National Geographic : 1959 May
Chateau Gaillard, Grim Seine-side Ruin, Recalls Scenes of Heroism and Horror Richard Coeur de Lion reared the fortress in 1196 to protect the southern approaches to his Anglo-Norman fiefs. Set atop sheer rock, the castle seemed impregnable. For months in 1204 its English garrison resisted a French siege. Finally a few enemy soldiers slipped into an unguarded window and lowered the drawbridge. After fierce hand-to-hand fight ing, the castle fell. Thereafter it served often as a prison. One inmate, Queen Margaret of Burgundy, died of strangulation ordered by her husband Louis X. Behind the chateau the town of Les Andelys faces lush pastures on the river's far bank. Boullard proudly pointed to new windows in the church, and I saw that one of them was given by the Pilot Club of Chicago, Illinois. "You know," she said, "the Americans helped to destroy our town, but their gen erosity helped to rebuild it." Sheila and I took a picnic lunch to the valley hamlet of Les Champeaux, a few miles from Vimoutiers. On a grassy hill in the sun we ate bread baked that morning and a round of Camembert at its creamy best. Below us a church spire rose above a comfortable clutch of half-timbered houses. Around us tumbled the loveliest part of the Pays d'Auge. The air was softly fragrant and pleasantly warm for Normandy. A bell rang out at noon, mingling its music with school children's laughter. Bees hummed over the food before us. Cuckoos called from trees feathery with young leaves. War had not changed Les Champeaux. Normandy a Land of Varied Skills Normandy is not a geographical entity. Men and history, not nature, have fixed its bound aries. It occupies an area about the size of Maryland and Delaware combined, lying be tween Brittany and Picardy. The English Channel washes its coast from Mont St. Michel in the extreme southwest to Le Treport at the extreme northeast (map, page 600). Normandy is not merely a land of cows, apple trees, farmers, and lawyers. In Alengon, for instance, I looked at locally made lace so exquisite and delicate that, according to a museum guide, it has to be protected from moonlight. I wove through the textile town of Elbeuf, photographed the hand-worked copperware of Villedieu les Poeles, and mar veled at the magic potters' wheels of Noron la Poterie and ropemaking in St. C6me de Fresne. 596 At Ficamp I visited an elaborate distillery bottling for all the world the famed liqueur called Benedictine because it was originally concocted of humble herbs by a Benedictine monk in 1510; talked with fishermen at such salty little ports as Honfleur and Port en Bessin; and spent a morning in the stud stables of Le Haras du Pin to learn about Norman horses, particularly the powerful Percherons that pull the plows of France. We toured the whole province from the edge of Picardy's plains to the Brittany border.