With temperatures plummeting to a mere 22 C we decided to explore the climbing at Hauteroche, near the medieval town of Flavigny. The crags at Hauteroche enjoy shade early in the day and the surrounding deciduous woodland shelter the base of many of the sectors through much of the day. With over 250 routes there is plenty to go at and we haven’t really scratched the surface yet. We certainly haven’t done enough to offer a well grounded view on the climbing, beyond saying that it is well worth a visit.
Like all the other crags we have been to in Burgundy, Hauteroche is not a pristine, blemish free sheet of rock. The crag and the climbing have character. They are more like Rembrandt portraits than air brushed photographs from glossy magazines, full of unexpected layers and textures. We are not used to character of the sort exhibited at Hauteroche, it is in short supply at indoor climbing walls! Consequently, like everywhere else in Burgundy, we are finding even the easy routes at Hauteroche to be very demanding. However, despite the ego-bruising nature of the climbing, visiting Hauteroche has been enriching in another way.
Just as we were packing up at the end of our most recent trip to the crag, we heard a lot of boisterous shouting ringing through the woods. A few minutes later we had the slightly surreal experience of seeing half a dozen young men dressed in soutanes and sturdy boots emerging from the trees. They were novices from the Abbey in Flavigny and were searching for the Grotte du Maquis Bernard.
The name refers to the Maquis guerrilla bands that fought as part of the French resistance in World War II. They were often comprised of men who had escaped into the countryside to avoid being conscripted into forced labour gangs by the Vichy government. The Grotte du Maquis Bernard at Hauteroche was the hideout of the local Maquis group led by a hero of the French Resistance, Bernard Guillemin. Although wounded in battle several times, Bernard Guillemin survived the war and died in 2004 in the town of Vitteaux where we are currently staying. The Maquis Bernard was formed in Flavigny, from where the novices had come, and had hidden weapons in a small cave under the seminary there.
The Grotte is a fantastically well concealed hideout. It is halfway up a 30m tall cliff and even today when there is a sign beneath it and ropes to help you ascend to the mouth of the cave, it is hard to find. When you do get there, it would still be easy to ignore. The mouth of the cave is well under 1m high and it looks like just a gap in the boulders. However, poke your head inside and look more closely and the cave opens into a spacious chamber that is more than tall enough to stand upright in and at least 10 m deep.
There is nothing glamorous about the cave, it doesn’t contain a majestic, cathedral like chamber. However, this makes it easier to feel the human emotions of desperation, fortitude, determination and sheer courage of the members of the Maquis Bernard.
We came to France to get a more in-depth knowledge of another country and culture. This means appreciating the past as well as the present. Our glancing contact with the novices has made a small but meaningful contribution to this. The encounter, and the insights we have got because of it, brought home again just how fortunate we are to be able to interact freely with our landscape through activities such as climbing. We are only able to do this because of the struggles and unimaginable heroism of past generations. We must not be blind to the fact that we are extremely lucky to be living in Europe today.