Archive for the Woods Category

Le Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, King Arthur, Legend, Tree, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The forest of Brocéliande is filled with magical places – standing stones, prehistoric tombs and miraculous fountains, many of them associated with Arthurian legend. It is also home to some natural magic in the form of several ancient trees. A while back I visited the incredible Chêne de Guillotin, and this time round I went to take a look at its younger but no less magical neighbour, the Chêne des Hindrés.

Unlike the Chêne de Guillotin, which sits on the edge of the forest in a pretty meadow, the Chêne des Hindrés lies hidden deep in the forest, around a kilometre from the nearest car park. A “Chêne” is an oak, and apparently “Hindrés” means damp, wet places, although I couldn’t see any signs of swampiness when I visited. The route to the tree is well-signposted and follows a clear path through the historic woodland.

P1020776

The ancient Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

Even in this dense forest, the Chêne des Hindrés itself, with its monumental trunk and huge mass of snaking branches, is hard to miss. Apparently the tree is around five hundred years old, which is not hard to believe – it really is enormous! I particulary liked the fact that other, small plants had made their home on the oak’s massive branches, with small ferns sprouting from its broad boughs.

P1020777

The huge snaking boughs of the Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

The Chêne des Hindrés reminded me of the Ents, those living, breathing and walking trees that feature in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, or even Enid Blyton’s charming Faraway Tree. Given its location, it is hardly suprising that the tree has also been associated with legend, and is sometimes referred to as the Chêne des Druides, or the Druid Oak. Supposedly Druidic ceremonies have been held here over the centuries, which makes sense – I can’t think of a better spot for invoking natural magic than this otherwordly place, the ancient heart of a mystical enchanted forest.

 

Advertisements

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.

P1020770

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.

P1020758

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.

P1020760

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.

P1020762

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.

P1020768

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 Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, Fountain, King Arthur, Woods with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2015 by mysearchformagic

One of the undoubted highlights of my recent visit to the Forest of Brocéliande in Brittany was the Fontaine de Barenton, a mythical fountain long associated with the region’s Arthurian legends. Not only was the fountain itself rather magical, but the journey to get there, which involved following a winding path through the autumnal woodland, was pretty wonderful too.

Entering the mythical forest of Brocéliande, Brittany

Entering the mythical forest of Brocéliande, Brittany

As I set out, the path was wide and flat, not particularly taxing. As I got further into the forest, however, it became narrow and muddy, crossing rocky outcrops and traversing knobbly tree roots.

The winding path through the forest towards the Fontaine de Barenton

The winding path through the forest towards the Fontaine de Barenton

The autumn leaves were just begining to fall, and the ferns and bracken were turning a rich golden hue. From time to time I spotted huge red mushrooms which had sprouted up from the loamy forest floor. A small stream appeared to my left, trickling its way gently through the undergrowth.

Magical mushrooms on the floor of the Forest of Brocéliande

Magical mushrooms on the floor of the Forest of Brocéliande

Finally, after about twenty minutes or so of pleasant wandering, I arrived at the Fontaine de Barenton itself.This spot is mentioned in a number of medieval literary texts, including the twelfth-century Roman de Rou, and for many centuries it has been said to be the place where Merlin taught the magical arts to the fairy Viviane, a sorceress who is perhaps better known as the legenday Lady of the Lake.

The legendary Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

The legendary Fountain of Barenton, Brittany

To the left of fountain’s source can be found a huge stone slab known as the “Perron de Merlin”, or “Merlin’s Step”. Legend tells that whoever sprinkes water from the spring onto this slab will not only bring about a huge thunder storm, but also rouse the Black Knight who is said to guard the magical fountain. Twelfth-century poet Chrétien de Troyes tells how Arthurian Knight Calogrenant visited the fountain, and was defeated by its fearsome protector. Later his cousin Yvain followed in his footsteps, but ended up defeating the Black Knight, and thus became the new guardian of the magical fountain. Arhur himself is said to have been intrigued by this wonderous place, although whether he ever visited it or not is unclear.

Merlin's Step, the Fountain of Barenton

Merlin’s Step, the Fountain of Barenton

In the fifteenth century, one Guy XIV, Lord of Montfort-Laval, claimed to have inherited the ability to bring about rain by dropping water on the step, although we can assume he did not invoke any pugnacious knights in the process. In more recent times, local people would dip the foot of a cross in the water in times of drought, appealing to Saint Mathurin for rain. And in case you are wondering, I didn’t attempt to awaken any storms – it was a long walk back to the car park after all, and since I was not dressed for rain, I didn’t want to tempt fate.

The Alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, History, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The huge complex of standing stones at Carnac in Brittany is, quite deservedly, world famous. With row upon row of huge megaliths running for kilometres across the landscape, it is hardly surprising that these stones have fascinated generations of antiquarians and now attract thousands upon thousands of tourists every year. The large numbers of visitors have inevitably had an impact on the fragile environment of Carnac, and as a result the majority of the stones are now kept behind fences, far from the fingers (and feet) of inquisitive day-trippers. So, although they are an amazing sight, the best-known alignments of Carnac can seem rather distant, untouchable, lacking that certain uncanny atmosphere that I love so much.

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

The impressive standing stones of Carnac, Brittany

What few of the visitors to Carnac realise is that there is in fact one set of the stones which remains rather overlooked, and still retains a wonderfully air of magic. The stones of the alignements du Petit-Ménec, which sit at north-easterly end of the complex, might be smaller than some of their better-known neighbours, and may be rather hidden in woodland, but the fact that they remain open and unfenced means that visitors can still wander among them and get a real sense of their unique ancient mystery.

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Approaching the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Brittany

Although they do appear on most of maps of the complex, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are not properly signposted, and lie quite a distance from the other megaliths beyond a busy main road. This is perhaps why they tend to be ignored by most visitors to the Carnac stones. Whatever the reason, I am rather glad that they are overlooked. Hidden in a quiet woodland, far from the crowds and their cars, the alignements du Petit-Ménec are a magic-hunters dream come true!

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

The magical stones of Petit-Ménec, Carnac

There are plenty of fabulous tales associated with the stones, including the (rather anachronistic) story that they were marching Roman centurions turned to stone by the wizard Merlin. Another legend tells that they are in fact a fleeing army of Pagans literally petrified by Pope Cornelius. All in all there are 101 standing stones in the Petit-Ménec group, with seven rows facing east and a further three facing north-east. Wandering amongst the stones in their peaceful forest, its easy to imagine yourself in some enchanted wood. I didn’t see any fairies, goblins or Korrigans on the day of my visit, but if I had, I am not sure I would have been that surprised. After all, I can’t think of a more suitable place for them than the magical alignements du Petit-Ménec.

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

Some of the larger stones in the alignements du Petit-Ménec, Carnac

Dolmen de la Loge au Loup, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2014 by mysearchformagic

On my most recent trip to France I had a bit of spare time to indulge myself with some megalith hunting. After a visit to one of my favourite sites, the mysterious stones called Babouin and Babouine, I spotted a signpost for the enimatic sounding Dolmen de la Loge au Loup, or Dolmen of the Wolf Lodge. With a name like that, how could I resist? Within ten minutes I was parked up at the side of the road and heading down a muddy country lane.

The path towards the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

The path towards the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

I had no idea what I would find, but the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup certainly did not disappoint. More of a covered corridor than a classic dolmen, the monument is the remains of a prehistoric tomb thought to have been erected about 4500 years ago. Nowadays it is covered in moss, and trees have pushed their way up through the stones. The effect is wonderfully magical.

The mossy stones of the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

The mossy stones of the Dolmen de la Loge au Loup

I am not sure how the stones got their name, and I certainly didn’t see any wolves on the day I visited. But staring past the gnarled trunks of the ancient oaks into the shadowy interior of the stones, the silence broken only by the rush of the wind through autumn leaves, it wasn’t hard to imagine how outlandish tales could develop about this strange, atmospheric site.

The Dolmen de la Loge au Loup. Morbihan

The Dolmen de la Loge au Loup. Morbihan

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I find it pretty much impossible to pass a signpost for any prehistoric megalith, obscure chapel or ruined castle without stopping to take a look. This means that my travels across Brittany can often be rather slow and time consuming, given the fact that the region is chock-full of magical ancient places.

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

My most recent discovery was the allée couverte du Grand Village, near the little town of Caro in Morbihan, south-east Brittany. This fascinating ancient monument sits on top of a wooded ridge, not far from a winding country lane that I just happened to be driving down. Leaving my car in the rudimentary car park, I followed the signpost down a narrow grassy path bordered on each side by dense hedgerow, its verdant bushes heavy with blackberries.

