Horrors of the past - Pottering round Poitiers - in the rain - CycleBlaze

April 9, 2018

Horrors of the past

You don't build walls like that if you expect to get on with the folk next door
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Poitiers (Montamisé), Champ-de-Gain, Liniers, Bonnes, Chauvigny

THERE are few better ways to see how things used to be than to visit a medieval town. I know that sounds obvious and I know the ancient streets of the old town that dominates modern Chauvigny no longer echo to leprous beggars and whip-wielding nobs. But just the fact that it's there on a freak hill with the solid, unescapable walls of a sky-high castle shows the violence of other times.

We think the world is dangerous now but how worse it must have been to be worth spending decades on walls tough enough to protect yourself from neighbours. How awful their murderous assaults must have been that they had to be repelled by burning oil poured from slits in the stone, to be drilled through by arrows fired down on them from on high. You may not get on with your neighbours now but, believe me, it was a lot worse back then.

Ragged remains of a violent past
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Chauvigny has no fewer than five châteaux. Château is just French for a castle. It sounds posher because we got it from the invading Normans in 1066, who built them everywhere and insisted that everyone spoke French like the new king. Ever since, French words have had a cachet, if you see what I mean, so that to commence sounds posher than to start and dine is something you do in restaurants (another French word) while eat is what you do to a burger.

Five châteaux, protected houses, in a row show that five families and their servants contested the same land and were inclined to protect what they had and, given the chance, to steal what they hadn't.

Our walk up the steep slope to what is now a castle, a dungeon and their modern-day vassals of antique shops and artists' galleries marked the end of a gentle afternoon across the undemanding country of the Poitou.

Restaurants and antique shops where once leprous beggars shouted for alms
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Did you notice the small boy by the flowers? There's another on the steps to the castle
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Poitou is the area; people who live in Poitiers are called Poitevins. The country roads are small and quiet and every so often we ventured on to stony trails through small woods. That, we told ourselves, would be good experience for the unsurfaced roads of inner Iceland later in the year. The truth, more prosaic, was that we hadn't intended to take the paths at all; we had simply gone wrong and the greatest experience we had was learning to turn tight circles in enclosed spaces to get back to where we'd started.

I'd take you through the route turn by turn, but it'd bore you. We had a gentle, lightly amusing and altogether uneventful ride. And sometimes that's all you want, isn't it?

Today's ride: 37 km (23 miles)
Total: 37 km (23 miles)

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