Archive for Brittany

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

The Ancient Quarry and Chapel of Locuon, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Church, History, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by mysearchformagic

The village of Locuon is, like many in Brittany, a pretty sleepy place. At first glance it might even seems rather ordinary, although its 16th-century church dedicated to Saint-Yon is pretty enough. But lurking behind the church, down a steep, tree-lined path, at the foot of a long flight of stone stairs, sits something much more magical.

The path down into the ancient quarry of Locuon

The path down into the ancient quarry of Locuon

The huge dip which can be found behind the church of Saint-Yon is not a natural valley, but in fact the rare remains of a Gallo-Roman quarry. Carved out over centuries, this quarry supplied stone for the nearby town of Carhaix. After the departure of the Romans the quarry became a place of holy pilgrimage, and a chapel was constructed in the 16th Century. Now it is a wonderfully atmospheric spot, peaceful and far removed from the outside world.

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The quarry is a great place to explore, with lots of strange and intriguing gems hidden in its ferny nooks and crannies. At the foot of the steep flight of steps which lead into it, for example, you will see an ancient goddess sculpture, the outlines of her hands wrapped round her headless torso just visible below a thick coat of lichen.

The goddess sculpture at the foot of the stairs into the ancient quarry in Locuon

The goddess sculpture at the foot of the stairs into the ancient quarry in Locuon

Further down in the depths of the quarry lies a holy well, which trickles out of a carved niche in the cliff face, along a gully and into a murky pool.

The holy well deep in the ancient quarry of Locuon

The holy well deep in the ancient quarry of Locuon

Not far from the pool are some remnants of the ancient quarry in the form of a group of sculpted stones, carved from the rock face but later abandoned here. They are now almost hidden in under a layer of moist green moss.

Ancient carved stones in the quarry of Locuon

Ancient carved stones in the quarry of Locuon

The chapel itself, known as Notre-Dame de la Fosse, is tiny, and fits snuggly into a recess in the quarry side. Its interior is simple, shadowy and silent, but the exterior is more showy, and decorated with elaborate carved reliefs.

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The most impressive carving on its exterior shows Saint Roch, famous for his miraculous ability to cure the plague. The fact that he is shown here may relate to the healing properties attributed to the holy well nearby.

The carving of Saint Roch on the exterior of the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The carving of Saint Roch on the exterior of the chapel of Notre-Dame de la Fosse, Locuon

The ancient quarry of Locuon is a special, unique place. This being Brittany, it is also an undiscovered gem, far from the tourist trail and largely ignored by visitors – I only discovered it thanks to some helpful advice for a local. Wandering around this shady quarry, it’s easy to forget about the modern world which lies not far away, and really lose yourself in the magic.

The Château and Village of Trégranteur, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Church, History, House, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I am off to Brittany again next week, and will be searching for magic of course. Thinking about my trip reminded me of a wonderful place I came upon by chance during my last visit to that part of the world, namely the Château and village of Trégranteur.

The Chateau de Trégranteur, Brittany

The Château de Trégranteur, Brittany

I was on a long, rather boring drive when I spotted an old rusty signpost for the chateau pointing down a narrow side road. On the spur of the moment, hoping to break up the journey, I decided to check it out. The grand 18th century château wasn’t actually open to the public, but could be viewed from the nearby road. In fact, with its closed shutters and firmly locked gates, it looked all but deserted. The village next to it was empty too, a bit of a ghost town, but all wonderfully magical. Next to the church stands the rare Colonne de Justice (Column of Justice) dating from the 17th Century, where every Sunday a local official would read out the latest orders and judgements.

The Column of Justice, Trégranteur

The Column of Justice, Trégranteur

As I wandered round the village, with its pretty old houses, many of them now empty and derelict, I also spotted a couple of interesting medieval religious carvings, both worn and covered in colourful mosses and lichens. I didn’t see another soul during the whole time I was there, apart from a couple of noisy, but thankfully friendly, dogs.

A medieval carving in the village of Trégranteur, Brittany

A medieval carving in the village of Trégranteur, Brittany

I’ll be reporting back from my Breton adventures soon!

A lichen-covered carving in Trégranteur, Brittany

A lichen-covered carving in Trégranteur, Brittany

A Magical Breton Christmas

Posted in Brittany, Christmas, Church, History, House with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 26, 2013 by mysearchformagic

This year I am spending the holidays in the lovely French town of Malestroit.

Chritstmas lights in Malestroit

Chritstmas lights in Malestroit

With its pretty medieval quarter dotted with strange sculptures, Malestroit is always a pretty special place. At this time of year the locals decorate the main square with Christmas lights and place a huge tree next to the ancient church. As you can see from these photographs, the results are rather wonderful.

The medieval houses of Malestroit

The medieval houses of Malestroit

On a dark evening, the chill air filled with the sweet smell of wood smoke, the atmosphere here is truly magical.

But the great thing about Christmas is that it can be magical, wherever you are.

The church of St Gilles, Malestroit

The church of St Gilles, Malestroit

So here’s to a happy, and of course very magical, 2014!

