Sunday, 10 April 2016

Following Richard the Lionheart and T E Lawrence into Chalus

We are on the trail of that T E Lawrence again! Having
previously found a record of his 1908 visit to Aigues-Mortes and detoured to see his grave in Moreton, today we stood at the site of his twentieth birthday party: Place de la Fontain in the small Haute-Vienne village of Chalus. The Grand Hotel du Midi in which he stayed is no longer there, but we saw an elegant fountain which probably was and the plaque pictured below proudly commemorates the occasion. Lawrence visited Chalus in the same year as Aigues-Mortes and, according to Wikipedia, was "tracing the route of Richard I of England ... in preparation for his thesis: The Influence of the crusades on European military architecture at the end of the XIIth century". Sounds fascinating!

Richard I - Richard Coeur de Lion - Richard The Lionheart
Ruined chateau in Chalus 
is big business in this part of France as he was actually killed while besieging Chalus in 1199. Pierre Basile shot him with a crossbow bolt and Richard died 11 days later of the wound. The 817th anniversary was on the 6th of April so we only missed it by a few days! A gruesome bit on information we learned is that Richard's entrails are apparently still preserved in the Chateau in Chalus. There are two Chateaux in the village though and we think the entrails are in the still-inhabited building up on the hill, not the ruined central one shown in this photograph. This tower is medieval, but not begun until 1280 so Lawrence would probably have seen it, but Richard wouldn't. It was built and then occupied by the Maulmont family for centuries and was originally much larger. Extensive damage and the destruction of a second tower occurred during the French Revolution. However, this tower didn't collapse until 1994.

We got to Chalus by cycling along a Voie Verte that passes close by our campsite. Today being a sunny Sunday it was quite busy with other cyclists and walkers. There is a distinct uphill slope for most of the way to Chalus, but coming back is a corresponding downhill freewheel! The Voie Verte is a dismantled railway line and I liked that the station buildings have been retained along the way. Some are now private houses, but the one at Chalus is an information centre about the route. (Sadly closed today) There are bike racks by the playground on the far side of the centre so we locked our bikes up and explored on foot.

We both liked Chalus as it contains interesting buildings,
but it is quite run-down. A significant proportion of the shops are empty, although attempts have been made to brighten them up by painting palm trees on the whitewashed windows. The town obviously needs a lot of investment though. Signs of this potentially happening include the Voie Verte itself which is a popular local facility, and this public sculpture which is visible overlooking the river (stream?) through the town centre. Created from rusted metal, it celebrates the local chestnut harvests, but doesn't have a plaque identifying the artist - anyone recognise the work?

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