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The modern Folklore tale of Harry Willis was created and evolved by British Canoeing Instructors working in the Ardèche River since the 1970's. PGL was one of the first companies to operate schools' canoe holidays in the Gorge and through the telling of jokes and made up stories to the children on holiday, a story emerged about how the Ardeche river was the only round river in the world. Since tens of thousands of children a year, spread over more than 30 years have experienced the tale it is now widespread.
Over the years the story has been embellished and evolved as all good folklore tales, but the basic version follows this plotEdit
During the rise of Victorian Tourism in Europe, the Ardeche region felt left out, as it had little in the way of spectacular scenery to attract visitors and so continued to remain poor. A local Mayor decided he would create an attraction and hit upon the idea of building a spectacular Gorge.
He hired the services of a British Engineer, one harry Willis, who designed not only a spectacular Gorge, but one that would not run dry in the hot summers by re-using the water by way of designing the river to be round.
Harry brought in a team of Irish constructor workers who worked relentlessly blowing the gorge out of the plateau with dynamite. Progress was going well until love got on the way:
Harry's wife, Madeline lived with him whilst he built the gorge. Harry worshipped her, and when he heard that she had been unfaithful with one of his workers, he blew himself up with Dynamite at a site which is now close to Gaud bivi site. A white cross on the right bank still marks the site of Harry's grave.
Sadly Harry had taken his life in vain as Madeline had not betrayed him. Heart broken by the loss of Harry, she took herself to the rim of the Gorge and threw herself. Her body was smashed on a rock in the middle of the river. This is now know as Madeline Rock , in the middle of Madeline rapid.
The story todayEdit
Recently the telling of the story has been cited as misleading to children if the truth about the gorge is not also told. So nowadays British groups receive the story of the round river and Harry Willis, but they are also told about how the river was really created through geological history.
The story remains a classic modern folklore tail that is believed by many. Geography teachers are amongst those who have left their holiday under the impression that a round river does exist. It has even been submitted as part of students's answers within GCSE and A level Geography papers!
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