The Valley of Saint-Clair, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Church, History, Landscape, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The Chapel of Saint-Clair nestles in a quiet valley just outside the Breton village of Limerzel. This is a tranquil part of the world, one that the rapid developments of the late 20th Century have largely passed by. As a result, a visit to this valley, with its collection of fascinating ancient monuments, is rather like stepping back in time.

The path into the Valley of Saint Clair

The path into the Valley of Saint Clair

The path towards the chapel begins in a stretch of shady trees. There is a picnic table here for any passing tourists, although this is not the kind of place that attracts lots of visitors, just the odd dog walker from the village or maybe a passing farmer on his tractor. Walk a bit further down and you will find the first curiosity on this short journey, namely the Fountain of Saint-Clair.

The fountain of St Clair

The fountain of St Clair

Large scale holy fountains like this were once common in Brittany, and a number of them survive to this day, but few are as decorative as this beautiful example. Saint Clair himself can be seen carved in polychrome relief below the elaborate canopy. The first bishop of nearby Nantes, Saint Clair was responsible for bringing Christianity to the region in the late 3rd Century. In the past, his fountain has been attributed with healing powers, particularly for those suffering from maladies of the eyes, although the mossy, leaf-filled pool which lies at the heart of the fountain doesn’t inspire much hope for modern miracle seekers.

Follow the path a bit further and you will emerge out of the trees; take a sharp right turn and you will discover the next point of interest – the Cross of Saint-Clair. Like many of the crosses which dot the landscape in this area, the carving on this monument is provincial and naive, while centuries of erosion has erased much of the fine detail. The base is dated 1818, although the obvious age of the cross itself suggests that this date relates to a later restoration rather than its original construction.

The cross of Saint Clair

The cross of Saint Clair

By now the chapel itself can be seen nearby. It is just a short walk across a babbling stream to the final destination of this magical pilgramage, a simple building which dates from the 15th/16th Century and was sympathetically restored during the 1800s. Nowadays the chapel is almost always locked, but a small grille in the door allows visitors a view into the sombre interior, its religious statues and austere furniture bathed in the golden light from the small stained glass windows.

The chapel of St Clair

The chapel of St Clair

Every year on the 15th September the locals celebrate the Pardon of Saint Clair, during which a procession makes its way from the fountain, which is temporarily festooned with colourful flowers, to the chapel. After the procession everyone indulges in a communal meal to commemorate the Saint’s day. But for the other 364 days of the year the chapel remains peaceful and largely forgotten in this secluded valley, a place which still remains a magical haven far from the noise and bustle of modern life.

The gloomy interior of the chapel of St Clair

The gloomy interior of the chapel of St Clair

Babouin and Babouine, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I stumbled across Babouin and Babouine by pure chance during a recent trip to Brittany. While driving through the sleepy village of Trédion I spotted a rather tatty looking sign pointing down a narrow country lane towards ‘Babouin and Babouine – Menhirs Taillés’, which translates roughly as ‘Male and Female Baboon – Carved Standing Stones’. Who could resist such a bizarre description? Certainly not me, so I pulled off the main highway and headed down the single track road to find out more.

It wasn’t going to be easy. After a short drive to the edge of a forest where I parked up, I found myself facing a choice of three footpaths leading into the trees. No more signposts were to be seen. I followed the left hand path for a couple of minutes, and then had a change of heart and took the central path. I had no idea of what I was looking for, and after a long but pleasant walk through the peaceful, atmospheric woods I eventually gave up and returned to my car. Babouin and Babouine were to remain an intriguing mystery, for a while at least.

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Last week I found myself back in magical Morbihan, so after doing some online research I headed straight back to Trédion. It turns out the left hand path had been the right one after all. About three hundred metres along it a smaller path splits off to the left. A short walk across the loamy forest floor, past piles of felled trees which were filling the air with the unseasonal piney smell of Christmas, and I found myself face to face (quite literally) with Babouin and Babouine.

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

No one knows the age of these two sculpted stones. No one knows their purpose. With its wide moon face, Babouin reminds me of Pictish carved heads. It stares, solid and expressionless, giving nothing away. I suppose it is the flat oval features of this menhir that have led to the unusual ‘baboon’ names by which the stones are now known.

The carved face of Babouin

The carved face of Babouin

Babouine doesn’t remind me of much at all – in fact I find it hard to make out a face or figure in the vague shapes of the moss-covered stone, despite claims that is represents a female form. Deciphering the incised lines which decorate the stone wasn’t made any easier by the contrast of the dazzling summer sunshine and constantly shifting shadows cast by the leaves of the forest canopy. Some people think that these two sculptures are ancient, others that they were once typical menhirs which were carved later by some unknown hand into the odd forms that we find today.

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

I guess the true story behind the Babouin and Babouine will always remain a mystery. One thing is for sure – encountering them in the shadowy forest near Trédion, tall and silent amongst the rustling trees, is a mysteriously magical experience.

