Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Aveyron River Gorge
The Belgians Tower
The Tower at Bonnecombe
NIcholas spends much of his free time researching the history of his tower to find out what its role was and how it fits into the history of the area.
We spent most of Saturday visiting the Abbey central to region, at Bonnecombe, and another restored tower, owned by a lovely Belgian couple, overlooking the river Tarn.
It as amazing to consider how far the monks travelled on foot and by mule cart to take care of their lands. The Abbey was a good hour away by car and the other tower, another forty five minutes or so further on. We wound our way up and down steep valley sides and through quaint old villages with narrow streets, ancient stone buildings and little hump backed bridges constructed centuries before the car was even invented. Through wooded areas, farmland and not much more, rural France is vast and seemingly unending, although the terrain does alter from time to time.
The towers were outposts for the Abbey, homes to the monks that oversaw the local tenant farms. Often incorporated into local farms and usually with large storage barns. They collected rents, rendered justice and controlled the local population. During times of unrest, they were fortified and well defended, many towers being extended upwards to provide better vantage points and with additional walls added for courtyards and security when required. I have spent many hours unearthing their foundations and learning how to spot differences in stonework through the ages, the latter being useful during our expedition, although the tower we visited has been almost completely rebuilt as it was in such a state of disrepair. The Abbey is nestled in a wonderfully tranquil valley, close to a river and seemingly miles from anywhere. It to had fallen into disrepair and was partially rebuilt quite a while ago and has had a variety of uses since then. Much of the decent stone was ‘liberated’ by locals for their own building projects, as happened everywhere, but the current buildings are impressive and great plans are afoot to improve the number of people visiting and enjoying the space.
The Belgians were excellent hosts, providing a wonderful lunch and giving us a comprehensive tour of their property. Restored from a couple of crumbling walls, with the guidance of some old photographs and the efforts of a local builder, they now have a wonderful home. We went for a stroll round the village to walk off lunch and chatted with the locals, a really welcoming little village, steeped in history and with fabulous views. The tower had been associated with the requisition of wine for the Abbey and the tradition continues. A local family was preparing to harvest and had gathered everyone from every generation to come and help, from great grandparents to teenagers, they were all their to help, and in the middle of their celebratory lunch, but we were invited to join them and sample some of last years harvest, Nicholas and the Belgian got all the local gossip whilst I sat, listened, absorbed the atmosphere and enjoyed a spot their latest vintage. The local accent is something to be heard, almost incomprehensible to my novice ears and with a good twenty people chatting, impossible to follow. It was mid afternoon before we started to head back to the tower via the amazing sight of the Millau Viaduct........