Bridge the Gap

Here’s something for the weekend to take our minds off the world’s woes, many and intractable as they are. WordPress, which hosts Life on La Lune, proposes a monthly #WordPrompt to get bloggers writing. I don’t usually need an excuse for that, but I was pleased to see that March’s prompt is “bridges”. I am very keen on bridges and have quite a photo collection of French ones.

From the abstract…

Ever since our ancestors threw branches over a stream in order to cross, people have used bridges to span obstacles. It’s no surprise that they have become powerful symbols of connection, unity or transition.

The French have a well-used expression in relation to public holidays: faire le pont or bridging the gap. Most public holidays in France fall on the actual date, which can be any day including weekends. If, for example, the holiday falls on a Thursday, people often take off the Friday as well. Ils font le pont. In other words, they bridge the gap to the weekend and get four days’ break.      

I like the tranquillity of bridges, their symmetry. If I can, I stop in the middle of a bridge and gaze down into the river to the sound of water washing against the piers. Shoals of silvery, darting fish or the occasional roving pike reward one’s patience. Branches ripped from trees by storms and swept down by flood waters float underneath. I could stay for hours just watching and listening. I rarely do.

…to the concrete

France boasts some wonderful examples of bridges: large and small; ancient and state of the art. Some have legends associated with them, like the Pont Valentré in Cahors. Others are simply beautiful examples that have stood the test of time, like the Pont du Parayre in Peyrusse-le-Roc. Yet others have presented considerable technical challenges, like le Viaduc de Millau or the earlier Viaduc du Viaur (1902).

Here’s a selection of my favourites in rough chronological order of construction.

Le Pont du Parayre Peyrusse-le-Roc (Aveyron)

Pont du Parayre over the River Audierne below Peyrusse-le-Roc – an ancient mule and pilgrim track

I love this little bridge en dos d’âne (lit. like a donkey’s back or hump-backed). I came across it quite by chance. Trudging down the hill among the ruins of the former Peyrusse, I found the River Audierne at the bottom. After May rains, the brook was in full flow, bounding and frothing over boulders.

I followed a path along the bank until the bridge appeared around a corner. With its green covering of grass, moss and ivy, it looked as if it had grown there.

This 12th-century structure formed part of an ancient mule and pilgrim track. It is deceptively simple: only a single-arch bridge but built with skill and kept together by the pressure of the stones against one another. And probably some mortar these days.

Le Pont Valentré Cahors (Lot)

Le Pont Valentré – fortified bridge

This 14th-century fortified bridge was started in 1308 and took 70 years to complete. It has six arches and three towers and is now a World Heritage site.

A local legend says that the foreman of the construction works was frustrated by slow progress. He entered into a pact with the Devil, whereby the Devil promised to speed up the bridge’s completion. He promised to carry out all of the foreman’s instructions. The payment was the usual price: the foreman’s soul.

As the bridge approached completion, the foreman began to see the disadvantages. He tricked the Devil by sending him to fetch water in a sieve. Furious, the Devil sent a minion every night to work loose the top stone of the central tower to ensure that the work was never finished.

When the bridge was restored in the 1870s, the architect Paul Gout installed a stone into the central tower with the carved image of a demon. This confuses the Devil into thinking his demon is demolishing the bridge as instructed.

Le Vieux Pont Belcastel (Aveyron)

Le vieux pont

The Aveyron River divides the village of Belcastel. Most of the houses are on the right bank, but the church is on the left bank.

Up to the 15th century, the church was situated in the precincts of the château. The Seigneur of Belcastel, Alzias de Saunhac, built a new church on the opposite bank and ordered the construction of the bridge to provide access to it. The bridge also served to unite the people of both banks, who were always fighting. Quite how they managed that with a river in between is beyond me. Maybe they threw things at one another. Or boated across for a quick brawl.

The bridge has six arches, but you can’t see them all in the shot above, and in fact one of them is under the road. Le vieux pont is now a monument historique.  

Belcastel boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant on the right bank, le Vieux Pont. The owners have a small hotel on the left bank, where we have stayed a couple of times. To reach the hotel, you have to cross the bridge, which is frighteningly narrow. And because of the hump, you can’t see if a vehicle is crossing from the other side.

Monet’s lily pond bridge Giverny (Eure, Normandy)

This has to be one of the most painted and photographed bridges in the world. Claude Monet’s paintings of his lily pond are famous worldwide. He painted it obsessively in different lights, at different seasons, each time capturing a new aspect.

Monet moved to Giverny in 1883. Ten years later, he bought a neighbouring piece of land and created a water garden inspired by the Japanese prints he collected.

The original Japanese bridge no longer exists, since it had rotted too extensively to be saved during restoration work. The current one is a reproduction in beech wood.

Le Viaduc de Millau (Aveyron)

Millau Bridge from the motorway services’ viewpoint

Finally, the tallest cable-stayed bridge in the world, 343 metres at its highest point. This stupendous structure straddles the Tarn Valley and relieves the previously logjammed town of Millau of traffic.

Despite its size, the viaduct is almost ethereal from certain angles. Proof that modern architecture can be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.

This is not one I would care to cross on foot. In any case, it carries a motorway, so you can’t. The best view is from further down the Tarn Valley. You don’t see much if you cross the bridge by car.

Have you visited any of these bridges? Or do you have favourites to share with us?

I could have included many more, but here are some in a gallery.

You might also like these related posts:

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6 comments

  1. I couple of years ago, I had the most lovely time painting in Belcastel and my best, I think were the paintings I did around and under the Vieux Pont. The people who run the café near the church waved me in to use their parking and when I had a much needed coffee, they entertained me with good conversation and a slice of their Fouace. It has given me a wonderful feeling of being back home in Tuscany and I feel I have, at last ,settled into the Aveyron! I am enjoying your posts very much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was kind of the café people. I do love that bridge, although driving over it can be a little hair-raising. Glad to hear you feel settled in the Aveyron. We are in Tarn-et-Garonne, but we are so close to Aveyron that I feel more affinity for it. Glad also that you enjoy the posts. Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Vanessa. Great blog and you’ve inspired me to start collecting bridge pics. I didn’t know WordPress did a prompt, naughty me not looking at all my emails, but it’s a good idea. I normally find it easy to find subjects for my blog, but since the war started it’s been difficult. Frothy, light hearted subjects don’t seem appropriate anymore.

    I also like your abstract musings on bridges. We used to do things like that in the days when I ran face-to-face writing classes – miss them too! I can remember a class when someone picked the subject of ‘benches’ – lots of scope there too!

    Take care.
    MJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t realise I liked bridges so much until recently. It has kind of crept up on me. I realised that, wherever we go, if there is a bridge I have to take a shot of it.

      WordPress started giving a prompt only this month in their newsletter. I’ll admit I normally skim it quickly, but I read this one more closely. I doubt if I shall do it every month, unless it really appeals. Like you, though, I’m finding it hard to strike the right note. Light and frothy doesn’t seem right; but then neither does gloomy and pensive! I’m holding back a couple of posts that deal with anything to do with war for the time being, even if they are historical. We can’t cope with too much at once.

      Benches is a good one. It’s surprising what does provide inspiration.

      Stay well.
      Vanessa

      Like

  3. What a fascinating article, and great photos. Like you we can never walk across a bridge but have to stop and look for fish/branches/whatever …. and where appropriate we have a quick game of Poohsticks – to the puzzled looks of any French onlookers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m glad I’m not the only one who loiters on bridges! It’s years since I played Poohsticks. I can believe French people are bemused by it. The game has its own Wikipedia entry. There’s even a World Poohsticks Championship. Thank you for reminding me.

      Like

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