The beautiful beaches of Normandy that face the English Channel were a revelation to us. For years we had been quite happy with Deauville, Trouville and the northern coast, then a postcard took us to the Carteret and we were hooked.
Carolles is just south of Carteret and Granville, on the tip of Mont St Michel bay. To one side the beach has wide golden sands and endless views of blue, to the other, fearsome granite cliffs.
History here is a little more mysterious than in other parts of Normandy. For centuries the valleys and hamlets were of no interest to the outside world. But the Vaumoisson megalith at nearby Bouillon reveals people have lived here since the dawn of time.
Iron age tribes lived and fought here, interrupted briefly by Romans. High on the cliffs are the remains of a Gallic oppidum, a defensive settlement.
The Abricants tribe held a territory that reached down into Avranches and up to the river Thar.
Lepers and pagans
The next distraction was not peace but god as the 6th century was marked by evangelism and the removal of old pagan temples. Most of them. A monastery was built close by during those years, one of the many leper hospitals in the area. It was still in use until the 18th century.
Scant information exists about the Lords of Carolles and by the 11th century large parts of the area were owned by the Monks of Mont St Michel.
Stories from the old day
Stories exist of Viking raiding parties sailing along the coast but nothing remains. No names with Scandinavian sounds here.
Fools gold and ancient caves started the rumours of gold mines that still linger, but the only gold in Carolles is the yellow gorse that can resist the sea salt winds that dry the earth.
Legends have built up around the dramatic landscape, so much more challenging that the smooth plains around the bay. Archangel Michael was said to have split the cliffs between Carolles and the sea while fighting the devil, creating a valley of savage beauty unmatched in Normandy (well he is an archangel).
Named the Lude valley, its stream the ‘Crapot’ was essential to life in Carolles. There are stony remains of a mill once run by the monks at the top of the valley and the inhabitants of Carolles washed their linens and ‘ret all their flax and hemp’ along it’s banks.
Roll on across the centuries and nearby another valley became so popular with artists of the 19th century it was known, and remains, ‘the valley of the painters’ ‘la Vallée des Peintres’.
When the artists first arrived one described it as ‘the wildest, loneliest and most melancholy… yet the most majestic of the country’. Naked of trees and sharp edged, the ravine would have been strangely silent, protected by it’s unusual geology from the endless coastal winds.
Change and scandal
As too much attention often can, the sudden popularity of the area changed it. Paintings shown in Paris revealed it’s beauty and bought canny investors. They build holiday villas and cafe’s for the comfort of visitors in new ‘Carolles-Plage’. A new path was created to allow easy access to the sea with a car. Trees are planted. Gradually the valleys and the area soften.
A scandal in 1900! The Lude valley, always private property but never by the possessive sort, is purchased by M. Lelièvre, notary of Saint-Sever. Puffed up with ownership he closes the valley, determined to prevent the parade of walkers heading along the Crapot to the sea.
A compromise and a departure
There is outrage in Carolles, Carolles-Plage and beyond. The quiet of the valley is shattered by angry protests. Not until the threat of a court case by the Municipality of Carolles against M. Lelièvre, notary of Saint-Sever, is a solution found. For the reimbursement of costs and expenses the notary transfers ownership (on 9 November 1902) to the Municipality. We think the notary then moved some distance away. We do know that a decree dated June 2 1903 preserved free access to the valley for ever.
Not long afterwards in 1906 the new Granville to Avranches railway required a bridge across the painter’s ravine. Protests were loud but less successful and the railway went ahead. In fury artists continue to paint the valley but with their backs firmly to the bridge.
Beware fairies in the Lude
The valleys are still beautiful but beware. If you are tempted to take an evening walk along the path from Carolles to the sea do not stop to watch the charming ladies laughing and gossiping as they clean their clothes along the banks of the Crapot.
Fairies are said to still live in the Lude valley, invisible except for the few hours when they wash their clothes in the stream. Legends say that if you catch their eye these nymphs will drag you to a rocky death, beneath the dark blue sea.