Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter wishes

Yule is here again. The wheel turns still. Despite the fears, limitations and frustrations of 2020, it has been a productive one for me. Not only at last a French edition of the Nantes-Brest Canal guide, but Wayfaring in Brittany finally published after three years in the making and, most recently, The Stolen Saint, my first novel in many years, coming out in paperback and in a digital version. This was started in March during confinement and finished at the end of September. I say all this to remind myself of achievement and to show that even against monetary hardship, depression and surrounded by a pandemic, we can reach deep into our creativity as a resource to fight back against the darkness. Those who know me know how I love winter, but it has been tough to tap into even that source energy this year and the struggle is not yet won. But Yule brings change inevitably and it is up to us to respond as best we can. The solstice marking light's slow return journey is both a trigger and a challenge. We can count on that, if nothing else. 

I wish all my lovely readers the brightest of times in the most demanding of circumstances. I am very thankful for your support and encouragement to continue into a surprisingly uncertain future. Bon courage to you all.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Vikings in Brittany (Part 1)

Replica Viking boat at Pont l'Abbé

Here in Brittany the image of the Vikings has undergone what has become a familiar sea-change, from bloodthirsty sadists to high-spirited entrepreneurs. What is certain, however, is that they insinuated themselves into the Breton/Frankish power struggles like a ragged cross stitch for a hundred years, often acting in temporary alliance with one side or the other. The initial hit-and-run marauding in search of booty and adventure became over time a more complex mixture of power and land seeking. Most important of all for the development of Brittany, there is no doubt that their activities between 840 and 940 had highly significant consequences for Breton identity, language and culture, striking at the very time that Brittany the political entity was in formation.

In the 830s, Nominoë, a Breton count initially acting as representative of the emperor of the Franks to keep the peace, had begun what seem to be deliberate attempts to unify Bretons against the Franks and establish distinct spheres of political and religious control. After Charles the Bald inherited the western part of the Frankish empire from Louis Le Pieux, he was soon on a collision course with Nominoë and fighting in the disputed lands of the Marches of Brittany was fairly constant, with the Bretons pressing as far east as Le Mans.

Nantes cathedral today (before recent fire)

In June 843, the Viking attack on Nantes was an explosive shock, coming nearly fifty years after the first raids further south on Noirmoutier. The fleet of 67 ships were from Norway, possibly having followed the northern route around Britain via the Shetlands and Irish sea to access the Loire estuary. Whether by luck or insider information, it took place on the feast of St Jean, as the bishop Gunhardt was celebrating mass in the cathedral. According to a later (religious) source, he was pronouncing the eucharistic prayer ‘sursum corda’ (lift up your hearts), giving a ritualistic tinge in Catholic tradition to his brutal murder at the altar. The 11th century Chronicle of Nantes gorily describes the slaughter of the congregation that ensued.

Gunhardt slaughtered at the altar

After this crippling assault, the Vikings departed with their booty. It was to be ten years before Nantes suffered a repetition, but the struggle with these ruthlessly mobile new intruders, consisting of different groups acting both jointly and independently, was only just beginning in Brittany. The Annales de Saint-Bertin record three battles fought by Nominoë against the Vikings in the year 847. The upshot was not the clear-cut victory he had hoped for and the negotiations that followed ended in the first Breton payment of danegeld to speed the Vikings’ departure. But this secured only the briefest lull in hostilities and the true scale of the threat could not yet be measured. TO BE CONTINUED....


Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Publication Day

It's here at last! THE STOLEN SAINT comes out today with a low-key launch on December 5&6 at The Bookshop in Huelgoat, 2.30-4.30pm both days. Covid precautions and masks essential. Thanks to all those lovely readers who have already ordered the book online ( - hope it will be an enjoyable experience for everyone. I might even start the second in the series now...

