After waking up, Rhea, Will and I discover that 3am is rather late to go to bed and life is hard afterwards if you do this (I’m just thankful we’d run out of wine, at this point). Rhea and I hug in the kitchen: “Rhea, I can’t justify eating meat”, I say – “Yeah, I can’t justify abolishing the concept of family either, really” (you had to be there – Rhea’s Brave New World vision is all kinds of terrifying, I suspect she reads too much sci-fi).
It’s market day out the window, so eventually we venture outside; predictably, there is a lot of tourist-attracting tack and typical products. It seems the entire local production revolves around making things out of walnuts (walnut oil walnut cake walnut liqueur walnut biscuits walnut pate walnut wine walnutwalnut walnuts WALNUTS), and killing all the ducks in the world. Will is being led around the market by Heather who’s finding all of the free samples (apparently the walnut aperitif tastes like sherry); meanwhile Rhea and I are scouting all the restaurant menus for vegan options. There are none. It’s the worst possible French region for vegetarians, let alone vegans. All the things have dead duck in them, or at the very least major amounts of cheese. The two “vegetarian menus” we find have salmon (!).
Meanwhile, it appears that Heather has managed to convince mushroom-hating Will to spend eight euros on a single truffle, “to taste”, despite the fact that both Hev and I have previously established that we do not like truffles (in the interest of fairness I will admit now that days later when we do taste it, it’s actually really nice). Rhea’s impressed with the massive white asparagus that the French favour and buys a kilo of it – Will meanwhile has weathered last night’s debate on meat eating much better than me (presumably he’s used to it) and happily buys a dry sausage. Then it’s time to select one of the imperfect restaurant offerings and attempt to make it vegan; Rhea ends up with a gigantic mound of fresh salad ingredients all chopped up together to make up for the absence of the cheese which would have graced the original recipe. I have a mushroom omelette and Will and Hev have a three course dead-duck-based meal, and I’m not even tempted (although duck’s not my favourite, so yeah, easy). Eliza’s exhibiting her usual impatience with three course meals and we take it in turns to get up and round the shop opposite the restaurant a few times during the meal. The lady sat behind us seems quite disgusted that we’d dare bring a baby to a restaurant, so I spend many minutes hovering by her table with a radiant smile and making Eliza’s hand wave at her cutely, just to annoy her a bit more, the old sour cow.
In the afternoon, I’m worried about the weather and campaigning to visit the prehistory museum in Les Eyzies, but the others want to space out the cave-based things evenly through the week so they vote for Marqueyssac garden, which have been recommended by my parents. Eliza’s finally asleep so we’ve pushing the pram up the hill from the car park to the garden, which is perched atop a long rock promontory– the view is already totally glorious, over the impressive town of Beynac with its castle atop a rock face, verdant fields, the Dordogne river and the big-ass medieval fortress of Castelnaud a few kilometres away all decked up in flowing red banners. Unfortunately as we reach the top after getting our tickets, it starts to hammer it down with rain almost immediately – that’s kind of lucky, as it turns out, because had we been halfway down the garden there would have been no shelter. We shun the manor house which is already packed with bedraggled wet people, and stand wetly under the awnings of the little tea room watching the rain come down.
It comes down for a long time. In the end we opt for a cup of tea inside; somehow the baby is still asleep! Finally, the rain lets up, and we start up a lovely path framed by snaking patterns of rosemary and lavender plants. We’re going for the “cliff path”, which goes along the edge of the garden; we’re almost alone, there are more glorious views all along on our right and a rock face covered with vegetation and interesting little paths going up it from time to time.
At the top (and the tip) of the garden is a belvedere looking over the Dordogne and La Roque Gageac, another of those impossibly pretty villages that seem to dot the whole region. From there we wander towards the heart of the garden, at the very top, through forested paths like tunnels of green.
