[Ruines de Crozant]


With canoeing rental and boat trips available from the Hotel du Lac at Crozant and the beaches of the Lac de Chambon only ten minutes drive north there is much to see and do in this wonderful rustic setting in the heart of France.

Around Crozant, the word Creuse and its derivatives conjures up not just the départment, but also the river, this little town and its medieval castle and even the Impressionist school of painting.

The importance of these varied interests: historical, architectural, natural and cultural,  is acknowledged in particular by the inscription of this special site on the register of national heritage.

The erosion caused by the Creuse and its tributary the Sédelle, has created a landscape where the rivers sink into ravines 70m high and carve clifftops in the adjacent streams. These valleys are two green ribbons of woodlands in the heart of a bocage landscape whose meadows, fields, orchards and gardens, are surrounded by hedges extending across the plateau.

The woods consist of hardwood coppice (oak, chestnut, beech, hornbeam) pushing on up the steepest slopes. When the relief softens, softwood plantations (spruce, Douglas fir) appear. Moorland appears between granite outcrops of the slopes, or cling to the cliffs, punctuating the open spaces. Erosion has cleared many rocks; some rolled down into the rivers, creating turbulent swirls of water.

[Pont de Charreau]
17th C. Pont de Charreau – A devil of a contract!
The 17th century Pont de Charreau marks the upstream limit of the scope of protection of the national site in the Sédelle Valley. This pretty granite bridge owes its location to softening of the slopes at the confluence of these two rivers. Legend has it that its construction was the result of a contract with the devil!

Downstream from the bridge, the meadows of the valley floor shrink rapidly to make way for a forest growing on steep slopes. Many rocks have fallen from cliffs and rolled down the slope to settle in the bed of the raging river. Towards Crozant village the Sédelle becomes a torrent at the bottom of a narrow valley and enclosed by a dense coppice It then passes under an 18th century stone bridge, before joining the Creuse.

[Moulin Bouchardon]
Moulin Bouchardon by Armand Guillaumin, 1895

Two mills, built on the left bank, punctuate the course of the Sédelle:
Moulin Bouchardon, a large gray building with a wooden bridge and the Moulin de la Folie set against a cliff, with its outbuildings and 17th century bridge – immortalised in paint by  Armand Guillaumin in 1895.

[Moulin de la Folie, Armand Guillaumin, 1902]
Moulin de la Folie, Armand Guillaumin, 1902

North of the town of Crozant, the Creuse and Sédelle flow practically parallel to their confluence, creating a narrow rocky promontory 500m long, pointing north . This peninsula afforded a strategic and defensive position since at least Prehistoric and Gallo-Roman times. The feudal castle, which conforms to the shape of the spur, took its final appearance in the thirteenth century overlooking the waters by some 70m. The victim of the vicissitudes of warfare, it began falling apart in the 16th century, but its ruins now admirably suit the surrounding natural scenery.

Lined with steep ravines where once rumbled rapid waters, these decrepit ruins have created an impressive and picturesque vision, famously much appreciated at the beginning of the century by the Impressionist painters. Crozant, built at the confluence is a small village whose houses are strung out along the few roads. The church square, named “Chopeline“, offers a rich panorama of the confluence and the ruins.

[Les Ruines de Crozant]
Les Ruines de Crozant

Because of the dramatic character and transient colours of the location this site inspired many other Impressionists after Armand Guillaumin discovered it in the late 19th century. Thereafter it become forever associated with the Crozant school. George Sand took walks in this picturesque, site in the company of Chopin who found it a source of musical inspiration. Currently the site is very popular with tourists who come to admire the imposing landscapes and ruins. Many trails have been landscaped and sign-posted, with benches and picnic areas provided.

Since 1927, the Eguzon dam raised the water level of the Creuse and submerged the wildest part of the valley thereby changing the landscape dramatically. Nevertheless, this has strengthened the site significantly as a tourist destination.

Only half a century ago, the slopes of these two valleys were covered with heaths heather, gorse, broom and ferns grazed by goats. The plateau afforded some strip mixed farming and animal husbandry. Today these slopes have been largely abandoned or reforested naturally with conifers, covering the rocks, uncovering rare mossy moorland and overgrown oak.