Tuesday was a domestic day for the family, with lots of schoolwork and washing, shopping etc. so we headed off to visit some places a little north of Brive la Gaillards.
Heather had heard about a slate mine that was open to the public so we went first to the Pans de Travassac. We arrived a bit before 11am in time for one of the tours advertised to be on the half hour only to find that there was only one tour and that had left at 10.30. Bummer. We were told that there would be another at 3.30pm but we didn’t want to wait around for that.
So we went next to the nearby medieval village of Donzenac.
The old village is set on the top of a hill as a walled town, with the newer commercial centre nearby. We went first to the new part for a quick look around.
There were several restaurants available but everything was closing as we arrived but we managed to sqeak in to a patisserie and get a paninni and a pastry for lunch just in time.
Then we found a picnic table in a square by the old town wall to sit and eat it. Perfect.
Here is the pastry, a kind of mini crocquenbush, partially eaten by us and very nice.
After lunch we went for a walk around the old village, through very narrow lanes lined with houses.
Many of the houses have been modernised at some time, mainly with concrete rendering over the old stone walls. Functional, but it’s a shame that so much of the stone has been obliterated.
We went into the Chapel of the White Penitents, built from a noble’s townhouse in the 14th C then rebuilt to its current layout after it was acquired by the White Monks in the 17th C. Light and airy, the altar was unusual in its simplicity.
Not much of a view out of these windows.
There were a lot of the laneways and houses in the old town and we found it quite interesting.
Next we moved on to the Gardens of Colette near the village of Varetz.
Set on 5 hectares, the gardens are well established and maintained, with a lot of interactive displays and games to keep visiting children entertained.
Originally conceived by the nationally famous writer Sidonie Colette who was passionate about her gardens, the property is split into 6 separate gardens that reflect the areas of France in which she lived in the various stages of her life.
There is also a maze covering over 1 hectare, in the shape of a butterfly.
We did the maze, challenging with information boards telling stories that led visiting children through a series of questions that they could answer on printed leaflets that were handed out at the start. There were 2 sets of questions for 2 age levels.
The walls had been recently pruned back for the Spring growth so we were able to dismiss some of the dead ends without having to actually try them all out. In a month, the new growth will make our easy run impossible.
There were 2 busloads of children exploring the gardens while we were there and they were having great fun with all the games. Here’s a group entering the Brittany Garden ahead of us.
Here, a kid size Jenga game.
The Provence Garden apparently reminded Colette of the sea side.
The other games included dominoes, checkers, pick-up sticks and there were some farm animals as well. We enjoyed our time there and we are sure that Adrian, Amber, Tahshi and Elijah will have a good time there when they visit.
Next we went back to Travassac for another try at seeing the slate mines at the Pans.
We arrived at about 3.15pm to find everything closed and a French couple waiting for the 3.30 tour, with the ticket office firmly locked. 3.30 came and went then later a woman arrived who took our money, gave us a printed information sheet in English and informed us that we were waiting for a bus group to arrive.
The group of 36 arrived and we went into the Pans de Travassac.
The Pans have been mined for over 300 years and a huge amount of slate has been removed, from what are now deep chasms, with deep water pools at the bottom.
There is still slate at the site and it is still mined in small amounts for the maintenance of building that have used it before, but no longer in large amounts.
We found that the tour was very slow and incomprehensible to us in the French language so after waiting for 15 minutes at the first stop, and armed with our English information sheets, we moved ahead.
Down through one of the remaining troughs in the slate, it was an incredible experience. The amount of slate that has been mined must have been very lucrative for the miners.
There are several holes cut through the slate at various levels to provide access from one trough to the next as the miners descended over the centuries.
An eerie landscape.
Some of the higher, older excavations are a bit fragile and they have been secured with huge bolts dilled back into the walls to stop them falling. Though there is plenty of evidence of slate having fallen over the years.
Some of the walkways have observation points where you can look out into the adjoining chasm. These were originally platforms for cranes for moving mined slate around the site.
Some of the older falls have just been left where they fell, and nature has taken over, with moss and trees providing colour.
The natural layers of slate are impressive.
At the end of the tour is a work area where a slate miner shows how the mined slate is split and shaped into roof tiles, decorative hearts or other shapes as required. We didn’t hang around for the demonstration though as we were by now so far ahead of the group that we would have had to wait another hour to see it.
In another chasm was a musuem and a workshop for sharpening tools but there was nobody there so we finished our tour and headed off.
On the road outside we saw this shape of the Batman symbol. It looks like somebody has cut some slate in the symbol, stuck it to the road and then it has come off leaving the shape.
Just after we left Travassac, we were engulfed by a huge thunderstorm, here passing the railway station at Tulle on the way back to Canillac.
We gave a thought for the other people on the tour, now still in the Pans in all this rain, counting ourselves lucky.
Another interesting day.