Every Saturday I join a small band of hardy walkers and life-long residents of the region for four hours of hiking. The hikes cover as much history and folk lore as terrain. Here are some of the stories:
"Once upon a time there was a man that lived in this hole in the rocks. He had a beard down to his feet and he ate snakes."
"See that opening at the bottom of the cliff? If you could peek in you would you see that there is a shaft of light that reveals an opening at the top of this column of rock. A long long time ago a farmer’s donkey fell down that shaft and ever since it’s been called The Hole of the Donkey."
"Here a wild and carefree young Duke made a bet with his friends. He won the bet that he could ride his horse into the church and have it lap a drink from the holy font, but he lost a piece of his farm - the local Bishop demanded one of the reckless young man’s properties in return for his shenanigans."
"When we turn into the hamlet at the bottom of the field we are going to run into the home of my great great great grandfather. In the early 1700’s he was transporting grains from these fields all the way to Perigueux-- nearly 30 kilometers away. No tractors, no trucks, no pavement."
"In the 1500’s two brothers lived side by side in their elegant country domains. One lived in the chateau up the cliff and one lived here. One was catholic and supportive of the monarchy and the other Protestant and challenging the monarchy. The struggle for power and control erupted into full fledged battles in the 1580’s. The Protestant brother was killed and his château was pillaged and never lived in again."
These pathways have been traveled by humans since Roman times, a lot of them since prehistory. There are neat and tidy farm hamlets in the middle of nowhere that have had what it took to survive for the last 600 years. Magical castles appear even further into the woods. Why here? Built by whom? How? Who lives here now?
Hardly ever is there a clear history of what we are passing. But I stay close to my walking partners to catch a bit of the local lore. A made up story is as good as a true one to add to my fuzzy understanding of the past.
By the way the man with the beard down to his feet, that ate snakes, he lived in the 1950’s. A real character that the local children stayed clear of. Just imagine the cast of characters that have peopled these amazing pathways.