Archive for Castle

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Fountain, Gardens, Landscape, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Nestling in a quiet valley in the middle of rural Brittany can be found the romantic ruins of the chateau of Quinipily, an ancient fortress now reduced to just a few sturdy walls and terraces. Today the remains of the castle have been transformed into pretty gardens which are open to visitors throughout the year.

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

The colourful gardens of Quinipily, Brittany

It’s not the flowers that attract visitors to this place, however, because it is far better known for its strange statue, a monumental figure of indefinite age now known as the Venus of Quinipily. The 2.2 metre tall Venus stands at the centre of the terraced garden, staring out at the surrounding landscape from her position atop a huge fountain.

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

The Venus of Quinipily, Brittany

Until the seventeenth century both the Venus and the huge stone trough that is now situated below her stood in the Breton village of Bieuzy-les-Eaux, on the site of an ancient Gaulish city. Also known by the villagers as Ar Groareg Houar (the Iron Lady) and Groah Hoart (The Old Guardian), the statue was worshipped by the locals, who believed it to have magical curative powers. Pregnant women would visit the Venus, and later bathe in the trough (which can apparently hold up to 3600 litres of water) after giving birth. It was also thought that the figure could help boost fertility, and it is said that some couple indulged in some rather naughty practises beneath the statue. Finally the bishop of nearby Vannes decided to bring an end to such pagan rituals, and in 1661 he had the Venus thrown into the river. Before long, the locals fished her out, and resumed their old religious rites.

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

The huge stone water trough at Quinipily

In 1670 the statue was attacked and thrown once again into the watery depths. At this point local gentleman Pierre de Lannion stepped in to save the Venus, and shipped her off to his castle at Quinipily, where she has stood ever since. He faced opposition from the Duke of Rohan, who claimed ownership of the statue, but after a long legal battle Lannion won the case and was allowed to keep her.

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The monumental form of the Venus of Quinipily

The true age and purpose of the Venus of Quinipily have stirred up debate for centuries. Some have suggested that she may be a representation of Isis first erected by Romans who had settled in the region. Another theory is that she is in fact a Gallic goddess, or perhaps Roman mother goddess Cybele. Some sceptics have proposed that this statue is not ancient at all, but a later copy made when the original statue was destroyed in the seventeenth century.

After such a checkered past, the Venus must relieved to have finally found a safe home in the beautiful gardens of Quinipily. Here she is surrounded by huge old trees which have grown up amongst the fragments of castle wall, and althought the spring which fed her fountain has now dried up, the former ponds and cascades are now a mass of foliage and flowers, a bit wild and overgrown, but wonderfully atmospheric. I said earlier that she attracts visitors to Quinipily, but on the day that I visited there was noone else around, and I was able to enjoy the magical ambience of this intriguing place in peace and quiet, a unique experience in an unforgettable place.

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

The overgrown ponds in the gardens at Quinipily

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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

The Château de Trécesson, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, Castle, Ghosts, History, House, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , on February 25, 2014 by mysearchformagic

I’ve just got back from another trip to France, and just like the last time I have been tracking down more of Brittany’s magical castles. During this visit I made the journey to the picturesque château of Trécesson, which lies in a quiet, wooded valley not far from the town of Campénéac on the borders of the forest of Paimpont, a region steeped in myth and legend.

The château of Trécesson

The château of Trécesson

Much of the present-day castle seems to date from the 15th century, although it is assumed that there has been a fortress on this site for much longer. Its impressive towers and strong walls of the emerge from the depths of a wide, dark moat, and past the elaborate turreted gatehouse a small chapel sits next to a pretty 18th century wing.

The turretted gatehouse of the château of Trécesson

The turretted gatehouse of the château of Trécesson

Not surprisingly given its location near Paimpont, Trécesson has its own collection of supernatural legends. One concerns a ‘white lady’, the ghost of an unfortunate past resident who was bricked up into the walls of the castle by her own brothers for daring to marry the wrong man. A ‘headless curate’ haunts the corridors, and phantom card-players have also been seen in one of its bed-chambers, apparently indifferent to the terror that their appearance induces in hapless guests.

The overgrown avenue leading to the château of Trécesson

The overgrown avenue leading to the château of Trécesson

Despite these creepy stories, the castle seemed like a calm and quiet place on the day that I visited. A grand avenue of trees, now long-neglected and overgrown, leads up to the front gate. Most of the year the castle is closed to visitors, with only the exterior visible from the nearby road. However, the courtyard and chapel of this still privately-owned château are apparently open to visitors during the summer months, so you can be sure I will be back there soon in search of some more Trécesson magic…

The Castles of Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by mysearchformagic

The weather may have been terrible on my recent visit to Brittany, but I still managed to take advantage of the dry(ish) days and visit a few magical places.

Brittany has a rich collection of wonderful castles, including the atmospheric Forteresse de Largoët. In the depths of winter most of them are closed to the public, but the exteriors of some are so impressive that I enjoyed taking a look anyway.