We stumble upon some black netting, a “pathway through the treetops”! Eargerly Hev and I throw ourselves in (Hev has vanquished her fear of heights so now she’s all over anything involving heights); Rhea follows although she’s not such a fan of the heights. Will remains stuck with the pram and the sleeping baby, bless him! The netting is extensive, it turns out – over a hundred metres in length, high up in the trees, it’s great fun.
When we get to the end, Hev and I can’t resist having another go with Will, and we wrestle in there and throw each other down in the net laughing. In fact, we’re in there for so long that by the time we start down the path back to the manor house it’s pretty much closing time, but nobody’s around to hurry us up so we meander down the green paths, spotting birds, flowers and even a tiny frog (I pick it up to show Eliza and it jumps from my hand onto the ground where it lay kinda still for a while afterwards and Rhea glares at me for hurting it – but it’s not hurt at all and jumps happily away after all, phew!).
At the foot of the manor house is the best bit of the garden – an area of shaped boxwood hedges all in curves and bobbles and waves of vegetation. Rhea is jumping about excitedly repeating “we found the bobbly bits of Marqueesey-sack!” (correct pronunciation “Mar-kay-sack” by the way), there are peacocks strutting about, the light is golden yellow, it’s a pretty magical moment.
A short moment later after going via the loo then getting the cleaning lady to open the gate for us to let us out (we’re that late), we find ourselves on the car park, ecstatic and grinning. “Where’s the car key?” quips Heather happily? “You have it”, I reply, “you locked the car”. “So I did” she replied, patting at her pockets unconcernedly. Ten minutes later we’ve patted everybody’s pockets, opened all the bags and strewn all their contents around the car, stripped the pram – no car keys. Heather remembers that she’d placed the keys in pretty much the most stupid place she could’ve chosen: out of the closed bags, the zipping pockets of our rain jackets, or even the buttoned pocket on her trouser leg, she’s chosen the flowy, gaping pockets of her flowy woven trousers – and then frolicked in the netting in the forest. I am aghast. The gardens are closed. The gates are locked, the car is the only one left in the car park, the place is isolated in the middle of the countryside.
Rather fuming, I leave Rhea and Heather with a hungry Eliza in the car park and stroll back fuming towards the park – Will offers to come with me, because he’s lovely and Rhea’s keeping the supremely sheepish Heather company by the car. We find an open outbuilding where a young employee is finishing his day’s work by emptying out a pile of cardboard boxes from a wagon; when I explain what’s happened his face falls – he’s going to have to stay and try to help us find the keys. We start at the loo, but of course, no luck… The man shares my pessimism regarding the chances of finding a small black plastic fob among the massive stretch of greenery ahead… But we set off nonetheless towards the very bloody top of the garden – the netting – at a pace I can only describe as “breathless”. The guy is reeling off all the other stupid shit people get up to in the garden, and we nod sheepishly, unable to speak due to practically running to keep up. We reach the netting and spread out to look – the whole length of the treetop adventure, we look – nothing. In the end, there’s a little square of netting close to the ground where Hev jumped in order to get stuck in there on purpose; I check it hopelessly, and there it is! The key fob. At the furthest point possible from the car. I can’t believe we found it, I feel giddy with relief, everything looks beautiful suddenly. The dude keeps shaking his head in disbelief as we run back down to the car, the empty garden settling into dusk around us, Will and I grinning like idiots the whole way. We leave the employee alone with a sizeable tip, to finally go home over an hour late, and return to the car as heroes.
The mood is of exuberant joy after narrowly missing such a major boo-boo, and we decide to celebrate by eating out at the only restaurant we’ve seen listed on the Internet as having a vegan menu! It’s a three course meal in a quite fancy restaurant, and the vegan food is delicious (I deviate from the vegan dessert in order to luxuriate with chocolate profiteroles, my favourite childhood dessert – these make me utter slightly inappropriate sounds, they’re so delicious).
Altogether a rather excellent day is had by all!