Monday, 18 July 2011

Through a local lens No. 9

Le Pont du Diable, the Devil's Bridge, Olargues

This bridge, according to a legend carefully fostered by the Office de Tourisme, took a very long time to finish because of an unusual phenomenon largely unknown to today's building trade.

As fast as the 12th century masons put this bridge up by day, the Devil came by night and threw the newly-laid masonry into the river below.

Tiring of constantly helping the builders to fish blocks of limestone out of the river, the villagers consulted the one amongst them who might have the readiest access to the Devil. So the village priest sought him out, and a pact was made whereby the Devil would allow completion of the bridge on condition that he could claim body and soul of the first living creature to cross the bridge when it was finished.

On the day the bridge was completed the villagers gathered at one end while the Devil, come to claim his due, stood at the other. The two parties advanced towards the middle, the Devil with arms outstretched to receive his sacrificial victim, while the villagers shuffled forward uneasily.

When they were but half-a-dozen ells apart, near enough for the villagers to be almost overcome by the stink of the antichristian mercaptan, the villagers' ranks suddenly opened, and a cat was hurled into the arms of the Devil.

The Devil, outwitted and snarling with disappointed rage, vanished in a miasma of putrid smoke. The bridge has been open to traffic ever since, but nowadays few feel the need carry a cat with them just in case. Given the number of strays about the village, you would have thought the Office de Tourisme could have hired them out to gullible or romantically minded tourists, or those in deep trouble, as laissez-pussers.

This photo, with the classic view of the village and the Devil's Bridge, was taken by my friend Jean-Claude Branville, a man of many talents and a distant cousin of St Theresa of Lisieux. The logo in the bottom right-hand corner is that of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, The Most Beautiful Villages of France, of which Olargues is one out of about 150, to some extent due to Jean-Claude's efforts.

This is the view of the bridge from the terrasse of one of our favourite restaurants, Fleurs d'Olargues. It's the Devil's own job to get comfortable in those chairs. Maybe....?

There's a line from one of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales concealed in this post. If you spot it you're entitled to either a warm smile or a devilish grin. Please indicate your choice with your entry, as stocks are limited.

No comments: