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Empty Your Attics!

There are many reasons for visiting the Morvan. There is fishing. There are water sports. Caves for sightseers and serious cavers. Glorious scenery. History and archaeology. Food and wine.

Concerts, organised rambles, guided tours of ancient monuments. Refreshingly few tourists and no shopping malls but a great many markets. Every community has a weekly market featuring, typically, fruit, vegetables, honey and cheap shoes. On the second Tuesday of every month our nearest town, Corbigny, holds a monthly market on the Champ de Foire, with everything from watch batteries through live poultry, bedding plants and sausages to cheap jewellery. The Tout à 1 euro stall is popular with children and with housewives in search of wooden spoons, picnic plates and darning wool.Less well known are the Morvan’s answer to the British car boot sale, village fête or antiques fair: the vide-greniers, brocantes, foires and fêtes. Most sizeable villages host an annual event, usually advertised on line and in the local free magazine, Le Criquet. I shall never forget the Fête du Bois, which featured seriously macho lumberjacks sculpting tree stumps with chainsaws. There are ploughing exhibitions – both with tractors and with heavy horses. There are livestock shows with beautifully groomed white Charolais cattle on display in the street. The Fête de la Châtaigne majors in chestnuts, there are numerous flower, fruit and wine events, and of course there are spring, summer, autumn and Christmas fairs with beautiful handmade gifts.

Vive les vide-greniers!

Ebay has not yet caught on here, and people moving house or clearing up after a death have three choices. They can donate their unwanted stuff either to the Christian charity Emmaus, who can arrange to collect bulky items like Granny's wardrobe , or to a local charity shop. We are a sociable crowd in the Morvan, however, and many people choose the third option: they offer their stuff for sale in a local vide-greniers or brocante.

Un grenier is an attic and vider is to empty. Une brocante is similar; the dictionary definition of brocante is, prosaically, ‘secondhand goods’ and the French equivalent of Lovejoy is Louis la Brocante. Think car boot sale, but with trestle tables along the village street and around the village square. Even an event billed as, say, a Foire du Terroir, majoring in local produce, usually includes a vide-grenier/brocante.

This being the Morvan, there will be food and drink and camaraderie. There may well be a roundabout or a bouncy castle for the children. There is stuff there that I would be ashamed to admit to owning, but there are treasures among the trash. If you collect old china, table linen and knick-knacks, a vide-grenier is your hunting ground. When someone dies the family share out what they want and flog the rest at the next vide-grenier. As longevity is the rule in the Morvan, there are bygones and antiques among the junk. Fewer dealers haunt the Morvan than the more populous areas, and there are ‘finds’ that would rate a spot on The Antiques Road Show.

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Several years ago our friend Nicole paid a euro for an old leather-bound notebook filled with spidery writing in French, Italian and English. Nicole asked me to translate the English entries. I was entranced. This was a ‘commonplace’ book compiled between 1810 and 1820 by Sylvester Douglas, Lord Glenbervie.

Wikipedia, while not always trustworthy, offers a reliable biography.

I emailed the Scottish National Library, who did not know of the book’s existence and wanted it very much indeed. I scanned and emailed the entire work for them, but the original is still with Nicole, who refuses to part with it, although the book has no commercial value.

Sometimes the same old junk appears at several vide-greniers. People setting up home prospect for crockery, linen and cookware. I plead guilty to paying a euro or two for pure linen sheets, beautifully hemstitched and monogrammed a century or more ago, which I cut up to make tablecloths, etc to embroider. What tales they could tell! When I was equipping Charity Cottage I haunted vide-greniers with a wish list, and often struck lucky.

The annual Le Jardin Dans La Rue at St Père, 15 minutes’ drive from us, is a cut above the usual vide-greniers and has its own website: www.saint-pere.fr

One meets the vide-greniers crowd there, but there is a lot more going on. The Troc Vert is a Mecca for gardeners who enjoy swapping plants and expertise.

Faire du troc is to barter or swap and has nothing to do with Le Trocadéro, the square opposite the Eiffel Tower, more’s the pity.

There is local produce, from andouillettes (a sausage based on pig intestines, and definitely not for the squeamish) to wine and cheese. There is a pottery workshop (make your own pot and have it fired in return for a donation to charity), and countless activities for children. Origami and photo exhibitions in the church crypt. The entries for the Decorated Hats competition are on show in the church, and an action-packed day ends with a free concert, also in the church. Our knowledgeable friends plan their visits to the Morvan around this event – Sunday June 8 2014.

Together with husband John, Rosemary Border Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy in 2005, where few other Brits have ventured. Rosy's chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday cottage which she runs in aid of Combat Stress. The holiday cottage, in their garden at Maré le Bas in the Morvan, has its own website, www.charity-cottage.org.uk which has links to Combat Stress. They are taking bookings for 2014. Every penny goes to Combat Stress, who mention Charity Cottage on their own website, www.combatstress.org.uk

Rosemary Border Rabson

In 2005 Rosemary Border Rabson and husband John Rabson emigrated to the Morvan in rural Burgundy, where few other Brits have ventured. Their chief preoccupation is Charity Cottage, a holiday home-from-home in their garden at Maré le Bas which they run in aid of Combat Stress (money donations) and Help for Heroes (free accommodation). Since 2012, when Charity Cottage won the Daily Telegraph’s Best British Charity award, the total amount raised for Combat Stress, comprising UK royalties and donations from visitors to Charity Cottage, is nudging £10,000.

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