Leaving St Jean, and proceeding on our journey, we perceived the plain gradually narrowing as we approached the vale of the rapid and gloomy Arco, or Arche; whose turbid waters, gathered from the snows and mountain torrents, dash and brawl down the deep ravine of the rocks. The opening into the Vale of the Arco, or of St Jean de Morienne, by which name it is also distinguished, is grand. The road, traced through a defile of towering mountains, which present an aspect, bold, gloomy, and imposing, runs along the edge of the river, which here takes its tumultuous course over a disorderly bed of rocks and vast stones, echoing in the distance, and stunning the ear.
We now travelled on low sandy ground, picturesque, but solitary and wild: yet around the few huts, we observed every sign of industry in the poor and depressed looking inhabitants. Often on the sides of the mountains, even so high as to reach the yet unmelted snow, we discerned patches of cultivated ground; as also by the river side, where, in some places, the peasants had trained low vines. This place bears very evident marks of the continual decomposition of the mountains. Everywhere are to be seen enormous rocks, which have tumbled from the adjacent heights; the bed of the river is filled with them. These rocks are chiefly composed of pure lime-stone and chalk; sometimes of coarse white marble, tinged with red; as also of micaceous and calcareous sub-stance, mixed with quartz; or the micaceous clay-coloured schistus. Such is the character of the waters of the Arco, and of the Soliglia, which it joins at Lans-le-Bourg (or Lanebourg), not far from Mont Cenis.
We had enjoyed, hitherto, much serene and beautiful weather; but now, constant drizzling rain, and heavy lowering clouds, succeeded to bright sunshine and clear atmospheres, giving a sombre and dreary aspect to our route. From time to time a sudden blast would, for a moment, remove the black curtain of impending clouds, unfolding to the eye a scene inconceivably grand.
The mountains were seen towering in distant elevation, their summits rising in rude piles, often bearing in their aspect strange and varied forms, of castellated towers, or of the desolated remains of some ancient city; while the sun, freed from the obstructing clouds, gleamed and sparkled, just gilding with its rays the dashing cataract, and projecting rocks. In some places, on the brow of the mountains, stood little cabins, which appeared hardly accessible but to the chamois. We understood these abodes were inhabited only three months in the year, by persons who gather the scanty vintage, fruits, or grain, produced in this region. Towards the close of this picturesque, but gloomy road, that follows the course of the Arco, (which might emphatically be styled the Valley of Stones,) we looked towards a narrow pass, or gorge, of the mountain, bounding a beautiful little plain, which lay just before us. Here was situated a small church, surrounded by hamlets, its spire backed by a round green hill, and stunted picturesque oaks and poplars; whilst, beyond the pass, rose the Alpine mountains, forming a dark and massive back ground. This peaceful spot would make a beautiful scene for a theatre.
Leaving this village, we proceeded on our route and after pursuing a road, steep, and difficult of ascent, we reached, late in the evening, a lonely little inn, situated on the banks of the Arco, and not far from Lans-le-Bourg, the last town in Savoy.
Here we received the unpleasant intelligence, that on the preceding Friday, the 10th of June, 1817, the storm, which at Tour du Pin had forced us to seek for shelter, had fallen here with such fury, as to inundate the plain, and so swollen the rivers, that they had burst their banks, and carried away three bridges. This plainly ac-counted for the singular grandeur and force of the Arco, on whose dashing and roaring stream we had seen immense branches, and even whole trees, borne along with resistless impetuosity. At this inn we were advised to remain; for, besides the three bridges which had been undoubtedly carried off, the road was represented as so torn by the flood, as to resemble the channel of a river. Notwithstanding this intelligence, we endeavoured to proceed, but were obliged to return.
After the delay of one day, we left the inn, and continued tracing the banks of the Arco, until we reached the little city of Lans-le-Bourg, where the stream takes a different course.