Sunday, July 12, 2020

Book-signing

Book-signing last Friday for Wayfaring in Brittany and the new French edition of the Nantes-Brest Canal guide. Met some lovely people!

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Newsletter

I've started a newsletter, largely with the aim of engaging more directly and personally with readers and answering questions I am asked about my life or writing. It will also be about Brittany, of course, as all my work whether fiction or non-fiction is centred on the history, legends and landscape of this remarkable place. Regular short features like Speaking of places, In the hut and a question box will combine with quirky facts around my writing and daily life. The new novel I am currently engaged on will also figure largely, as the (fictional) Breton village where it is set evolves.
Anyone who would like to be on the mailing list to receive about 10 issues a year of this emailed PDF document, can contact me at mewes@orange.fr or on Twitter @brittanyexpert  Your details will only be used for this purpose.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Le Canal de Nantes à Brest - French guide now out

It's out! French version of my very popular Nantes-Brest canal guide, which is now in a fourth edition in English. Every inch of the 361 km mapped, accommodation, shops, refreshments, all updated this year. The introduction has a history of the canal and there is also much practical information about locks, nearby sights along the way and details of connected walking/cycling circuits along the entire length.
Le guide indispensable à vélo ou à pied! www.reddogbooks.com


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Bretons: Mai Le Manac'h, Lady Mond



This is an extraordinary ‘rags to riches’ story. Mai Le Manac’h, daughter of the miller at Prat Guéguen in Belle-Ile-en-Terre, rose through an unconventional life to become Lady Mond, wife of the ‘nickel king’ millionaire Robert Mond. From a simple Breton childhood she came to enjoy enormous wealth and glamorous lifestyle, but she remained inextricably linked with Brittany and her roots.
She was born in 1869, leaving home as a teenager to seek her fortune first in St Brieuc and then in Paris. Here she entered the bohemian world of Montmartre, and this part of her life is little documented, but on record in 1893 is a charge of indecent exposure for showing herself naked in a restaurant.
She moved to London after starting a relationship with fruit and vegetable merchant Simon Gugenheim. They married in 1897 but the union was short-lived as he died of TB three years later. Mai now moved freely in wealthy circles, and met her next love at the Savoy Hotel. Becoming the mistress of the Infant of Spain, Antoine d’Orleans, fixed her place in high society, although it could never lead to a permanent tie. She returned to Brittany now and again, buying a house in Belle-Isle-en-terre.
Chateau de Coat-an-Noz
In 1910 she met rich industrialist Robert Mond, and this relationship was to last. They wed in 1922 and he was knighted by George V in 1932. As Lady Mond, Mai remained closely bound to her Breton origins. The couple established their home at the international resort of Dinard, at the mouth of the Rance, in the Chateau du Bec, which became known as 'Castel Mond'. They funded the first lifeboat for the town in 1924.
For Mai’s 60th birthday, however, her husband bought her the chateau on the edge of the Wood of the Night (Coat-an-Noz)at LocEnvel, near Belle-Isle. Many famous people were entertained here before the war, as Lady Mond was a patron of Breton culture. Contests of the gouren or Breton wrestling were also held as this sport was always of great interest to her. Until very recently this chateau could be seen in semi-ruined state, the palatial interior covered with graffiti. It is now being renovated and off-limits.
Widowed in 1938, Lady Mond was imprisoned in Guingamp for a while during the occupation, and the chateau seized by the Germans. Afterwards she decided to build a smaller chateau on the site of her father’s former mill in Belle-Isle-en-Terre. When this on completion was found to be too near the road, she had it knocked down and rebuilt ten metres back... Her generosity had already funded many public buildings there – the post office, town hall, village hall and police station.
She died in 1949 and was buried in a special mausoleum shared with her husband at Locmaria before her remains were later removed to England.
Mond mausoleum


Friday, June 12, 2020

The bridge that has lost its name.....

