Archive for Morbihan

Le Chêne de Guillotin, Brocéliande

Posted in Brittany, Legend with tags , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I’ve already written about the Val Sans Retour, a distinctly mystical part of the Forest of Brocéliande, and the strange legend surrounding the Jardin aux Moines nearby. Not far away can be found le Chêne de Guillotin (the Guillotin Oak) a huge, ancient and magical tree with a fascinating history.

The Guillotin Oak

The Guillotin Oak

The size of the tree, which clocks in at 16 metres high and almost 10 metres in circumference, suggests an age of around 1000 years. Links have been made between the tree and the 12th Century prophet Éon, who lived somewhere nearby, and as such the tree is sometimes referred to as the Chêne Éon. More famously, this mighty oak served as a refuge for the Abbot Guillotin, who hid in the huge crevice which can still be seen in the trunk, during the troubled times of the French Revolution.

The crevice in the trunk of the Guillotin Oak

The crevice in the trunk of the Guillotin Oak

Peering inside today, visitors can find a small, dark space – cosy enough perhaps, but not somewhere that you would want to linger for long. It served its purpose for the Abbot though, who stayed there for many days and lived to tell the tale.

Inside the Guillotin Oak

Inside the Guillotin Oak

I visited in early spring, when the tree looks stark and lifeless, but in the summer it sprouts a canopy of vibrant leaves, and is obviously still growing strong despite being one of the oldest living things on earth.

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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.

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.