The cranes have finished passing over Bon Abri on their migration north. Huge rolling flocks of several hundred birds battled noisily against the continuing northerly winds. As the stragglers, small groups of one or two adults and a handful of struggling juveniles, were passing over, the rare warm and sunny days gave way to days of seemingly endless drizzle from heavy grey skies.
We had to take a trip further up the river Dronne and thought we would extend the trip with a visit to Brantome, a town rather optimistically dubbed the Venice of the Perigueux. It is certainly picturesque and undoubtedly has an intimate juxtaposition of roadways and rivers. However the person who came up with the title has probably never been to Venice. Brantome is well worth a visit and quietly sitting in a river-side cafe sipping a glass of Pineau de Charente while watching the antics of the new sailors in their canoes and kayaks can be a great way to pass the time between visits to the architectural and historical sites.
Anyway it is irrelevant to this post as we didn’t make it to Brantome. Driving along steep, winding lanes through the cave pocked, tree covered hills we came suddenly upon the ruins of a 13th Century fortress swathed in grey and green swags of ivy and creepers and sheltered on its built up motte by scrawny trees. It made a surprising and elegant view as the rain took a break, packed up its bags and left us for the day.
By the time that we realised that we had entered the town of La Tour Blanche, where a 10th Century tower built over a Gaulish fort is only one of the architectural gems, we had driven right through it. It is a small but beautiful place so be careful that you do not repeat our mistake and find yourself through it before you realise that you have arrived.
Taking a turning almost at random to find a vantage point to view the Tour across the valley and over the trees we entered the village of Cercles. What an enchanting place this is. The church, which dominates the huddle of houses, is all that is left of the Priory of St Cybard. The carvings over the west door are magnificent despite the weathering. They make an excellent counterpoint to the austerity of the church interior where serried ranks of benches wait for the next service.
Our road took us, by a circuitous route, back to the banks of the river Dronne. Suddenly the 13th – 16th Century castle at Bourdeilles loomed into view across the river. The monumental fortifications dominate the skyline. This had been the blood soaked border between English Aquitaine and France during the hundred years war (presumably during a century and more when people could not count – either that or ‘The one hundred and sixteen years war’ does not have the same ring to it.)
The transformation of the defensive castle to a 16th Century statement of elegance and prestige was the work of a female architect. As far as I am aware the only example of a female architect in the 16th Century. Jacquette de Montbron was spurred into action by the promise of a visit from Catherine de Medici. When Catherine decided to cancel her visit Jacquette abandoned the castle and the work. It must have been a devastating blow to Jacquette.
This was the point at which our plans for our visit to Brantome were abandoned for the day. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the streets and lanes of this beautiful town. Up on the belvedere, which looms over the river, we watched a fisherman casting across the weir. We crossed and re-crossed the river over the medieval bridge, gazed at the boat shaped mills, wandered through the tightly packed houses and sipped at a cafe that dominated the large square while it was, in its turn, dominated by the immense defensive walls of the 13th Century castle.
This was a town well worth a visit.