Monday 24 May 2010

Balloon and Blood on the Rooftops

After a day with a long cycle ride for an even longer Sunday lunch, an evening on the terrace would perhaps be uneventful. Not so. First up was a hot air balloon. We've seen plenty over the years at the Bristol Balloon Festival, but can't recall ever seeing one in the Languedoc, perhaps because they only fly at dawn or dusk to avoid the worst of the regions notorious winds. Suitable landing sites must also be scarce. Dumping a sizeable basket supported by delicate fabric into a meadow or cornfield may be fine, but vinyards with their vine stumps and trailing wires don't bear thinking about.

This colourful balloon is decending into the sunset. The Hitchcokian black birds are Swallows doing their last circuits of the village before nightfall.

There's also a Swallow in this shot. It was nearly dark so the picture is grainy, but then that may be just as well for the faint hearted. A Kestrel has somehow caught and dragged a swallow onto some roof tiles and is about to crush its head before flying off with it, presumably to the nest.

Friday 21 May 2010

Railway remains

During the 1800s the Hérault was criss-crossed by the construction of a surprising number of railway lines. Aspiran was on a branch connecting Lodeve down to Beziers and Agde where the main coastal line still runs today. The stretch from the cost to Clermont l'Herault opened on 1858 and passed through the commune following a route next to that taken by the RN9 north from Paulhan today.

A couple of kilometres down the hill from the village is Aspiran Gare, a hamlet between the RN9 and the Hérault river. This picture is the remains of the station buildings, the line ran from near left to far right.

This remote section is where the line crossed the ravine of the Dourbie on its way to Clermont l'Herault. The viaduct is certainly the most pronounced rail legacy in the commune although vegetation precludes an interesting picture of the arch underneath. Its also just a stones throw from the the A75 autoroute opened in 2002.

At Paulhan the remains of the station and junction are still in strong evidence - this section going south was only closed in 1991. This is where the east-west line from Bédarieux and beyond to Montpellier crossed the Aspiran line. Further down, just past Lézignan-la-Cèbe, is a short branch to a quarry. Trains operated from here to the main line at Vias until the mid-2000s and will be restarting to provide stone for building the TGV line extension from Nîmes to Montpellier,

For more information seek out Chris Elliott's self published book The lost railway lines of l'Hérault, the text is in French and English. Chris can be contacted at christopher.elliott at (email disguised to reduce spam)