High places and dark shadows

After the blogs dominated by national politics it’s time to return to the countryside and the record of a day out taken a few weeks ago with a friend. We headed over to the east to Correns, an area we discovered in autumn, and had a charming walk around the lanes there. As everybody comments – and we aren’t going to dissent – spring is by far and away the best time to see the countryside here. In a month or two’s time the flowers will be over, the fresh colours of spring will have faded and the air will be hazy and dusty. And of course walking will be a sweaty business.

Correns surrounded by hills and organic vineyards

Then on via Bagnols, a town that like so many has lost its industry and not found an alternative, to the sharp-edged limestone ridge of the Gros Bessilon which rises up abruptly from a very attractive and fertile plain in the most striking manner. It is a feature that here is merely a hill but in the UK would be definitely counted as a mountain.

Gros Bessilon seen from about 50 km away.

In the clear air at the top there were fantastic views in every direction. Far away to the north and east we could see the snows of the edges of the Alps and the great limestone ridges that frame the Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseille. A particular delight was the explosion of flowers which we wished we could have identified.

There were scores of irises carpeting the ground, but plenty more we didn’t know the names of

Yet not all is sunlight and beauty at Gros Bessilon. At the foot of the ridge is a monument to a bloody incident near the summit in 1944 where, as the result of a betrayal, nearly a dozen resistance fighters and ten hostages were killed by the German occupying force. On that day, in the clear air, it was possible to make out, far to the north, the great ramparts of the Plateau of Vercors not far from Grenoble. Vercors is famous as the site of the greatest and bloodiest confrontation between the Resistance and the Nazis. There in June 1944, apparently under the belief that they would be supported by the Allies, the Resistance declared an independent state. Their hopes of support proved false, whatever aid came was too little and they were crushed without mercy.

Monument to those killed at Gros Bessilon

Plateau de Vercors from Gros Bessilon

To be reminded that such things happened is perhaps no bad thing in these days. We have taken for granted that Europe is a place of peace and stability. Within what is still just living memory terrible things happened here. M. Macron is perhaps overoptimistic and naive in his hopes for a new and more united Europe, but the history that Bessilon and Vercors reminds us of makes the point that there are worse alternatives. Far worse.

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