Putting aside the brief lapse of that last post, I return to my main theme: the power of place and its role in positive solitude. It took a large part of my life to learn this, but a naturally solitary person has to replace the mechanisms by which the socially active reinforce their own sense of identity and well-being. For them, this comes mainly from feedback from others and the operation of family networks. Outside such structures an individual generates self-assessment and works through the evaluation of experience in different ways.
In what one might call the larger issues of existence, I have come to realise over many years of getting to know the landscape of Brittany, that place can also take the role of companion and provide the feedback and stimulus essential for quality of life for those who prefer to live in positive solitude. Being alone in nature can act as a veritable celebration of the solitary. It provides me with replenishment and fulfilment. Why?
Because outside in the forest, on the moor, beside the sea, under the night sky, I am connnected with a much older, wider network than any social group I have ever reluctantly joined. There is something deeply freeing about a relationship that is spiritually profound, but without demands, on-going, without the pressing urgency - whether something is urgent or not - that characterises much human communication.
Thursday, December 13, 2018
I am no longer staunch or bright or quick myself. But I do love winter. Maybe that's the lesson, to remember why.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Thinking about ruin(s) came out of my last book on the Spirit of Place. This also emerged.
We played in that old ruin,
Mark, Sylvie, Dev and I,
Threading childhood dreams
Through something broken:
Truncated walls, a single arch,
Lost purpose, masquerading as romance.
I led because I talked the best.
The others took direction,
Indifferent or desiring,
Through laughter cracked by cruelty
Wrapped in nature’s greening stance.
We grew up and unfurled.
Mark dreamt, Dev dared,
I wound up in my words,
Flirting with truth and Sylvie
More fragile than her beauty.
Nothing was settled, we only
Played for time, revolving
In that other ruined structure
Called the world.
Our hopes were vague,
All focused on survival,
Far too hung up to grieve
The missed stop of arrival.
Fast forward on to now -
Mark lost, Dev dead
streets and Afghan sand, London
Sylvie, adrift in drunken dactyls,
Twice deserted (only once by me).
I still have my stories, my dissolving dream.
Thread end, dead end, back
To that eternal present
Beneath the mouldering arch,
For failure not my own,
Where grey and green rewind:
I am still living in the left behind.
Nature at least does not discriminate
Between what is and some more pristine state.
The ruin carries on, the teller tells,
Each prospering their shadow-selves.
© Wendy Mewes
Saturday, October 13, 2018
St Maudez is a specialist in skin diseases, eczema especially, but this fontaine is also associated with the cure of shingles. It sits beside a large, plain chapel in the countryside near Plouyé, with plenty of outside covered space indicating continued use for festivals and a pardon. There are two statues, one unusually incorporated in the steep-curved roof, and three basins, one shaped liked a four-leaved clover.
Friday, August 31, 2018
|Making cow"s eyes - St Herbot|
But their legacy is immense, and the particular nature of Breton faith that cherished them so is equally endearing. I am currently reading Anatole Le Braz's Au pays des pardons in which he describes (or rather tells how it was described to him) the pardon of St Servais when the faithful of Cornouaille and the faithful of Vannes turned up ready for a brawl, comported themselves as teams and fought for the privilege of hoisting the sacred banner of the saint, whilst the little statue of Servais was smashed to smithereens under the blows of staves and had to be replaced each year. The wounded were taken home on carts, bleeding and groaning.
|Pardon of St Eloi - a more orderly affair|
Monday, July 23, 2018
The reality of Huelgoat is a distinct economic and social history that has fashioned the town differently from its neighbours. The key to history is often geology, and here the exceptional granite flowerings (product of volcanic magma) and considerable silver-bearing lead deposits have both played their parts in development and prosperity. Mining was practised by the Celts and Romans here, and this underground wealth attracted the attention of the dukes of Brittany in the late 12th century when they bought large tracts of land from the spendthrift lords of Léon. The oldest building in Huelgoat is the central mill (now called Moulin du Chaos), built in 1339 on the orders of Jean III (and sadly recently turned into a shop). The forest also provided extensive hunting grounds for ducal sport, a medieval equivalent of 'leisure activity' for the wealthy, an issue that was to assume renewed significance much later in Huelgoat.
|Moulin du Chaos|
|Little but long, canal heading out to the mine|
Once the mines declined, quarrying became the main local industry with Huelgoat granite in great demand as building material. Where the creperie in the forest now stands beside the world-famous Chaos was once the manager's house and centre of activities. It explains why there are expanses here without boulders and why lone stones like the Trembling Rock (which bears a line of chisel marks, ready to be spilt) and the Champignon (Mushroom) stand out in what was once a sea of shapes like the surviving Chaos. The wide tracks so handy for roaming tourists today were then necessary for bringing out the cut stone in carts.
|Roche tremblante with line of chisel holes|
As quarrying caused more and more destruction of the great rocks that were attracting visitors from far and wide, a campaign to save them was mounted by the Touring Club of France and supported by many famous figures from the world of culture. In 1903 the town finally bought up the forest area of Saoulec to preserve what is now the main lure for tourists, an astonishing valley crammed with boulders of every size and evocative shape.
I throw in a single legend (the sort I like with social and economic significance) to show willing. It is a pleasing irony that the origin of this Chaos is attributed to the giant Hok Bras or Gargantua who rained down these rocks on the town as retribution for being offered nothing but thin gruel by the inhabitants once he tasted the creamy porridge available further north in wealthy Léon. The rocks thus began as symbols of poverty and are now the basis of the town's wealth, such as it, almost entirely derived from tourism.
|Not pretty, but telling: early tourist accommodation|
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Dol-de-Bretagne is a small place with a dense, chewy history. Situated in a curve of the river Guyoult, as its name (dol = meander) indicates, the town occupies a rise above the marais de Dol, the so-called ‘black marshes’ stretching across to the Bay of Mont St-Michel.
Saint Samson, of Welsh origin and one of the seven founding saints of
, arrived in the 6th
century, following the course of the river inland, and made an initial settlement
at Carfantin, still marked by his sacred fontaine. He was then said to
be responsible for the earliest ‘cathedral’ on the current site in the high
This was replaced in the 9th century, at a time when the see of Dol became a cause-celébre of religious and political history in
, but this version was destroyed by
Viking raids in 1014. The Romanesque cathedral that followed was burnt down by
King John’s troops in 1203. John was surprisingly remorseful and contributed to
the reconstruction, but the second tower of the Gothic version was never
The cathedral has a unique feature in its double well, with shafts inside and outside the walls, connected way below ground level by a passage which can be flooded or pumped empty. Another unusual point of interest is the Renaissance tomb of Bishop Thomas James, a surprisingly grandiose feature in the fairly sombre interior. This monument is exquisite in decorative quality, but worth visiting above all on the summer solstice when a shaft of sunlight spotlights the Holy Grail at .
A sense of the medieval fortified town once solidly defended and aligned east/west between two entrance points can be derived from a walk along the restored northern ramparts with views out across the marshes to the mysterious Mont Dol, but walls to the south and east were destroyed as industrial quarters developed. The arrival of the train in 1864 led to the creation of new roads, including a wide tree-lined avenue connecting the station to the centre.
The most ostensible glory of Dol lies in the bright parade of ancient houses along Grand rue des Stuarts and Rue Lejamptel, including the oldest house in
, Les petits palets, a
Romanesque stone beauty from the 11th century, and numerous
half-timbered medieval façades, including porch houses. Brittany
Dol’s size belies its significance in the history of
, symbol of an embryonic Breton
state in the 9th century, and focus of a resulting religious wrangle
with Brittany that lasted three centuries. Nominoë was the first leader to attempt a
serious grouping of Bretons to counter the weighty threat of the Franks,
repelling them in a skirmish near Ballon in 845. His political vision for a
unified Breton identity was backed by religious moves to replace the
Metropolitan episcopal authority of Tours, in Frankish control, with an
archbishop at Dol-de-Bretagne, the latter to hold sway over the other Breton bishops.
A whole succession of popes sought to undo this unilateral decision, but the
machinations rumbled on with claims and counter-claims on both sides until 1199
when a definitive decision was made against Dol, and the Breton church returned
to the papal fold. Rome
Dol is still determined to secure special status, with the assertion that Nominoë himself was crowned first king of
in the cathedral. It is certain
that his son Erispoe took this title but little evidence for his father’s regal
rank. It is perhaps surprising that those perversely determined to draw clear and specific
conclusions from the complex and shadowy history of the 9th century
should be so keen for the political founder of Brittany , a description that could reasonably be assigned to Nominoë, to bear the tainted title ‘rex’in a land where submission to authority has rarely been considered a virtue. Brittany