Sunday 5 September 2010

Millstone Quarry and Basalt Capitelle walk

Nine a.m. is quite an early start for Aspiranaises the morning after the July 13th annual village meal and general merriment, but there was a good if not prompt turnout for this balade patrimoine. We met at the archaeological site of St-Bézard marked "P" on the map - seem my post Oldest Winery in France for more on that.

The objective was the long abandoned site of a millstone quarry. The walk took us up a lane to a col in the basalt lava flow I described in my volcanoes post. We then headed right along an ancient trading route, although according to my book on Drailles probably not the Roman Cami Ferrat as suggested by the girls leading the walk. The track soon enters the wooded whale-back ridge with the arrow in the picture, taken from the start, indicating the quarry.

Half way along the ridge is this basalt capitelle, typically a shepherd's refuge. While common in the area dark basalt ones are rare.

Just before the capitelle find a right turn along a path that passes next to a rather sad semi-abandoned caravan. This weaves through the oak tree trunks and starts to descend, eventually emerging at the millstone quarry occupying a tree free area the size of a few tennis courts. This overlooks a steeper drop to vineyards below.

At the quarry the dark basalt has given way to a pale conglomerate rock. The basalt was formed less than a million years ago from a lava which flowed like a river to fill what was then a valley. Subsequent erosion washed away the softer surrounding sedimentary rocks to leave the basalt on a ridge and exposing this rock at it's edge.

The first photo, with snippets of feet indicating the scale of things, show a millstone that was never extracted - perhaps as it split. The second outlines where one was extracted.

Millstones from this quarry were known to be used in moulins à eau (water mills) along the Hérault valley.

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