Tuesday, November 24, 2015

My heart lies in the forest

After recent events in Paris, one of the few memorable reactions on my Twitter feed was from a woman bewildered and feeling the cold shock of a secure hold on daily life slipping away. I cling to my land, she said. I don't know if she meant it literally or metphorically but it brings up once again the question of landscape as comfort and stability. It is the familiarity of 'one's own' physical territory that offers a sense of consistency that can be relied upon in a world that is changing alarmingly before our aging eyes. Those of us who believed our generation would at least never see another world war begin to doubt that flimsy hope, as layer upon layer of hatred, intolerance and misconception flattens and stunts the potential of  humanity.
The rate of change in landscape can be as rapid as a fallen building, or as gradual as the creeping threat of floods with climate change, but we like to feel it remote in our immediate surroundings, at the millenia speed of eroding granite.We have been startled in Brittany to discover last week that the state is to sell off some of our forests, those symbols of life before human settlement, of the longevity that spawns legends. Forests that were once noisy places of human abode and economic activity are now mostly silent and dressed in recreational attire of finger-posts and picnic tables. Is this an identity to be perpetuated for the sake of our need to believe nature is all around us and that we are still alive in some meaningful way? Do we need forests? Of course we do. I clung to my land this week with gratitude.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Finishing and getting started

Currently writing about this ancient bridge - Pont Krac'h
It's a strange time. My exhibition is now over, although the month flew by and I was too busy to be there often or even to think much about the outcome of all that work. Certainly my texts were well-received, and perceptively so from the messages and comments I've had from very diverse places and people. I'm grateful to everyone who bought a booklet and took the time to give me feedback.
Turning my attention (at last) to the new landscape book, I finally realised the degree of concentration it is going to need and a huge investment of time. So I made the big decision to finish with Brittany Walks, after 11 years of offering a monthly (until recently twice monthly!) programme of guided walks. I'm sure it's the right thing at the right time, but it represents a great change in my working schedule, and I'll miss the many lovely people who have supported the walks, some of them since the very beginning.
I am also coming to the end of the walking for the new Finistère walking guide which will be out next spring. Of course there remains masses of work to do on the background information, maps and page lay-out, but psychologically finishing the field work feels as if the project is almost over in terms of mental (and very physical) commitment. My mind will soon be much clearer and able to focus on the landscape essays. Whether this new book will be only in French is a big decision to be made over the winter. It will rather depend on publishers in the end and whether separate editions in the UK and France is really a viable option. I almost feel that there are two different books there. This long winter will tell.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Best west coast walk

Chateau de Dinan
Revisited my favourite coastal route in Brittany this week. The stretch between Camaret and the Cap de la Chèvre has everything a walker could possibly want - and then some. Natural features like the so-called Chateau de Dinan, the extraordinary raised beach at Porz Koubou and other geological wonders like pillow-lavas, historical sites such as the Iron Age éperon barré at Lostmarc'h, a memorable sight below you after breasting a high ridge, looking down on the lines of defensive ditches and ramparts that once protected a small community from their enemies.
Raised beach
Other works of defence are remnants of the Mur d'Atlantique, German protection of this wild west coast, where only the most foolhardy would ever have considered any sort of landing. Surfers haunt the vast beaches here but it is too dangerous for swimming.
The coastal path streaks through moorland - gorse, heather and low spiky thorn - down to beaches, up to yet more cliffs, the gradient sometimes decidedly steep, the proximity to the edge precarious. It's all the very best of coastal walking, seeing the paths rippling ahead across the contours, looking back on headlands conquered one by one. At the end is the reward of the Cap de la Chèvre itself, with a WII memorial to the naval air arm, granite plane-wing rising against the blue sky - for I felt not a drop of rain that day, despite black clouds menacing from time to time.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Seeing the sea

I'm concentrating now on coastal walking for the new book. This section will include some linear suggestions for Finistère's sensational littoral, so a route of about 10km becomes a day long out and back excursion (or a lift, taxi or even bus can make it a one way walk if so desired). The point is to highlight the best bits so walkers who only have a limited time can be sure of getting a memorable journey - and best bits usually means avoiding the obvious (i.e. places easily reached by car, like the Pointe du Raz).
So today I was on Cap Sizun, revisiting some favourite sections of the coastal path and enjoying the mild sea air, softened by occasional misty rain drifting across the high cliffs, as below at Kastell Koz.
 A good day's work, even if my knees would have preferred to stay at home and watch TV.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Village in a sacred space

I had a wonderful walk in Locronan in beautiful sunshine on Thursday. The route concentrated on the wooded countryside around this unusual village, which has a strange dual nature, the sense of artificiality spread unconvincingly over something profound. The name means the holy place of Ronan, the Breton saint of Irish origin who came to Brittany and like many others, faced opposition and antipathy. He moved around, settling finally in this sylvan paradise said to have been the location of a well-defined Celtic nemeton or ritual space, with specific points linked to movements of the heavens.
Each day he walked the boundary of this area, an action commemorated today in the annual Tromenie walk (extended to the full 12km every six years). The chapel of Penity attached to his imposing church in the village centre has the saint's tomb. Locronan sits between the Bois du Duc and the Bois du Nevet, remnants of ancient forest. Anyone following the walk (to feature in my new book) will have the sense of the numinous landscape that is the source of these legends and religious affiliations.
But the other more obvious face of the village, which has brought many film-crews (including Roman Polanski who filmed some scenes for Tess of the d'Urbervilles here) and attracts hordes of tourists throughout the year, is made up of handsome 17-18th century façades around the centre square before the church. Remarkably unspoilt, these reflect the wealth derived from sail-cloth making in the heyday of the Breton cloth trade.
Today many artists and craftsmen have their workshops here and there are plenty of bars and restaurants, making it doubly desirable for a day's outing. Not always to be relied on though: a couple of years ago I decided to come here on my birthday just before Christmas, to buy a few presents, have lunch and a walk, as the weather was unseasonably sunny and mild. Everything was closed, even the bakery, so with no possibility of food, I paid my respects to St Ronan and drove home for a cheese sandwich.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

At the opening

Delighted to be presented by the artists (organized by my great friend Liz) with a calendar containing wonderful images from the exhibition. The opening was a very happy occasion for us all with lots of appreciation from the public (and sales).

Saturday, October 10, 2015


High moor by Jill Jamieson
My exhibition on Breton landscape at L'Autre Rive in the forest of Huelgoat opens today at 16.30 (rather than 17.30 as advertised initially because of important politcal meeting in the evening at same venue). Booklets of the texts I'm displaying with some other collected pieces of my recent landscape writing are on sale. I have to say the paintings look magnificent now that the exhibition is hung and ready to go - my friend and fellow-exhibitor Liz Ridgway worked with me and Marc from L'Autre Rive all yesterday evening to get things right. I owe her many thanks for many things and also here thank the other artists who have produced such fine work. All welcome to the opening this afternoon.