Sunday, 24 October 2010

We Learn a Little About a Mystery Place

Ever since we discovered it a few years ago we have been keen to find out about the history of the mysterious factory at la Gâtineau, situated on the Creuse River, between La Roche Posay and Lésigny. At last, and quite by accident, we have come across some information, both official, and from a local source.

The factory consists of a hydro-electric plant on a weir (barrage), which presumably powered whatever industrial activities took place in the extensive range of buildings and caves - that much is clear just by observation. There is a workshop (maybe a joiner), an office, stables, pulleys, an oven, and a good many random, industrial looking, objects. Unfortunately, one cannot enter the caves and explore because they are privately owned, dangerous, and in the winter, a roost for hibernating bats which must not be disturbed.

The factory in the cliff.
Our local source tells us that this was the first hydro-electric plant in France, built in the 1870s. One of the turbines no longer works, but the second still spins and produces electricity, although it is damaged and needs some repair. The factory produced precision parts for boats and aeroplanes, particularly screws for propelling boats and high specification engine parts. Our source thinks they may have even have made some parts for Concorde, but he is not sure. The site was chosen for this highly sensitive work because the humidity and temperature in the deep caves into the cliffs above the river is constant. The riverside location is also important because a reliable source of electricity was required for the power lathes used to shape the metal parts. We don't know when the factory closed, or whether it was purpose built for metal working, but it is possible, as smelting and forging have been traditional activities in this area for many centuries. It does not seem unlikely that some forward thinking manufacturer saw the opportunity to take metalworking a step further here in the late 19th century.

A couple of weeks ago we drove past and realised that work was being done on the weir. We took a photo for the record, but it was only luck that we happened upon the explanation. The Office Nationale de l'eau et des milieux aquatiques (ONEMA) has carried out a check on the weir and required the owner to install a fish ladder for migrating Atlantic salmon, lamprey, shad, sea trout and eel, and to allow the natural movement of sediment. From its source in the Massif Central, the Creuse runs nearly 300 km to its confluence with the Vienne. The lower section, up to the impassable hydro-electric complex at Eguzon, is potentially accessible to migratory fish. However, this 124km stretch of river has 31 weirs or dams along its route - one every 4 km on average - that slow or block the flow of migrants.

Work underway on the construction of the new fish ladder.
The owner was advised in February this year that the work must be completed within 8 months. To force his hand, failure to comply would result in the termination of his contract with EDF (Electricité de France) who buy the power the plant generates. If the work drags on, he will be fined 100 euros a day after the deadline until the work is finished. The owner must comply with the ONEMA regulations by law, but has been given a grant in order to achieve the work, as he has been able to demonstrate his proposed improvements are suitable. The site is one of two top priorities on the Creuse to bring the river management up to modern environmental standards.

This all seems good news, and it will be interesting to see if the migratory fish make it this far. Our local source was extremely skeptical, saying that anglers would catch and eat any salmon that poked its nose into the Creuse long before we ever saw it. Even if the fish don't return, it's still an atmospheric and beautiful place, and we hope it can continue to be maintained in an informed and sustainable way.

Susan

3 comments:

Nadege said...

I hope the fish will return and make it without being caught.

Sheila said...

I agree with Nadege, but it's
probably in vain. Must say I
do love shad roe...is it readily
available in the Touraine?
The shad themselves take a lot
of baking to dissolve the bones.

Susan said...

I think with these sorts of projects you have to take the long view, and not expect to see the migrants for maybe 20 years. I've never had (or seen) shad roe, but I like fish roe in general.