Friday, October 31, 2014

Dordogne Day 2 - Misty trees & imposing chateaux

It was a chilly start to the day, the nights in fact had been particularly cold, I was having to use 3 blankets just to be warm enough to get some sleep. But thanks to the balmy days and cool nights, the early mornings offered plenty of mist.

We headed over to same woodland we’d been the day before to get some shots of trees swaddled in the creamy haze, while the sun warmed their shining boughs. The white trunks stood in lines like a picket fence, supporting a canopy of glittering leaves alight with the morning glow. It made for a beautiful sight, but it wasn’t long before the sun had driven the majority of the fog away, so we packed up and drove to St Cyprien for the obligatory coffee, and picked up a baguette for lunch.

A view of the surrounding hills partially obscured.
Looking into the rows of trees stood in a fine gossamer of mist.

Then it was onto Beynac-et-Cazenac, located in the heart of the black perigord, this beautiful medieval village is dominated by the magnificent château that sits above it and stands sentinel over the surrounding countryside.

In fact the area has been a centre for habitation since around 2000 BC, when people of the Bronze Age decided to settle there. Its heyday though was during the Hundred Years War, when the Dordogne served as a boundary between France and England, with Beynac on the French frontline, and Castelnaud the English.

An huge old church at the top of the village

We parked up at the base of the village, and before starting the arduous walk up to the top I made use of the nearest urinal, which although modern, was of the usual French construction i.e. open to the world, but that didn’t bother me. What I did find slightly annoying was that fact it was a self-cleaning unit, and that it chose to clean itself, whilst I was still attending to matters, as it were.

It had obviously decided that it was going to give as good as it got, and was well into the process of returning the favour before I managed to make my escape. So with unnecessarily damp shoes and lower legs, we began the journey upwards. But looking on the bright side, it’s not everyone who can say they were pissed on by a urinal, and I took some comfort from that.

Some ancient steps with attendant
Old buildings were to be found all over
the place.

After a bit of an arduous walk, we were treated to spectacular views from the top of the village, even if the atmosphere was slightly hazy. So we took a bit of time to appreciate the surrounding vista, admiring a landscape shaped by the timeless flow of the Dordogne, covered in a rich carpet of green and dotted with the thorny towers of grand châteaux.

Spectacular views from the top of the village to the valley below.

After tumbling back down for a spot of lunch next to the river, we made towards La Roque-Gageac again, to get some shots looking the other way along the village. Because it was slightly earlier, compared to when we were there the day before, the sun was still on the beautiful château that sits snuggly at the western end of the village, and we were keen to get a shot that included it. 

It was nice to see the beautiful château with some sunlight on.

Once that was in the bag, we made our way to Château de Fénelon, to my mind, one of the most beautiful châteaux in the whole region. Originally dating from the 12th century, Fénelon was a Cathar stronghold during this time, and went on to play a strategic role during the Hundred Years War. 

The trees that line the entrance way were looking particularly autumnal.

Most of what is seen today though is from the 16th century, when it was extensively refurbished. It hasn’t changed much structurally since then, except in 1966 when the effects of a supersonic plane flying overhead collapsed one of the southern towers. 

A closer view of this wonderful building, which of course it thoroughly deserves.

We weren’t quite finished with châteaux just yet though, as the next stop was to get a shot of Château de la Treyne. A picture perfect pile that sits high above a curve in the River Dordogne, and is flanked by a thick belt of woodland either side. It is now a high end hotel.

We had to stand on a very narrow bridge to get a shot of it, there wasn't really anywhere else to get it from, so it was a case of leaning out the way of any passing trucks, to avoid an impromptu and uncomfortable journey off the bridge.

I have since seen shots of it from across the river, but we couldn't find anywhere that wasn't completely
obscured by overhanging branches.

We then took a drive over to Château Belcastel, sat on a sheer cliff above a small village, and overlooking the confluence of the Dordogne and the Ouysse. This château, which is in private hands, stands high above the landscape as if it’s protecting the valley below, and as you would expect of such a building, during the Hundred Years War, it was attacked several times by English troops, and had to be comprehensively rebuilt afterwards.

The castle commands an impressive spot in the landscape.

On the way back to the campsite, we stopped in at Montfort again, this time to have a look around the tiny village that sits in the shadow of the château. We seemed to be the only people there, the place was as quiet as an église souris. We stopped in a café we found at the far end of the village for a coffee, before heading back to base.

After dinner that evening in Limeuil, in which I had the local speciality – garlic soup, which was superb, along with the balsamic glazed duck and chocolate pud, I tried rather unsuccessfully to get a shot of the amazing night sky. Long story short, it was a hopeless effort, unless a couple of smeared grey marks are your idea of astronomical perfection, so I soon decided to call it a night.

A particularly pathetic attempt. But that lighter grey smudge up the centre is actually the Milky Way.

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