Monday 28th October 2013, Lannion, Finisterre, Continued
From the Lac Guerlédan we drove to the 12th century Cistercian Abbaye du Bon Repôs. Sacked during the Revolution it is now mainly a ruin and privately owned. It is though charming. It has been conserved and partially restored, set beside a river with an open air auditorium. This may be used for concerts and plays in the summer or simply for an annual “pardon”. These are processions of religious significance in Brittany where the local costume is worn and everyone follows the statue of the local saint to a religious or holy place where a mass is held.
The Abbaye stands beside the Nantes-Brest canal where there is an example of a lock to raise and lower water transport along the canal. This section at least of the waterway is still functioning.
A few kilometres along badly maintained little roads through dense woodland leads to Forges-des-Salles. This was unfortunately already closed for the season but we wandered in anyway. It was recommended to us by our Landiviseau barman who’d eagerly found us photos of it on his computer. Once, the hamlet held several hundred people – workers and their families. It even had its own school. According to the barman they lived away from the rest of society who apparently mistrusted iron workers thinking them somehow in league with evil forces. More realistically this was a workers village that existed purely for the smelting of Breton minerals using wood. Charcoal was produced on site to work the furnaces. The village also produced its own bread in a communal oven and a very narrow-gauge railway carried raw materials to, and ore from, the furnaces. As we rounded a bend that brought us to the front of the master’s house the sun burst out revealing a rainbow that curved gracefully down into the very heart of the cobbled courtyard. This was for me by far the most interesting site we have visited today and one I will definitely do properly if by some fluke I ever find myself in this area when the village is officially open.
Now though it was time to head up to the north coast, a longer drive than I’d realised and darkness was falling as Ian cleverly navigated us through Lannion and out to this campsite on a little road leading down to the sea. The office was closed but we’ve settled ourselves in and will tell them we owe them some money in the morning.
Wednesday 30th October 2013, Pordic, near St.Brieuc, Côte d’Armor
We spent two nights at our last campsite beside the sea near Lannion. It was very pleasant indeed. Yesterday we drove back into the centre of Lannion and parked Modestine down beside the river, walking the last half mile into the centre. We’d never visited Lannion before and found it a really lovely little town. Every shop looked really chic with superb window displays whether they were selling clothes, glasses, charcuterie, fish or something as humble as hardware. The streets were steep and cobbled with small granite slabs while the buildings were either of granite construction or were half timbered. They were all original and constructed largely between the 16th and 18th centuries. On the main square were three adjoining timber-framed buildings now forming a restaurant. Later in the morning when we were caught in a sudden downpour we took shelter inside and watched the rain as we drank frothy hot chocolate until the sunshine returned. We both felt Lannion was one of the few towns we’ve seen in Brittany where it might be possible for us to live. Unlike most bourgs and hamlets it is large enough to have a few things happening outside the tourist season. Clean and attractive as the little Breton towns most definitely are, as elsewhere in rural France, outside July and August very little of interest seems to happen. Much depends on the enthusiasm of the local mayor and counsellors of course and we had the impression that in Lannion they would actively promote local activities. Bagpipe playing, Breton dancing, lotto and a concours de kig-a-fars were all being planned for the residents over the coming month.
Leaving Lannion we drove to the tip of the peninsula at Tregastel, another area new to us. I regret having to say this but I am convinced the Bretons are the worst drivers in western Europe. I actually think I felt safer driving in Istanbul than I did on the rural back-roads around Finistere! Several times I narrowly avoided accidents whilst driving a mere 15 kilometres. I felt rather shaken by the time we finally parked in a field at Tregastel - Modestine was banned from using any of the almost empty carparks where the entrances were restricted to a maximum height just slightly lower than her roof. First someone reversed out into the road ahead of us without looking, then we were tailgated and finally a driver swung abruptly across in front of us disregarding the road markings. Finally, when I’d actually managed to find a pretty place to park beside a tiny bay of fishing boats, a lady came out from her house nearby and pointed to a sign we’d missed banning campervans! It’s not easy manoeuvring a vehicle out from a confined space while holding a mug of hot coffee. But we didn’t fancy arguing that we were not really a camping car within the spirit of the law and I think I’d probably have been annoyed to have huge campervans parked opposite my house all summer! Lorries though, and vans far larger than Modestine, could apparently park there without bothering anyone.
