In December 2016, BBC Two broadcast a fascinating animal documentary called Wild Tales from the Village.
I’m not much on animal documentaries, but this is a must-see. Children will enjoy it, too.
Filmed in the French Village of Puycelsi, the hour-long documentary looks at the everyday life of squirrels, dormice, hedgehogs, pigeons and more, starting in winter and ending the following autumn. You see a year’s worth of activity beautifully filmed. Here’s a short clip of two squirrels. Their love life is traced through the seasons:
Wild Tales from the Village was made by the BBC Natural History Unit and is narrated by Tchéky Karyo from The Missing.
It’s witty, charming and gentle. It might be shown on PBS in the US. If so, do watch or record for later. Budding film-makers will appreciate the lush slow-motion close-ups. This film deserves an award.
Puycelsi is one of Most Beautiful Villages of France. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an official designation, not a mere soi-disant marketing slogan.
Puycelsi is located in the Tarn region in southwestern France. It has an interesting history of destruction and rebirth.
It had inhabitants well before the Celts lived there between the 8th and 2nd centuries BC. The Celts named the settlement Celto Dun, a wooden fortress on a hill. The Romans came and named it Podium Celsium, raised platform. Part of the road that the Romans built is still visible and ramparts can be found in the nearby Grésigne Forest. Puycelsi — originally Puycelci — is probably Occitan, which would have been spoken in that region many centuries ago.
Benedictine monks from Aurillac built an abbey in Puycelsi in the 10th century. The earliest document relating to the village dates from 1180, involving the sale of the land by Abbé (Abbot) Pierre to Raymond V, Count of Toulouse. Raymond V saw the strategic significance of Puycelsi and his successors built a fortress and a château.
Regional wars took place. The Counts of Toulouse were able to fend off their enemies from the city of Albi and the Montfort family. In 1229, Raymond VII signed the Treaty of Meaux-Paris with King Louis IX. The treaty stated that Puycelsi’s château and fortifications had to be destroyed.
They were later re-erected. Puycelsi was under siege by enemies from nearby noble families in 1363 and again during the Hundred Years War, when 450 English troops tried to capture it. Incredibly, all of the attacks on the village failed.
The ramparts from the 14th century are now among Puycelsi’s tourist attractions as is the château built in the 15th century. Other attractions include the many buildings — including St-Corneille Church — from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Between 1586 and 1652, Puycelsi had four plague epidemics. The villagers decided to erect a chapel — St-Roch — to fend off illness. The lack of roads to the town no doubt contained the epidemics. Until 1850, there were only mule trails leading to the village. In fact, during the 18th century, Puycelsi women who worked as embroiderers walked 25 to 30 kilometres on foot to markets to sell their products.
The other artisan industries in the village were wool spinning and glass making. However, those ended in 1850, when a coal mine opened in the town of Carmaux. The young and able moved there and Puycelsi entered into gradual economic decline.
This was further exacerbated during the Great War, during which 55 young men died in duty by 1918. Puycelsi went into a long decline after that. People died. Their houses were left to stagnate. It turned into a ghost town and remained that way until the 1960s, when French couples looking for a second property began buying the houses and refurbishing them.
Today, nearly all the houses have been restored and Puycelsi is a popular destination for tourists. The English have a particular fondness for it. There is plenty to see. Cafés and artisan businesses are thriving.
Someone at the BBC knew what they were doing when they chose Puycelsi as the location for Wild Tales from the Village. Perhaps that someone has a holiday home there.