Housing, retail and industry seem to be gradually taking over every available square metre in the north-western suburb of Le Haillan. It...

Parc du Ruisseau: Le Haillan’s very own central park

Housing, retail and industry seem to be gradually taking over every available square metre in the north-western suburb of Le Haillan. It was therefore good to hear about a project recently deployed by the municipality to reclaim some land alongside a stream and convert it into a pleasant so-called “linear park”: le Parc du Ruisseau.

The park was officially opened in late 2013 and forms a unique evergreen 2.7-kilometre-long “corridor” that splits through the town, following the course of the stream, Ruisseau du Haillan, which in bygone years was the lifeblood of those who lived nearby, providing the water needed for everything from the production of vegetables to washing clothes. (Indeed, one section of the stream was once known as “Ruisseau des Blanchisseuses”.)

The stream itself.
Little has been written about Parc du Ruisseau, but before heading there a little online research gave me an idea of what to expect: 150 recently-planted trees, four children’s play areas, nine “squares” where people can relax and watch time go by, eight footbridges crossing the stream and an awful lot of wooden decking.

The project was a great source of pride for the Sabine Haristoy landscape architecture agency who had conceived the park, and for Frepat, the company who designed and manufactured the steel furniture dotted along the course. Finally, the Mairie were also pleased with the project, which had been in the pipeline since 2004 and had been achieved by reclaiming, at relatively little cost, small plots of land from private owners to enable the path to truly take shape. All in all, the park cost the municipality 4.5 million euros to roll out.

Blink and you might miss it: one of the main entrances to the park (over to the right).
Expectations were understandably high when I located the discreet entrance to the walk, just off the main road which runs through the town centre. A detailed map welcomed me, helping me find my bearings. Along with classic map symbols, there were a few mysterious question marks promising exciting things which were “à découvrir”, i.e. to be discovered. What could they possibly be?

The map, featuring a number of mysterious question marks.
Making my way along the wooden decking, I found myself in the shadow of a tall modern residential building. At its base was the world’s most minimalist children’s play area with a single spring-mounted flying fish thing. I suddenly had visions of crowds of children congregating here and queuing up for their two minutes of glory swinging away on the fish.

One child at a time please. The minimalist children's play area in all its glory.
A little further on, a clearing had been furnished with benches, a “boîte à lire” lending library bookcase, a wooden insect house and some cubic information panels detailing the local fauna and flora (one of the park’s “à découvrir” features). Trees in early stages of development could also be admired, alongside a substantial public composter. The environment had already made a full-on switch from urban to rural; the back gardens which gave onto the path were a succession of vegetable patches and the background noise was no longer cars but the sound of hens.

There was suddenly an exotic feel about the park as I then embarked on a raised wooden walkway flanked by a mass of tall bamboo shoots. All that was missing from the view was a couple of pandas. This led me on to another children’s play area, this time comprising a host of slightly abstract activities made out of wooden beams. It wasn’t clear how to make use of most of them, although I did recognise a couple of swings in amongst the random shapes.

Moving on into a section labelled as the “Jardin des Senteurs”, I encountered arguably the most unusual of the “à découvrir” curios: a large tank which was used in the past to grow watercress (Nasturtium officinale). It used to keep the locals busy throughout the production period from September to May. This, like other local produce, would usually be loaded onto carts and transported into central Bordeaux to be sold on at the Marché des Capucins.

Just to prove that commercial vegetable production is still alive and well in Le Haillan, the path then runs alongside the aptly-named “Ferme du Ruisseau”, where the general public can purchase fresh produce most days of the week. In amongst the greenery, a rudimentary metallic lock can be spotted, one of many along the course of the stream and used by the farmers to regulate and divert the flow of water according to their requirements.

This took me on to the last stretch of the walk, comprising the final “à découvrir” feature: a “borne seigneuriale” or “borne de jurisdiction”, which was positioned in the vicinity in 1767 (it was relocated to its current spot when the park was created in 2013). It is one of several dotted around the city’s suburbs to mark the boundaries of the suburbs of Bordeaux. One side of the 1m50-high marker includes the inscription “THIL”, in reference to an Eysines-based “seigneurerie” who oversaw the local land. Another side includes the treble crescent symbol which would, in a more compact form, later become the emblem of Bordeaux.

Leaving the park behind me, it did once again feel as if I was experiencing yet another one of the area’s many candidates for the coveted Invisible Bordeaux “best-kept secret” label. Over the course of the morning stroll I encountered precisely two other people, both of whom were out walking their dogs. Perhaps the walk needs to be signposted from the main roads, or perhaps the local council is holding back from launching a full-on publicity drive until all the trees have grown and there’s more of a sense of the park being the finished product. Or is the park’s low profile because the locals who generously gave up the land required to make the “linear park” possible aren’t actually too keen on having strangers wandering back and forth behind their back gardens? That could explain why everyone has agreed to keep quiet about the venture!

Whatever, Parc du Ruisseau is very much worth a visit and, above all, it has left me with a sudden urge to build a tank and grow some watercress.

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