Tregastel is sublime. There is a headland that is crowded with massive boulders forming a tumbled chaos of strangely eroded granite rocks along the cliff top and down into the sea whilst off shore several small islands were scattered across a sea that was vivid blue in the bright sunshine. Some of the tiny islands were just big enough to have a few trees with a large granite house sheltering between them, others looked deserted, covered in tufts of grass and surrounded by granite boulders.
The boulders were fascinating, each as large as a house with the headland footpath winding between them. They must have been eroded by the weather, split sometimes and left piled on top of each other, holes worn through in places and often forming strange shapes resembling animals or huge heads. We were not the only ones charmed by this strange landscape. Families and groups of friends were either wandering the coastal path, each bend opening a new vista across the windswept yellow gorse, or they were attempting to find ways of climbing up the rocks. It was a truly awesome place.
Back along the coast is a massive rocky outcrop. This has been partially hollowed out and made into a Maritime Museum with marine exhibits to be found off the Breton coast.
From Tregastel we followed the coast road, known as the Corniche de Bretagne back to our campsite and down to the sandy cove below it from where we could look across to the headland near Roscoff with the Ile de Batz off shore in one direction and the rugged coast around Tregastel in the other.
This morning the sunshine was as cheerful as ever though temperatures have been rather chilly. We moved on, making our way slowly along the coast towards Normandy. First we stopped to explore Perros Guerric, twinned with Teignmouth near Exeter. It is a pleasant little town with a particularly interesting church but we’d soon exhausted the repetitious Breton souvenir shops all selling identical tea trays depicting Becassine, and jars of caramel au beurre salé. Even the bakers shops sold nothing but Far Breton or Breton cakes and pancakes made from pure butter. Every little town we’ve passed through seems to have its own biscuit factory producing packets of butter biscuits that are vaguely like shortbread but with even more butter and cholesterol in them.
On the cliffs above the town we stopped to admire the splendid view out across the expanse of sea with seven islands dotted offshore. Sometimes the tops of submerged rocks could be seen just showing above the sea as it broke over them. This coast must be truly treacherous for shipping.
Continuing along the coast we reached Treguier a little town dedicated to St. Yves whose tomb was in the cathedral until it was sacked during the Revolution. It has since been reinstated and the saint’s skull is now on display in its reliquary inside the cathedral. This is a large and impressive Romanesque building dating from the eleventh century which continued in the gothic style during the thirteenth century. Overall it received significant damage during the Revolution but generally it is a pleasing building – apart from its tall and horrible pierced spire added in 1785, just before the cathedral was sacked during the Revolution. The spire is completely out of style and proportion with the rest of the building. I was greatly impressed that a town of a mere 3,000 people had a cathedral, let alone such an impressively large one. There are several streets of pleasant timber-framed houses, a couple of excellent bookshops and a port de plaissance on the wide aber below the town.
Treguier was once of the first place in Brittany with its own printing press established in 1485 when an edition of La Coutume de Bretagne was produced. In 1499 the first French-Latin-Breton dictionary, known as le Catholican was also printed in Treguier.
Returning from the port we stopped off to explore a Brochante halfway up one of the steep little streets. It was crammed with useless household junk. Attempts had been made to prettify some of the ancient armoires with chalky paints used to produce the shabby chic look so popular in Britain at present. But usually we use old simple Quaker style furniture. Here paint had been applied to heavy carved Breton dressers, sideboards and wardrobes, painting over the brass handles and hinges. The result was very unsatisfactory and the prices really high. People were buying stuff that we felt was fit only for a bonfire. Even odd doors were being sold, salvaged from old wardrobes. I suppose they hang them on the wall to give the impression there is another room beyond. (We saw this effect in a small toilet yesterday in Lannion.)
The next open campsite was this one. It’s a good 50 kilometres further on so now we find ourselves nearing the eastern edge of Brittany. We think there are still a couple of sites open around Dinan and Avranche so we should still be okay over the coming few days.
It seems rather obvious re-reading this that we are winding down. A couple of weeks is about right to explore a region and we are beginning to itch for pastures new. However, we have enjoyed Brittany. Had Joël been around it would have added greatly to our visit. We are hoping to return this way after the conference and cross to England from Roscoff rather than Caen. That way we should be able to see Joël before we leave. He is currently caring for his grandchildren in Agen while Stephane and Catherine are away.