Posts Tagged ‘Doux Gorge’

Ardèche Bridges

October 28, 2018


The Bridge across the Duzon on the way to Tournon

Due to an operation on my hand, Kate is doing all the driving for a month, which gives me the opportunity to admire our beautiful landscape and to appreciate the marvellous engineering of our roads. Just for fun I started to count the bridges that we cross on our different runs to Lamastre, St.Félicien, Tournon and Valence. For example on the short trip to Lamastre, which is just 6 miles, we cross 9 brooks or rivers. Intrigued, I checked the Internet about the number of bridges in the whole of the Ardèche and it transpires that there are 2345 bridges included in the departmental road system. That excludes all minor roads, village streets and hiking paths.

There are in fact more bridges here than in the Alps. The reason – expressed in the language of a kindergarten-geologist – is that the glaciers scooped out motorways in the Alps, whereas erosion in the Ardèche had to fight against hard crystalline rock, thus creating a topography resembling the teeth of a comb.

As the Romans were keen to get from Marseilles up North, there are several Roman bridges in the Ardèche – or at least several which are called Roman. Traditionally, old looking bridges are very soon qualified as Roman, but in fact there are only two still in use. The language of course does not help: roman in French is Romanesque – romain is Roman.

Bridge at Boucieu-le-Roi

Then there are a great number of medieval bridges, including the one closest to us crossing the Doux to Boucieu-le-Roi. Once a Roman bridge, the present construction dates from 1492 – that is not counting the bits that fall off when big lorries get stuck on it (last patched up in 2017).

Setting up a Picnic for Walksweeks by the Boucieu bridge

Very often while hiking one comes across an old bridge in a remote places.

Bridge on path from St. Félicien to Nozières

The picture above is of a bridge near St. Félicien and is at the moment our favourite one. It is on the old path between St.Félicien and Nozières and only about 6 miles from Les Sarziers. We discovered it only last year, when we were asked to mark a path for the Tourist Office.

We have walked across some extraordinary bridges in the South Ardèche, many of them spectacular and often built in impossible places. Some we are told have had the generous assistance of the devil. (As a Swiss I do feel obliged to inform you that there is only one genuine Devil’s bridge in the world, which crosses the Reuss on the St.Gotthard pass road. The others are all fake and the guy they thought was Satan was a farmer with a strange hair style and a pitch fork).

The Devil’s Bridge near Thuyets across the Ardèche river

The Ardèche boasts two famous inventors. In the 18th century, Monsieur Mongolfier from Annonay invented the hot air balloon. It is not clear whether his invention was prompted by the winding roads, and whether he thought that if everyone had a hot air balloon you could stop building bridges. Anyhow we are very proud of him and so was the king of France.

Suspension bridge across the Rhone from Tournon to Tain

Some 30 years later Marc Seguin, his somewhat more down-to-earth great-nephew, turned his attention to bridges and came up with the suspension bridge. Admittedly the concept was not completely original, as there were already chain bridges in the States and in Great Britain. What was new was the use of steel cables instead of chains. His first big bridge was built across the Rhône between Tournon and Tain in 1825, and his design became the prototype for the whole of France.

Spanning the Rhone is quite a feat and worthy of another post.  But tucked away in our side valleys, small ones like this will do.

Episode Cévenol number 9

November 29, 2014


It is rare that I am doing the blog entry, but since I am not cutting down trees, laying a floor or building a wall I have some time on my hands and since it is about weather it seems to be appropriate that you get the specialist’s opinion. Up until now I kept it quiet that I was a Beobachter in the Swiss army – that means I was responsible for observing the weather. Now you know – ask me before you start World War III.

It is now the very end of November and the ninth time this year that we have had un épisode cévenol, the heavy rain storms of Southern France that cause devastation, floods, up-rooted trees and landslides.  In an average year these storms occur two or three times, but this year they returned again and again.


