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One thing that I've started to notice as that as we've come out of the mountains around the fjord, there are a great many signs of intensive agriculture, and that has taken me by surprise.

cattle agriculture saguenay fjord highway 172 quebec canada mai may 2012

There are plenty of cattle here for example, and seeing as how I thought that this was something unusual (because with knowing nothing at all about the area before I came here, I hadn't been expecting this), I took a photo of them.

I told them that I would send them the royalties once the photos are published, but they will probably all be turned into beefburgers long before that happens.

There was a considerable number of baby cows there too
... "bullocks" - ed ...
No, honestly. I know what I'm talking about.

Not only that, we had men driving tractors carrying bales of hay around the place and when you look at the countryside here, the long flat meadows stretching away for miles, they are more-than-likely putting everything that they have got into growing hay for winter fodder for the animals.

It seems to be something that they go into in a big way too. One farm along here has piles of hay-making machinery parked outside in the yard.

Goats too. I've just driven past a farm that has a herd of goats, and no buts about it. Intensive agriculture seems to be quite the thing here in this sheltered valley.

That's not all of it either. Some silly old goat on a quad has just come roaring out from a farm entrance without even a passing glance and missed me by millimetres.

He had the benefit of the full blast of the horn on the Dodge, which probably made him soil his armour, and also the full benefit of my rather extensive vernacular French when I pulled alongside him. It would have served the silly badger right if I had squidged him.

As an aside, I should mention that I worked as a chauffeur in a pool of Francophone chauffeurs in Belgium for a number of years, and thanks to them I picked up a good deal of this vernacular French, the kind of terms and phrases which you would never be taught at school. These terms and phrases have come in quite useful during my travels around the Francophone world.

A little further along the dirt road I notice that there's a 55kph speed limit here. I can't say that I had seen it before so I've no idea whether or not it applies to the full length of the road.

One thing that I can say however is that there are one or two places along here where you don't want to be doing much more than that.

Leaving the agricultural belt behind (only briefly, as it subsequently turns out), we suddenly hit the tarmac road. And to be quite frank, I think that the dirt road we have just left was a far smoother ride than this it. That's not the first time that I've said that either.

Very quickly, we find some more agriculture and in this lovely, warm and glorious sun that has just come out, the day is turning out to be rather nice. Much better than it looked when I awoke this morning.

Here as we are about to arrive at Lac-St-Jean, which is a huge stretch of water sheltered from the north wind in a deep valley in the Canadian Shield, everything in the way of agriculture that I have seen makes me wonder if this area has its own little micro-climate.

Water is a good heat-store and it's quite often a couple of degrees warmer in winter than the surrounding air. A huge lake in a sheltered valley such as this would make something of a difference to the weather.

I could well be right too because I'm beginning to encounter grass and lawns and gardens, all that kind of thing. All of the trappings of suburbia in fact. Civilisation cannot be far away

commercial greenhouse garden centre saguenay fjord highway 172 quebec canada mai may 2012

And even as we speak, look what I have now stumbled across. It's a commercial greenhouse complex selling plants and so on, all kinds of stuff. I have to say that if I were a greenhouse in this part of Canada I would probably have a complex too.

I button-hole the manager of the site and she tells me that the kind of thing that she mainly sells are annual plants, flowers and that kind of thing, or else plants in tubs that can be taken inside when the winter arrives.

As for food crops and vegetables, she recommends crops that either need a very short growing season, such as cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and so on, or else cabbages and that kind of thing that are very very rigorous and will withstand the autumn frosts.

One of the (many) things that woman in the plant place said was "ohhhh, l'hiver içi est très rude"
My reply was of course quite obvious. "In that case I should be right at home here, because so am I".

This discussion with the lady in the greenhouse set me thinking. Where I live 2200 feet up in the mountains of Central France , we can have some rude winters and short growing seasons too. For example, the first snow in late 2012 fell on 27th October and the final snow for that winter fell on 27th May 2013.

Suppose I bought a few packets of seeds destined for the Canadian market and planted them at home to see what happens? They would have to be better than the seeds that are on sale in France but never seem to work up at my place due to the adverse conditions.

industrial complex alma saguenay fjord highway 172 quebec canada mai may 2012

I said a short while ago that I thought that I might be approaching civilisation, and it seems that I am quite right too. There's a huge industrial complex up there on that hill.

I should perhaps mention that this area has a considerable amount of raw materials, and the tumbling rapids of the river have been harnessed to provide ample supplies of very cheap electricity.

Add those two factors together, and then take into consideration the fact that there is access just a short distance away to a very deep and navigable fjord with easy access to Europe, and you won't be surprised to see all of this industry in the immediate vicinity.

road train lead pup alma saguenay fjord highway 172 quebec canada mai may 2012

A short while ago, we went for a brief look at one of many quarries in the vicinity. Here, on the road in to Alma, we encounter one of these Canadian road trains carrying a few blocks of the stone off to somewhere in the vicinity.

This is the kind of rig that you would only ever see in North America or perhaps in the outback in Australia. The front trailer is called the lead and the rear is called the pup, but a driver to whom I once spoke about the problems encountered in reversing them told me that quite often the rear trailer would not be called a pup, but perhaps the mother of a pup.

Reversing them is something of an acquired art and in 2013 I was lucky enough to be at a truckstop near Moncton in New Brunswick and see a reversing performance in action. I was quite impressed.

