Friday, December 30, 2011

Exceptional entry into Pont-en-Royans

When Fitzroy became a family member at Gamone, a year or so ago, I was obliged to abandon my pleasant old habit of strolling down to Pont-en-Royans on foot, because looking after two dogs would not be easy, particularly on the stretch of road that runs alongside the Bourne, where's there's nothing you could call a pedestrian pavement. Here's a Google Street View presentation of the main road into Pont, a hundred meters after the Rouillard Bridge over the Bourne (midway between Gamone and Pont), which runs down the valley to the right of the road:

Pont is located not far beyond the bend at the far end of the main road with the white lines. In the vicinity of the point from which the photo was taken, if I were walking to Pont, I would be using a track through the woods up to the left, at the level of the tree line. Notice the knob up on the crest of the mountain to the right, the Trois Châteaux. You could see this knob clearly in the second photo in my recent blog post entitled Virgin Mary of Pont-en-Royans [display]. That's the ruins of the medieval watchtower enabling a few guardsmen to look out over three feudal castles located further down in the valley, to make sure that no assailants were moving towards any one of these castles.

The above photo contains another interesting detail. Notice the existence of the narrow road, with no signs whatsoever, that runs off to the left, and up the slopes, towards the woods. Let me ask you a trivial question. If you were a motorist, heading towards Pont-en-Royans (a few hundred meters down the road), is there anything that might tempt you to leave the main highway and drive up along that unmarked narrow road? Well, of course, there's always the possibility of an urgent need to relieve oneself in a natural setting. Apart from that, I shall explain in a moment that there's another theoretical reason, apparently, for setting off on a wild goose chase along a narrow wooded mountain lane. It's called GPS: the Global Positioning System. And this fabulous system can lead you into big trouble...

The pedestrian track joins up with that narrow road, a little further on, and you soon reach an entry into an ancient neighborhood of the village of Pont-en-Royans called Villeneuve (literally, "new town"). Here's the first house up there in the Villeneuve neighborhood:

Although the portal itself has disappeared, you can still see its traces to the left and the right of the road.

This tiny neighborhood came into existence in the 17th century. The year 1674 is engraved in the stone window frame of one of the houses:

Residents of the three or four dwellings at Villeneuve can drive up here along the narrow road that you saw in my first photo. The owner of this red vehicle has then turned his car around and backed into this convenient parking spot, at the top of the stone stairs that run down to the Picard Bridge.

Last summer, an English tourist was driving down towards Pont-en-Royans. When he reached the place shown in my first photo, he seemed to receive curious advice from his GPS device, which told him to turn to the left. He interpreted this as meaning that he should head off up the hill along that narrow road leading to the Villeneuve neighborhood. At that time, when he drove through the narrow portal and past the house with the date 1674, there was no big block of stone at the spot where the red car is now parked, since the handful of local residents all knew that the road stopped there. However the English tourist didn't know this. And, since his GPS device reassured him that Pont-en-Royans was just a hundred meters down the hill, he kept on driving. When he started to bump down over these stone steps, the tourist must have felt that the road was extraordinarily narrow and in pretty bad shape:

But his GPS kept on telling him that the Picard Bridge and the entry into Pont-en-Royans were less than 50 meters away. Besides, it would have been particularly difficult to back up over those steep stone steps. So he kept on driving. Halfway down, he must have been an expert driver, and taken great pains, to get through this narrow passage:

After that ultimate difficulty, the tourist's downhill drive ended here, at the bottom of the Villeneuve stairway.

His automobile and his faithful GPS system had at last brought him to the village of Pont-en-Royans... or almost. Unfortunately, there was no way in the world that he could drive his car through the narrow opening at the level of the two final steps. So, his car got firmly wedged in between the stone walls. And he had a unique opportunity (for a tourist at the wheel of his automobile) of viewing the terrasse of the Picard bistrot from an unusual place and angle.

The only way of extracting the tourist consisted of calling upon a local guy with a backhoe loader to knock down the stone wall to the right, and nudge the car onto the road.


As you can see, the wall has now been repaired. I believe that a local newspaper has a photo of the trapped automobile at the foot of the staircase. Later on, if I can obtain a copy, I'll add it to this blog post. Meanwhile, I'm told that the English tourist was furious to discover how hard it was to drive down a quite ordinary road whose existence was indicated explicitly by his faultless GPS device. Back in the UK, where roads and road signs are impeccable, it would be unthinkable to get into such an annoying predicament. Bloody Frog highway authorities!

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