Category Archives: History

Discovering a Former Railway Line

Do you enjoy travelling by train? I do, except of course when it’s cancelled or held up by the wrong sort of leaves or by vandals removing the copper from the electric cables, as happened to us recently in Sweden. … Continue reading

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All Fired Up: Bread Ovens

You may have seen these small, domed buildings, often tacked onto the back of a house, in French villages. They’re part of le petit patrimoine, not significant enough to merit historic monument status but important vestiges of past times, nonetheless. … Continue reading

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Restoration of the Lavoir in Caylus

Lavoirs, or wash-houses, are features of the landscape around here. In times past, this is where the women (naturally…) did their laundry. They were normally constructed by a spring or a stream, so if the women were lucky, there was … Continue reading

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#Paris in the Springtime #2

Here’s part 2 of the story of our first visit to Paris in 15 years. We had only three days in the capital, and so we were determined to make the most of it. Our shoe leather was definitely more … Continue reading

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French Flavours #3: C is for Cassoulet

I can’t allow the letter C to pass by without writing about cassoulet, the signature dish of southwest France. It’s been around for a long time and the correct recipe is the subject of controversy. What is it? A stew … Continue reading

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Puylaroque: Tranquil Village with a Turbulent History

The panorama from the viewpoint at Puylaroque is magnificent. Beneath the rocky outcrop on which the village stands, the plains of southwest France roll away towards the Pyrénées. On a clear day, you can see the mountains, but that is … Continue reading

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Forgotten Love Letter Saved for Posterity

Sometimes fate works in mysterious ways. In this case, it saved for posterity a wonderful letter that would otherwise have been consigned to the flames with a heap of junk.

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Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 2

Last week, I started a journey back in time to look at some of the many prehistoric relics left in this region by our ancestors. This week, we’re dropping in on the artists who used cave walls as their canvas … Continue reading

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Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 1

Ours is one of the more rural French regions, but transport networks criss-cross the countryside and commercial suburbs mushroom around its historic towns. And yet this part of France is peppered with the works of prehistoric artists and builders. They … Continue reading

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10 French Christmas Traditions

Like every country in Christendom, France has a range of Christmas traditions, local and nationwide. I explore a few in this post. Christmas used to be lower key, less commercialised and of shorter duration than in the UK. During our … Continue reading

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A Cut Above the Rest: Laguiole Knives

The Aveyron town of Laguiole sits at the edge of the stark and empty but stunningly beautiful Aubrac plateau. We passed through there several years ago on our way to the Aubrac cattle transhumance, which takes place every year in … Continue reading

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Halloween Traditions, Ghosts and Witches in France

I don’t need to tell you what today is. Halloween has become more commercialised in recent years in France and traditions such as trick-or-treating have taken root. I hope we live far enough off the beaten track not to encounter … Continue reading

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Walnut Time

The walnuts start to fall here in SW France around the end of September. By mid-October, it’s positively raining nuts. This year, we were afraid that our crop would be minimal. Many walnuts fell early and were blackened and mummified, … Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #14: Le Château des Bordes, Lot

  When I started this series about the châteaux in our area, I had no idea that so many of them exist. There are the obvious ones – Najac, Saint-Projet, Belcastel – but also less obvious ones. Some are just … Continue reading

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5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France

  This coming weekend the annual Journées du Patrimoine take place throughout France. You can visit historic buildings and monuments, some of which are not normally open to the public, and many of them offer free entrance. I have already … Continue reading

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Calvignac, Lot: Untold Stories?

 I often find the smaller places in rural France more interesting than the big cities or the real tourist honeypots. They have their own intriguing histories, their hidden features, and to me these are more satisfying than the roads much … Continue reading

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5 Hidden Gems in Southwest France

This region contains so much to see and do that it’s easy to visit only the obvious places, those that get the most publicity: the plus beaux villages, the Viaduc de Millau, the better-known markets, the famous festivals. Dig a … Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #13: Le Château de Cénevières, Lot

The Château de Cénevières towers over its village and the River Lot, which meanders far beneath. The castle commanded a formerly important strategic position and the river, which was once well-plied trade route. My local writing group went on an outing … Continue reading

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Death of a Village: Oradour-sur-Glane

I wasn’t sure if I should write about this at all. Visiting Oradour-sur-Glane near Limoges this week, I felt like a voyeur. The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich slaughtered 642 people and torched the village on 10th June 1944, … Continue reading

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Inside le Château de Najac

At least a dozen years have elapsed since I visited the interior of the ruined château de Najac in Aveyron. This imposing 13th-century castle is a landmark for miles around, best seen from the opposite slope on a misty autumn … Continue reading

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Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: A Plus Beau Village de France

About a month ago, I revisited Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, to interview a writing friend, Tracey Warr, who was spending time there as a writer in residence. Saint-Cirq is a plus beau village de France, overlooking a meander of the River Lot.

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Our Village Fête: Yesterday and Today

  We went to our village’s Fête de Pentecôte (Whitsun fete) last Monday. It’s still an important local event, but in times past it was among the bigger fêtes in the region. We have a lovely book of photographs showing our … Continue reading

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8th May 1945: End of a War

Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Last year, we went to the annual ceremony in our village but we couldn’t go this year. This is always a moving event, attended by local dignitaries and representatives … Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #12: le Château de l’Astorguié, Parisot

Last week marked the 19th anniversary of the first time we saw our house (no, it’s not the one above). Looking back at estate agents’ details of other properties reminded me that a small château close by was also for sale … Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story #11: Le Château de Mazerolles, Aveyron

As you round a hairpin bend just before the hamlet of Mazerolles, you get a breath-taking view of Najac across the valley, crowned by its ruined château (pictured below). This must have greeted the chatelains of Mazerolles (above) every morning … Continue reading

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Monsieur C – One of a Dying Breed

Today, we visited an elderly farmer neighbour, whose wife is in hospital with respiratory problems. They were the first local French people we met in 1997. Monsieur F has always been difficult to understand because of his strong regional accent … Continue reading

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World War I and SW France

Just after 7 a.m. on 21st February 1916, 100 years ago today, German artillery unleashed a 10-hour bombardment that could be heard more than 150 km away. Thus began one of the longest and most devastating battles in history. The … Continue reading

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Every Château Tells a Story: #10 Le Château de Belcastel

Although I have written about Belcastel, in Aveyron, I haven’t devoted much space to the château. Its story is that of a phoenix raised from the ashes. The fortress could so easily have crumbled into a pile of stone, had … Continue reading

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All About Stone

This is a land of stone. Old houses are invariably built of la vieille pierre (old stone). When you walk along a footpath, it’s usually bordered by ancient stone walls. If you want to plant a tree or shrub, you … Continue reading

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A Village on the Causse – Varaire

Last week our walking group started from Varaire, a small village on the Causse de Limogne in the Lot. Like many of these villages, it’s picturesque, but blink and you’d miss it when driving through. In common with other places, … Continue reading

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