Dordogne: a trip to the fairy of electricity

The lake swallowed the railway tracks, small stations, markets and cafes. Suddenly, the Upper Correziens were cut off from the world

For the Bort-le-Org dam, the first she explored in the valley, anthropologist Armelle Faure collected the testimonies of displaced villagers. Despite the scale of the project, one of the largest in the country – 1,500 workers, 3,200 m³ of concrete per day – it caused some distrust, even objection, before its commissioning in 1952. The works took ten years to account for the enormous change heralded in the landscapes, traffic routes and economic activities that depend on them. The 1,100-hectare lake absorbs the railway track, the small stations through which the peasants sent milk and cheese to Paris, Clermont-Ferrand or Toulouse, as well as the markets and cafes that surrounded it. Suddenly…

The lake swallowed the railway tracks, small stations, markets and cafes. Suddenly, the Upper Correziens were cut off from the world

For the Bort-le-Org dam, the first she explored in the valley, anthropologist Armelle Faure collected the testimonies of displaced villagers. Despite the scale of the project, one of the largest in the country – 1,500 workers, 3,200 m³ of concrete per day – it caused some distrust, even objection, before its commissioning in 1952. The works took ten years to account for the enormous change heralded in the landscapes, traffic routes and economic activities that depend on them. The 1,100-hectare lake absorbs the railway track, the small stations through which the peasants sent milk and cheese to Paris, Clermont-Ferrand or Toulouse, as well as the markets and cafes that surrounded it. Suddenly, the Upper Correziens were cut off from the world. And also from the other side, from Cantal, from Auvergne, with whom there were many exchanges. Some expropriated families saw their homes destroyed by explosives, but the first batches were best served. It was more difficult for those who fought to the end, like the Countess d’Arcy, whose dear Chateau de Val, finally saved, now stands an unusual postcard on a peninsula surrounded by water.


Val Castle now stands on a peninsula surrounded by water.

Photo by Julie Dorel

For these families, who were not rich and thought only of passing on their farm, their inn, to the next generation, the upheaval added to the upheavals of the end of the war was considerable. We check this by visiting the EDF area of ​​the Bort-les-Orgues dam. Starting with the 60th anniversary of the dam, the energy company joined forces with the collection of Armel Fauré’s testimony and carried out memorial work in the housing estates of La Plantade and Ainés, where the workers of the Bort and Ainés dams lived. Eagle.

back to nature

If for some dams are great reservoirs of memories, for others they are also huge reservoirs of projects. Among them, Jean-Marc Chirier, a road worker, the first deputy of Gros-Chastang, knew only large dams, but remains impressed by their beauty. When UNESCO classified the upper valley as a biosphere reserve in 2012, he sought a project that would revitalize it while highlighting its natural and architectural heritage. The click came to him while he was surveying the GR 10 in the Basque Country: a long footpath that would pass through the Dordogne along banks and ridges, from Confoulin-Port-Dieu to Argent-sur-Dordogne. In 2014, Nathalie Delcouderc-Juillard, mayor of Bort-les-Orgs, told him banco. “I wasn’t the first,” the interested party explains, “but I arrived on time. There was a return to nature. City halls were ready to pay 50 cents per inhabitant, which our association asked them. »

On the path of the ancients

This is how “La Dordogne de villages en barrages” (DDVEB) was born, a 200-kilometer route with 15 stages that passes through 19 municipalities and has 35 partner locations. “We are not Compostela or Stevenson’s way,” continues Jean-Marc. We created these routes 70% by studying maps, including the Cassini map, and finding the routes of postmen, laundresses, peddlers, horse traders, fishermen and even poachers that the ancients used between the ridges and the valley. ! The Fairy of Electricity is the godmother of the route, which starts at the northern edge of the Bort-les-Org reservoir and ends in Argentat, a barge village next to the Sablier Dam. Now a heavyweight in the Correza tourism landscape, in 2023 DDVEB will have the luxury of doing a left bank loop! Meanwhile, the association creates almost customized itineraries thanks to a network of motivated hosts, a taxi that picks up tourists at the end of the day, and shelters for those who want to spend the night in nature. .

