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The ruins of the castle Erguël

The ruins of Erguël castle

The few times I had crossed the Vallon de Saint-Imier, I had noticed the ruin with an impressive tower. The first times go back many years, when we went to La Chaux-de-Fonds from Macolin, for an athletics race. More recently, on my way to Bienne, I was once again fascinated by this ruin. So, I had to go take a closer look at this destination in the Bernese Jura mountains.

From Sonvillier, the penultimate village of the Vallon de Saint-Imier, on has the choice of taking two different routes to get to the ruin. The first route crosses the Suze just below the village and climbs towards the football field. This route is a little less steep than the second, but it is also much less scenic.

I would rather recommend following the Suze on the left bank for a while to cross it just below the castle. One then heads towards the bottom of a small steep-sided valley. This valley is closed by a rock wall from which exits the water of a small torrent flowing into the Suze. A small bridge allows one to cross the torrent and reach the foot of a steep slope in which the path rises by making a few switchbacks. After the last bends, it does not take long to find the first route which evolves on a comfortable forest path.

After going around the bottom of the valley by a wide curve, it does not take long to reach a small pass leading to the spur on which the castle had been built. By setting foot on this spur, one then has a view of a wide section of the Vallon de Saint-Imier. It is sure that the original tower allowed to watch all the comings and goings in the valley. This castle, probably built in the 11th century, was no longer maintained from the middle of the 18th century (which still means 6 centuries of existence). As often, the ruin had been used as a quarry for the building stones of the houses of Sonvillier, which further accelerated the decay. It was only during the modern period that work was carried out to clean up the ruins.

Like any self-respecting castle, Erguël Castle is linked to myths and legends that can be found in many other ruins. A first myth is the one that affirms that there is an underground passage connecting the castle with an exit which is located on the shores of Lake Biel, near Neuveville. The distance that this so-called underground should cover makes one wonder, because there are more than 10 km in a straight line. There is also a legend of the “White Lady of Erguël”, a specter who haunts the castle and who appears to mortals on Christmas night. One finds a similar legend for a ruin located in the canton of Geneva, the ruins of the castle of Rouelbeau.

To avoid having to take the same path in the other direction, it is worthwhile, from the small pass, to climb in the direction of Pontins. The path rises in the undergrowth and enters the top of the valley passing under the castle. After a climb, one then reaches the pastures near La Cerlière. From the area around Les Pontins, one can easily descend towards Saint-Imier. For this, one has the choice of taking a path passing not far from La Perrette before tackling a long descent towards La Suze. One can also go a little further, as far as La Perrotte to descend towards Saint-Imier. The two paths chosen meet a little further down and intersect the road leading from Saint-Imier to Bugnenets. After a few bends, it doesn’t take long to see the first houses of Saint-Imier.

To return to Sonvillier, the marked path suggests crossing the Suze, going up on the other bank to follow a path halfway up the hill. One can also, above Sur le Pont, take a local road on the right bank of the Suze. After crossing a forest, it does not take long to reach Les Sauges and, further on, reach the junction with the path leading up to the ruins of the castle.

Itinerary: Sonvillier – Ruins of Erguël Castle – Les Pontins – Sur Le Pont (Saint-Imier) – Les Sauges – Sonvillier
Distance: 9.5km
Altitude gain: 400m
Duration: 3h30

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