As mentioned, I had a day and a half to explore the area around Lyon, beginning Saturday afternoon with Le Grand Felletin.
On Sunday morning, I got up early and pointed the rental car west towards a cluster of unactivated sites, two within the Livradois-Forez Regional Park (Pierre Beille and Le Pic Pelé), and one just a bit closer, Les Cornes d’Urfé. I started with that latter site, which is easily found by searching for the medieval castle of the same name. If I had a more little more lead time for this trip, I would have obtained in advance a topographic map of the area (IGN carte topographique, série bleue 2731, Noirétable), which is sold online.
I drove just short of the castle itself, parking in a small lot on the left side of the road. Just beyond the parking lot is a “no entry” sign (presumably meant for vehicles, not pedestrians) that indicates you are entering a protected area. Next to the sign, I found this friendly Golum, who lacks any explanation whatsoever.
Continuing on that path, you immediately come to the castle, which started as a single tower in the 12th Century and was subsequently expanded. The name “Urfé” was the last name of the vassal, Guichard d’Urfé, originally charged with taking care of the tower (and keeping an eye on his sire’s neighbors). Over the next couple centuries, the Urfé family become prominent in the Forez region, and the castle remained in their hands until the 18th Century, eventually passing to the Meaux family. Things went downhill for that family with the coming of the French Revolution — things including their guillotined heads. The castle was sacked, and its masonry pillaged for other buildings. What was left of the castle was vandalized over the years, and efforts to preserve it only started after the second World War. Today, the castle is looked after by a local not-for-profit, and has become a tourist attraction [thanks, champoly.fr for that info]. I didn’t have time (or foresight) to book a tour, but they sound interesting.
Right on the grounds of the castle are a couple nice picnic tables, and it occurs to me that this would be a fabulous site to activate for Castles-On-The-Air. To operate from the picnic tables, you would need to bring some sort of self-supporting antenna, as there are no trees immediately around (and draping an antenna from the parapets would most likely be frowned on).
I had no idea how to get to the top of the hill next to the castle, but looking at Google Maps, I could see that the path past the castle ran to the north of the hill, and I figured that I could just climb the hill at the closest approach. At the point marked “rocks”, there is a clearing on the left side of the path walking away from the castle, westward. To the south, there is a steep hill, but it is not huge, so I figured I could just climb it.
Indeed, that’s exactly what I did. There was no real path, but the vegetation was not very thick, and I was able to weave between the moss-covered rocks knee-deep in fallen leaves, until I reached the top. At the top, I had to carefully make my way past some thick thorn bushes and nettles and was glad to have worn long pant with heavy fabric.
I emerged into a clearing with a central pine tree, and an (unoccupied I think?) cabin off to one side, and immediately realized that I had done it the hard way. To the right of the cabin was a wide road sloping downward to the southeast.
I tossed my end-fed antenna into the pine trees and got right to it. After horrible conditions the previous day, I was glad to hear the bands wide open. In the next half-hour, I worked 25 stations on 40m, and 4 stations on 20m. I spun the dial through the FM band and called for a bit on 145.5, but had no replies.
The day was young, but I had a list of other peaks to activate, so I packed up and walked down the road next to the cabin. It turned back towards main road leading to the castle and my parking place. Before I hit the main road, I passed the above signpost, which says “no entry – private path”. Well, I didn’t see that since I came from the other direction, but now I wonder about the status of the hilltop. Do these signs applied to vehicles only, or hikers as well?
Where the road to the hill diverges from the main road, there is a telecommunications tower with microwave and cell phone antennas, so maybe the road is owned by a communications company? Perhaps someone more conversant with local laws and rights-of-way could comment on whether this peak is legally accessible, or whether permission would need to be sought.
Next stop: Pierre Beille (F/MC-240).