For the past three years now, the Tourist Information Office has been putting a storytelling tour in the Gorges of the River Cère. The event takes place during the summer, in the evening. In a unique atmosphere, participants make their way along the path from the Roucolle waterfall to the Tourist Information Office by torchlight, enjoying a mixture of tales, songs, Occitan dialect, legends and anecdotes along the way. Read on and find out all about what brought this idea about, how it has evolved and what the event consists of today.
I remember being at the Tourist Information Office for an informal meeting over a spot of my perfect idea of breakfast, that is Tome cheese tart and Cantal biscuits. Members of the Carladès Ambassador team had come along, all keen to take part in a lively brainstorming session aimed at coming up with all sorts of new ideas of events to organize over the summer. We were looking for events with a difference for our visitors, so it didn’t matter how weird and wonderful our ideas were.
We began by chatting about the must-see spots, those unmissable sites that make Carladès so inviting.
From a landscape point of view, it can be said that Carladès is THE vantage point of the Massif Cantalien area. Indeed, locally there are lots of short walks that head to the heights sometimes with viewpoint tables, and all with absolutely breathtaking views of the surrounding summits… The Ronesque basalt rock table, Puy Gros, Rocher des Pendus, Puy Peyrou, Puy de Bâne… everyone has their own favourite!
Then come the beautiful castles that make Carladès so special, from Pesteils Castle in Polminhac with events that is now well renowned for, to Messilhac Castle on the edge of the limit between Cantal and Aveyron.
And what about waterfalls! There are so many, we can’t even count them! Some are the ideal place for a gentle stroll, whereas others are well hidden, off the beaten track even and the paths leading to them can sometimes be quite steep!
All of that is very well and good of course, but what we actually wanted to find was something in the area that we could really share with visitors, a part of our culture. Something that would take visitors on a journey, create a unique experience that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. Something that felt like the unveiling of a secret. That was it… enchanted stories whispered at a rock face, mysterious characters living deep in the woods, tales to capture the spirit of a place and recall past legends.
Having found the theme, we now had to find the place. Somewhere both magical and emblematic, created by the very force of nature, its volcanic activity and glaciers. And there, our thoughts converged around the Pas de Cère gorges; a site that has been attracting visitors for generations, where lovers come to whisper their secrets, where plant and wildlife is preserved and where you feel at peace and in harmony with nature. It was perfect. What better place than here to create a special summer event. The Pas de Cère gorges are already classified and protected as an Espace Natural Sensible and the site attracts thousands of visitors every year where the river provides a lovely shady spot for a walk in the summer. And what better time to create a unique atmosphere than at night fall, your imagination alert, voices echoing between the cliff faces in the gorges and just the sound of the trickling river to break nature’s silence as the day draws to a close.
And so the idea of a storytelling tour in the Pas de Cère gorges came about … all eager to give it a go, ready to take the plunge and lucky to have the help of a very talented storyteller.
The event has been going for the last three years, and still visitors feel the same amazement, with even a twinkle in their eyes, as they listen to Didier’s tales. We’re all set then for another three wonderful storytelling tours this summer!
A few basic recommendations before leaving and then the all-important check to make sure everyone has got the right equipment; namely a good pair of shoes (as the path down to the gorges can be a bit slippery), a waterproof and warm clothes (it can be a bit chilly as night falls) and a torch or headlamp. It does help to see where you are going! That all done, it’s all aboard the coach specially laid on for the 5 minute journey to the Pas de Cère parking area where the walk will begin.
The coach drops everyone off just past the Visitor’s Centre in the shape of a barn with red wooden pillars. The group gathers at the edge of the wood where Didier, the storyteller, is waiting.
His smooth tone of voice, sometimes in Occitan, cheerful nature and mastery of the art of storytelling mean that everyone feels immediately at home. As night slowly falls over the forest and the River Cère, young and old alike are completely captivated by the Didier’s stories that come to life.
To get into the swing, we begin with a short walk down towards the viewpoint platform overlooking the Roucolle waterfall. Then we continue down a steep slope to a clearing in the woods. We steadily advance one behind the other, the kids a little bit ahead (but always behind Franck or Bernard, our two guides there to keep the group safe and well). What an adventure for the kids to be up so late. They have no trouble managing the 3-hour walk, broken up with regular stops and covering a total distance of 4 kilometres.
Didier is passionate about local legends collected from the elders in the local villages. Choosing his moments carefully, he stops the group to tell a tale, mime and sing in a harmonious mixture of French and Occitan dialect. Stories and legends come and go. What about the one about a bet between St Pierre and the Devil, the tale of wolf hunters, the legend behind the miraculous fountain, the “hunt in the sky”, the tale of a fantastic beast that prowls Carladès, or the story of a miller’s plight and a strange young girl who disappears as night falls!
We stop at the foot of the glacial rock bar formed by the fire of volcanoes and then the force of glaciers. It’s the water that cascaded down the mountain that created this 30-metre long gorge in the rock known as the Pas de Cère. Didier invites the group to sit on the pebble beach at the water’s edge. We listen to the sound of the water, his voice echoing on the walls, and sometimes make out the sound of a nocturnal animal or two.
The atmosphere absorbs us, suspended in time, wrapped in the softness of the night. Then the walk continues after the footbridge, our lights shining on the parasols along the footpath. One last tale around the old mill before leaving this beautiful natural site, the valley opening out onto fields and meadows.
The way back to the Tourist Information Office follows a narrow country lane and then onto a footpath through the park. The torchlight procession is quite a sight and as the group gets weary, the flames brightly light up the way. With everyone’s imagination aroused by this magical evening, now’s the time for young and old alike to pursue the adventure in dreams full of the characters in Didier’s legends.
Practical information: You are advised to wear walking shoes or otherwise closed shoes with good grip. Don’t forget to wear warm clothes, and bring along a waterproof, water and a torch or a headlamp. Children are welcome, but they must be good walkers, aged at least 6 years old and are under the full responsibility of their parents. The start of the walk drops down about 250 metres into the gorges.
le 20 February 2019