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Charente-Maritime

With its Atlantic coastline, pretty seaside villages and unspoilt islands, the Charente-Maritime has been a long time favourite with those seeking sun, sea and sand. But travel inland and the Romanesque architecture, cognac producing vineyards and gallo-roman remains will capture your imagination. Find out more about the attractions in the Charente-Maritime here.

We have gathered a number of our favourite features on the Charente-Maritime below...

 

Casks and cannons

Casks and cannons

In September you may be lucky enough to spot an unusual sight on the roads in Charente and Charente Maritime: a series of horse-drawn carts accompanied by people wearing 18th-century costumes. Read on to find out what this is all about…

Route de Tonneaux

If horse-drawn carts carrying barrels wind past you through forests and towns, or sailing barges glide gracefully along the river Charente as you’re going for a stroll or dipping your feet on a hot day, feel free to follow the men and women dressed as though from a different time as they head west towards the sea.

Every couple of years, the 'Route des Tonneaux et des Canons', or 'Casks and Cannons route', retraces a path that was an important part of the region’s history. In the 17th and 18th centuries there were many family businesses making casks, cannons, iron nails and ropes, or harnessing the mineral ore, wood and water that abounded in the Charente and nearby Dordogne.

The finished goods were transported to Angoulême in a long convoy drawn by carthorses, and then down the river Charente on the awaiting barges. Cognac, salt, biscuits, paper, stone, casks and cannons made up the cargos delivered to Rochefort for the construction of warships. The boats would then come back from foreign lands with rare bounty such as cane sugar and spices.


Route de Tonneaux

A common sight over two hundred years ago, it disappeared with time as the department turned to other means and a different way of life. But in 2003, a group of friends decided to recreate the ‘Casks and Cannons route’, to revive the region’s history. "This industry marked the Charente landscape and was very much linked to the natural and geographical

 richness the area has to offer. Our aim was to remember this history and to use it to promote towns and bring people together," says the association’s president, Jean-Pierre Réal. "It’s part of our heritage."

Route de Tonneaux

The route goes through three departments: Dordogne, Charente and Charente-Maritime, crossing land, river and sea. "It involved a lot of the population," says Jean-Pierre. "When they tried to construct a fleet for the king, there was nothing in Rochefort to make the boat, sail or canon. Everything came from further inland where there was mineral ore, wood in the forests and many labourers. The little rivers provided hydraulic energy. There was a real need for the route."

As for the materials used, the association didn’t have to look far; the centuries-old carts have been sitting in people’s gardens, and the horses come from another association that helps out. They located old discarded canons from the time, including some at the only forge left in a good state, Forge Neuve, owned by Peter Stagg who is now a member of the association. The group believes there were 117 forges at the time and only one is left in a decent state today. When told by the association that his forge was once used to make cannons to fight the English, Peter replied: "Well, in any case, I’m Scottish!"

As the route has developed, glass signs have appeared in towns across the Charente, detailing the role they played. "We told one village that it had once been very famous for its clock-making," says Jean-Pierre. "People were pleased to find that out as they didn’t know about it."

The route changes slightly every two years, stopping at different towns along the way. This year, the convoy will begin in Cognac and end in Jauldes, passing through Jarnac and Châteauneuf-sur-Charente. The association is also organising the construction of a kiln, exhibitions and accompanied visits of the forest, and a holding a demonstration of a cooper's job, someone who makes casks and barrels.

Much research was carried out in retracing the route, but also for the part played by locals and towns. "We didn’t make anything up – it’s all history. The research doesn’t stop. People come to us about different aspects that they’re interested in, such as toponymy, the link between the name of a town and the job people did there." One researcher found that the expression ‘boire un canon’ meant to ‘boire un coup’, or 'to have a drink' – a canon being the same as a pint. No doubt then, as now, about the way to celebrate after such thirsty work!

june-11-route-tonneaux-0006

Over one hundred people follow the procession today and the association invites communities to organise parties where they stop off, with music, food and old tales. "It’s also important for us to promote local artists and artisans," adds Jean-Pierre.

Visitors can walk or cycle behind, watch from the riverbanks or join in the celebrations on route and at the end. "The children are always amazed when they see the horses and carts go past. If we come past you, why not celebrate with us?"

 

Originally published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine

WORDS: Rebecca Lawn     PHOTOS: Christian Belloteau

 

Route des Tonneaux et des Canons

The Route des Tonneaux et des Canons association is made up of around 100 members, and it is always looking for new faces. It costs €15 to join. For more information, head to its website.