The hill looked the same, as did the lake but where was the château towering above it all? Château de Blanche-Lande has disappeared. Mostly.
In the heart of the Orne
Our vintage postcard photo was taken deep in the forest of Écouves north of Alencon, where the river Thouane widens to form two lakes. One either side, tree covered hills rise up to form a steep edged valley. A forge and a mill once stood at either end of the lakes and many centuries ago a Roman camp of 18,000 men dominated the area. Now fishing by a few discerning Orne fishermen is the only industry.
A second postcard offered a possible clue, but no real answers. It shows Blanche-Lande from the other side; an imposing three story building with long elegant windows and tall roofs but also messy wooden supports against one side. Did Blanche-Lande fall down the hill?
We know the château was commissioned by a local worthy gentlemen, Senator for the Orne Charles-Eugène-Paul Poriquet. He lived here and in Paris, working right up to the end of his 93 years. His Parisienne architect was considered eminent in his time but Louis XIII inspired style was soon outdated.
A surprising truth
A walk up the hill revealed the surprising truth about Château Blanche-Lande. It is still there, cut down to just a roofless basement.
Doorways and windows stand vacant as nature slowly invades. Tangled weeds distort the old rooms. We step carefully over pale edible snails. A few heavy old tiles cling to the floor and a wall.
The château must always have been remote. A peaceful retreat within the noisy silence of Orne’s countryside; chattering birds, rabbits in the undergrowth, wind through old trees. A haven for the hard working Senator, who liked to fish and successfully introduced rainbow trout to the Blanche-Lande lakes.
A final drama
Any drama the château has known is long gone. One piece remains, a wide elegant staircase that curves up. To nothing.
Charles died in 1910. From then until 1943 there are very few references for Château de Blanche-Lande. Some notes in archaeological papers about the Roman fort mention a Miss Madeleine Peltereau living here.
Then in 1943 the château came under unusual scrutiny.
During German occupation Blanche-Lande was formally inspected. Its wilderness location considered a prime site for concealing La Résistance. The inspection report gives Château de Blanche-Lande a grim epitaph:
“No construction in the area is worthy of interest. The castle, destroyed by fire, is not to be regretted because it was poorly located and built in a pretentious imitation style.”
Games of light and shadow
We found a few kinder words about this ‘poor location’ from a visitor to the château just before the first world war in 1914:
“by a narrow road between two ponds decorated with islands of water lilies one reaches the driveway to Château de Blanchelande. An exquisite driveway with its games of light and shadow sheltered by tall trees opens out suddenly in the sun in front of a wonderful view… The visitors admire the ‘unique show’ from the château terrace as miles of the Orne unfold before them.
Welcomed by Mme Peltereau they wander through the château rooms; ‘lounge, billiard room, study…’ She explains the study was Charles’ favourite place as ‘in serene old age M. Poriquet loved to live here amongst his books, his office window open onto the fresh countryside below.’
Muddle now by mature trees, what a wonderful view it must have been.