Le Val Sans Retour, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Legend with tags , , , , on March 12, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Do you believe in fairies? Even if you don’t, you’ll still be enchanted by le Val Sans Retour (The Valley of No Return) which lies near the village of Tréhorenteuc, on the edges of the mythical forest of Brocéliande in eastern Brittany. This whole area has long been associated with the stories of King Arthur, and dotted around its delightful and mysterious landscape are many locations and monuments linked to these ancient tales.

The road to the Val Sans Retour

The road to the Val Sans Retour

According to local legend, the Val Sans Retour was the spot where Morgan le Fay trapped unfaithful lovers, hence its modern name. Her spell was finally broken by Lancelot, whose true and faithful love for Guinevere defeated the wicked enchantress.

In fact, as the signpost at the bottom of the valley unashamedly states, the Val Sans Retour was historically linked with another valley nearby, but when 19th Century industrialists spoiled it with an ugly factory, it was coincidentally ‘discovered’ that the position of the Val Sans Retour was probably in its current location. Ever since then this spot, originally known as the Rauco Valley after the stream which runs down it, has drawn tourists keen to discover a bit of Arthurian magic.

The still waters of the 'Fairy Mirror'

The still waters of the ‘Fairy Mirror’

In the early 1990s the area was ravaged by fire, an event which has been commemorated by a stunning gilded tree which sits at the foot of the valley next to the lake known as the ‘Fairy Mirror’. The trees have been replanted, and twenty years on the forest is now flourishing again.

The Gilded Tree, Val Sans Retour

The Gilded Tree, Val Sans Retour

There are two routes up the Val Sans Retour; the easier option is along a track through the trees to the right of the stream, the harder (but much more rewarding) route follows the crags on the other side of the water. The vistas over the valley are magnificent, and the journey is littered with bizarre, almost lunar rock formations. The further up you get, the quieter the place becomes. By the time you arrive at its higher reaches, the only sounds you are likely to hear are the rush of the breeze and the impatient clatter of unseen woodpeckers in the distance.

Stunning views across the Val Sans Retour and beyond

Stunning views across the Val Sans Retour and beyond

The Val Sans Retour has a wonderfully remote atmosphere, and if visited off-season is still generally crowd-free. The stories attached to it might not stand up to much historical scrutiny, but even so I can guarantee you will be captivated by its wild, barren beauty.

The Megaliths of Saint-Just

Posted in Brittany, History with tags , , , , on August 4, 2012 by mysearchformagic

Following three blog entries featuring urban magic, this seems like a good time to move away the city and feature somewhere decidedly more bucolic. Brittany in North West France is an area I am lucky enough to know well. It is also a region that is soaked in magic, with a long history of myth and mystery, and many strange, fascinating reminders of this history in the form of standing stones, ancient dolmens and medieval ruins. What makes Brittany even more special is the fact that it still retains its atmosphere of calm and quiet. It’s a place stuck in time, somewhere around fifty years ago, where many people still live simple, rural lives, where the winding country roads are empty of traffic and the long white beaches free of crowds. If you avoid the main attractions such as Pont-Aven or Mont St. Michel, you can often find yourself wandering alone around some truly magical places.

One such place can be found not far from the village of Saint-Just. In typical French style the Landes de Cojoux aren’t particularly well signposted. The happy result of this is that hardly anyone ever visits these windswept, gorse-covered moors, and it is not unusual to find the tiny gravel car park almost empty. It’s only a short walk up to the beginning of the trail which takes you across the Landes, and not long down this trail before you reach the first of the groups of standing stones for which the area is renowned.

Les Alignements du Moulin

The Alignements du Moulin are pretty impressive, standing tall and sharp against the wide open sky, but as you walk on you quickly realise that this is just the beginning. The moors of Saint Just are dotted with many ancient monuments, from the low, messy remains of burial cairns which emerge here and there from the scrubby heather, to the huge blocks of the Demoiselles de Cojoux, two granite menhirs with another two fallen stones nearby, which may be just part of a once much larger monument. Local legend tells that they are in fact wayward girls, turned to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath.

Les Demoiselles de Cojoux

As you wander deeper into the Landes, any memories of modern life quickly slip away. The only sounds up here are the wind in your ears and the persistent chatter of birds. At the end of the moor, where the ground slips down towards a distant river, the views are broad and breathtaking, a perfect end to a magical stroll.

The River Canut

The remote location of the Megaliths of Saint-Just means that they have escaped the scourge of mass tourism, which has all but eradicated the magic of better-known site such as nearby Carnac. There is evidence of human interaction with the landscape stretching back over seven thousand years here. We don’t know what the true purpose of these incredible feats of prehistoric engineering were, but the amount of work involved in setting up these stones reveals how important they were to the communities who created them. With no written records from the period, their origins and meaning will probably always remain a mystery. Now they have become part of the landscape which they inhabit, a wild, windy terrain which, apart from the odd earth track, shows little sign of the intervention of modern man.

A burial chamber known as the Four Sarrazin on the moor of Saint Just

A burial chamber known as the Four Sarrazin on the moor of Saint-Just

The Landes of Cojoux are vastly underrated, but I hope they stay that way; this is a place where it is still possible to feel a connection with an ancient landscape, and somewhere that still undoubtedly possesses a rare, unique potential for magic.