Tuesday, 30 October 2012


Avenas, in the hills of Haut-Beaujolais, is never livelier than on an autumnal Sunday morning. Convoys of trail bikes thump past, riders as gaudily armoured and accoutred as  knights of old. Big 4x4s park up along the road, with corrugated kennels bolted onto the back for the hunting dogs. As I rootled about at the front of the house, the jingling of bells heralded the arrival, not of a herd of goats, but of a sedate beagle, in company with a weekend warrior, a stout gentleman in his sixties, clad in camouflage and webbing, puffing on his pipe and jauntily swinging his 12-bore shotgun.

 Fortunately, as I was not wearing a bell, I'd already taken my own walk up the hill on Friday. Harebells were still in flower, and there were berries all around; and lots of fungus, including this fine parasol mushroom that had evaded the hunter gatherers.

...and lots of Fly Agaric, looking rather beautiful. By the way, did you ever hear of a book called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross? -Christ as a magic mushroom.... one of those culty books of the 70s.

"Anne's son was in Scotland, and he found lots and lots of mushrooms," said Marta. "He asked the locals if it was OK to pick them, and they said 'Go ahead! We never eat those things!' So he filled two rucksacks with them, hitched to Paris and sold them for lots and lots of money. Went back, every autumn. Paid his way through university with those mushrooms."

They do take their mushrooms far more seriously than we do. In Cluny, a hall was full of tables covered in loads and loads of different species, dutifully labelled and described.

...and the experts were on hand to pick through the offerings brought by visitors.