Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

March 7, 2001 - The Source of the Loir

The hiking trail which traces the valley of the Loir river comes through my village of Lavardin. I have often wondered where the trail went in the up river direction. For some reason the trail down river is less interesting to me. My fascination with the idea of walking upstream to find the source of a river or stream started after I watched a documentary on public television about nineteenth century explorers trying to find the source of the Nile river in Africa. The various geographic societies in England and Europe were sponsoring expeditions to Africa in order to be the first to find the source of the Nile. These expeditions took months and sometimes years. Many of the explorers died or were crippled with the exotic diseases that they encountered. The explorer that I remember most clearly was Sir Richard Burton who went back time and again in this quest only to die before one of his lieutenants finally made a disputed discovery. Eventually, an American journalist named Stanley got into the race and made an incredible expedition in which nearly everyone in his party died. But it was Stanley who finally reached Lake Tanganyika where he met a Scottish doctor name Livingston who had been living there for over thirty years. It was there that Stanley found fame and will always be remembered for the question "Dr. Livingston, I presume"?

The trek to the source of the Loir is a tad less dramatic but one budding young writer thought it was just as adventurous as the discovery of the Nile. Here is what Marcel Proust wrote about the source of the Loir:

Never, in the course of our walks along the "Guermantes way," were we able to penetrate as far as the source of the [Loir], of which I had often thought and which had in my mind so abstract, so ideal an existence that I had been as surprised when someone told me that it was actually to be found in the same department, at a given number of miles from Combray, as I had been when I learned that there was another fixed point somewhere on the earth's surface, where, according to the ancients, opened the jaws of Hell.

Saint-Eman is a small commune of homes surrounding an eleventh century church and a spring fed lavoir. The women who washed cloths at this lavoir probably never considered it the jaws of Hell but it is indeed the symbolic source of the Loir. I say "symbolic" source because, like the Nile, there is a dispute as to the actual source. In the Jura Mountains I found several sources of rivers that would come gushing out the ground or the side of a mountain. I pictured something similar for the source of the Loir but it turns out to be a little more subdued. Many people believe the actual source is a series of lakes fifteen kilometers north of Saint-Eman near the village of Thieulin. Four hundred years ago, these lakes were owned by a monastery and they were stocked with trout by monks who lived in the monastery. At that time there was a continuous stream from the overflow of those lakes to Lake Villebon. The way the story goes is that there was a flood that covered the whole area and the trout that the monks were cultivating in the lakes swam into nearby Lake Villebon. This was devastating to the monks who lived in the winter off these trout. So facing starvation they went to the Lord of the manor who owned Lake Villebon and asked him if they could have their trout back. The Lord was the duc de Sully who was a minister of Henry IV and a leader in the religious reformation movement. The Lord, being a clever politician and in the opposite religious camp, told the monks that any trout that they could find wearing a monk's frock, they could keep as their own but all the others were his. The French have always had a good sense of humor. But the monks didn't think it was funny and retaliated by plugging up the source of their lake and forcing it to take the underground route to Saint-Eman.

The actual source of the Loir was probably a small valley just south of the forest of Champrond from which a small stream feeds Lake Villebon. The overflow from Lake Villebon and drainage from the plateau above Thieulin are probably the source of the spring fed lavoir at Saint-Eman. Since the Loir only becomes recognizable as a river after leaving Saint-Eman and heading toward Illiers-Combray, the lavoir is probably the best testament to the source.

Perhaps Marcel Proust had the best idea about the source of the Loir. Just leave it to your imagination. For him it was always the open maw of Hell.

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February 28, 2001 - La Marseillaise
February 21, 2001 - Still on Wheels
February 14, 2001 - Marcel Proust
February 7, 2001 - La Chandeleur
January 31, 2001 - Winter Comfort Food
January 24, 2001 - Festival of Saint Vincent
January 17, 2001 - Guest Columnist Aprille Glover
January 10, 2001 - Muscadet
January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, - Thanksgiving
November 8, - Pousse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 - Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 - Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 - Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 - Provence: All Good Things




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