Our départment changes its slogan almost as frequently as you or I change our socks, and “Emerveillé par l’Ardèche” is its latest version. Overwrought and almost unpronounceable as it seems to us, we had to think again yesterday when we encountered a couple of Belgian tourists who were, literally, amazed by the secrets that the Ardèche has up its sleeve.
It is boiling hot at les Sarziers and we had planned a day out in the mountains to cool off. So we headed to le Cheylard and from there into the region of the Boutières, a dramatic landscape of sucs – the local term for long-extinct volcanic domes – plunging gorges and wide sweeping vistas. At around 1,300 m altitude the air was pleasantly cool, the fields still full of late spring flowers, and in the hedges the elder was in full bloom.
We headed towards the little village of Borée because we wanted to take another look at an unusual work of land art which we had first seen soon after its inauguration in 2008.
Nine years later, the work has settled into its site, the rocks have weathered on their more exposed sides, tiny bilberry bushes have taken root in some of the crevices and the sheep, who crop the hillside, have scooped out comfy places for themselves to shelter from bad weather in the lee of the taller stones.
The work, known as the Tchier de Borée, consists of 70 irregular shaped stones, set upright in a circular pattern around a roughly paved area, with an omphalos at its centre. Many of the stones are carved with inscriptions, symbols, runes and sculpted figures and the whole thing has a fantastically complex and symbolic meaning for its creators, Serge Boyer and Fabienne Versé. If you are interested you can find out more here (bi-lingual text).
Whether or not you subscribe to their mystical view, this is a stunning artwork which communicates on many levels. It is perfectly set in the landscape, on a fairly steep slope opposite the little granite village.
The stones themselves are of irregular shape, and as you walk around the geometry constantly shifts as you see them from different perspectives and in different alignments. The stunning backdrop of the mountains frames the work dramatically and in some cases the stones have been chosen to echo the natural shape of the sucs, blending the artistic with the natural rock formations.
For a long time we were the sole visitors, the silence only broken by birdsong, crickets, the humming of insects and the sound of cowbells carrying from across the valley. The stones had been warmed to body heat by the sun and leaning against them gave you a comfortable feeling, as if you were resting against the flank of a docile animal.
As we watched, a magnificent thunderstorm approached from the south, with spectacular lightning flashes and rumbles of thunder.
And it was at this point that we noticed the couple, wandering amongst the stones, visibly impressed and also puzzled. They asked us what we could tell them about the work and we got into conversation.
They were staying further south, near Privas and, like us, had come up to the Boutières to escape the heat. The day before, they had stumbled upon the abandoned abbey at Mazan – perched improbably in the middle of nowhere at an altitude of 1,446 metres, and told us that they thought it was amazing. Today, they had been looking for a hamlet where the houses still have the traditional roofs thatched with broom. But as the storm approached and they headed away from it towards Borée they caught sight of the unusual pattern of rocks and came to investigate.
There is absolutely no information sign, nothing but this little hand painted notice asking visitors to keep the gate shut so that the sheep can’t get out.
No leaflets, no entrance fee, no interactive screens – it is left up to the visitor to stumble upon this enigmatic work of art and ….. to be amazed.