Attention: calves must be knitted, because the movement is constantly up and down. Down on the shores of Lake Bort is the Château de Val, where you can sleep in an apartment worthy of a decoration magazine, EDF’s first space, at the foot of a 120m dam and basalt organs. But you have to climb to reach Saint-Nazaire, a place of pilgrimage with a wonderful fountain, Calvary and a breathtaking view of the meeting of the Dieges and the Dordogne.

Lair of the Resistance

Below is the old Marezh dam. At the top is the majestic Gratte-Bruyer Belvedere, whose name is as poetic as the view it opens up: a river gliding between wooded slopes that look Canadian. At the bottom is the Egle dam, which can be recognized thanks to the original spillways in the form of springboards. It is the one that holds the largest amount of water (220 million m³) lying on its back, thanks to foundations 47.7 m wide, compared to 5.5 m at the top. The technical prowess warranted an on-site design office, called a “laboratory,” and the models the engineers used for their simulations were always on view.

The Egl dam was a technical achievement and became the center of the Resistance movement.


The Egl dam was a technical achievement and became the center of the Resistance movement.

Photo by EDF Pierre Soisson

L’Aigle was also the “dam of the Resistance”. They hired Spaniards fleeing Francoism, Italians fleeing Mussolini. And later, Vichy was looking for Jews under false names. Workers who risked their lives on construction (resulting in 15 deaths) or took part in ORA (Organization of the Army Resistance) acts of sabotage, including the dam, or received Allied parachute drops thanks to a hidden radio “laboratory”.

On the other side is the town of Aines, where up to 1,373 men of 30 nationalities lived in spartan wooden shacks, but still with… electricity! What remains is a witness building with a chapel, school, village council and other permanent facilities for the hydroelectric power station staff.

Diving competition

Many Spanish, Italian and Portuguese eateries accompanied these sites. These include Le Triolet, a café-guinguette in Spontour, run by Odette, in the kitchen, and Altero Betti, behind the accordion. Their granddaughter Melody took over the old inn. With her companion, Remy, she dreams of a bed and breakfast and bringing life back to the valley. Not to forget, they stuck a poster on the wall dated July 30, 1939, announcing a diving competition and the great Venice festival with a carousel of lighted boats! Spontur knew how to have fun and make “kuppets”. At their peak, around 1850, these 15m barges carried vine stakes, barrel rivets, as well as coal, leather from the Bort tanneries, sheep’s wool, Auvergne cheeses, honey and chestnuts to Argent and Bordeaux. To go, the Dordogne had to be big or “trade”, in spring or autumn. Rocks, rapids, currents: the journey was dangerous, but the whole region depended on these brave guys. When they arrived at their destination, the boats were dismantled and sold as firewood. Five members of the crew set out on foot or by train, taking with them the treasures of the city: salt, spices, coffee, wine and dried fish!

In Laplot, you can see the Viaduct Roche-Noir, which spans the Luceges 92 meters below. The Transcorresien, known as “le Tacot”, which connected Toulouse to Ussel in the first half of the 20th century, used this beautiful suspension bridge, classified as a historical monument in 2000, which is now being restored thanks to the Heritage Foundation and the mission of Stephane Bern.

Website helmet

A new ascent of the Beausatier rock, where interpretive panels recall the “despolha”, a particularly narrow, winding and dangerous rapid upstream of this chosen belvedere.

In Saint-Martin-la-Meanne, visit the EDF hydroelectric plant from the Chastang Dam.


In Saint-Martin-la-Meanne, visit the EDF hydroelectric plant from the Chastang Dam.

Photo by EDF Pierre Soisson

Then a new descent, a new dam: Chastang at Servier-le-Chateau. It’s time to put on your hard hat to discover hydraulic power generation.

Finally, the Sablieux Dam, the last rung of the great “staircase”, runs next to Argentat, a former barge port that retains its slate houses, cobbled wharves and a Heritage Center that tells the story of shipping. you.

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