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Merlin’s Tomb and the Fontaine de Jouvence, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Fountain, King Arthur, Legend, Sculpture, Standing Stones, Uncategorized, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2015 by mysearchformagic

My recent visit to the Fountain of Barenton in the mythical forest of Brocéliande was just the beginning of a long day filled with magic. My second stop on this mystical adventure was another site with Arthurian associations, namely the Tomb of Merlin on the eastern edges of this ancient woodland.

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Merlin’s Tomb on the edge of Brocéliande Forest

Once a huge neolithic burial mound, this spot has long been known as the grave of the legendary wizard. In fact, it was probably this myth that led to the destruction of the mound, with its late nineteenth-century owner stripping it in search of ancient treaure. Today only two large boulders survive, hemmed in by a modern wooden fence. Despite this, the place is obviously well-visited and much-loved, the stones surrounded by autumnal offerings of berries, mushrooms and fruit.

Next I headed off into the forest, along a winding path which crossed a babbling brook. As I walked deeper into the woods, I noticed small piles of stones along the side of the track.

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A babbling brook in the mystical Forest of Brocéliande

It wasn’t long before I reached the place known as the Fontain of Jouvence, or Fountain of Youth. It has been suggested that the name of this spring derives from the fact that it was a Druidical site where babies were baptised. If a baby missed the ceremony then they would be baptised as a new-born twelve months later, and thus effectively become a year younger. Whatever the roots of this magical moniker, the rather murky, leaf-filled waters were distinctly unappealling, and I decided not to risk a sip.

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The Fontainte de Jouvence, Brocéliande

Keen to explore a bit further, I continued along the path, and noticed more of those peculiar little piles of stones. Suddenly the path opened up into a clearing, and I was greeted by an unexpected sculpture, an anthropomorphic figure created from pebbles and branches and decorated with fruits, leaves and funghi.

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A strange stone sculpture in the Forest of Brocéliande

Beyond the figure lay a quarry. But this was no ordinary quarry, because it was filled with countless little piles of stones.

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A mysterious quarry in the Forest of Brocéliande

I am not sure who or what made these odd little sculptures, or indeed why. Some contained notes giving thanks, or making dedications. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it on the internet, or any references to it in guidebooks. It remains something of an intriguing mystery. All I know is that it was a eerie, atmospheric place, and one that I won’t forget in a hurry.

 

 

 

The Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Last month I spent a weekend in Durham, a picturesque place with a castle, cathedral, winding lanes and medieval walls all perched on top of a dramatic rocky crag. I was able to spend an afternoon exploring the town, and discovered many magical nooks and crannies in the process.

My favourite discovery was undoubtedly the famous sanctuary knocker which can be found on the northern door of Durham’s beautiful Romanesque cathedral. In past centuries those who had committed a crime could rap the knocker, and would then be offered thirty seven days of sanctuary inside the church in which to reconcile with their victims, or even plan an escape.

The Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral

The Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral

Made from brass, the knocker features a wonderfully gothic sun face, its handle decorated with dogs’ (or is it dragons’?) heads. The knocker which can now be seen on the cathedral door is actually a modern replica, as the fragile medieval original is now safely held in the cathedral’s museum, but it is still pretty magical I am sure you will agree.

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2015 by mysearchformagic

As regular readers of this blog will now know, there are few things I love more than an ancient site, be it a dolmen, a stone circle, or a burial mound. No surprises then that my recent trip to the south west of England included a visit to Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, one of the best examples of a Neolithic chambered tomb in Britain.

Stoney Littleton Barrow is situated on a windswept hillside in the depths of rural Somerset. Following a drive down a very narrow and very winding road, cars have to be abandoned at the roadside next to a rickety wooden bridge which leads over a stream towards the barrow.

The bridge leading to Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

The bridge leading to Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

Reaching the site involves a treck across a few muddy fields and climbing over some stiles, but the barrow itself is definitely worth the effort. Its location on the hillside offers stunning views of the valley below, dotted with old stone farmhouses and flocks of rather chilly looking sheep.

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

The barrow is long and low, with only the its edging of stones and a tiny dark doorway indicating that this is no ordinary hillock. First constructed around 3500 BC, the tomb actually lay hidden for thousands of years until a local farmer broke into the interior chamber while searching for building stones in 1760.