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Early Tourism

In the early 20th century, organised tourism really got underway in Brittany. In Huelgoat, this was when the main hotels (Hotel d'Angleterre and Hotel de France) were built to cater for increasing visitor numbers. The central Hotel de France also made the investment of constructing an annexe of small appartments (above) overlooking the famous rocks in 1904 to provide self-catering accommodation for cyclists and fishermen. This rather unprepossessing building - social housing today - symbolised the shifting balance for the economy between industry and tourism. The granite Chaos which provided the main attraction in its forest setting was gradually being destroyed for building stone, and the Touring Club of France added its voice to a storm of protests that led to the preservation of this natural wonder as a resource for visitors rather than a practical exploitation. Quarrying stopped and holidays in the beautiful outdoors burgeoned. Cook's Travellers Handbook for railway holidays in the 1930 edition refers to its reputation as the 'Fontainebleau of Brittany' and describes the Roche tremblante as 'the finest rocking-stone in Brittany'.
Fishing and painting had long brought foreigners to the area, but there were also new pursuits. The dramatic scenery attracted many practitioners of early photography, which was rapidly gaining in popularity. One hotel included a dark-room in its advertising as a positive plus. The phrase 'English spoken' was another common boast in competitive publicity for rival accommodation providers, reflecting a lucrative market that had started back in the 19th century. English visitors passing through in 1880 said the hilly sylvan town on its lake reminded them of Switzerland, and that a 'taciturn landlord' urged them to stay for the fine fishing opportunities, showing them a well-filled visitors' book. 

After the First World War there was a further boom in travel and tourism in Brittany and a resurgence of cultural festivals. From 1921 Huelgoat celebrated
Fêtes bretonnes with traditional music and dancing in local costumes, which raised the profile of the town for outsiders in search of that quinessential Breton heritage. The poster above shows the celebration of a Pardon in Huelgoat used as advertising by the French national railway, encouraging travellers in search of the folkloric and picturesque. Ultimate sign of being 'on the map' - the town's first tourist office opened in 1923 to respond to the growing demands of French and foreign visitors.

Friday, November 06, 2020


THE STOLEN SAINT, my novel set in Brittany, is now available for pre-order (publication date December 1st). Here's the direct link to order:    
Thanks for all the interest already shown in this new venture. It's really appreciated in these very hard times.

Friday, October 30, 2020


I made a pre-confinement trip on a dreary day this week to Langast to see the church of Saint Gal or Gall, who was the companion of St Colomban, and later went on to found a famous abbey in Switzerland. If he is not some otherwise unknown local hermit of a similar (or different) name. A lack of certainty likewise hangs over the chronology of the construction of the church, which is mainly 16th century but with surviving Romanesque elements, such as a fine example of herring-bone style wall revealed beneath the plaster of the nave. The main window dates from 1508 and is exceptionally beautiful.

But the church is most famous for the wall-paintings on the underside of arches in the nave, again of disputed date, but probably from style and content 12th century, with some much later additions. Vegetal designs to portray the world and angels like archangel Michael are perhaps the most striking. St Germain of Auxerre, the scourge of Pelagianism, is also portrayed. One of the panels bears tiny details of a fleur-de-lys and hermine, symbols of France and Brittany.

Afterwards, it was really a day fit only for eating pizza with a friend in Loudeac. So I did just that.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Here it is!


The Stolen Saint, my new novel set in a Breton village, will be published on December 1st. Details of pre-order to come shortly.

Monday, October 12, 2020


Today was the first really autumnal day of the year, with a mist stretching over the lake and town early this morning. I went out in search of seasonal colour in the forest this afternoon and found it before the rain set in. My novel is all finished now so I have time to reignite the landscape connection that inspires all my work. 

