Today started in a way that I usually start when I go off blogging – I made a flask of coffee and some sandwiches, packed them into my scooter and got my photography gear, in the highly practical Lowepro rucksack, favoured by photographers – which means I can take two cameras – both Nikons, a D200 and a D90, lenses and all the other things I need.
I slung the rucksack on my back ready for the off, careful rearranged my map that I had worked the route of the day on – oh, I never take maps with me, I sometimes write some o the major towns, villages and hamlets that will help me find my way but that is it. Minimalist – so that I can stop where I want to and go to where looks interesting on the way – those maps never tell us much anyway …
To my surprise and joy, I found that my photography gear nestled snuggly into my top box, with just room for a croissant for later – result, I wouldn’t have that on my shoulders for the day, and, joy of joys – my tripod fitted neatly under the seat.
You see, that’s why I have a scooter instead of a motorbike – they are so roomy, you can stuff all sorts of things under the seat, in the top box and on the luggage rack.
I would so dearly love to have a 1950s or 1960s Lambretta, but I know I will sacrifice all this space so I’ll stay with my modern machine for the moment.
So off we go, in the direction of Castres, which I go to often for work and shopping – I made a mental note as I passed the sign for the Goya museum and crossed the river Agout, to do a days blogging in Castres with my sons.
Yes, we are all the same, we go off for holidays to the other side of the country or even the other side of the world without even looking and discovering what is on our doorstep.
I also made a mental note to confiscate all passports when i am President, until people have discovered what is to offer in their own country and regions.
Now, I would like to say that I stopped off at Soual, which is mid-way between Revel and Castres to take some photos, but I didn’t – however, I did do this on the way back. But, I’ll come clean, I will have to be careful, because I will be one of the first to be locked up in my imaginary Bastille when I am president, as I go through Soual very often and haven’t even taken the time to discover it – I took some photos and a time lapse to back up my defence when the time comes (phew! that was close!
So I headed out of Castres into la Montagne Noire in the direction of Brassac – a small village on the Agout River, nestled in a valley in the mountains. We are not talking about very high mountains here – the highest point is Le Pic de Nore at 1,210 meters – not that high until you do it on foot.
Before continuing on to Brassac, I saw an intriguing sign for “Le Rocher Tremblant de Sept Faux” – If my French is up to it, that means “The trembling Rock of Seven Scythes” – I had to investigate.
Sept Faux is a very small hamlet, about 2 kilometers from the main Castres to Brassac road, the Rocher is a huge, round boulder of granite, perched menacingly above the cafÃ© and some houses in the village – it is over 7 meters high and more than 3 meters in diameter, weighing in at over 900 tons – if you ask in the cafÃ©, they will come and press a lever, placed under the rock that miraculously sends it rocking to-and-fro’ a long time after it has been pushed – eerie, especially as it is only about 15 meters from the cafÃ©!
Brassac is in the south of the Tarn departement, about 25 kilometers from Castres, bordered by the granite hills of the Sidobre (now that is another place I will take you to) just close to the Monts de Laucaune, famous for the cheeses, charcuterie and meat – all this in Le Parc RÃ©gional du Haut-Languedoc – which offers some breathtaking views of the wooded mountains.
Brassac was founded around the 10th century chÃ¢teau mainly for it’s strategic point on the Agout river and the proximity to the Mediterranean ports, where salt and other goods would have been transported to Toulouse and beyond. The village grew in the 12th century (1193) when the bridge across the Agout was built, which separated the two castles of the noblemen, which was sieged by the Calvanists in 1569 (there is a museum of Protestantism in a village nearby)
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The bridge, where the main road crosses today joins the two ChÃ¢teaux which are on either sides of the river just 100m away, the old medieval bridge is still standing and in very good condition. There were originally two villages -Â Brassac de BelfourtÃ©s and Brassac-de-Castelnau, which become one between 1790 and 1794. You will see the name “Castelnau” in many places in the south of France (Castenaudary, Castelnau d’etretefonds, Castelnau de Montmirail etc.), it simply means ‘New Castle’ in the Occitane language.
