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 fa├žades 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.

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