Watery Walk – La Vallée de la Bonnette

La Bonnette – raging torrent

The River Bonnette rises above Saint-Projet on the causse above Caylus and ends its journey some 25 kilometers away at Saint-Antonin-Noble Val, where it joins the River Aveyron. Normally, it meanders peacefully through green, rolling countryside. It even dries up in places during a drought. Last week it was in full spate after the rain transformed it into a raging torrent.

Owing to the wet weather, our walking group had to have a change of plan this week. It had stopped raining but the place where we had planned to walk was a quagmire. Instead, we started out from Loze, a tiny village perched on a rocky promontory above the Bonnette. We did a circular walk, which took in the “gorges de la Bonnette”.

The River Bonnette marks the demarcation line between the ancient regions of Quercy and Rouergue. To the west lies the Quercy, land of limestone plateaux and stunted oak woods. To the east is the Rouergue, with its undulating hills and forests of oak and sweet chestnut. Along its course the river passes the villages of Saint-Projet (Château de la Reine Margot), Loze (fortified church), Lacapelle Livron (Templar commandery), Saint-Pierre de Livron and Caylus (many historical features about which I must write one day).

I have read somewhere, but now can’t find it, that the Bonnette has the highest concentration of watermills in the region. In its steeper upper reaches, where the water flows fastest, there is one every 200 metres or so. Few of them are now working mills and most are résidences secondaires. Some have been well restored while others are in the process of renovation. I wouldn’t like to live in a watermill. While it’s probably pleasant in summer I imagine it might be damp in winter. I’d be afraid of flooding, too.

Working watermills include a sawmill below Caylus and le Moulin de Vignasses below Loze. Marie-Ange Chamerois and her husband bought Vignasses about 10 years ago and now have a thriving goat farm and cheese-making business. Marie-Ange – who lives up to her name – can be seen smilingly purveying cheese and information about its manufacture at the Caylus Saturday market. The Chamerois use their water-powered mill to grind organic flour.

Flour milling at le moulin de Vignasses

Our group walked down the narrow lane that follows the Bonnette from Saint-Projet to the sound of rushing water. I have never seen the river so boisterous at this point. Fed by swollen streams, it bounced over hidden rocks, cascaded down waterfalls and foamed over rapids. Nightingales, cuckoos and orioles competed with the watery symphony. To get back up to Loze we had to climb a steep hill. Halfway up is this spring next to a lavoir (wash-house), which is fed by one of the many underground streams that riddle the limestone causse.

Spring below Loze – eau non potable (water not drinkable)

Every year in mid-June, the Association Moulins du Quercy takes part in les Journées du Patrimoine de Pays et des Moulins. Mills of all types in the area are involved. Some of them are open only on those days. They usually lay on demonstrations of milling à l’ancienne and plenty of other activities. The mills include not only watermills but also windmills, of which very few remain in a working state, and those powered by animals. The dates this year are Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th June.

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  1. What a smashing walk. The watermill must have been fascinating. There are few old ones around here, but none working, although a couple are inhabited. As you say, though, I imagine they’re rather dank and chilly.


    • It is a lovely area and it’s nice that there are still several working water mills in the area. But I wouldn’t like to live in one over the winter.


  2. It is truly a beautiful part of France. We used to travel through from our previous home in Montcuq on our way to a friend’s place in Gaillac. Great walk and lovely to hear the nightingale and the golden oriol as well as that naughty old cuckoo!


    • We are lucky to be surrounded by such lovely countryside. I love the Bonnette Valley, which is really pretty, and there are some magnificent views from the hills overlooking it.


  3. oh that’s so nice you are part of a walking group! I recently joined a hiking group that takes hikes in the mountains around the Community of Madrid. It’s so amazing to get out of the city and you forget there is a bustling capital about an hour away! I’ll have to post pictures from the hikes. 😀


    • There are a lot of walking groups in France; it’s a very popular pastime. We also like walking on our own, though, since I think you observe more if you’re not deep in conversation with someone else. You must have some good pictures from your hikes.


  4. Thanks again for the information about the patrimoine weekend for the moulins! I’m glad you mentioned the goat cheese farm here as well. My American friends from Promilhanes drove me by the farm and told me it is the best goat cheese anywhere. I, of course, couldn’t remember where it was, but now I know! I see your broad bean and goat cheese salad in my future soon.


    • You must try her cheese. It’s very good and she also does flavoured versions rolled in herbs and spices which I like. I have to admit that the salad is an adaptation of a River Café Cookbook recipe. They use pecorino but I think goat cheese is good. The broad bean season is short so it’s a treat when they’re available.


      • I bought what I think are broadbeans at market Saturday and tried your salad using another hard cheese. It was fabulous! Those beans are a bit of work, but the flavor is lovely…kind of nutty. I’m definitely going to make the trip to buy some cheese, either at her place or in one of the markets.


        • It sounds as if you got the right beans. I’m glad you enjoyed the salad, even if the beans are a lot of work. You wouldn’t want to make it for a lot of people.


  5. That all sounds lovely. I’ll have to look it up when we get back to France. Tuscany is also very rainy this month, but warm now, which it wasn’t a week ago.


    • The wild flowers are gorgeous this year and the hedgerows are full of them. One of the upsides of all the rain we’ve had the past couple of months.


  6. Lovely tranquil scenes, Vanessa. Amsterdam is so hectic when the sun shines it would be lovely to have a bit more peace and quiet in the summer! That waterfall has helped me cool down.


    • Thanks for your comment, Susan. It really is lovely here this spring, despite the bad weather. By the end of June/early July it will no longer be green and it will quickly turn brown and crisp. We have to make the most of it while it is like this.


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