The village, well, I guess it is more like a small town, developed during the 19th century through the woolen idustry, where weavers, tanners and spinners set up their workshops along the banks of the Agout – there are still signs of the old buildings, most either derelict or turned into pleasant riverside apartments.
Leave the village and turn right at Le Gendarmerie – head up the hill for about 15 kilometers on a steadily rising, narrow road that snakes through the forest – just a couple of kilometers from Brassac is a wreck of a lorry that took a corner too sharply and tumbled into the ravine – right, let’s slow down and enjoy the ride …
We are heading to the Lac de La RaviÃ¨ge, which is a huge lake in the middle of the thick hickory and chestnut forests way up in the mountains. The lake is big – covering over 400 hectares and 12 kilometers long – it is a great place for boating, sailing, walking on the hundreds of footpaths that ribbon around it, mountain biking, fishing, birdwatching, swimming or just a picnic in a quiet, out-of-the-way place surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.
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I would imagine that the far end of the lake near La Salvetat sur Agout, gets pretty crowded in summer, there is a large campsite, holiday chalets and a sailing school which rents out boats, pedalos and canoes.
It is one of the few lakes in the region which allows motor boats, but it is strictly regulated – thankfully – and does not allow jet skis nor speedboats. There are two small islands in the middle of the lake which makes it appear a lot smaller than it is, as they look like they mark the end of the lake, but there is a lot more lake behind them.
There are some nice campsites along the shores of the lake, with direct access to the beaches along the shoreline. If you have heard of the sparkling wate “La Salvetat”, this is where it is bottled, directly from the spring – La Salvetat is also a nice little medieval village, although, this is not on the itinerary for today.
Leaving La Salvetat, take the road to AnglÃ¨s, which follows the shoreline of the lake, but branch off right when the road goes left to AnglÃ¨s to stay close to the lake, most of which, unfortunately appears to be privately owned.
There is a way of going through AnglÃ¨s then reaching Brassac, although this means that you will not get to the other end of the lake. After a coffee in the cafÃ© in the square at Brassac, take the road in the direction of Castres until you see a sign for “Le Chaos de La Balme”, (Chaos pronounced Kah – Oh) which is the site of ancient legends – regarding the huge boulders of granite that are strewn around the wooded slopes.
Of course places like these wouldn’t be the same without the folklore and legends, attributing the placement of the massive boulders to the devil.
This is a lovely place to go to at the height of summer, where the shady woodland paths give a welcome cool respite from the burning August sun. This is one of the best indicated sites that I have ever visited anywhere in France, all along the pathway are signs recounting the legends of the place, as well as beautifully carved and inscribed books, made from solid blocks of granite – well done the local authorities!
Here you can see the famous “Chapeau de NapolÃ©on” (Napoleon’s hat) boulder – I don’t need to lable the photograph for you.
After leaving the Chaos de La Balme, take a left turn and take the wonderfully smooth and snaking road – this is such a nice road to drive along, with some superb views across the surrounding countryside – such a road would make Jeremy Clarkson get his sex-face on, and nobody wants that, now do we, so keep this post to yourself, OK!
The surrounding mountains and hills, bear witness to the activities of the French resistance – there are memorials all over the place – including one (see photo) which tells of an attack by a group of resistance fighters against a German column, using only rifles and pistols agains machine guns and grenades.
The resistance fighters were overwhelmed and forced to flee – one was shot, whilst another hid among the stooks of hay drying in the field. The Germans searched the field and the other person commemorated on the memorial was stabbed 9 times in the back by a German soldier.
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Returning the way I came, I stopped off at Soual to take some photos and do a Time Lapse of the church – there is little here, apart from a nice shaded walk on the lawns by the river and the church – although I am ready to be corrected, if I have missed other places of interest here.