This is not a tall tale.
On the soggy seacoast of southern France sloshes a region called Les Landes.
Ironically much of Les Landes is neither land nor water.
For centuries its people found their own unique way to deal with marshes and damp plains.
They relied on stilts.
The stilts were known in the Gascon dialect as tchangues (‘big legs’).
Boosted up on stilts, shepherds watched over their flocks.
The mail carrier stumped through his rounds on his stilts.
Stiltwalking housewives, gossiping in the market, were described as ‘a group of ravens perched on dead trees’.
The children of Les Landes did their chores, went to school and played games –all on stilts.
No wonder they became the most skillful stilt walkers in the world.
A young baker named Silvain Dornon even giant-stepped his way into fame.
In the spring of 1891, he began walking eastward across France and further.
He even climbed the Eiffel Tower on them!
He must have caused a sensation as he stalked through foreign villages, over mountains, and across farmlands.
The young baker ended his stilt-walking tour in Moscow fifty-eight days later.
He had covered a distance of more than two thousand miles.
No one has broken his record.
Meanwhile, Belgians fight on stilts for 600 years.
Since 1411, two stilt walkers’ teams of Namur (Belgium) have stood up to each other.
On the one side, you have the ‘Mélans’ from the old city with their yellow and black stilts.
On the other, the ‘Avresses’ come from beyond the walls on their red and white stilts.
Their spectacular fights have entertained Emperors and Kings.
Charles the Fifth, Louis XIV, Peter the Great from Russia, Napoleon… all of them enjoyed a fight on big legs.
Bertrand Patris, financial director of the Stilt Walkers of Namur told NPR:
“We have a document here in the archives of the city which is from December of 1411. It’s a document where the count of Namur has decided that it was forbidden to use stilts in the city — and not only to use stilts but to fight on stilts.”
So the people of Namur figure had to be actively stilt jousting for it to be banned.
There are tales of teams of a thousand each competing in the city’s central square.
The fight for the golden
snitch stilt on the third Sunday in September is something to be seen.
Happy Walking On Stilts Day! (27 July)
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.