Of Mediaeval Murders Most Eerie

A long way from anywhere, following serpentine roads through forests of twisted and turned trees, we pass the ramshackle out-buildings of a lonely sheep farm and arrive at the wild remains of Château de l'Herm. Atop a hill and surrounded by partially naked trees (spring is only just beginning), the shattered and blown ruins of the four story castle both beckon and warn. The open doorway, surrounded by gorgeous stone tracery work, calls us forward to enter and explore. The lack of roof and crumbling walls open to the brooding sky, threaten to come down, this year or perhaps next century. Empty windows act as cyclopean sockets and didn't we see a shadow move in there? 

I love castles and chateaux, intact or otherwise, but most especially those that have survived the ravages of time, the depredations of man; that have been lost to the jungle or woods or sands and only now are just re-emerging. Château de l'Herm definitely falls into that category. Built some 500 years ago, it's best days were not far behind it when a series of intra-family murders began within its walls. All told reportedly eleven people were killed which included the acts of infanticide and matricide. Not surprising the family died out, literally. For centuries ownership was contested and the towering, isolated structure fell into a state of tattered ruin. The forest encroached and the hulk's unsavory reputation cast a pall.

Well off the beaten path it is well worth the journey. Inside one may climb to the top tower, or what is left of it, via an amazing and fortunately very solid stone spiral staircase. The floors have long rotted away and from above you can look down upon four stories of walls and windows with large, ornate fireplaces set into the chimney wall at every floor. Further down are the dungeons which were used to imprison the unwary and perhaps even the deserving. Gazing out, you can take in the rolling tree-sprouted countryside stretching unbroken for miles. All the adjectives fit: lonely, wind-swept, moody, and even spooky. A perfect place to create Art.

A place fit for literature, heavy and brooding. Or perhaps, cinema. And, in fact two French films have used the location. I could easily envision a painter setting up an easel under the weathered tree boughs. Music? They actually have small concerts inside the stone shell. And photography, you may well ask ... is it a place to take a picture or two? What do you think?

East of Bordeaux and west of Provence, in the north of the ancient region known as Aquitaine, is the old French province of Périgord. Now called Dordogne, it is a region of craggy castles, honey-colored stone villages, deep walnut forests, and the painted caves of long-gone Cro-Magnon man. Dordogne Dreams is an exploration of this region using infrared-sensitive cameras. Though the Dordogne is a colorful region, infrared techniques permit the presentation of this land in a different light. As in a dream, the images can transport one back to another time, in a different land. Sweet slumbers.

As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie, and their three wild and crazy retrievers.