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany


The allée couverte du Grand Village is a megalithic monument, an antique corridor of huge stones which once formed the heart of a large burial mound. Today the mound is long gone, and the stone corridor has collapsed into a higgledy-piggledy pile of rocks. At twenty five metres long, the allée couverte du Grand Village is the largest burial monument of this type in the region, and pretty impressive it is too.

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Sitting in the peaceful forest clearing next to the remains of this once mighty structure, it is easy to see how myths and legends of fairies, giants and sorcerers emerged in Brittany. To our ancestors, these tales were a way of explaining the existence of these mysterious remains, feats of engineering which were almost inexplicable to more modern minds. There is definitely something enchanting about Brittany’s megaliths and the beautiful landscape which surrounds them, something mysterious and magical, and the allée couverte du Grand Village is certainly no exception.

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

A Magical Walk in Wiltshire, Part 1

Posted in History, Landscape, Standing Stones, Wiltshire, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I set off from Marlborough later than I had intended, delayed by a huge, deliciously lardy fried breakfast. By the time I had left the town and set off along the White Horse Trail the sun was already high and bright in a blue sky flecked with fluffy white clouds. Following the trail wasn’t always easy, with marker posts few and far between, but with the help of my trusty map I managed to stay mostly on the right path.

Setting off along the White Horse Trail

Setting off along the White Horse Trail, Wiltshire

The trail led me up out of the Kennet Valley, along the edges of dusty, stubbled fields, where a flock of nervous pheasants toddled anxiously in front of me before awkwardly taking flight in a flurry of angry croaks. I scrambled through overgrown hedgerows where my legs were stung by nettles and my clothes grabbed by brambles, then down again into the West Woods.

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Here I came across the ancient Wansdyke, a long, meandering earthwork consisting of a high bank and deep ditch which stretches for miles across the Wiltshire countryside. The date or purpose of the dyke are not certain, although it seems to have been constructed sometime around the Saxon period, and may well have been defensive, its name apparently a derivation of ‘Woden’s Dyke’.

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

Despite a couple of wrong turns along the network of trails in the shady forest, I eventually found the path again and soon ended up on a high ridge, looking south across the Vale of Pewsey. The views here were stunning, the low green hills fading to grey as they rolled gently into the distance.

It was obvious by now that I was nearing the magical landscape of Avebury. My map was dotted with little stars marked as Tumuli in that distinctive gothic script used by the Ordnance Survey to denote ‘sites of antiquity’. As I arrived at Knapp Hill I spotted the charmingly named Adam’s Grave, a long, low ancient burial place on the crest of a nearby hill.

Adam's Grave, Wiltshire

Adam’s Grave, Wiltshire

The next stretch of my journey was uphill again, along the ancient Ridgeway which leads northwards from this spot toward the famous White Horse of Uffington. I was now walking in the footsteps of our ancestors going back centuries, maybe even millenia, as I puffed my way to the top of the ridge.

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Towards the summit I walked back across the Wansdyke, larger here but more overgrown with trees and scrub. The vista from the other side was magnificent, facing north now towards my destination. As I scuttled down the chalky, flint-flecked path two birds of prey, buzzards perhaps, or maybe red kites, wheeled and swooped playfully above me, their sharp cries cutting through the soft sigh of the breeze. The sun was hidden now, and I could see an ominous bank of grey cloud moving in speedily from the north.

I knew I was nearing my destination when I spotted the distinctive shape of Silbury Hill in the valley below. Soon I was in the pretty village of East Kennet, with its quiet lanes and thatched cottages, the wooded mound of East Kennet Long Barrow looming on the rise to my left. Not much later I took a short detour to see the impressive remains of West Kennet Long Barrow, now extensively excavated and open to curious visitors. Inside I noticed the strong scent of incense, and in one of the burial chambers I found a lit candle sitting next to a strange corn dolly, a pagan offering of some sort I suppose.

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Sitting on top of the barrow offered more wonderful views of the surrounding fields, and also the opportunity to take of my heavy boots and grab something to eat. But before long I was up again, and walking down towards the main road, past an old oak tree hung with colourful ribbons and offerings, and on towards the village and prehistoric henge of Avebury.