Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lac de Guerlédan (again) - a narrative

Before... or after

After ... or before
Landscape is the result of human activity on nature. Every anomaly in landscape hints at narrative. The Blavet river's connnection between central Brittany, long devoid of easy communications and commercial development, and the south coast ports of Hennebont and, from the 17th century, Lorient, gave it a vital role as a means of passage and transport. It was later to be transformed by canalisation into an essential part of the Breton waterway system in the early 19th century, forming a section of the Nantes-Brest route north and west of Pontivy, and taking 28 locks to the south direct to Hennebont, sixty kilometres away.
The next stage of the Blavet's story came a hundred years later, as scientific advance created surging demand for electricity. It was decided to flood a twelve kilometre stretch of the valley between Locks 119 and 137 to create a reservoir and barrage to feed the new hydro-electic station, a progress outlined in the little Musée de l'Electricité at nearby St Aignan. Four hundred hectacres of woodland, as well as many locks and houses, were engulfed by the project. The resulting lake was to become a focus of tourism and watersports, an economic spin-off for the locality, a new phase of the river's life.
At rare intervals the lake has been drained for inspection and repair of the barrage. 2015 may be the last time, as robotic machines should be up to the job in the future. The empty lake on show this summer is an extraordinary spectacle by any criteria, its walls and bed stripped naked for human assessment. Skeletons of trees submerged for eighty-five years still stand upright from the mud. Locks with their uselss weirs and chutes still exist intact, accompanied by the ruins of their workers' houses, walls withstanding the pressure of the waters where roofs have disappeared. Layers of narrative are fully exposed.
But there is movement in the bottom of this gigantic emptiness. The Blavet continues to flow. Nature continues to hold its place under the weight of all that landscape.

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