It’s high summer here in the Pyrenees and that means it’s time for the fetes. Almost every village seems to have one sometime over the summer, often rooted in some ancient tradition.
Actually, it’s not just France. Just before leaving the UK, we were staying in the village of Ditchling in Sussex. It’s a wonderful olde worlde hamlet nestled at the foot of the South Downs amid spectacular countryside.
The event was the 700th Ditchling Fair – yes, 700th! The key activity, apart from a lot of drinking on the Saturday night, was the ‘Jack and Jill Race’. It takes place up the steep high street in the middle of the village, which is closed to vehicles during the race. Competitors run in pairs to the top of the high street and back down again… while carrying a bucket of water. And the metal bucket has holes in the sides so water leaks out.
The idea is for the pair of runners to hold the bucket between them while they sprint. The run is timed and extra points scored for the amount of water left in the bucket on arrival at the finish. Oh, and you have to wear fancy dress.
This year’s winners were ‘International Rescue’. Yes, two grown men dressed head to foot in pale blue skin tight uniforms from the kid’s TV puppet series. With sharp little hats. It’s all very English.
Which gave our first French fete, in the local town of Biert, quite a lot to live up to. How about Fete de la Croustade? Fete of the Fruit Pie. The English would probably end up having a competition to guzzle as many as possible in 10 minutes, but the French are far too dignified for that.
No, the Fete de la Croustade was an evening affair in a marquee at the back of the town. We walked along, spent a few minutes watching the proceedings, then bought our pie – pear – and a bottle of local white wine before joining the locals at one of the trestle tables. In between the wooden tables was a clear area in the middle.
After a few minutes a local band came on singing Country & Western songs. My first thought was that this would go down like a mistimed souffle but no. Half the village population got up to line dance! Not the young ones, of course. They were waiting for the serious rock band to come on later. But a whole bunch of the middle aged and older Biertonians strutted their stuff to fairly good renditions of Dolly Parton.
We bumped into a couple of people we knew. The guy we’d bought the house off, and who was trying again with a more remote property. The guy who owned a gite we’d stayed in high up on a plateau above Biert. He had re-built a ruined stone barn into a very nice, neatly finished two-person gite with stunning views and great walks. The only downside was the approach road up a steep unmade track that needed a serious 4×4.
We left just after the serious band came on, complete with flashing lights and giant speakers. We love rock music but find it hard to stay awake much after 9pm these days. Our days are filled with work (to earn money) and work (on the barn)!
Local fetes are usually advertised on flyers and posters so keep an eye out, or check the various tourist offices.
Photos from the Biert Fete de la Croustade