For once, we didn’t go through our usual “two days or three days to head north” debate as we approached time to leave Fanjeaux. With a combination of an almost dead lake and frequent winds, we both felt it was time for a change of scenery. A farewell committee of seven faithful camping regulars was dockside to hug us and wave us off as we hitch up Guillaume and set sail. After pausing up at the farm itself to bid adieu to our friendly hosts, Luc and Nadine, we were on the road and heading towards the Toulouse ring road by 8:30 AM.
Normalement, the clear blue skies over fields of tournesols [sunflowers] would have made us wish we were staying longer but we sailed along with only a light wind – and that in the helpful direction – with only light traffic. Leaving Fanjeaux frequently means fighting a strong headwind which makes for tiring driving with Guillaume on the back putting up a stern resistance. And where were all the trucks? Even the commercial traffic seemed light.
With the cruise control set at truck speed, we made good progress and it was clear we’d be able to cover sufficient ground for a stop of two nights somewhere en route north. A little more than half way up the centre of France and not too far from the autoroute lies a blissfully rural, wildlife-rich area called La Brenne, more formally the Parc Naturel régional de la Brenne, an old favourite of ours. There was little debate, though we tried to force one – two nights here would be just the ticket, especially as we’d be able to refresh our memories after our 2-year gap and do a bit of research for a potential dragonfly-spotting trip being mooted by our local natural history society. They seem to want my input! 😯
Our usual campsite at the Villages Vacances Nature beside the Etang de Bellebouche would be best described as adequate – the pitches were decent enough but the sanitary facilities had been particularly dated and tired. We went into the acceuil [reception] where I launched into my well practiced French to check in. “I’m English” said the delightful young girl who met us, “you can speak English if you like”. I sent Francine off to find our pitch, pocketed Miss Delightful’s numéro de téléphone [just kidding], paid up then dragged Guillaume after Francine.
Shock #1: this was 3rd July and, as we drove into the campsite itself, we spotted just two other units pitched up, one tent (British) and one caravan (French). I’d approached fully expecting the site to be relatively busy. Where was everyone?
Considering the enormous choice, Guillaume Francine picked a spot quite swiftly, though I did foolishly position Guillaume 1ft/30cms too far to the right and had to move him. 😀
A few changes had occurred during our two year gap. Though the tired/dated old sanitaires still existed on the campsite itself, a new block had been erected just outside the field. Why outside? We suspect it is primarily for those attending other events which are staged here, such as events hippiques [horse events]. We’re used to campsites claiming to have heated shower blocks but these had gone an extra kilometre – these were air-conditioned! Three camping units now on-site, 29°C outside, air-conditioning running inside … and the door was wide open. Terrific! The shower room looked more like a team changing room with a large space given over to bench seating and less space for the actual shower cubicles, of which there were 7 or 8, each of which was very tight on space. Worse, not one of the shower cubicles provided a single hook – there was nowhere to hang a towel or clothing other than over the cubicle door frame. Even more terrific!
Shock #2: worse changes (from my point of view) were soon revealed. For me, this site is historic in that it’s where I took my first ever dragonfly photo, many years ago, before my digital camera and before any interest obsession in dragonflies had developed. A few years ago when my obsession had developed, we discovered a couple of small fishing lakes behind the campsite that proved to be a rich in Odonata, getting us several firsts and a total species count of around 17. With the sun shining, we wandered off to make use of the ideal conditions. We gazed in horror at the first lake which was all but drained of water, with land plants growing on ground which two years ago had been under water. One corner contained sluice gates which must have been opened to drain this much. Whereas we used to disturb dragonflies and damselflies with every step taken, we now saw just a handful hanging on in the now meagre habitat.
Worse was yet to come. We continued to the second of these lakes to be faced by no water at all, just something resembling a large sand and gravel pit that was now home to a bulldozer rather than any dragonflies. I felt like weeping.
Being an intentional eradication of two habitats (for what purpose, we know not as yet), this feels worse than the accidental degradation of farmer Luc’s habitat at Fanjeaux which, given an improved management strategy, would doubtless recover. This will not, there are clearly plans afoot which mean it is gone forever.
There are said to be 1000 lakes in La Brenne – well, 998 now, I suppose – so in the big order of things this is probably not a tragedy. There is still very rich wildlife habitat in La Brenne. Due to our personal history here, however, it feels like a bit of a disaster at the moment.