Very little remains of le Bézu castle which stands in a remote location on an overgrown, rocky ridge called the Serra Calmette. Most of the guide books to the region don’t mention it and I have only found it on one modern map which is the Carte de Randonée No 2347 for Quillan and Alet-les-Bains. This shows the footpaths in the area and marks the castle as the Chau des Templiers Rnes.
The site is approximately ten kilometres (about six miles) east of Quillan and two kilometres east of the hamlet of le Bézu. However the narrow and tortuous lanes will take about half an hour by car from the junction with the D118 main road about two kilometres north of Quillan. I would not recommend trying it without the map mentioned above or a local guide. The last part of the journey is along a well-maintained farm road to a point where the track widens enough to park a couple of cars and to provide a turning space.
The path up to the castle (see first photo) crosses a sloping grassy patch to a sign which announces you have arrived at le Bézu chateau, gives a sketchy plan of the original layout and some of its history. The place became a ruin in the fifteenth century and has gradually collapsed down the steep hillside until very little remains – just a few walls only six or eight feet high. Obviously much of the stone has been robbed to construct other buildings in the locality.
The castle was originally a long, narrow building constructed against the side of the almost vertical bedrocks of the ridge. This would have made it impregnable from the north where the cliffs are hundreds of feet high. Even to the south the hillside is very steep and rough as you discover when you take the precipitous path up to the castle remains. The slopes are densely wooded and near the top it is a mass of almost impassable undergrowth, bushes and brambles.
The narrow path leads to the original gateway to the castle at the eastern end where the ridge has dropped to a col. Here there is a threshold with the Templar cross carved into it (see second photo). Of course it is impossible to say when this rough carving was made or whether it has any relevance to the ancient Order of the Knights Templar. But it is a romantic experience to be standing nearly three thousand feet above sea level among the ruins with panoramic views all round over the former lands of the Cathars and with this ancient symbol at your feet.
There are well-documented links between the Cathars and the Templars with at least one prominent Cathar, Bertrand de Blanchefort, occupying the position of the fourth Grand Master of the Order. There are also many local legends about the Templar treasure being hidden in the area. For those who know little about the Templars I will tell you more in future weeks.
Next week I will continue about the castle at le Bézu.