Bridge in Lamastre November 2014

The Doux along the Mastrou railway track


What is it?  It is a short spell un épisode of torrential rain and thunder storms caused by the Cevennes mountain range cévenol that catches the moist air from the sea. As the air rises it pours most of the Mediterrenean on to the hills between Nîmes, Arlebosc, Vaison la Romaine and St.Tropez.

ec3Joel Collado, the French Weather Guru patiently tries to explain this on the radio. According to him it happens only in the autumn, when the temperature of the Mediterrenean is still high in relation to the cold air coming from an Atlantic depression, a low pressure zone which is further South than usual. That’s why in Paris the weather is often splendid while the Rhône is breaching its banks.

When asked whether this is the worst year ever, he seems to be a bit coy – just saying it is very bad.  Who knows, it might have been worse in 1514!


Our concerned friends often ask whether we are OK at Les Sarziers, probably imagining floods like the ones that caused so much distress in Somerset and other areas of England last year.  In fact the water never really threatens us.  It is the effect of erosion that can be a danger to the roads, walls and hillsides around us.


Our road 400 yds above Les Sarziers

During storm number seven three weeks ago, part of Roger’s field got dislogded and ended up on the Route Departementale as if a giant carpet had been swept from under the cows’ feet (luckily the cows were somewhere else).

Little streams appear everywhere





The effect of these rain storms in our hills is an awesome illustration of brutal natural power.  When the swollen streams finally hit the bottom of the valley and the space for all this water gets scarce, the rivers swell at an incredible speed.  The difference of the water level in the Doux below us can be up to 20 feet in a few hours, as happened in the flood of 1963.  And as everybody in Arlebosc will tell you, it was the day of  the postman’s wedding, and that the water carrried a caravan over the Boucieu bridge.  In 2003 Arlebosc was in the news when a villager was swept away after his car got stuck a few yards before the bridge.  So the best thing to do is to stay indoors (not what I learned in the Swiss Army) and that’s why I am a bit short of my own pictures.

Archive picture 1963


The submerged bridge at Retourtour 1963


Le Vélorail

September 9, 2011

The little station at Boucieu le Roi is buzzing with life once again. Two years after the sudden discontinuation of the steam train, the much-loved Mastrou, its platform is humming with life, the level crossing barrier is back in action and we hear the familiar toot toot of the diesel autorail as it makes its way back up the valley.

The service is booked up solidly until the end of October, but last Saturday we were able to sneak abord number 00 for our trial run.

We were very excited to be the first ones to set off down the line, and our valiant pedallers were so enthusiastic that we arrived in record time, having encountered goats and a couple of chickens on the line, waved at fishermen in the Doux and paused for a moment to admire the splendid bridge over the narrows.

Then it was into the tunnel and away down the gorge. This is the most spectacular, and least strenuous, part of the trip. We know the line well of course, having used both the steam and diesel service regularly for many years whilst it was still operating, but this open air experience gives you a completely different impression of the landscape and the incredible feat of engineering which was necessary to carve a railway line through this dramatic gorge. The run is truly spectacular, passing through a completely unspoiled and largely uninhabited valley, which is otherwise absolutely inaccessible.

Once the whole convoy of twenty pedal cars had arrived at the little station of Troye, everybody boarded a double autorail dating from the 1930’s and completely renovated last year. The line of cars was hitched on behind us and we trundled back up to Boucieu. A great morning and a fantastic addition to Walksweeks. We know our guests are going to love it!


Here they come!

July 6, 2011

At last it is possible once again to travel down the Doux Gorge on the railway line! These are the vélorail pedal cars which have just started operating, as a first step to restoring full resumption of the Mastrou steam train service. The cars seat four people, the front ones pedalling and the rear passengers just enjoying the view! You start at Boucieu and travel all the way down the gorge to the Gare de Troye, before Tournon. There, one of the diesel trains from the 1960’s brings all the passengers back up to Boucieu.

We have not yet tried it out, but it looks like a lot of fun and, although we are still a long way from normal service, it will be exciting to experience the dramatic gorge from one’s own little cart, rather than from the train carriage. Can’t wait to have a go!

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