Archive for Fairies

The ‘Courtil des Fées’, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, Legend, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by mysearchformagic

This month I’ve been back to Brittany, one of my favourite (and most successful) hunting grounds. Every time return to Morbihan, a region steeped in myths and legends, I wonder if I will finally run out of weird and wonderful places to discover, but every time I uncover more magical locations. This visit was particularly fruitful, so you can expect my next few posts to be filled with my Breton adventures!

My first destination on this trip was the enigmatically named Courtil des Fées, a phrase which translates roughly as ‘fairy courtyard’. As with many of my expeditiions, the journey to the Courtil des Fées began with a track leading into shady woodlands, in this case the Forest of Houssa. Althought it was severely damaged by fire in the 1980s, this ancient wood is slowly reestablishing itself, and still retains its magical wildness. At this time of year, the path leading into the forest is noisier than usual, littered as it is with crackling branches and crunching acorns.

The wild and wonderful forest of Houssa

The wild and wonderful forest of Houssa

The Courtil des Fées is located on a ridge high above the Oust valley, not far from the tiny village of Beaumont. Archaeological investigations suggest that this ridge was inhabited by humans for many centuries before the trees reclaimed it. The first evidence of these ancient inhabitants that I encountered was the remains of a four thousand year old neolithic burial mound which lies deep in the forest, sitting in a pretty clearing surrounded by oaks, birches and ferns.

The ancient burial site of Beaumont, Morbihan

The ancient burial site of Beaumont, Morbihan

Just a few metres away can be found a small standing stone, which no doubt also formed a part of this ancient burial site. Some evidence of carved ‘cup marks’ can be seen on this mossy menhir.

The standing stone at the neolithic site of Beaumont

The standing stone at the neolithic site of Beaumont

It’s just another short walk to the Courtil des Fées itself, a raised round earthwork with a diameter of around twelve metres surrounded by a ditch. Known for generations as a magical place, the Courtil has long been considered the haunt of fairies. But these fairies are not the sweet little winged sprites of Disney cartoons, but nasty, wicked imps who were reputed to steal local babies from their cots. Not surprising then that I approached this place with some trepidation.

The steep entrance to the Courtil des Fées, Morbihan

The steep entrance to the Courtil des Fées, Morbihan

The Courtil is not particularly easy to decipher, or indeed to photograph, at this time of year, its ditch and mound rather lost in the autumnal undergrowth, but its raised platform is hard to miss. As I entered its circle, the sky darkened and the wind suddenly lifted, sending a shower of acorns and chestnuts clattering to the ground around me. If I hadn’t known better, I might have suspected that someone (or something) didn’t want me to be there.

I had been promised a great vista of the valley below from the Courtil, but in fact the view was almost totally blocked by the dense wall of trees that surrounds it. In the end I didn’t hang around for long, taking a couple of photos before I headed off back towards Beaumont. As I walked away the sun reemerged and the wind faded. Back in the peaceful forest of Houssa, the Courtil des Fées far behind, I’m not ashamed to say that I breathed a tiny sigh of relief.

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

Posted in Cotswolds, Legend, Oxfordshire, Standing Stones, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2014 by mysearchformagic

My recent trip to the Costwolds turned out to be filled with magic, and what better place to end my visit than the wonderfully atmospheric Rollright Stones. Situated on a pretty hillside near the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, Rollright is home to three distinct elements – a circle known as the King’s Men, a single standing stone called the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights Dolmen, the remains of a five thousand year old burial chamber.

The King’s Men circle is certainly the most striking of the three, with seventy seven weather-beaten stones surviving from the original hundred or so. Visiting in the eighteenth century, antiquarians William Stukeley described them poetically as “corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time”, adding that they made “a very noble, rustic, sight, and strike an odd terror upon the spectators, and admiration at the design of ‘em”

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

Like many neolithic monuments, the Rollright Stones have inspired many myths and legends over the years. In this case, the circle owes its name to an old tale of a king and his men turned to stone by a rather nasty-sounding local witch who went by the name of Mother Shipton. At midnight the witch’s curse is temporarily broken, and the stones are said to turn back into men, who then dance in a circle. But beware, any human who sees this magical dance will be doomed to madness or death.

The Whispering Knights, Rollright

The Whispering Knighs, Rollright

Of course, tampering with such stones is never a good idea. Many years ago, a local farmer decided to remove the cap-stone from the Whispering Knights in order to use it as a bridge over a stream nearby. Moving the stone proved to be problematic, and it took twenty horses and the death of two men before the stone was moved into its new position. Things didn’t get any easier – every morning the farmer would wake up to find the stone overturned on the bank of the stream. When he eventually gave up and decided to take it back to its original spot, the stone was moved easily by one horse.

The King Stone, Rollright

The King Stone, Rollright

In fact, Rollright has more that its fair share of magical legends. Some say that there are fairy tunnels underneath the King Stone and the King’s Men, and the fairies like to dance at midnight too. Apparently it is also impossible to count the stones three times and come to the same number each time. One cunning baker once tried to cheat by placing a loaf on each stone as he counted it, but when he got back to the beginning he found that some of the loaves had already disappeared, spirited away by those cheeky fairies no doubt.

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

I didn’t see any fairies, or indeed any dancing, on the day that I visited, but there is certainly something rather magical about this place. You can find out more about the Rollright Stones, including theories on their history and a few more mystical myths here.

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Angela Carter

Posted in Books, Fairy Tales with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Anyone who loves modern magic will love the writing of Angela Carter. I have already featured one of her best-known novels, Nights at the Circus, a book that I have enjoyed many times. This week I read her translations of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault for the first time, a very different work perhaps, but no less enchanting.

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Angela Carter

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Angela Carter

Charles Perrault wrote his fairy tales in late 17th Century France, re-interpreting old stories which had been passed down from generation to generation. Some of them are still well know, in particular Cinderella, Blue Beard and Little Red Riding Hood, some are more obscure – I for one have never come across the strange adventures of Donkey Skin or Ricky with the Tuft! Perrault spent many years as a notable figure in the government of Louis XIV, but took to writing more seriously following his retirement in 1695.

Charles Perrault, 1628-1703

Charles Perrault, 1628-1703

Angela Carter has remained largely faithful to his original text, but in places was unable to resist adding her own (often feminist) slant; here and there, little sparks of pure Carter shine through, particularly in the instructive ‘morals’ which follow each tale. Although not nearly as dark or gruesome as the Grimm Brothers’ versions which followed a century later, Perrault’s fantastical fictions are often far from cosy. Quite who they were written for is still debated, for although we now assume that children were their target market, in fact the idea of ‘children’s literature’ didn’t exist in the 17th Century, and it is likely that these tales were aimed firmly at the members of the French Royal Court, who were currently in the grip of a fashion for tales of magic and wonder.

Carter’s translations may seem rather tame compared to her other writings; perhaps she felt constricted by the idea of interpreting a historic text. What is for certain is that it was working on Perrault’s stories that inspired one of her greatest collections of short stories, The Bloody Chamber of 1979, in which she was finally allowed free reign with these classic fairy tales. Her versions are bold and subversive, violent of often terrifying, and feature female protagonists who are strong and decisive, far from the blushing princesses of tradition. But I won’t go into too much details about them here, as The Bloody Chamber definitely deserves a blog post all of its own!

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.