Keith Gascoigne



France, Midi, Lot

The medieval commune of Carennac is in the north west corner of Lot. It is on the banks of the river Dordogne and so popularly included in the region name of Dordogne. There is an Abbey and tower with connections with Louis 14th and Fenelon and a wooded island between the main river and the mill leet.

Carennac court-yard

The image above shows the courtyard near the abbey.

The bridge in Carennac goes over a small stream in a valley which, in medieval times, probably supplied drinking water to the old abbey. The house on the left (you can see the roof on the bottom left in the image below) is built in the valley and it was here that a master joiner lived.

Bridge over the valley

I went to talk with him but he wasn’t there. However, his mother was cooking a meal in a large, black marmite hanging from a chain in an open fireplace. I wanted to arrange to meet her son and failed completely to communicate anything to her - and she to me. I realized, after a while, that she was speaking patois and couldn’t understand french at all and she had lived there all her life.

This is the famous tower Genevre that is all that remains of the old abbey.

tour genevre

Fenelon taught the young Louis 14th - the sun king - here. The abbey probably stood to the right of this tower and was used as a quarry and timber supply when the village suffered a huge fire some time in the 1200s. The tower in the left background (you can just see the roof) is a pigeonnaire in a farm building that a friend asked us to look at in the early 1980s as she was interested in buying it. The tower had been built on a large oak beam but over the centuries this beam had sagged until the tower was leaning over and in danger of falling down - a small thing when dealing with buildings of this age. It has obviously been sorted out because it was still there in 1995 when this photograph was taken.

La Grange en face de la PTT is where I stayed occasionally during the late 1970s to the early 1980s (preMayle era) when no other english etrangers lived in this commune.

la grange

Most lived in the Dordogne region. The barn has had a new roof and had some cosmetic work done to it since I was there and looks quite respectable now. During the war, a german man was staying there. He hated anything military and no-one turned him in - even during the height of the atrocities. He came back, while I was at the barn one winter, for a look but said nothing. Carennac was a living village then with a good butchers shop, a bakery, a quarry on the outskirts which kept a lot of the men in paid work. The fish-van came round every Wednesday morning and stopped in front of the barn. If it was raining the women would come into the barn to shelter. The door was never locked. A pattiserrie van called once a week on Friday. Marc was made next to the midden heap near the mairie’s house and there wasn’t a boutique or gift-shop anywhere.

This is a beautiful old building along the road from the PTT* (if it is still there, it was at the top of the rue des anglais).

house with cave

It is a family house where the three (or four) generations would have lived together. The ground floor would have been the cave where all the farming implements, tools, stores, tobacco where stored. Tobacco was a major crop and many growers kept some back for their own use, curing it by hanging it in manocs - an old patois word meaning ‘hands’ - in their caves. Sometimes animals, would have been kept in the cave in really bad weather. The first floor of the house was reached by steps. In this house you can see them plainly. The object in the recess under the steps (which was originally the entrance to the cave) is a heat pump which was there in the early 1980s. The village was so quiet that it could be heard running quietly throughout the night.
*This shows how old my french is.

All the photographs that I took in the late 1970s to the early 1980s, while staying in the barn, were destroyed in a fire. These scanned, 35mm-film images were taken during my first visit for many years, circa 1995.

Philip Oyler and Carennac

Philip Oyler, who wrote The Generous Earth, lived in a hamlet near Puybrun, just across the river, and knew people and spent a lot of time in Carennac. He knew the Hotel des Touristes there and the owners quite well. I met people who knew him but this was some time ago and I guess they have all gone know. I understand that he died in St Cere. If you are interested please see my Philip Oyler page.


Beynac is a picturesque, medieval commune on the banks of the river Dordogne. It is one of those small communes full of little gems for people who make the time to look.

Beynac houses

Clay-tiled roofs and local stone combine to add to the natural perfection of these cottages in Beynac.

Beynac roof-tiles

We might call this combination ‘ecologically-sound’ today. The builders then probably just called it common-sense.

This fine oriel balcony graces a house at the side of the path leading up to the chateau high on the cliff that dominates Beynac and the river.

oriel balcony

It is a simple statement of beauty in hard stone and steel - and beautiful but impermanent flowers. Not all buildings of importance are impressive chateaux. Maybe we tend to forget the horror of the times when these huge fortresses were centers of violence, power and destruction.

St Emilion

St Emilion, near Bordeaux, is a picturesque town famous for its cobbled lanes, winding streets, wines and caves.

general view of St Emilion

Wine tasting, is on offer at the many caves which line the streets in the centre of town.

lane in St Emilion

This place in St Emilion, near a ruinous church facade, is where the weary traveler can sit a while, enjoy the ambience -

square in St Emilion

and contemplate life far from the madding crowd (but not in august).

Chateau de Limargue, Autoire

This fine building is at one end of the Cirque d’Autoire. I used to pass it quite a lot on my journeys between Carennac and St Cere to buy food in the market.

cirque d'autoire

I would often stop and look at this building finding it attractive and in a beautiful setting. It was probably a completely self-sufficient farm many years ago. I often saw groups of paysans hand-weeding and hoeing fields of salad vegetables in the early mornings before the sun became too hot. I think all that is finished now and mechanization has replaced groups of people. In one way this is good for the people who had to do this back-breaking work in all weathers but in another it has destroyed a lot of the camaraderie that this sort of life produces.