A Walk Around Caylus

Caylus. The lake is on the other side of the hill, below the ruined château

It’s been an eventful 10 days or so. My latest novel is now out, involving quite a lot of last-minute effort. And the Irish Embassy in Paris phoned on Tuesday to say that my citizenship application had been accepted. My certificate arrived yesterday and was, in fact, a bit underwhelming. It bears a photo of me looking as if I’m going to the scaffold as usual, plus some bare personal facts. It doesn’t even mention my grandmother, by virtue of whose birth in Ireland I became eligible for citizenship.

However, this culminates a 7 ½ month wait, prompted, I will admit, purely by the spectre of Brexit. It will, of course, be ironic if Brexit never actually happens. If it does, I will at least continue to be a citizen of an EU state. I could have applied for French citizenship, but the Irish route was a line of much less resistance.

Weather for walking

Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about. We are spoilt for beautiful countryside and lovely walks in this area. And this is a good time of year to walk – when it’s not raining, that is. By the time you get to late June, it’s becoming a bit hot, unless you can find a shady walk.

Last week, our walking group did a randonnée around Caylus that took in natural as well as historic sights. We started at the Caylus lake. This is man-made, although it looks natural, surrounded as it is by tree-clad hills. From there, the route took us along the Bonnette Valley (pausing for a welcome coffee and cake first at the house of the walk’s leaders).

Cascade pétrifiante

We stopped at the cascade pétrifiante, a waterfall that can be a raging torrent in spring or dry as a bone in summer. In previous years, it has been so powerful that the opposite side of the road was soaking wet.

Precarious church

The church of Saint-Pierre Livron towered over us from its perch on the edge of a rocky bluff. A church has existed there since at least the 12th century, although at that time it was small and square. It was extended later and then rebuilt in the mid-19th century. This proved to be something of a mistake, since the rock on which it’s built is honeycombed with caves, subterranean passages and streams. In fact, part of the cemetery went over the edge in 1897.

The church’s precariousness came to the fore again in the late 20th century, when the whole thing was in danger of collapsing, until work took place to shore it up. At night, it’s even more impressive, since the bell tower is lit up.

Leper colony

I discovered that Saint-Pierre Livron also has an old chapel that once served a leper colony, la Chapelle de Saint-Etienne-des-Cannabals, in the centre of a former cemetery. I have still to locate this chapel, so if someone can tell me exactly where it is, I’d be grateful.

I had previously heard about a léproserie, or leper colony, also called a maladrerie, on the causse above Caylus, although nothing of it appears to remain. This unpleasant disease reached its apogee in Europe in the 13th century. It is not especially contagious and it’s not exactly clear why it became such a scourge in the Middle Ages, but factors such as poverty, genetic disposition and the use of fabrics such as wool, which could trap the bacterium, may have been involved.

Suffice it to say that the hapless souls afflicted with this disease were shunned. As well as being a physical ailment, it was also considered to indicate moral corruption. For that reason, the church was often involved in dealing with lepers.

Suspected lepers were required to undergo a physical examination. If they were found to be affected, they were isolated in a leper colony. Sources indicate that there may have been several thousand such colonies in France in the early 13th century. When out and about, the lepers had to ring a bell or shake a wooden rattle to warn others of their presence.

From the sanctuaire de Notre-Dame de Livron, at the other end of the village, we had a steep climb up to the causse. On the top, we walked along level paths bordered by ancient stone walls and punctuated by wayside crosses, before descending again to Caylus.

Caylus surrounded by greenery

You might also like:

Watery Walk – La Vallée de la Bonnette

Of Knights, Damsels and Dragons

The Story of Notre Dame des Grâces

Five Curiosities in Caylus

Copyright © 2019 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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20 Responses to A Walk Around Caylus

  1. Rob Youong says:

    Are there maps available for the trails around Calyus? I see a lot of trails in this area but cannot find a source for the maps. Our tourist office in Castelnau de Montmiral has a few for our area but there are so many more marked trails but I have now idea were they lead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      There’s a good book of 38 walks around the Cantons of Caylus and Saint-Antonin, 7 of which are around Caylus itself. I bought this book some time ago, but I think it’s still in print. If you ever go to Saint-Antonin, you would probably find it in the Office de Tourisme (no guarantee!). I don’t know if it’s available to order online. Also, there used to be a booklet of walks just around Caylus, entitled “Chemin faisant autour de Caylus”. I got that at least 20 years ago from the Caylus OT. I will pop in this morning and see if it’s still available. The Communauté des Communes has done a lot in recent years to open up new walks in this area, most of which are well waymarked.

      P.S. Thanks for following!

      Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Following my earlier comment, I popped into the Caylus OT this morning and they said the old series of Chemin Faisant autour de Caylus was discontinued long ago. They now sell, for 6.50 euros, a series of 35 walks around Caylus, Saint-Antonin etc, or you can buy the individual sheets for 50 cents. You’d certainly be able to get them at Saint-Antonin and Caylus: she wasn’t so sure about Varen or Laguépie, where they might not stock them on a regular basis. I hope this is helpful.

      Like

    • nessafrance says:

      I hope you came back here and found my replies. I did actually spend some time researching your query. 🙂

      Like

  2. Scott Perrizo says:

    Vanessa,

    My earlier comment on a léperosie near Parisot has not posted but in the meantime, I actually found some handwritten notes taken at the departmental archives in Rodez in 1998. I mentioned that the léperosie near Parisot was east of the site of the original village church St Martin, which was located at or near the present village cemetery. If I remember correctly, the léperosie was sited near Pech Laumet.

    My notes were from a Ph.D. dissertation by Susanne Frances Roberts at Harvard University, 1975. Her dissertation is titled Charity and Hospitality in the Rouergue, 1100-1350. Roughly, in the period 1100-1350, 60 hospitals existed in the Rouergue, including one at Parisot from 1157. The léperosie at Parisot dated from 1258.

    There are a few more notes about area famines, the operation of the léperosies, benefactors, etc.

    This note is from a previously registered email address, perhaps it will reach your site before the other?

    Again, thanks for all the interesting posts on the area and its history, I’m anxious for my next visit!

    Scott L. Perrizo
    Boulder, Colorado USA

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for this information, Scott. I’m sorry your original comment didn’t post, and can’t think why that should be, unless the new email address isn’t accepted for some reason. Unfortunately, I have no control over that.

      I’m not surprised that a léproserie existed at Parisot. There appear to have been thousands of them in the medieval period. The current cemetery is at Pech Laumet, which is now directly on the main D926 road. In those times, it wouldn’t have been more than a track. And the spot is sufficiently outside the village to be a favoured site for a leper colony.

      Perhaps I can track down the thesis you mention.

      Thanks again for this info.

      Like

      • Scott Perrizo says:

        Vanessa,

        What I wrote in the first post is inconsequential, after finding the notes from the archives.

        Yes, I had forgotten that the present cemetery for Parisot is actually at Pech Laumet, where the léperosie was located. There were no visible signs of the earlier village church that was located there, I believe it existed for some years after the “new” church St Andéol was finished, about 1486, I think. I was searching in one of my books for any mention of St Martin, the earlier church, but haven’t found it yet.

        On my last visit to Parisot in 2005, friends there took me on a very long circular hike around the village, you must have great fun with your walking group, such beautiful scenery and so many historic sites along the route!

        Best wishes,

        Scott

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Thanks for the additional info, Scott.

        Yes, it’s certainly good walking country in this area. We cover quite a wide area from the northern Tarn into the Lot and there’s usually something interesting to see.

        Like

  3. Scott Perrizo says:

    Vanessa,
    Thank you for the interesting post!

    I think you will also find that there was a léperosie outside Parisot, located a bit east of the earlier church St Martin, whose location was in the vicinity of the village cemetery. However, I can only supply these inexact details, as I don’t have any of my photocopied materials handy, though I will look. I found this information at the departmental archives in Rodez on any earlier visit.

    Best regards,

    Scott L. Perrizo
    Boulder, Colorado USA

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Scott, I just found your original comment in the WordPress spam! Sorry about that. WordPress usually gets it right, but sometimes it’s over-protective. Anyway, I think we have covered the subject, but I wanted to un-spam your comment.

      Like

  4. Sounds fascinating – I’ll have to ask our local historian if Saint-Chinian had a leper colony…

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. There seem to have been thousands of them, which just shows what a scourge it was. Mind you, some folk may have been banished to one even when they weren’t affected, either deliberately or by mistake.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Unreal. I was just scrolling through WordPress and glanced at your post because it looked familiar. And reading through your post, I realized I’ve been to these places. My heart aches with nostalgia! I love France so much, and when people ask me my favorite places, some of them are these nondescript, sleepy villages that no one has heard of! Have you been to any of these other places on my post?

    https://roundtrip.blog/2017/08/23/road-trip-in-the-south-of-france/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There was a leproserie here at Cajarc as well. All that remains is a small shrine on the road into the village. It housed not only lepers, but the poor and pilgrims as well. Guess you took your chances catching it back in those days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      That’s interesting. I suspect more villages had léproseries than we now know. It was clearly a real scourge at the time, overtaken only by the bubonic plague, which was more contagious.

      Like

  7. Beth Lamb says:

    There was also a maladrerie in St Antonin, near the river.it os on the old road to Septfonds, a lovely view of the gorge as you ascend.

    Liked by 1 person

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