For the next part of trip we journeyed inland to the heart of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region in France. Our french country farmhouse, Les Vieux Chênes was set upon a hilltop overlooking the fields and vineyards of the Jurancon wine region and framed by the distant snow topped peaks of Pyrénées. The main centre of activity in the area is the the town of Pau which was located about half an hour from the farmhouse so we picked up fresh daily supplies from either the small town of Monein or the village of Navarrenx both of which were about 10 minutes away.
Our rented part of the 18th century Bearnaise french manor farmhouse was separated from the owner occupiers via a walled courtyard, but with the houses orientated in opposite directions to each other, our section of the house felt very private. The large swimming pool in the back garden provided a relaxation area after a days exploration, but with the poor recent weather was a little chilly resulting in a single lap of the pool the entire trip.
Being situated at the top of a hill, the area provided opportunities for some nice post-dinner strolls as well the chance to photograph the sunset. We had add only about two clear evenings so I was slightly limited in what I could capture. The skies were generally clear so it was not fire in the sky type of sunsets, but nonetheless the light was soft and warm. As I mentioned in the introduction, the farmhouse is located in the Jurancon wine region and I was sure the fields of vines would be the perfect subject for my sunset.
I bought a new tripod specifically for this holiday. I wanted a compact lightweight tripod which I could throw in my small messenger bag for day trips and to use at such times as sunset. I bought the Slik Mini II as it folds down to the tiny size of 350mm and weighs only 780g. I was under no illusions as to the performance of the tripod. I would not use this was a heavy lens, windy conditions or in seas or rivers as it is too lightweight and flimsy to cope with these demands, but for travel it is better than the tripod you leave at home. I generally shoot pretty low with my regular tripod so I was not overlay concerned at the max height of 1.09m of this tripod. However, for some of the shots below I was struggling to get the height I needed to clear fences and roadside ditches to get the composition I wanted. However for the sunburst below, I managed to get the tripod wedged on a fence post with enough sturdiness to rattle off some bracket exposures.
As well as posting my photos on my website, I like to produce photo books as a memoir of my trips. The more trips I go on, generally the better my books become as I have started thinking about my book while I am travelling and end up shooting photos specifically for the book. On their own these shots tend to be quite simple and wouldn't normally make it up on the website or social media. but when combined in as part of a series of images or spread, really help to tell the story of the area. My time relaxing by the pool, the walks and kicking about the house definitely helped this aspect. My lasting feeling from the area was the rural nature and landscape, so I wanted to capture some of the details of this for my book such as tractors, livestock and anything else that would help embody this feeling It was also nice having a private garden in which I could relax, take my time and experiment with my photography. This was definitely the case was the lizard that lived in the barbecue. To this day I still don't know how I noticed the lizard sticking his small head out of a hole in the barbeque. It must have been a my glimpse of movement that I caught my eye while I having my breakfast al fresco. Equipped with a maximum focal length of 70mm it was a massive challenge to get a close up shot. Any time I got near he would disappear into his hole and I would have to retreat and wait. I think it took about a hour of cat and mouse and letting the lizard get used to me and the noise of the shutter, but I eventually got close enough to get the shot I was after. During this time, his friends from the patio also came out to play and I ended up laying on my stomach on the ground to shoot them. Hence the benefits of the private garden. This was something I would unlikely do or have the time to do if I was in public!
The area was rich with wildlife and I enjoyed sitting on my sun lounger watching the buzzards circle above. My wildlife highlight was a black woodpecker. Covered in a jet-black plumage with the exception of a red mohican contrasting against a sharp white eye and chisel like beak, I was alerted to this bird by its high-pitched shrieking call. It is no wonder that the woodpecker is often type-cast and characterised as a villan. I was a massive fan of Woody Woodpecker as a kid, hence I got a real kick out of seeing one of these amazing birds in the flesh. Looking out the bedroom window I quickly spotted it in a tree, but it didn't hang around for long. The bird hopped over to the next tree to give it's a quick demonstration of its trademark drumming and then it was gone. I maintained a vigil for the rest of the trip, but that was my one and only sight of this fantastic bird.
I think this series will end up covering about four and five parts in total. The next blog, Part 3 of the series, will explore some of the towns and villages of the area including Pau, Lourdes and St Jean Pied de Port.