Saturday, September 20, 2014


Old slab bridge on the Queffleuth
We had a Brittany Walks event this week looking at the landscape of the Queffleuth valley near Pleyber-Christ. This beautiful little river - although capable of flooding the centre of Morlaix when aroused - features in the river chapter of my new book and has been thoroughly studied by the Association Au Fil du Queffleuth et de la Penzé. Riboul Potic is a labelled circuit of 2kms, extended through woodland on the other side of the D769 to give a 5.5km route. Information boards (in French, but well-illustrated) offer a good idea of the radical changes to the appearance of the terrain over the last 150 years with the loss of small parcels of land and destruction of hedged boundaries  on one side to facilitate larger-scale agriculture, and the intensive tree-cover of today on the other where farming the heights became un-economical in the late 19th century.
The water-quality of the Queffleuth is high, making it a habitat for otters, trout and salmon, just as it once made the river good for paper-production and the site of many mills. The most interesting feature on the circuit is perhaps the irrigation system once used to keep the Prat ar Gaor (Goats' meadow) well-watered even in times of drought. A mini-barrage and valve system were constructed to feed a bief - a supply channel similar on a smaller scale to the bief de partage of the Nantes-Brest Canal - cut straight to enclose the land and connect the two ends of a wide bend in the main river course. From this trenches were cut across the meadow in the 'fish-bone style' with a central spine and many off-shoots, taking moisture to almost all parts of the pasture land. This skeleton outline is still just visible on the ground.
Apart from historical and natural interest, it's a pretty route, well worth a gentle afternoon stroll. Park in the lay-by just off the D769 at Le Pléen (turning to Pleyber-Christ) and follow well-placed and (for once) consistent green waymarks.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cornish interlude

I've been in Cornwall for a few days, staying in Falmouth with my good friends Alison and John, who live on the marina. We visited St Michael's Mount and Boscastle, and I was privileged to tag along on one of Alison's tours of the Tregothnan estate, the only place in England growing quantities of tea from the camellia sinensis. As ever it was inspiring to spend time with a real artist and be reminded about the positive sides of creativity, which I hope will be awaiting me post eye-operation.

Friday, September 05, 2014


Currently working on a text about French writer and homme extraordinaire François-René de Chateaubriand, whose formative years at the Chateau de Combourg as described in his memoirs have become synonymous with the birth of Romanticism. Escaping the cold hauteur of his daunting father, the teenager spent many lonely hours roaming the surrounding woods or gazing at storms from his room at the top of a tower far removed from the other inhabitants of the castle. He invented an ideal female companion, a  fantasy bordering on the obsessive, which was to lead him into trouble with women in later life. His energies lurched between racing around the grounds to physically expunge the gloomy strictures of family life in the sombre castle, and struggling with the fateful grip of ennui to the extent that he toyed with suicide.
For the moment, I'm working on his later time in England and the almost laughable contrast between the first stay during the Revolution, when he was - literally- a writer starving in a garret in Holborn, and his return in 1822 as French ambassador to the glittering parties and empty social whirl of the Portland Place embassy. This contrast in fortunes is a typical example of the ups and downs of a remarkable individual in a tumultuous era. Despite direct participation in France's most turbulent period of history, something in Chateaubriand's own nature, set hard by the stones of Combourg, seemed to keep him emotionally strolling on the bank rather than plunged in the river of events.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Time to get back to work

Since I moved recently the weather has been grey and/or wet, so it was good to wake to sunshine and blue sky today on the last day of summer. Went to walk in the forest at Huelgoat and saw many autumnal signs, not least of which was the large number of people mushrooming. Fancy overlooking these beautiful specimens...
Far fewer cars with foreign or out-of-department number-plates about, shops back to lunch-time closure, restaurant hours soon to be curtailed - it's time to get back to work. What a relief!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Summer is over on the moors and heathland that make up the landes of the Monts d'Arrée, highest hills in Brittany. Together with the sharp crests of schist/quartzite and the peat-bogs (tourbières) these provide the distinctive shapes and colours of the area, which far from being an unrelieved wasteland has a full palette of colours changing with the season. Molinia or moor-grass dominates by its quantity: lush green in recent months, now browning and finally to turn to shades of biscuit tinted lemon in the low winter sun. There is some sort of heather in bloom most of the year, punctuated by stabs of yellow from gorse or broom. Anatole Le Braz, the great Breton writer and recorder of oral traditions, called the amalgamated smells of the landes 'the scent of Brittany.' Or perhaps 'essence' would be a better word.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Saints' Shore Way

Yesterday took my friend Jeanne out for a day on the Baie de Morlaix coast, an area covered in the Saints' Shore Way book I researched and wrote early last year for the Morlaix and Lannion tourist boards. We had a windy picnic at St Samson and walked past the imposing Pierre Double (with the island fortress of the Chateau du Taureau ever-present in the background). Brief visits to Le Guerzit and Le Diben followed by a drink at Terenez completed our very leisurely trip, with no rain despite dire forecasts.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Out and about

I've been out and about a lot lately with friends (including Welsh travel writer Victoria Trott - over here to enjoy all the many pleasures Brittany has to offer. Douarnenez, Locronan, Huelgoat, the Abers, Ile Vierge and the Monts d'Arrée have all figured on the tours, with several sessions in Quimper as well. My impression is that there are far fewer visitors around this year at the hot spots but more people than usual in the interior, walking and cycling. Festivals are at their height, with the customary Breton triple of music/dance/food pulling in crowds everywhere.