If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: thanks to geocaching Chris and I have discovered fascination hidden gems of local history that we’d never otherwise have stumbled across.

Our most recent geocaching trip was yet another illustration of this, and with a sad story behind it. The series of caches we followed took us in the paw prints of a rabid wolf who attacked around Mosnay on 17th July 1878. The action began at 5 a.m. that day and continued into the afternoon when at last it was killed, by seventeen-year-old Louis Foulatière. However, by then the wolf had killed more than fifty animals and injured Catherin Bazin, Françoise Dupont, Solange Châtel, Josephine André, Henri Berlot, and Marie and Marguerite Gay. Of these Henri, Marie and Marguerite later died as a result. Poor Marie, a young mother trying to protect her children, suffered horrific facial injuries but was still able to get home after the attack and give an official report to the Brigade d’Argenton the same day.

photo: mosnay details

There is a memorial at each point where the wolf attacked humans, and a couple marking where it attacked animals. There’s no sensationalism: these consist of plaques or memorial stones. The one at La Lande à Gendarme, where Marie’s family was attacked, has a stunning carving in the stone. It gives you a real idea of how horrifying the sight of the actual mad wolf must have been to those it set on.

photo: Mosnay wolf2

There’s a further memorial to all the victims in the centre of Mosnay itself. Again, it makes your skin prickle as you can’t help but imagine how terrifying it would have been to suddenly find yourself face to face with this animal.

photo: mosnay wolf1

It’s noteworthy that apart the majority of those attacked were women, and all of whom were overseeing grazing animals. That was the role of country women, particularly in summer when the men were engaged in labour-intensive harvesting.

Rabid wolf attacks were not exactly common but a definite reality in nineteenth-century rural France. The attack at Mosnay was by no means the worst one by a wolf. In 1851 a rabid wolf in Côtes-du-Nord bit 41 people, of whom 16 later died. In 1839 in St Germain l’Herme, 12 out of the 28 bitten by one died. In 1590 in Belfort 9 of 12 people attacked by a rabid wolf died. Wolves terrorised populations for many centuries. The nearest rabid wolf attack to where we live occurred in 1701 in very nearby Bussière St Georges, claiming sixteen-year-old Marie Boucte as its fatal victim.

In 1885 Louis Pasteur successfully treated a young boy, Joseph Meister, who’d been mauled by a rabid dog, with a vaccine. From 1886 use of the vaccine became more widespread and rabies was on the decline. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that France was officially declared rabies-free. There have been rare cases since then but they involved illegally-imported pet animals. It’s believed that bats may still be a reservoir of the disease but the risk of being bitten by a bat is infinitesimally small. Rabies is still a real threat in some parts of the world. In 2015 it killed 17,400 in Africa and Asia.

All in all it was enjoyable and thought-provoking little outing, with a few extra perks. We encountered a couple of llamas, the ruins of an abbey and a rather magnificent four-sided Michelin signpost.

Photo: mosnay michelinsign

We called into the Mairie as the sign in the village square informed us there was a brochure to be had that accompanied the walk, but sadly they didn’t have any. However, the friendly secretary pointed us in the direction of the shorter of the two walks = 11 km as opposed to 16 km – but we added an unintentional detour, due to slightly confusing signage here and there, and finished by clocking up about 14 km. A very respectable distance.

Photo: mosnay wolf sign