St-Maurice, an 11th-century sod village

I’ve discovered Lauzun’s thousand-year-old grassy knoll.

Just a kilometre or two north of the village, I walk along a plowed field and see a hand-painted wooden sign with a yellow footprint on it. I follow the sign to a flat-topped hillock that seems at odds with the rolling, agricultural terrain around it.

The foot path continues around the base of the knoll and a faded sign tells me it’s the former site of a feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale
A feudal sod village called Saint-Maurice, circa 11th century, near Lauzun, France.

In the 11th century (between the years 1000 and 1100 AD) villagers, farmers, and artisans protected this hilltop home with a security system that included a timber wall and a watch tower.

I walk the leafy, soggy path up to the hill’s flat clearing. I pass a pile of stacked wood and walk in a circle around the hilltop. It feels private and primeval up here.

France Lauzun st-maurice le motte feodale trees
The tiny village of Saint-Maurice thrived on this hilltop in the Middle Ages. Lauzun, France.

I’m reminded of the 1,300-year-old city of Caracol in Belize, Central America.

At the beginning of the eighth century, Caracol was a bustling Mayan civilization of about 150,000 people, 30,000 structures and 88 square kilometres. But when I wrote about cycling to Caracol for a newspaper in 2006, it was mostly covered by tropical forest. All that was left was howler monkeys and ghosts.

I admire the ancient timbers and structures in villages such as Lauzun, but what I truly admire is the living land. On every walk and cycle ride I take, the fields and orchards and woods continue to nourish and warm the people. And in sites such as St-Maurice and Caracol, it lives beyond the people.

I linger in this odd, raised clearing and—as I did in Caracol—I imagine a busy settlement banging and clanking around me. Then the Lauzun village church bells ring twelve, signaling that it’s time to walk back for a coffee and piece of apple tarte.



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Writer, rider, traveller.

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