The view towards the château of Suscinio

The view towards the château of Suscinio

The castle at Suscinio lies amongst wild marshland near the south coast of Morbihan. Once a royal hunting lodge, it later fell into ruin and was extensively restored in the 20th Century. Sitting as it does on a wide, flat plain, the castle’s sturdy towers and conical roofs can be seen from miles away, and it is even more impressive close up.

The sturdy towers of the château of Suscinio

The sturdy towers of the château of Suscinio

Pontivy sits on the River Blavet, and reputedly takes its name from the fact that a monk called Ivy built a bridge there in the 7th Century (Pont D’Ivy).

A sign for the château of Rohan

A sign for the château of Rohan, Pontivy

Its imposing château was begun in 1485 by the Viscount Rohan, and since then has faced a number of sieges and violent attacks. Luckily it’s a bit more peaceful nowadays, and although I am sure it is normally a bustling place, on the drizzly Sunday morning that I passed through there was nobody around.

The château of Rohan

The château of Rohan, Pontivy

The castle at Josselin is probably the most magical of all. With its soaring towers rising dramatically above the (currently overflowing) River Oust, the history of this castle goes back over 1000 years, when a simple stockade was first built on its rocky promontory.

The approach to the castle at Josselin

The approach to the castle at Josselin

In the following centuries the castle was rebuilt and extended, and the interior now includes a suite of lavishly furnished rooms which are open to the public. Only four of the original nine massive towers remain, but the castle is still a breathtaking sight.

The fairytale towers of the castle of Josselin

The fairytale towers of the castle of Josselin

I think you will agree that these three châteaux are rather wonderful, and definitely magical. Who needs Disneyland Paris when you have real fairytale castles, each with their own fascinating history, just a couple of hours away?

A Magical Doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

Posted in Brittany, Castle, House with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Back to Brittany this week, more specifically to Rochefort-en-Terre. I spotted an intriguing doorway in the wall which surrounds the ancient chateau of this picture-postcard pretty Morbihan village.

A magical doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

A magical doorway, Rochefort-en-Terre

I’d love to know what lies behind the strange carvings on the solid oak door. Unfortunately, as you can see, it is signposted as strictly ‘Privé’.

But then sometimes, when it comes to searching for magic,  a bit of mystery is more fun. Then you can really let your imagination run wild…

The Hoo Peninsula, Kent

Posted in Kent with tags , , , on September 1, 2012 by mysearchformagic

The Hoo Peninsula is a place with a strange, rather magical atmosphere. Despite the fact that it is located north of Rochester in Kent, just a few miles from the London’s sprawling metropolis, it feels remote, almost forgotten. It’s the kind of place that people tend to pass by without even noticing it is there.

This is also an area with a long history stretching back to Saxon times, the word Hoo being derived from the old English for ‘spur of land’. It is dotted with ancient buildings, in particular medieval churches, but despite the fact that it has rolling hills and rich farmland, this is no picture-postcard idyll. The arrival of industry in the 19th and 20th Centuries has resulted in large-scale developments around the peninsula’s coastline. No matter where you are, no matter how pastoral the surroundings, the looming visions of chimneys and the hulks of power stations can be seen lurking in the distance.

The view from Allhallows-on-Sea

All of this heavy industry hasn’t stopped the peninsula becoming a haven for wildlife, which now attracts birds, insects, rare water voles and wild flowers. The views here are breathtaking; on a blustery day when the sky is wide and dark the marshes near Allhallows can feel like the edge of the world.

A Red-veined Darter, Cooling

Further south, the village of Cooling stretches along a narrow country road, the crumbling remains of a castle at its centre. The nearby church of St James’ may be redundant, with no regular services held there, but it is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, who keep it open to the public. Inside it holds some fascinating remnants of ancient Kent, in particular the rows of 14th Century carved oak benches, and an odd little vestry, the walls of which are decorated with thousands of cockle shells. Charles Dickens recognised the spooky possibilities of Cooling and its windswept surroundings, allegedly using the churchyard as inspiration for the opening scene of Great Expectations, which features the pivotal meeting between Pip and the escaped convict Magwitch.

St James’ Church, Cooling

In the late 19th Century the mud of the peninsula’s flats became a valuable commodity, ideal for use in the production of cement. Fleets of barges would carry the mud from Hoo to factories further up the Medway and beyond. Later, as trade declined in the early 20th Century, the barges were either converted into houseboats or left as hulks on the shoreline, their dark, ghostly wrecks still visible around the peninsula today.

If you are looking for chocolate box perfection, then the Hoo Peninsula is not for you. Parts of it are built-up and ugly, huge factories blot the skyline and the remains of concrete military installations litter the shore. But at its heart are ancient places, villages and buildings which recall a long and complex past. Perhaps it is the contrast of these two worlds that makes the Hoo Peninsula so intriguing. This is, however, is a place at risk. Recent proposals to build an airport here are strongly opposed by the locals, who fear it will destroy the area’s fragile environment. Let’s hope that they are successful in their campaign, and manage to preserve the unique landscape of this eerie, magical corner of England.

Fields near Cliffe