Tuesday 12th July
Béziers, Colombiers, Etang de Montady and Ensérune
The intention today was to drive to Béziers to have a look at the staircase of seven locks at Fonserannes. Before reaching Béziers the Canal du Midi has to descend 25 metres into the Orb Valley. This big staircase locks which takes it down the slope was Riquet’s final victory over his enemies and critics. It originally had 9 locks and 8 basins, but now has just 7 locks, although it is still called the Neuf Écluses de Fonserannes. When we were in this part of the world many years ago with Sue and Ken from nb Cleddau we did pay a visit to the locks and were overawed by the speed of the water – they seemed to get the boats through two locks at once, so we thought a return visit was a good idea before we have to tackle them ourselves on our next trip along the Canal du Midi in a few years time.
After a brief diversion we eventually found some signs to Fonserannes and also picked up a Petit Train heading that way, so we tucked in behind it and followed it out of town. We came to a huge car park – nothing like our previous visit.
It was lovely and empty, so we thought we had picked a good day.
We made our way up this very impressive gently sloping walkway
With benches for the weary at regular intervals
To the top and the Canal du Midi
And that is where it all ended! They are constructing a new visitor centre and there is no way to view the locks until July 2017!!
There was one reward - this wonderful view of the Cathedral in Béziers
We were at the top of the locks and our previous visit was to the bottom which was all a bit ad hoc with no real parking – more of an abandonment of your car on some scrub land at to the bottom right of this picture. This is an aerial shot from a postcard bought back in 2000.
The lady in the Tourist Office informed us that it is no longer to possible to access them this way – the only means at present is to take a trip boat which is what we now plan to do on Friday, so more on this wonder in a few days time.
We decided to move on from Béziers and leave further exploration of the cathedral and the town until Friday. Our next stop was to Colombiers to see what we missed when we made the decision to stop at Capestang and head back to Bram. The answer was not a lot! Well not the bit we looked at any rate. There is a very large port with not many mooring spots and we think we would have had real trouble finding somewhere suitable for Winnie.
There is a bridge across the middle to the banks of the canal on the other side, but once again there were no spare moorings big enough for Winnie.
We did like the idea of this stage and seating – we are sure it will be well used over the summer and in particular on 14th July.
And finally – these do look like fun!!
By then it was getting near to lunch time so we headed for a point on the map called Oppidum of Ensérume. The map had this marked as a view point which we hoped would give us something wonderful to look at whilst we had our picnic lunch. We climbed up and up along a very narrow minor road and spotted a sign for parking. We chose our spot, but then realised it was still quite a way from the top. I made the ascent (saving Chris’s dodgy knee) up a fairly lengthy slope and 66 steps of varying shapes and sizes to see if it was worth the effort.
It was if only to discover a car park at the top, so I returned the way I had come and we drove up the rest of the way.
And there we found a rectangular stone to sit on with an amazing view – a perfect picnic spot!
There is a good view of the railway line with a host of oil tankers in a siding – Chris wondered if they were stock piling oil in case of another strike?
We have no idea what this building is or what the chimney like structure is? But take note - it might appear again another day!
And the view – well it was of the Etang de Montady or the "pond of Montady". It is a drained "lagoon" or more accurately a former freshwater wetland that is popularly said to have been constructed by the Visigoths but was realised by monks during the second half of the 13th century, under authorisation of the Archbishop of Narbonne.
The area was drained by making radial ditches from a single centre point out to the extremities. The water flows to this centre point and is then drained through an underground culvert and through the Malpas hill and under the Malpas Tunnel on the Canal du Midi. The field plots are of a triangular configuration due to the radial lines from the centre.
The fact that the drain for Montady went through Malpas encouraged Pierre-Paul Riquet to build a tunnel through the same hill for the canal.
What we had not realised was that there was going to be a connection to the Canal du Midi.
It was definitely worth the drive. The photos do not do it justice – you need an aerial shot to get the best view. The main crop these days is rice.
This diagram shows the relation of the draining of the Etang des eaux de Montaday and the relative positions and dates of the excavation of the Malpas tunnel on the Canal du Midi, the railway tunnel (1855) and a Roman road and the walkway for the barge horses.
We did find both ends of the Malpas tunnel which is just 165 metres long. It is one way and the method of control is to sound your horn before entering and hope no one replies! You go in here coming from west to east
And out here
And this is what it looks like inside
We finished our lunch at Oppidum of Ensérume and found that there is an archaeological site and museum up there.
It was a fascinating place to visit and must have been a thriving town/village in it’s hey day.
The inhabitants of old were able to enjoy the views although the houses do appear to be rather near the edge. For grain conservation the houses were equipped with a silo or dolium, identifiable by its earthenware neck.
There are many artifacts in the museum and the fine detail of many of the tools, items of jewellery etc make it well worth spending time to enjoy and marvel at.
Some remains are still very large and quite complete – amazing considering their age.
It is a large site and was definitely worth visiting.
You can even get a view of the Canal du Midi.
A totally unexpected find as we had no idea this place existed. So a very different day from the one we had expected to spend in Béziers, but none the worse for that.