Archive for Woodland

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.

 

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Forteresse de Largoët, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The entrance to the Forteresse de Largoët is to be found up a long, winding single-track road. At the end of this road stands a large gateway, a little house next to it decorated with carved rabbits. On the day that I visited the imposing gates were firmly closed. Luckily I spotted the small sign telling me that the castle was in fact ‘ouvert’, and when I rang the adjacent bell a man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the ‘rabbit’ house to sell me a ticket and let me in.

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

Next comes a long walk, past a beautifully dilapidated wellhead and along a wooded track.

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de  Largoët

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de Largoët

By the time you reach the ruins, you really will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the huge scale of the castle’s towers comes as a shock as they emerge above the treetops – the main ‘donjon’ is immense, said to be the tallest in France.

The castle of Largoët

The castle of Largoët

A strange air of quiet surrounds the fortress. The atmosphere is disconcerting, rather sad, heavy with neglect and decay. As with many historic sites in this part of the world, the Forteresse de Largoët doesn’t get many visitors, its sense of abandoned isolation only adding to its magical aura. The lake which sits next to the ruins is odd, spooky even, with the bare branches of dead trees emerging from the dark water of its far shore. The castle’s donjon is now floorless, its damp interior thick with moss and lichen, but a spiral staircase inside one of the thick walls leads up, past many empty doorways, almost to the top of the crumbling tower. The views from up there are incredible, but definitely not for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

It’s only at the top of the stairs that you can really get a sense of the size of this place; in its heyday it must have been a Gormenghast-style warren of rooms, ante-rooms and corridors. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a legend that a secret corridor links the castle with the nearby town of Elven, although the location of the tunnel’s entrance is now long-forgotten. In the 1470s, the castle’s most famous resident Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England, was held as a prisoner here by Jean IV, Lord of Rieux for two long years.

Once back on the ground, it is worth taking a look at the exterior of the tower, with its intricately carved machicolations and elaborate window frames. The walls look rather unstable nowadays, scarred with a delicate network of cracks and crevices.

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

Although the castle, which also goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of ‘les Tours d’Elven’, was probably first constructed some time in the 11th Century, this keep dates from the 1300s. The impressive gatehouse and adjacent round tower, which has been more recently re-roofed and restored, were built about a century later.

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

After my visit to the castle I decided to explore further and take a walk around the lake, through the pretty woodland which surrounds it. I spotted an elegant heron sitting on one of the tree branches which jut out from the water; stock still and quiet as I approached, it suddenly took off into the air as I walked away. Its wide wings flapping gracefully as it took to the sky, the heron finally broke the silence of the place with a single harsh craw as is disappeared over the treetops.

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

As a suitably magical end to my visit, I stumbled across the ruins of the castle’s chapel, now choked with bushes and grass, its foundations hidden beneath the undergrowth. Only one gable end remains standing to any significant height, its wall pierced with the elaborate tracery of a gothic window.

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

http://www.largoet.com/