We recently went on a geocaching trip to Chateauneuf-sur-Cher, which is about an hour away from home. Our first impression wasn’t so much that it was Chateauneuf-on-the-Cher (sur = on) as Chateauneuf-in-the-middle-of-the-Cher. The river bifurcates into numerous streams which split the town and power beneath its multiple bridges. The water level was well up the day we visited, but not nearly as high as it reached in 1940 when it swelled to a gauge height, or stage, of 4.86 metres above the stream bed. We saw that level marked on the side of a building, and it was terrifying.

Our geocaching trail took us on a loop out of the the town, along country lanes and tracks. We were never far from the river. One of the caches was in the middle of a barrage stretching across it, but there was no possibility of retrieving it. The barrage was under a lot of very fast-moving water.

We passed by a couple of tumuli on the return route, which were very conspicuous on the ridge above the flood-plain. The Museum of Berry at Bourges has a torc on display from one of these burial mounds. Maybe this one?

We finished by visiting the nineteenth-century basilica, which dominates the town, even more so than the fifteenth-century castle.

The basilica is called ‘Notre dame des enfants’, which is rather nice. And there’s a nice story behind how it got this name.

In 1861, the incoming priest to the parish, Abbot Ducros, discovered a church in ruins. He decided to rebuild it, and to fund this construction work he asked for ‘deux sous’ (equivalent to ten centimes in pre-Euro days) from everyone in France. Well, why not be optimistic! In return, he would pray to the Virgin Mary for that donor’s soul. A ten-year-old girl sent him a letter, as well as her pocket money, and referred to Mary as ‘notre dame des enfants’ (Our Lady of the Children). This took the Abbot’s fancy and thus this name was used. Building work began in 1869 and lasted for a decade.

Appropriately, the carvings outside the basilica include young children in the arms of various saints and dignitaries.

Now here’s another, more recent story to do with the basilica. Its crèche, consisting of fourteen painted plaster figures, some of which were over a metre high, mysteriously went missing in the early 1990s. The ensemble was rediscovered in 2019 – for sale on the internet! Nearly a year of negotiating resulted in the figures being returned to the keeping of the basilica. Monsieur X, the vendor, paid around €4,000 for them but was gracious enough to give them up for free. They were put on view for the first time in thirty years on Christmas Eve, but have since been taken away for some restoration work.

One last fascinating but poignant discovery during our trip was this 1918 howitzer next to the town’s war memorial. I couldn’t help wondering about the fates of the horses who pulled it into battle and the soldiers who used it or were at its receiving end.

We thus passed a chilly, misty but very interesting half-day in and around Chateauneuf-sur-Cher.