Mas Forge

Mas Forge Reclaimed

Finding Mas Forge in the 1970's

Killing time in Cheltenham while Anita enjoyed the attentions of the dentist, Hedley wandered in to a second hand bookshop and picked up a book that described the spa town of Vernet-Les-Bains.

Looking for a place in France to develop as a field study centre at the time, Hedley was struck by the town's beautiful location and quirky English connections and bought the book.

At the beginning of the 20th century Vernet was a fashionable and popular spa town. Set high in the Pyrenees and nestling below the mighty Canigou, the mountain sacred to the Catalan people, it was a popular destination for English visitors and was made famous by Rudyard Kipling, who described it as "The Paradise of the Pyrenees".

Vernet Les Bains and Canigou from Mas Forge

As the 20th century progresssed however, Vernet became increasingly neglected and began to lose its place as one of the fashionable European resorts. The final insult came in 1940 when a huge flood swept from the mountain and destroyed many of the fine hotels and buildings. By the late Nineteen Sixties Vernet had been all but forgotten, and had become a rather drab and neglected backwater.

Going back to Cheltenham in 1970, Hedley and Anita were struck by the beauty of Vernet and its setting below Canigou and also intrigued by the fact that it had been popular with the English at the beginning of the century.They decided to start their search for a field study location in that part of France and being the end of the swinging sixties and start of the psychedelic seventies set out for the south of France in an old London Black Cab. Having made the epic journey south they spent the next two months travelling around the Languedoc Roussillion region, but were drawn back to the faded splendour of Vernet which they discovered had retained the original beauty that had inspired the explorers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Espying a chimney on the wooded side of the valley across from road from Villefranche to Vernet, Hedley and Anita crossed the Cady river and made their way into the wooded foothills of the Canigou to discover Mas Forge - a place that would occupy much of their lives for the next twenty-five years.

Mas Forge and its terraces viewed from across the valley of the Cady

What they had found were the remains of an abandoned iron-ore refinery with the chimneys and hoppers still clearly visible. Over one kilometre from the nearest road, partially demolished, covered in about two feet of coal dust, with no water or electricity and with no road access onto the site, it was going to be a challenge.

Despite all of this, upon clambering up to the top terrace and surveying the huge scope for development that the site offered, together with the breathtaking views towards Vernet Les Bains and Canigou, they decided that it was indeed the place they had been searching for.

Then andNow