I can't believe someone asked me this morning 'What's next?' Rest, rest, rest. I will have had three books out this year in December. Surely that's enough by any author's standards. But there is a great void now after the intense work of the last six months. I began The Stolen Saint in March during the confinement and actually managed to work consistently through the summer which is usually a non-productive time for me. Still, it was lovely to walk today without the sense of pressure and need to hurry back to the keyboard. And the forest was magical.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Stolen Saint

September seems to have disappeared in a frenzy of writing, finishing the first draft of The Stolen Saint and then knuckling down to the much harder graft of the second, resolving any issues of chronology and continuity. The simple day to day calendar coherence has been amazingly hard - I don't remember any of this sort of problem in my first two novels, although that was rather a long time ago and perhaps I just ignored such things in those days. There are two visits to a market by main characters and in the first it is established that the day is Thursday. All the narrative fits around that, except that the second visit was written as if it was a Monday, with lots of knock-on effects that are difficult to resolve. That is one tiny example of the myriad of complexities I've been struggling with. My calculator has been much in play for dates of births, marriages and deaths, from 1917 onwards, rationalising the ages of characters in relation to others. It has not been easy with four generations to contend with and some of the most important characters long dead.

So what is the book about? There is a main character and her progress in coming to live in a village in Brittany is the basic storyline. She is Breton by birth, but has been living in London, and most of the characters are Breton or French or both, with a few British exceptions. There is a strong historical side with Breton culture and popular traditions underpinning the 'plot', such as it is, which concerns two rival saints from the Dark Ages. However, this is a novel about people and place primarily, even if magic and mystery going back to the neolithic sneak in. To sum up, it's a hymn to Brittany, like all my books.

Out in December, it will make the perfect Christmas present......

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday walk

St Jean fontaine
Taking advantage of what may be the last of the good weather for a while, I walked in the Monts d'Arrée today above Commana. The fontaine of St Jean and its little lavoir has been very lovingly restored by a local association. It stands alone beside a track, the accompanying chapel long since destroyed, with a young oak tree to shade the rough schist slab that has been thoughtfully placed to serve as a picnic table. A menhir-like stone stands beside this. We had a wonderful lunch-stop here, although for some reason the dog flatly refused to drink the spring water, which looked very fresh and clear. He is not usually so scrupulous and was to regret it as the day got hotter and hotter, and our walk turned out to be quite different from what I'd planned.
Mougau Bihan
Moving on to Mougau Bihan, I wanted some new photos of the large neolithic alley-grave, but the whole place was overrun by camping-cars, picnickers and sun-bathers, so after one quick shot, decided to give it a miss. Just opposite is the entrance to the Korrigan Trail, a 2 kilometre circuit across the marshlands in the valley and lower slopes of the high hills. This route is all I had intended to do, given the temperature and the fact it was a big day in the Tour de France and I didn't want to miss anything exciting. But the trail was closed, not only by rough barriers, but a tractor parked in the narrow entrance (that has been recently created) to prevent any access.
Croaz Melar
Thwarted on two counts, we continued along the road for nearly a kilometre to join one of the main paths up onto the hills, and climbed steadily (endlessly, it seemed) in full sun, until I took advantage of a narrow off-shoot path I'd never used before, but calculated must come out somewhere near the main summit path which follows the crests of the Monts d'Arrée. Eventually we reached the junction of several different routes which I know well. Nearby Croaz Mélar was a very cool spot for a long rest. The cross marks the spot where young Mélar's severed head chose to jump back onto the body after a dispute between two teritories over his relics. Here on the border, he opted for the north, and the reconstituted body was carried back to Lanmeur where an extraordinary crypt still contains his statue.After reflecting on this gruesome tale - and I leave out the earlier hacking off of his hand and foot by his uncle - and working out some details of new developments in my novel to be written later today, we retraced our steps slowly and wearily downhill.
Homeward bound

Friday, August 28, 2020

Abbaye de Boquen

In a busy writing month I have at last found time to get out and make a visit to the Abbaye de Boquen in Cotes d'Armor. This Cistercian foundation was built in 1137, five years after the Abbaye du Relec in Finistère, both daughter-houses of the monastery at Bégard. They have evolved rather differently, however, despite many basic similarities. Boquen went through the same phases of early development and commendatory rule (from the 1490s to the Revolution) before dissolution in 1790. But it is in the 20th century that its unique fate emerged.

