Thursday 27 March 2014

Disc throwing Gargantua

The land we live on is old, and there is quite a lot of evidence of very early habitation. A farming friend has a substantial collection of flints which he has acquired by simply collecting them from his fields. The castle at Le Grand Pressigny houses an impressive museum of pre-history.  At Abilly there's an archeological dig museum, ArchĂ©olab which explains the 'how and why' of the excavations that have taken place on the site between 1981 - 91. You can visit it during the summer months. Closer to home, in fact more or less opposite us, on the other side of the Aigronne Valley lies 'Les Palets de Gargantua', a dolmen.

Dolmens are a type of single chamber megalithic tomb consisting of 3 or more upright stones which support a large flat horizontal capstone, or table. A quick check on Wikipedia tells us that most dolmen are from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC).

Charnizay from the dolmen parking lot
The dolmen here at Charnizay is a simple one of three very large disc-like stones. The capstone was either never raised up properly or has slid down resulting in the angled top we see today. Located just along from the lieu-dit Le Champ de l'Ormeau [on old maps it's shown as Champ de L'Humiau], you'll find the dolmen in a small clearing.
Les Palets de Gargantua in the early spring sun
Legend has it that Gargantua, as immortalised by Francois Rabelais in a series of novels of the mid 16th century; was striding round the countryside followed by his wife who held a collection of stone disks in her wedding apron. He amused himself, allegedly, by chucking them about and that's why we have three giant 'palets' [disks] in Charnizay. From here, legend has it that he threw others which resulted in the dolmen at Civray-sur-Esvres.
Useful information panel
Little is known about our dolmen. The most widely held opinion is that it was for some reason left unfinished. A very helpful information panel has been put up at the entrance to the clearing where the dolmen is located to help explain things to visitors. There's also a couple of picnic tables which visitors can use if they wish. Just be careful of the ground if you drive to the site by car -- better to leave the car in the parking lot and walk the short distance! Even after a period of dry weather we still nearly got stuck in the deceptively boggy ground recently when some friends who live right by the track drove down it it give us a quick look at the site.


The Broad said...

How wonderful to have such an interesting site so near to your village. I love how the French have so many signs explaining in reasonable detail various sites of interest throughout the country.

Pollygarter said...

It's such a tranquil spot, with the dolmen placed at the end of a rolling lawn, and the trees around, a sort of open-air cathedral.

the fly in the web said...

Where I first lived in France there were any number of standing stones and dolmens not too far away.

A barrow on a farm in the village had been blown up in 1912 for being 'in the way' and I used to wonder how many more had met that fate.

MorningAJ said...

Fascinating stuff. There's a Meolithic site in Wales whose name translates as 'the giantess's apronful'. Interesting that you have a similar tale!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Broad - indeed. t
The only shame is that there is no signposting at all from the village to the dolmen! The conseil municipal just have never bothered to put some in place.
You have to go on a treasure hunt or already have the co-ordinates to find it.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Pauline - it is lovely and a great place for a picnic.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - more than you'd think I should imagine.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@MorningAJ - interesting indeed that these folk tales seem to be linked

Perpetua said...

Fascinating and so atmospheric. Prehistoric monuments like this are so impressive and evocative. We haven't yet found any in our bit of Manche, but can hardly throw a stone without hitting one in the far north of Scotland. :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - it is a lovely spot.

Indeed, but you disappoint me. You mean you don't have one in your backyard!? ;-)