On the surface it seems rather puzzling that a publishing company registered in London should be called Riols Quarter? Until you consider who set it up and what Riols as a place represents to the founder, Brandon Broll. To this maverick writer, anti-apartheid activist, electrician, scientist, historian, poet, nature lover…
The ancient village of Riols, or more correctly ‘commune of Riols’ for that is the French term used, is situated in the Haut Languedoc, haut meaning high in the altitudinal sense, for this village is situated in a high valley of the Languedoc surrounded by majestic forested mountains. If Riols sounds remote, it is, yet for centuries the French people in this area have fought invaders from far and wide who have come to threaten their independence.
Stretching back at least to the medieval Cathars, the people of these mountains have cherished something specific and powerful. Freedom. Self-esteem. Independence. Respect. That has been their message. And for this powerful message, for their maverick voices and actions towards this end, they have been persecuted. Memorials pepper these mountains attesting to their bravery and to their persecution.
Tourists visit this region for the romance and tragedy that surrounds the Cathar massacres of the 13th century. The Cathars were a Christian dualist movement whose beliefs rejected the church as part of the material world whereas they considered religion spiritual. Pope Innocent III called for the Albigensian Crusade which massacred 20,000 Cathars in the nearby city of Beziers. In the mountains near Riols, the maverick Cathars held out to the bitter end in four defensive castles clustered on rocky ridges at Lastours.
While Catharism exists in some quarters to the present day, a courageous stand we can perhaps more easily relate to today is the bravery of people in these mountains who resisted Nazi invasion during the Second World War. Memorials to resistance fighters are commonplace in this area, including in Riols, and Riols features on ‘La Route de la Resistance Dans les Haut Cantons’, a route linking important sites of Nazi resistance.
Day to day the villagers of Riols are quiet but friendly, living behind the sun-drenched shutters of their stone homes, enjoying regular social events in the square. The population which exceeds 700 is slowly growing, there are more than a few independent-minded mavericks here, yet few people other than the French visit Riols or know of it. Trout fishermen quietly arrive to cast their fly hooks onto the clean, slow flowing water of the Jaur river, and groups of hikers tread through passing from one mountain to another.
When Brandon Broll was looking for a bolt-hole to escape to away from the bustle of London, he chose Riols because “it reminded me of the Cape.” The Mediterranean climate, towering mountains, vineyards, and wild open spaces must have reminded him of what he had left behind in South Africa. Even though London had been his adult home for thirty years, “the subtleties of home as a child often remains the dream of home as an adult”. Especially, if as an exile, you were forced to leave it.
Apart from its rich political history, Riols is set in the Parc Naturel Regional du Haut Languedoc. This regional nature park which includes inhabited rural villages and towns, is designated an area of outstanding beauty so as to protect the scenery and heritage. Its importance in nature conservation is recognised by the French government and protected by sustainable economic development. It is here that Brandon Broll, whose childhood embraced nature, who qualified as a botanist and zoologist at the highest level but whose career as a biologist was destroyed by politics, later chose this bolt-hole as a writer.