The margins of the Val du Thouet have been fertile grounds for houblon sauvage in the past few years. I’ve harvested more than I can reasonably use in years gone by and last year had a great haul with my pops down at the river. Indeed, I’d used those hops in an early brew this year where we made a beer together. A great day.
So, fast forward to this autumn and an email from my brewer chum Yann that he’d be delighted if we’d come and get his hop harvest in… and we can have all the hops we can carry. Really? You need to ask twice?
So a 5:30 am start as that morning we wanted to see the Balloon festival up in Thouars. We went, it was superb and then we trundled down the road to the rendezvous spot.
What was awaiting us?
A farm that used to actively cultivate the noble European hops Strisselspalt and Saaz between the wars but had long since stopped. The legacy is generations of wild/self seeded varietals all along the side of alluvial flood meadows. Unbelievable quantities of them. All gratis.
That’s a few snaps from the day. The full set is up on flickr as usual. What you don’t see is the heroic amount of effort that Joan put into the picking and processing for the next five days. When I landed back I had plenty of little vacuum packed sachets of hops ready for the freezer. Superb.
We check the website and set off early. A 7:30 for 8.00 lift-off is planned. So, we’re up at 5 and on the road in good time.
As we approach the site we pass first one, then a group of three or four, then in the end about 20 balloon vehicles, baskets, trailers full of their canopies and other assorted retrieve vehicles… all going the other way.
We speak to the first marshal at the entrance.. are the balloons taking off from here this morning? “Oui, bien-sur!”
Riiiiight. Not sure we believe what we’re being told but we park up anyway and head towards the racecourse. The same levels of chaos, disorder and all round poor management ruled like in the previous year . How is it possible to so badly inform the marshalls? A simple daily briefing and there’d be a small chance of it being professionally run. Oh well.
So, our third marshall knows what’s going on and no, we’re in quite the wrong place, the balloons are taking off from Curçay Sur Dive and that’s a good 20 minutes away. We join the throngs of people who are returning to their cars to go and chase off after the launchsite.
Finally, we make it.
And then… the balloons are inflated and silently drift off en-masse with a magnificent sky as the backdrop. Standing in the fields of spent barley it was breathtaking. Life rarely presents opportunities to stand and contemplate something so magnificent… it was well worth it. We watched 30 balloons take off and then saunter their way across the fluffy pillows of the morning skyscape. It was awesome and more than a little bit breathtaking.
That odd balloon looked so forlorn against the sky, we waved them au-revoir and then moved on as it was only the beginning of a superb French Dimanche.
I’ve been doing a little work in the UK on behalf of the UK banks and based in and around Northampton for the last few weeks. A civic art scheme has been underway over the summer and it’s been running in parallel with my visit. The subject? Lions!