The doorway of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

The doorway of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

Closer inspection of that little doorway reveals a huge fossil ammonite embedded in the stone that forms its left jamb, but it was the gloomy shadows which lay beyond it that really drew my attention. The interior of the tomb is fully accessible, but the low ceiling and tiny chambers inside mean that crawling on hands and knees is pretty much the only way to view it.

The shadowy interior of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

The shadowy interior of Stoney Littleton Long Barrow, Somerset

I made it about halfway down the dark, damp corridor at the centre of the barrow before the muddy floor and a growing sense of claustrophobia made me turn around and scramble back out again. A torch is recommended for a visit to this place, and stout shoes will not go amiss either. But then it is that remote setting in the Somerset hills, and that shadowy dark interior that make Stoney Littleton Long Barrow such a magical place, an ancient site with a wonderfully dramatic character which lies at the heart of a landscape which has hardly changed for hundreds, it not thousands of years.

A Magical Staircase, Wells Cathedral

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2015 by mysearchformagic

My recent visit to Somerset included a day trip to Glastonbury to see the Tor and the Abbey, and also to rootle around the town’s many esoteric shops. It’s certainly a fun place, but its reputation inevitably draws crowds of visitors and tourists, and I am sure even its greatest fans would admit that Glastonbury has become rather commercialised in recent years.

The historic city of Wells, however, which lies only a few miles away, was a lucky find which turned out to be much more atmospheric. With its pretty old streets and many historic buildings, the centre of Wells is dominated by a huge medieval cathedral and the picturesque moated Bishop’s Palace that sits next to it. Inside the cathedral I discovered this beautiful staircase, completed in 1306, which leads up to the chapter house.

The worn stairs leading up to Wells Cathedral chapter house

The worn stairs leading up to Wells Cathedral chapter house

Worn away by centuries of use, ascending the stairs is a rather precarious business, and coming down is even more tricky. The stairs split half way up, with the entrance to the chapter house itself at the top of the right hand branch of steps. In fact this is the only octagonal chapter house to be built on a first floor with a strong room below, and was constructed in this way as the high water table here made the more usual underground crypt impractical. With its high ceiling decorated with elaborate vaulting, the chapter house itself is definitely worth the steep climb up these slippery old steps, but in the end it was the stairs themselves, elegant, ancient and distinctly magical, that grabbed my attention.

The Gateway to the Château de La Coudraie, Brittany

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I’ve been exploring Brittany for the last couple of weeks, and on this visit I ventured further west into the region called Finistère. With its wild coastline, ancient monuments and extensive woodlands, Finistère is an area filled with magic. As I drove along a quiet, tree-lined country lane on my way to the weekly market in Pont l’Abbé, I happened upon a little bit of that magic, in the form of a huge, ancient and rather strange gateway.

The impressive gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

The impressive gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

The gateway, which was obviously once rather smart, but is now covered in moss, lichen and vines, is formed of eight monumental pillars. Each pillar is highly decorated with elaborate carvings, including images of helmeted knights, proud lions and grimacing faces, and topped with a classical urn.

A grimacing face on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

A grimacing face on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

Small flights of steps flank the main gate on each side, although they don’t look like they have been used much in the last few years.

Overgrown steps on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

Overgrown steps on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

I was tempted to explore further, but a battered old sign just past the gateway informed me in no uncertain terms that the land was strictly privée. I could only stare down the long avenue which disappeared into the shadowy forest beyond, and wonder…

A helmeted knight on the gateway to on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

A helmeted knight on the gateway to on the gateway to the Château de La Coudraie

Since my discovery of this magical gateway, I have found out that it belongs to the Château de La Coudraie, a grand 19th Century house that stands at the heart of a centuries-old estate. The château certainly looks terribly elegant, but in my opinion this overgrown, moss-covered gateway is much more interesting, and definitely more magical.

Urban Art, Camberwell

Posted in London, Uncategorized with tags , on July 27, 2012 by mysearchformagic

Magic is often subtle or evasive. You’ve got to keep your eyes open to spot it.

I spied this mural at the weekend through a gap in some hoardings in Camberwell.

While a lot of Urban Art is crude and bombastic, from time to time you will see something like this that is delicate and strange.

The Fox’s Revenge?

There is something mysterious about Street Art. It appears in the dark of the night, often in unexpected places. It is usually anonymous, and generally ephemeral, disappearing as fast as it has appeared. There’s no signature, no labels, no explanation.
I don’t know who created this work. It won’t be around for long, as the site is already undergoing development for new housing. Thousands of people pass it every day, but I wonder how many will notice it?