An old postcard of a classically beautiful 17th century castle took us to Cahaignes. We could find nothing online about it, perhaps a private owner had sensibly protected their privacy.
Be careful what you wish for
Cahaignes is tiny, balanced on the Eure plains between Rouen and Paris with very few roads to drive down looking for a castle. Then we spotted a clue Rue de Château. Of course, the practical Norman street name popular in towns and villages across the region.
We drove carefully along a quiet road bordered by trees on one side and an open field on the other, not wanting to upset any sensitive Château owner.
Then we saw Château de Cahaignes and realised there would be no-one to care about our interest.
Through an open gate, along a path deep with weeds and coarse grass, past a dry pond filled with willow trees, is desolation. The roof of an entire wing has fallen in; shutters hang, windows gape.
And an open front door. Now this is not something we recommend or are proud of but all the open gates and doors were too much temptation.
We very cautiously, calling our hello’s, walked into a dark fairytale.
A private space
Later online we found an odd little tale about the Château that made sense of an upstairs room.
We had seen a room on the first floor, on the dry side of the building, that looked as though someone had been sleeping rough in its draughty grandeur. Empty heating oil containers, stacked newspapers and horse racing results suggested efforts to maintain some comfort and civilisation. On seeing this personal space we left.
The news item told a story about Ernest Hubert Jean Picot that filled a few gaps but many more are left.
More questions than answers about Château de Cahaignes
Chantal Le Gall was elected mayor of Cahaignes in 2008 and her passion for the village extends to all its inhabitants. Of course she knew of the Château and her heart ached to see the moonglow of ancient limestone fade to grey as its life became increasingly precarious.
She visited Ernest, then 88 years old, to talk and to offer assistance. Three times she visited and each time was rebuffed by a redoubtable gentleman with pride as big as his house.
The Château continued to crumble. Ernest lived in dusty peace.
One terrible day a fire broke out, smoke seen from the village bought the pompiers, the firemen. Bristling with efficiency and professional knowledge the pompiers approached the Château.
Whereupon much to their surprise and horror a furious Ernest Hubert Jean Picot hurled abuse at them, threatened to shoot them all and generally failed to be at all grateful.
The pompiers were forced to retreat but fortunately quite a lot of Château remained.
A noble retreat
Sadly despite an impressive determination to remain lord of his castle, not long ago Ernest was forced to leave for a retirement home. The mayor has been in touch with his daughter. A Parisian surgeon has fallen in love with the Château and is desperate to return it to its former glory. As yet Ernest’s daughter has shown no urgency to sell, hampered possibly by Ernest’s breaking heart or complex French inheritance laws.
It is easy to see why Ernest loved this graceful building. Designed in the French way just one room deep, the rooms are elegant and drenched in sunlight. One room still has painted panels of turquoise blue, decorated with dancing monkeys exactly like those in Chantilly. Except for the ugly cut from a knife by an unsuccessful thief.
Perhaps in his mind and in his dreams Ernest is still in that upstairs room, leaning close to the old heater talking to the little cat we could hear but could not find. Talking about old horse races, the winners, the losers and how nothing would ever truly take him away from the Château de Cahaignes, his home.
We later discovered an old postcard of the interior and had already, incredibly, matched exactly the same view. Have a look here.
The château is now on the French Heritage website, with details of past owners here.