One of the many things that we have to do whilst travelling in Quebec is to learn to speak the language correctly as there are quite some differences between the Francais de Paris and Quebecois.

depanneur teach yourself quebecois alma saguenay fjord highway 172 quebec canada mai may 2012

So here we have Lesson (Four?) of our Teach Yourself Quebecois course. What is this place all about? Anyone speaking Francais de Paris would expect to see a man with a specialist truck for towing in broken-down vehicles and seeing how this place is an old petrol station, it would be a reasonable guess.

What it is however is a corner shop, or a convenience store for the Anglophone North Americans, or an épicerie for the Francais de Paris.

scenery alma saguenay fjord highway 169 quebec canada mai may 2012

The town of Alma is situated on an island off to the west and so we aren't going there for the moment. We'll leave that for the return journey and continue north-westwards where we strike the shore of Lac-St-Jean.

Despite everything that I said a short while ago about micro-climates, there are some unmistakeable signs of the underlying climate of the Canadian Shield, with vestiges of sub-Arctic tundra vegetaion.

lac st jean alma highway 169 quebec canada mai may 2012

The view from here is quite interesting too. We have of course the lake and the islands with pine trees just like we saw in Northern Quebec and Labrador although nothing like as spectacular of course, but it's the clouds in the distance that have caught my eye.

We're here in a kind of bowl surrounded on all sides by the mountains of the Canadian shield. Here over the water it's quite warm in the sun and the air is therefore not so very dense. Evaporation of the water of the lake by the sun has made the air rather moist.

The wind is blowing the air away and whichever way it blows it, it will encounter mountains. The air must rise up to pass over the mountains and as it rises, it cools down. The cooler air thus becomes more dense and so the moisture droplets are closer together. This is what has formed the clouds in the distance.

This phenomenon is particularly evident at sea and is one of the many ways in which the ancient mariners would know that they would soon have sight of land.

sainte coeur de marie lac st jean highway 169 quebec canada mai may 2012

Where I am at the moment is at a place called Sainte-Coeur-de-Marie and there is a road that goes down to Belley-Plage. It's getting close to lunchtime and so the idea that I can find a nice beach where I can sit and admire the view while I eat my butty is quite tempting, but it's not to be.

The reason for this is that every road that I found and every beach that I saw had a sign to say that is was private and the public was not admitted. As a European, this is something that is strange to me. It is however quite logical when you think about it from a Canadian point of view.

Back in the UK, most of our road system dates from Saxon times, if not earlier. The UK, or, at least, the English bit of it, was under contant threat of invasion during this period and access to the coast and to all of the likely landing spots was essential if the country were to be defended. This is why there is such an extensive road network to the coast and along the coast, so that the defending armies could follow the ships of the invaders as they looked for a likely landing spot and then pounce upon them as they disembarked.

In Canada, there were no roads and all communication was by water. Accordingly, when the Europeans arrived here, their parcels of land were allocated with a water frontage so that they could have access to the means of communication in the same way that any new house today must have a road frontage.

When roads were built in Canada, they were on the inland limits of these parcels of land and this is why public access to the water and to the beach is not very common. Mind you, if I had a beach like one of the ones along here, I would want to keep it for myself too.

Quite close to the town of St Henri de Taillon is another road that goes down to the beach. There's said to be camping there and other activities and so I go for a look around, and also for a place to eat my butty.

However, I don't go very far down the road before making a U-turn and retracing my steps. There's a toll charge here and access to the beach - not the camping but just the beach - in a car costs $13 . I shan't be going down there to eat my butty, that's for sure.

st henri de taillon lac st jean highway 169 quebec canada mai may 2012

Instead, I go into St Henri de Taillon to have a look around and to see what that might offer me.

This is another typical linear village, with about 750 inhabitants, and has been by-passed by the modern road. It has a river and a small beach, which is what I'm looking for, but the whole town is festooned in "no parking" signs. Everywhere you look there's a "no parking" sign, except in the Municipal car park which is of course a payable car park.

I hate towns like this that use this kind of totalitarian tactics. It's nothing more than extortion and a misuse of power, using the local law enforcement agencies as a threat to oblige visitors to make a compulsory payment to swell the town's municipal coffers.

Still, I get my own back on them. I don't stop for a look around the town and I don't make any purchases in the local stores. And I bet that I'm not the first person to take that line either.

The old road through the town leads me up a blind alley to a dead end and I'm obliged to retrace my steps. You might say that the town retaliated in kind.

windmill st henri de taillon lac st jean highway 169 quebec canada mai may 2012

But on my unsuccessful sortie out of town, just as I drove over a brow of a hill near the end of the road, there's a windmill sitting there quite happily in someone's garden overlooking the lake.

It's quite a pretty windmill even if it does need a considerable amount of repair and renovation, and it's in a good site here. And this begs the obvious question - what objects have we not seen as yet?

Wide open country like this here with much less friction across the water than there is on land. There should be dozens of wiind turbines along here and I've yet to see one. Not even a domestic wind turbine.

If people of the 17 and 18th Centuries can see and appreciate the power of the wind in their time, what is the problem with modern people?

And I'm doing it again.

There's a Provincial Park here at St Henri de Taillon, operated by the Parks Service of the Province of Quebec, and so that's my next attempt at finding a spot to eat my butty.

I drive a thousand miles down this road to find the entrance to the park, only to discover that

  1. it's closed
  2. when it's open, it costs $8:75 to go in with a car

Consequently I turn around and drive a thousand miles back to the main road.


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