Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Local history: the Chateau de Barry and St. Médard

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About a week ago we left early (for us) intending to walk over the Trois Becs, one of the most dominant formations in the region.  As the path was not only closed but surrounded by intimidating notices about the dangers of taking that route we decided against heroics and went looking for somewhere else in the area.  In our excellent walking guide 'Randonnées en Diois' we found a walk from Vercheny to the remote ruins of the Chateau de Barry.

Vercheny is the largest wine growing area in the Diois and produces some of the best Clairette de Die and Crémant de Die.  The extent of the vines is impressive, all contained in a basin around the valley of the Drôme.  

The approach to the ruins is at first through the vines and then by a forest track, climbing about 600m.  The length and tortuousness of the route reveal the remoteness of the castle.  We stopped for lunch on a small promontary at the summit of the climb overlooking the ruined Ferme de Barry.  It was obvious that the farm had been there before we confirmed its presence from the map as trees that had been planted and that don't usually appear in forests dominated the site.  Human habitation can be very persistant.  Above the ruins, under a rock arch, we saw a chamois resting in the shade.
Tell-tale vegetation reveals the site of ruined Ferme de Barry.

We presume that the Ferme de Barry itself, extremely remote, provided supplies to the nearby castle.  It would be interesting to know how long ago the farm was deserted.

The view from the promontary down to the Drôme valley and some of the Vercheny vines.

We spent a few minutes finding the little pathway to the Chateau as it was difficult to believe that the site would be quite so inaccessible.  It never ceases to amaze that buildings and works of this magnitude were possible around 800 years ago, especially in such a difficult environment.  Were the stones all cut locally?  And what sort of lifting gear would have been used to haul them to the top of the rocky outcrop the Chateau stood on?  Now, only the base of the keep remains but it must once have been an impressive sight.

The Chateau was built in the 12th Century and despite its apparently impregnable position it was besieged and taken from the Comtes Valentinois by a warlike cleric Amédée du Roussillon towards the end of the 13th Century.  During the Wars of Religion the redoubtable bishop spent a lot of his time cutting down to size those who refused fealty to him, whoever they were.

All that is left of the Chateau de Barry.

 Even now it's not that easy to take the Chateau by storm as the slopes are steep and forbidding.  We made do with similar views from a rocky shelf at the base of the Chateau mound and the photographs of the vineyards below give some idea of the view.

More views of the vineyards from the ruins of the Chateau de Barry.
On the way back to Vercheny we stopped to take a picture of Glandasse way in the distance and which is just above Châtillon where we now live.  Interestingly, the same Amédée du Roussillon bought the Baronnie de Châtillon from the Princes of Orange.
The mighty Glandasse rises in the distance, seen from just above the ruined Ferme de Barry.
A couple of days later, intrigued by the historical links and caught up with the area, we took another walk from La Clastre near Saillans to Piégros and then to the Chapelle St. Médard.
We parked next to the church, Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, in La Clastre apparently built in the 12th Century.  This church had been a small monastery for 'Chanoines' who we presume were monks who dissented from what was, in effect, the established church.  But then, there were a lot of dissenters in the Diois which became a haven for both Cathars (Bogomils) and Huguenots.
Notre Dame de l'Assomption at La Clastre.  A small church of great beauty.
From La Clastre a straightforward walk through forests opens out at Piégros with a view of its odd-looking medieval castle and attached church, both again ruined during the Wars of Religion, perhaps by the redoubtable Bishop Amédée du Roussillon.
Chateau de Piégros

From the Chateau the path climbs into beech woods and climbs and climbs more and more steeply to about 840m, just below the toothy rim of the Foret de Saou.  It's quite startling to come across the ruins of a small but fully developed priory in such a place.  Once again a masterpiece of construction from the 12th Century.  Started in 1165 the priory was built to a high and impressive specification.  Again, how did they do it?  And how did they do it well enough that it is still, in large part, still standing?  The monks from La Clastre founded the priory and it was active in one way or another until the 16th Century.  Again, we find Amédée, Bishop of Die and Valence, asserting himself.  In 1278 he drove the monks out of the priory as they had failed to pay fealty to him.

The ruins of the Priory of St. St. Médard. Easier to photograph in winter.

From the ruins, it's just a short climb to the small Chapelle St. Médard built by the monks at a later date right on the top of the ridge.  The situation might seem to have been tempting providence, but it was not until 2004 that this little building was struck and severely damaged by lightning.  We had recently come down from the top of Glandasse just before a thunderstorm and were suitably relieved.  Lightning is terrifying when seen from the top of ridges and mountains in this part of the world.  The feeling of vulnerability is total.

Chapelle St. Médard
Chapelle St. Médard, Les Trois Becs in the distance.

 When we dragged ourselves away from this very special view we followed a recommended descent which, in retrospect, seems to have been a little cussed.  Extremely steep paths leading in the wrong direction, followed by re-ascents to another difficult path.  But again, we arrived in one piece and saw more of the countryside than we would otherwise have done.

Another view of the Chateau de Piégros and the Drome Valley from the steep descent from the Pas de Faucon.

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