European Escapades

We Cannot See the Wood for the Trees




Pine forests and stacks of wood for as far as the eye can see Pine forests and stacks of wood for as far as the eye can see.

After our wonderful time wild camping we move off and head for Biarritz, just before heading over the Pyrenees to Spain. The stretch of France from Bordeaux to the Spanish border is one large forest and the style of the houses seems to change as the use of timber becomes more prevalent in the construction of the houses and the roofs get more of a pitch to them. I would love to regale you with beautiful views and wonderful scenery, but we couldn’t see anything for the pine trees, miles upon miles of them. The maritime pines that make up what is the largest forest in Western Europe are used as a commercial enterprise and exploited industrially.

The massive planting of pines began in the ‘Buch’ country to halt the progression of shifting sands and soil remediation in the eighteenth century. You can see by the Great Dune of Pyla, why this establishment of pine forest was probably necessary to save some of the coastal towns. But the planting has resulted in very obvious man made patches where all trees have been planted simultaneously and therefore the trees are the same age and same sizes. For some I guess this was not a welcome change as it also changed the way of life for many who were there before the forest planting. Most of the land now occupied by the Landes forest was actually a wetland, inhabited and worked by a population of sheep farmers. The farmers in this region known as the ‘shepherd Landes’ would use stilts to walk through the wetlands herding their sheep. The agro-pastoral existence they had established, allowed them to take advantage of the moorland, and this way of life was practiced until the massive forestation. So it is not a primal forest at all, although parts of the ‘Landes Forest’ are natural and contain other trees including Oak, Pyrenean, white Oak and Cork Oaks. The plots are covered with large cuts and paths that crisscross the forest for miles. These paths are intended to limit the spread of fires and to facilitate access for the fire fighters that are needed from time. As you drive through the forest, there are multiple traces of thinning, the felling of timber and large stocks of timber piled up along the roadsides. It is also quite scary to see in front of you a large swiftly moving timber truck bearing down on you, as you amble along what at some points, were only describable as dirt tracks with very little passing room.

We did finally leave the forest behind us, and as we pulled into the town of ‘Ondres’ and a very nice camp site called ‘Camping Du Lac’ we were greeted by rain. Although the dampener on the proceedings was the wet weather that we had arrived to, the camp site itself was hosted by a very friendly Dutch woman on the reception and we felt welcome immediately. As we parked up and confirmed we had all our necessary provisions with us, like plenty of bread and wine, we knew it was not going to be a wander around the town that afternoon as it normally was. So we stayed in the van doing blog posts etc. as the site WiFi was offered to us at a reasonable price and was also accessible from the van.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 at 3:06 pm and is filed under Travel Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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