A recent geocaching trip took us into neighbouring Allier, and to the environs of Montvicq in particular. The trail we were set to follow would take us around an old mining area.

The substance that was mined here company between 1847 and 1921 was houille. This is a bituminous coal with a carbon content that puts it between lignite and anthracite.

We parked by the long-abandoned administration buildings in the Rue Ris Voirat and set off. We very quickly came across an old mine entrance.

This coalfield lies on a tectonic fracture called the ‘Grand Sillon Houiller’ – the big coal fold. It runs between Albi in Tarn to Decize in Nièvre. The deposit was laid during the late Carboniferous period, when this was an area of lakes.

Coalmining at Montvicq was at a peak during the 1890s when around 900 miners were employed. By this time the mine was part of the large Commentry-Fourchambault mining corporation. For a period the Managing Director was Henri Fayol, who became well-known for his accounting and management practices. His period of management is described by the author of a book about him as a period of fights: fights with fires in the mines (including a particularly devastating one in 1878), fights with the unions (he was opposed to strikes but, for the time, paid good wages and treated staff well) and fights with his superiors. Those latter didn’t last that long as Fayol became MD at the age of just 25!

During the 1870s a railway was built to link the mines with Commentry, where heavy industry, and notably the iron foundries run by the Fourchambault brothers, needed the coal. This line operated until 1964. The tracks have gone but for a while we walked along where they once were and saw the remnants of the little bridge at Tizon.

Before we got to this bridge, we passed the Prise d’eau. This man-made reservoir was to provide water to wash the coal in before it was transported away for use. Locals nicknamed the spot ‘la plage’, the beach, and came there to enjoy a swim and sunbathe. After the mine closed, the dam wall was no longer maintained and the water eventually breached it, giving rise to a rather lovely waterfall.

We clocked up over ten kilometres on foot during this trip, and had to do a bit of ‘extreme’ geocaching to get to some of our finds!

Even Tobi was quite daring!

We also came across our largest ever cache so far.

So it was a very energetic and interesting outing, giving us some healthy exercise and a fascinating glimpse into the past. Incredible to think this now quiet rural area was once such a hive of industry.