Pont Guern
When I first came to the area of Huelgoat forest two decades ago, I discovered many small treasures in addition to the much vaunted sites like the so-called Grotte d'Artus and Camp d'Artus, and the Mare aux sangliers. One of these was the little footbridge over the upper reaches of the 'stream with no name' on the boundary of the commune of Berrien. The Pont Guern is a simple slab construction of unknown date, engraved with a cross. Some call it the Pont Guen or White Bridge, an echo of the well-known Pont Rouge in another part of the forest. It sits in an idyllic spot where dragonflies sport and a kingfisher flashes by from time to time. This was the only crossing north of the Mare aux sangliers when I arrived, so an important part of walking circuits around the forest. It was clearly signed from the rough forest parking above the valley off the main road between Huelgoat and Berrien. This unassuming bridge formed part of the childhood memories of old people who played here about a hundred years ago today, and it was certainly not new in those days, so at the very latest it is a 19th century creation, but quite possibly very much older.
Later, in my time here, a wooden passerelle was built between the Pont Guern and the Mare aux sangliers, offering more opportunities for criss-crossing the little river. To reach the Pont Guern from this new feature, an additional wooden walkway ran along the left bank, inches from the water, which runs fast and strong in any rainy season, and the path then leads through woods just above the flow to reach a little boggy meadow by the old slab bridge.
So far so good. An old crossing point and a modern construction, connected by a pretty path. Two places to move from one side of the stream to the other in possibly the most beautiful valley of the entire forest. Today, not so good, as the wooden passerelle has usurped the name and identity of the ancient slab bridge in an astonishing slap in the face to history and the importance of place-names.
The first sign of this historical corruption came quite a while ago with the appearance of a sign post on the main path above the passerelle, marking the Pont Guern at 150m down the linking path. This was obviously a mistake as the distance to the real bridge from that point is more like 400m. It would be by no means the first time that casual miscalculations of distance appeared in the name of tourism around here. But worse was to follow later. There has been a drive to put up information boards (mostly awful) and new signage in the forest, which is notoriously badly managed in that way. I spend a lot of time each year helping lost visitors. One of the characteristics of forest is that it is disorientating terrain - people unskilled in navigation and with no sense of direction need clear maps and clear signs, neither of which have been available (except in my own guidebook, mapped with GPS).
Modern footbridge with false name plaque
Metal plaques went up on the wooden passerelle naming it 'Pont Guern'. Almost immediately someone (not me) scribbled 'non' over these travesties of signs. I went to the mairie and was told to contact the Communauté de Comunes at Loqueffret. I wrote to them via their website and got no reply whatsoever. Twice. I later spoke briefly to the mayor of Huelgoat who expressed a passing interest but has had rather a lot on his mind lately, with coronavirus and elections. Perhaps this is not the moment to start a crusade on behalf of a tiny piece of heritage. But how is it possible for tourism to change history? For people who don't know the forest to make decisions about its documentation? I am amazed that there should be so little pride in local heritage that such an error can stand. I fear that increasingly such things don't matter. Who cares? I do and I hope I'm not the only one.

POSTSCRIPT to this in the light of responses on Twitter today. Maps of the area made for this year's tourist season mark the new crossing Pont Guern and leave the old bridge off altogether, now denying its very existence.
UPDATE 30/06/20  My meeting with mayor of Huelgoat to ask for some answers cancelled without explanation or apology.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Today's the day

I didn't know when I set out on the first kilometres of the Tro Breiz pilgrimage in January 2017, with the intention of writing a book about the journey, that many things physical and emotional would intervene and a very different book would emerge more than three years later. It has been a struggle, but the achievement is there, despite a heart attack, a bereavement and many other obstacles along the way. Bitter-sweet day now to relive all that and finally offer the book to the world, with my very best wishes. www.reddogbooks.com/w.htm 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Coming very soon...

There have been some delays, not surprisingly with current working conditions, at the printing stage, but the book should soon be ready. News about launch also in the pipeline. Thanks to all those who've enquired about this. I know that the many lovely British and French fans of Spirit of Place kind enough to want to continue following my work have had a long three year wait, but it's nearly over now. At the very least I hope people will enjoy the 'triumph over adversity' aspect that accounts for the long delay in finishing this book. I can still hardly believe I made it to the end.