Last summer, travelling through France, I wish I could remember where this was, the first of many half-timbered buildings encountered en route. I love this style of vernacular architecture. They seem so obviously hand-made, constructed from local materials, a natural part of the landscape. More analogue than digital, I started to think of them almost as organic sculptures.
I think this place was some kind of ornithological study centre, but not open to the public. I wandered around exploring until I was told, nous sommes fermés, we are closed. Ironically, despite the hand-built ethic, these nesting boxes appeared to be prefabricated. A kind of birdhouse apartment block.
Our first overnight stop was Soulaines-Dhuys, east of Troyes, where we stayed in an old watermill. The village was full of half-timbered buildings and rich in examples of rustic barefoot carpentry.
We spent our second night close to the Swiss border at Valentigney. As we ate breakfast the next morning we heard a loud cracking sound from the garden and the swoosh of branches falling to ground. Outside we found a half-timbered apple tree, silent now though we were still listening.
Nearby we found a drawing of a tree where a climber used to be, its echo when torn from the wall.
Then later, on our return journey, we stopped off at Lac du Der for a walk along its shore.
And back to a village we’d come through on our way down. I was determined to take a closer look this time round. It was built almost entirely of wood, there were walls of logs everywhere. This particular house was so beautiful, its construction so simple and direct, I was almost inspired to paint again.
This place was not on the usual tourist circuit. As I walked around with my camera I started dogs barking with every shot I took. Every property was protected either by guard dogs or by guard geese.
Or by an electric fence. I lowered my arms to line up this photo and my wrists came down on the wire with a surprising shock. The camera bounced out of my hands, electrocuted. I’d overlooked the fence.
I was a snooper, looking for the overlooked, but I got my comeuppance.
Then later, I was reminded of drawings our girls had made more than twenty years before.
Lottie Hamer, Rye, July 1992.
Maura Hamer, Rye, July 1992.
And then this beautiful half-timbered car waiting on the street.