As Alice Cooper famously said School’s Out for Summer, so, as has recently become a family tradition, it was time to head off to rural France with my wife’s parents, her sisters and their families (8 adults & 7 kids!).
Accommodating that many people usually means renting a large house, generally in the middle of nowhere, which has the benefit of beautiful dark skies but the downside of it being a long trek to the nearest bar! This year we stayed in a fantastic 8 bedroom farmhouse in Languedoc-Roussillon, about a mile from the village of Montreal and 7 miles from the medieval town of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is officially a city but really it is a large(ish) town, the most notable feature being the ancient walled city or citadel which sits on a hill overlooking the new town. This really is a must see and looks like something dreamt up by the ‘imagineers’ of Disney or the creators of the Harry Potter movies, think of a fairy-tale castle and you won’t be far off.
I was surprised to hear that the citadel is France’s second most visited tourist spot, only the Eiffel Tower receiving more visitors! Outside the main tourist spots, Carcassonne is rather a sleepy place, there are some nice shops and restaurants and the Canal du Midi cuts through it, providing some pleasant breezes in the hot summer months, and an opportunity to float along on a boat or barge for a few hours. There is certainly enough to keep you busy for a few days and the town can serve as a base for exploring the surrounding region with its superb vineyards, beautiful villages and medieval castles.
No town dwelling for us however, our farmhouse, Cascaret, sat on it’s own with harvested cornfields, sunflower fields in full bloom and vines all around it.
We were lucky in that the weather forecast was set fair for the week, but the rigours of travel meant that I decided not to attempt any imaging on my first night in France. I did pop out to assess conditions and was pleased to see the Milky Way arching across the sky. The relative proximity of Carcassonne meant that there was a fair degree of light pollution to the east but in all other directions the sky was wonderfully dark.
The baggage restrictions imposed by budget airlines meant that I limited myself to a pretty basic setup of a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR, Samyang 8mm fish-eye lens, Tamron 17-50mm zoom lens, Vixen Polarie Star tracker and Manfrotto tripod, no scopes on this trip!
After a good nights sleep I eagerly unpacked my gear and made the horrible discovery that I had forgotten to pack the connector plate for the tripod! The Star Tracker was out of action, but could I rescue the situation by fashioning something that would mean I could still securely attach the camera to the tripod? Time for some Apollo 13 style improvisation…
After a bit of experimentation I came up with the suitably French idea of fashioning a ‘harness’ for the camera out of strips of cardboard taken from a croissant box and some sticky tape! It worked a treat, though was a bit of a pain as you had to reconstruct it each time you changed the camera battery (something you do pretty often when shooting long exposures or star trails). I could still get my astro photos, which, if I’m honest, is a huge part of the holiday for me, what a relief!
I’ve popped a few of the results below and you can judge for yourself whether the efforts with the croissant box were worthwhile or not, also, when imaging in a cornfield in rural France at one in the morning make sure you wear something more substantial on you r feet than flip-flops!