Archive for Forest

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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Standing Stones of Montneuf, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2015 by mysearchformagic

Readers of this blog will know that I am a regular visitor to Brittany, and that I enjoy nothing more than scouting out its many ancient sites – menhirs, dolmens, burial mounds, the place is littered with magical reminders of our ancient history. One of the best-known sites in the region is at Montneuf, where a recently restored set of standing stones attracts crowds of enthusiastic tourists every year. With its busy visitors’ centre, helpful information boards and regular educational events, this is a marvelous place, and is definitely well worth a visit…but magical it is not.

On my recent visit to Montneuf, however, I picked up a leaflet with a map of the surrounding area, and noticed that it featured a number of interesting-looking sites in the forests and moors that spread out around the stones. The weather was changeable, and I wasn’t wearing sensible walking shoes, but fired up with the notion of discovering some magic, I set off anyway, the map in my hand and a spring in my step.

The path into the forest of Montneuf, Brittany

The path into the forest of Montneuf, Brittany

The first location on my list was a site known as La Loge Morinais. The path led me into the forest, and drizzle began to descend from the darkening sky. On I walked, turning here and there as the map dictated. Soon I realised that I must have walked too far, and turned back to try another path. On it lead, but still no sign of the Loge. I could feel my socks getting damp, and the rustle of the rain on the canopy of leaves above my head was becoming more insisted. It was clear that I was lost.

I turned back again, took a long hard look at the map and then another at the forest around me. There was only one path left, so I took it, feeling rather pessimistic that I would ever reach my goal. And then suddenly there it was – a wooden sign pointing down a narrow path towards a clearing in the trees. At last I was there. I had found La Loge Morinais.

La Loge Morinais, Montneuf

La Loge Morinais, Montneuf

Once a huge covered passage grave, La Loge Morinais is constructed from immense slabs of local purple schist. Its cap stones may have fallen long ago, but at thirteen metres long it is still an impressive ancient monument, well worth the long treck and those damp socks.

Next my walk took me out of the forest and on to the moors of Montneuf. Luckily the sky had begun to clear, and I could take the time to enjoy the incredible views across the wild lanscape as I continued my search. I was all alone, with noone to be seen for miles around, so I was able to enjoy of the rare peace and tranquility of this unique place. My next target, La Roche Blanche, or White Rock, was much easier to find, and its distinctive name gives a fairly good idea of what to look out for.

La Roche Blanche on the moors of Montneuf

La Roche Blanche on the moors of Montneuf

There is more to this monument than just the large block of white quartz that gives it its name, however. As this photo shows, the block is surrounded by a ring of smaller stones, making a rather unusual group which is probably the burial spot of a high-status individual. On the day that I visited it was also encircled by a mass of purple heather. As I carefully stepped across it, I noticed a low hum emanating from the ground below me. Looking down, I saw that the heather was alive with hordes of buzzing bees, hard at work collecting pollen from the bright blossom.

It was just a short walk to the last site on my list. Also standing on the moors of Montneuf, although rather hidden by bushes and scrub, La Pièce Couverte is another passage grave which has lost its covering mound, its mighty stones now exposed to the open air.

La Pièce Couverte, Montneuf

La Pièce Couverte, Montneuf

It may not be as imposing as La Loge Morinais, but La Pièce Couverte is notable for the ‘cup marks’ that decorate a number of its stones. Although quite hard to spot at first, once you see them these man-made hollows in the surface of the rock emerge all over the monument, an intriguing remnant filled with long-forgotten meaning.

The cup marks on one of the stones of La Pièce Couverte, Montneuf

The cup marks on one of the stones of La Pièce Couverte, Montneuf

The final stretch of my walk took me across more open countryside, past a lake and through a pretty farmyard busy with clucking chickens. Soon I was back at the main stone circle of Montneuf, with its crowds of tourists, cropped lawns and carefully tended paths. The magic I had found up on the moors and deep in the forest was gone, but the memory of it will surely stay with me for a long time to come.

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

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 Jardin aux Moines, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by mysearchformagic

We’re back in the Forest of Broceliande this week, in a spot not far from the Val Sans Retour. In a clearing in the scrubby woodland on the edge of the forest lies the Jardin aux Moines, or Monks’ Garden, an unusual group of low stones with a mysterious history.

The Jardin aux Moins

The Jardin aux Moins

The legend goes that St Méen came to the region and discovered a community of rather debauched monks, who were more intent on having fun than following their holy orders. On one particular day the saint found the monks preparing for an orgy, and when he tried to persuade them to renounce their wicked ways they turned on him with violent intent.

Luckily for St Méen, divine punishment was quickly forthcoming, and the naughty monks were all turned into stones where they stood.

The reality is that the Jardin aux Moins is a neolithic monument, which was later reused during the bronze age, and although its purpose is not exactly clear, it probably had some sort of funerary function. But I much prefer the magical legend, which bears a striking resemblance to the tale of the nearby Demoiselles de Cojoux.