… and they really are, but the “alive” in the title is there more because I expect you have all heard Julie Andrews singing that line – at least I imagine that you will have heard it at least once!! Before you think that I might have lost the plot, the “alive” should have been “awash”, but “The hills are awash” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. To get to the point, the hills around here ARE awash with un-discovered secrets and treasures, just waiting to be found!
A couple of years ago a friend mentioned that there had been a Roman settlement on one of the hills near St Jean de Minervois. I spoke to some other friends about it and together we decided that we would try and find a trace of it. I had been looking at aerial maps on the internet, and narrowed it down to a certain area. Then I spoke with some more people who knew their way around, and was told that there had been a Roman fort on that hill, and that on the path leading there one could still see a great big stone, which had no doubt been part of the gate into the complex.
I had also been told that at some point there had been excavations on the site, and that there were a fair number of pottery shards, etc. So, nine intrepid explorers set off for a walk one beautiful late-summer afternoon, with sturdy shoes and long trousers, and our trusty binoculars and cameras. The path started out well trodden, but as we went on it became more and more overgrown. The plateau where the fort would have been was covered in vegetation typical for the garrigue: green oak, Euphorbia, grasses, arbousier and heather. We scrambled through the brush and kept looking for clues. The views were magnificent!
We did come across two interesting discoveries:
The ruin, I found out later, used to be a chapel, and the car is undoubtedly a Citroen 2CV, albeit somewhat dishevelled.
After about 45 minutes of searching the ground for clues and getting scratched whilst trying to penetrate the wilderness, we thought we’d call it a day and give up. Perhaps we were on the wrong hill after all. But a few of our group were a little ahead of the rest and when I caught up with them there was great excitement!! They had found a big stack of crates, partially covered by a tarpaulin!!
From the marks on the boxes it looked as though the excavations had taken place some time in the late 70’s, and after a couple of years the site had simply been abandoned. There were a couple of deep holes, and over one of them there was a steel structure which would have allowed a cover to be rigged up. The pieces of terracotta in the boxes could have been from anything, but my guess is that most came from amphorae – they were thick-walled and showed finger marks from the turning on what would have been the inside of the vessel.
After that excitement our little band of explorers carried on just a little further to get to the highest point of the site, from where the views were simply divine!
On the way back I examined that old 2CV a little more – it’s pretty amazing the way cars were built way back then. The chrome on the bumpers was still in great condition, the steering wheel still turned, and the car even had the petrol canister still in place.
Look closely at that petrol canister – you might be able to discern the writing stamped on it? When I saw that it all fell into place – that’s why it’s called a Jerrycan!! I’ve since had a look on Wikipedia, and of course that’s the case.
When we finally caught up with our friends they had started to worry a little, wondering if we’d fallen into a hole :-), and of course they were sorry to missed out on our finds! On we went to have our picnic – well deserved! Everyone had brought some food and it turned out to be a real spread.
Delicious quiches and salads, followed by some wickedly rich chocolate brownies, all eaten in the open air one balmy evening! And here’s one last picture for you!