A recent outing in Precious took us to Peyrat La Nonière in our département of Creuse. Chris had found a walk called ‘The trail of the chicken coops’, and, knowing how much I like my hens (apart from when they’re scratching my seedlings out of the ground), thought this would be a good one to go on.
It certainly seemed to be an aptly named walk to begin with, but the poulaillers soon fizzled out. However, there were soon other and more interesting things to see. Our 13km walk took us past three castles, which is a pretty impressive number in such a small area.
Château du Chiroux
The first one we came to was Château du Chiroux, which is also the oldest of the three. It is mentioned in a cartulary as early as 1150 as belonging to Geraldus del Chiro, after whom, presumably, it’s named. It’s believed that there was previously a Gallo-Romain villa on the site. The castle was subsequently owned by various members of the Brandon family (who were possibly descendants of Roman senator Brandonus) and then the Gaspards. After the revolution it was bought by a wealthy resident of nearby Chénérailles, who at the end of the 19th century sold it to Jean-Louis Masfrand. The Masfrand family still own it today.
The castle is essentially a square building, 10 metres by 10 metres, with walls 2 metres thick. Its two watchtowers were probably added during The Hundred Years’ War. And there’s another interesting building: a pigeonnier, or dovecote. It’s one of the biggest in Creuse with 1,150 boulins or roosting spaces for two pigeons each. In the past the pigeons provided valuable fertiliser for the lord of the manor, and it was only the nobility who were allowed to own pigeonniers. The number of pigeons they could keep, and thus the size of the dovecote, had to be in proportion to the size of the lord’s estate. Needless to say, local peasants all over France weren’t that pleased at having up to a couple of thousand pigeons living close by and helping themselves to their seeds and crops. There were lots of formal complaints, and eventually, on 4 August 1789, a law to suppress this seigneurial right to own dovecots was passed.
Château de la Voreille
This was the next castle we strolled by, but couldn’t get as close to as Chiroux. We got the best view having passed it and looking back over the lake to it.
This castle was built in the 15th century, and the first known owner, in 1500, was Christophe Barthon de Montbas. His daughter Marguerite married Jean de Rochedragon in 1515 and the castle stayed in the de Rochedragon family until 1812, when it was sold to the Courthille family. They did a lot of construction work, including building a whole new wing to it. Their descendants are the current owners.
Château du Mazeau
We only got a fairly distant glimpse of this castle. We could have taken a detour to get closer to it, but by this stage, near to the end of the walk, our old bones were starting to ache! This is the one castle of the three that is open to the public (summer only). By all accounts the Terraz family have done a marvellous job renovating what was rapidly becoming a ruin. The spot where the castle sits, a promontory rising above the River Voueize, has been inhabited since antiquity, and it was in 1560 that the Abbot Commander of the nearby Bonlieu Abbey who had what was known as ‘Château Neuf’ built, basically an extension to the existing ‘Château Vieux’ of which there is now no trace. Twenty years later the Brandon family – remember them? – bought this new castle and added an Italian gallery. It passed through the hands of some other families, and in the 19th century a barn, deemed necessary, was added. At the same time a 15th century chapel and round tower disappeared… Fortunately the current owners value its history and have lavished love and attention on the castle. We shall have to call by and visit it properly.
And another little bit of history awaited us. We came across this monument to Jean Favard, famous mathematician (renowned for his work on fonctions presque-périodique), who was born in Peyrat. Rors went to the lycée in Guéret named after him.
The beauty of going on outings in the camper van is that we can treat ourselves to refreshments when we arrive at our destination, and again before we leave. Sadly village cafés and boulangeries are becoming increasingly hard to find. And we don’t forget about Tobi – she gets water and biscuits. As we enjoyed our snacks, parked in the Mairie car park, we admired these two wartime shells that are temporarily residing there.
So all in all, a pleasantly tiring and very interesting outing.