings of La Loge and its environs a little more, as well as a good introduction to its seasonal hunting activities, and, of course, the reality of its existence and purpose.
Also, it was a good chance to meet up with a few more of Michel's French friends.
Now, my experience of the hunter's art is pretty minimal and limited apart from some fishing, some clay-shooting, and a dawn 'patrol' through the woodlands near Dartmoor with my brother-in-law (an expert, professional hunter) on a deer-hunting (or, I should say, culling) mission.
We were dressed, machismo-style, looking like a cross between a terrorist militiaman and a member of the SAS, and we spent several hours up in the trees in 'hides'.
We saw deer, but none were assasinated! And, apart from some rifle target practice I never shot at anything belonging to the animal kingdom.
So, yes, I've had a little 'taster' of the hunting fraternity, but this trip to La Loge with Michel was my first real 'entrée' (certainly in France, anyway).
I was going on one of their first 'Duck Hunts' of the season.
The weather, once again, was superb. Hot and sunny. I was expecting mosquitoes again!
I had gone prepared, with combat-style jeans, boots, cap, and warm jerkin for the early morning start, along with plenty of repellent! No gun, just my camera!
Michel and I made rendezvous at La Loge during the Saturday evening prior to the hunt the following Sunday.
We went for a walk through the grounds before eating.
As we trudged down the lanes lots of little frogs, like grasshoppers, jumped out of our path.
Across the lake there were hundreds of ducks paddling and flying around amongst the few swans.
Michel fed fish with some old bread – there were multitudes of them, like pirhana, attacking the floating bits of food.
We went on, as the sun set, and Michel checked for early footprint signs of couchon sauvage (wild boar), and also checked traps ( a regular job!).
I was certainly back in the wilderness.
I could here the popping and echo of gunshots from other late evening 'shoots' going on in different parts of the surrounding countryside. A foretaste of things to come.
We eventually made our way back, picking juicy blackberries as we walked.
After a simple meal, and wine, it was early to bed for an early rise!
I entered my allocated room clutching my sleeping bag – I was surrounded by all sorts of stuffed animals – hawks, owls, foxes, deer, and creatures I could only guess at!
These, along with my blood relations, the mosquitoes, would be my night-time companions until the early hours of sunlight rescued me from their deathly stares!
The following morning we were rudely awakened at about 6.00am by heavy banging on the front door and the gruff sounds of dogs barking outside.
This was the first party of eager hunters arriving. In fact, arriving a little too early for Michel's liking.
It was very misty outside. It was going to be a gloriously sunny and hot day, but this would not start until at least 9.00am.
You can't shoot ducks very easily in fog!!
However, we arose and while we drank coffee and ate croissants the rest of the hunting party arrived. In total there were about a dozen of us. Most, literally, dressed to kill!
All with well-oiled shotguns, cartridge belts around their waists, or in rows of small pockets stitched into their hunting jackets. (not quite like mexican bandits, more like paysan mafia gunmen in Sicily)
They were all extremely friendly, convivial, and with a good sense of humour.
At about 8.00am we went off on our first 'shoot' of the day near one of the largest lakes.
It was still misty. There was no chance of shooting anything!
The landscape around the lake in the thinning mist – the reeds, the trees, with the early morning sun trying to burn its way through – was eery, but beautiful. A totally different 'mood' at that early hour.
Results of the first 'shoot' were a little disappointing. Quite a few shots were popped off, but with few hits, and the dogs seemed a liitle edgy. Probably born of frustration, and the enforced delay upon their eagerness to do their job and fetch the fallen prey from the waters.
However, there was a lot of joviality and camaraderie during the proceedings, and a good-humoured wait for the sun to take a hold and the sky to clear.
After an hour we went back to the lodge for a refresher – a glass of white wine – 'Tokay', Alsacienne pinot gris. (These hunters know how to pace themselves!)
Then we were off again to new hunting grounds.
This time I travelled in the back of a van with Michel and a black labrador, in the dark.
After 15 minutes or so the van doors were opened, and as our eyes adjusted to the, now stronger, sunlight we quietly and stealthily stalked our way to another large lake where Michel and I lay in wait while others moved around the outer edges of the lake to then set the ducks to flight towards our guns.
All very exciting, with plenty of gunshots this time, a dozen or more successful kills.
The dogs were fantastic. Obediently leaping into the waters to retrieve the dead ducks.
This time the hunters showed their experience and organisation. It was a success!
We then moved on to another spot, and again Michel and I travelled in the back of the van, and this time with a very wet dog in the dark!!
The next location was a large field behind trees, with the lake on the other side.
There's alot of waiting and anticipation in this hunting game! Another half a dozen kills were achieved. At one point, Michel managed a shot, but the duck wasn't completely dead.
I collected it from the ground. Michel immediately placed the top part of its skull between his teeth and cracked it – the duck went limp immediately. I was a little taken aback.
Michel smiled and said, " Primitive technique!"
Well, after that it was back to the lodge for lunch. One of the hunter's wives had prepared some food for us all. It was great.
They called it a "petite casse-croûte" (a little snack).
Well, it seemed a little more than a snack to me!
Basically, a mixed salad with egg, tomatoes and slices of salmon. Dauphin gratinoise potatoes. Great bread, as usual. Champagne aperitif to start, followed by red wine, cheese, and an ice cream dessert.
Not bad for a 'hunter's' snack!
With the very early start, all the ongoing activity and excitement of the hunt, followed by good food and drink, and all on a very hot day, it was time for a traditional 'siesta'.
Everyone found a space in the shade – sprawled on the grass, in a chair, on a table.
I went back to my scary room, and went out like light for almost an hour!
Then we started again. We went on another two different escapades and locations before the day was done.
The duck count was around 25 – not the best day's shooting, I suspect. But it was seriously great fun, and a brilliant experience for me!
As Michel says, 'La Loge is a rendezvous for friends.' And on this occasion he is most certainly right!
I will be visiting La Loge a few more times in the future, I think!