After lying in ruins for many years, the site was bought in 1934 by Alexis Presse, former abbot of the abbey of Tamié (and a most remarakble man), with the help of members of his family. He performed the immense task of restoring the ancient building and creating a community dedicated to the purer original principles of the Order. He also celebrated mass in Breton as well as Latin. This enjoyed considerable success until it was time for Dom Alexis to hand over the reins. He chose badly, as Bernard Besret, taking charge at the age of 29, soon determined to broaden the brief of the abbey to invite in all kinds of religious influences, to the chagrin of traditionalists and eventually the Catholic powers that be who removed him from office.
Mill house
West door
Today the site is run by the ecumenical Communauté du Chemin neuf. The majority of the abbey structures are off limit to casual visitors, being reserved for the community and guests at their events. An old mill houses a permanent exhibition about the history of the abbey and from there a sylvan track leads on round through the trees to approach the west face of church itself directly. Inside the simplicity of the original is maintained, particularly evident in the transept. Before the high altar is the tombstone which is said to mark the grave of Gilles de Bretagne, brother of Duke François I, who was murdered in 1450 at the nearby Chateau de Hunaudaye after political intrigues with the English.

The large cloister area is bounded by heavily restored buildings housing the modern community, with the two remaining sections of covered passage glassed in. Only the fragmentary remains of the chapter house with its evocative carvings give any sense of the distant past in this strangely uninspiring contemporary manifestation of an ancient site of worship. A cavernous chapel of Saint Bruno can also be seen.The rather remote setting on the edge of the forest of Boquen, with streams around the abbey walls, is a more potent reminder of original Cistercian ideals. The Abbaye du Relec, by contrast, has preserved less and offers much more to those in search of spiritual atmosphere, where a real sense of the labour of the monks and their partnership with nature is still in evidence.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Chateau de Hac

The unusual Chateau de Hac dates mainly from the mid 15th century, when it was created primarily as a 'pleasure palace' for the Hingant family, in choice hunting territory, probably on the site of an earlier lodge. Use of the local limestone contrasts with more common granite defensive strongholds and lends a refined elegance to the façade. Little was known of this family beforehand, and the building was also designed to show off the fruits of their remarkable rise to power and prominence, thanks to a lucrative marriage by Jean Hingant with Guyonne de Bintin. This brought him into the sphere of mighty Breton noble houses like the Montauban and Coëtquen families. (The latter, by the way, have interesting connections with the legendary figure of Lancelot.)
But this 'Seigneur de Hac' was a tricky customer, involved in many a court case and all kinds of unsavoury behaviour like seizing rights from a senile old man and other crooked deals. He needed to keep a careful eye on security of his person and one striking piece of furniture in the chateau shows this preoccupation. An ancient oak cupboard inscribed with PAX and a cross was designed as a depository for weapons when guests entered the house. This practice also re-enforced the sense of his own importance that the stylish façade of the chateau conveyed immediately to any visitors.
Undoubted abilities as a wheeler-dealer, and perhaps the very fact that he was not himself of the highest lineage, brought him into ducal spheres after staunch military service. Jean V chose to appoint this comparative outsider as chamberlain in 1438. He eventually fell from favour for his part in the affair of Gilles de Bretagne. This prince of Brittany was brother to duke François I, but eventually taken into custody after constant and blatant intrigues with the English. He was smothered when in captivity at the chateau of La Hardouinaye, whilst under the overall care of Jean Hingant. Royal agents arrived at the Chateau de Hac in 1450 to arrest its master, but Hingant was already on the run with his son, Eustache and many dramatic brushes with the law were to follow in the next few years. He died some time between 1459 and 1465.
The chateau visit (guided only) gives a good idea of social and economic niceties of the period, with contrasting use of rooms on different levels for the general public or wealthy and important connections and a large private apartment complete with side chapel. As well as the usual grand fireplaces, there are some interesting features, including stolen stained glass windows with a good story and a beautiful old corner cupboard which totally conceals the entrance to a modern lift. But the emphasis on the very well-presented tour is on the contemporary context of the chateau and the rise and fall of the Hingant family. Small gardens laid out on a parterre formula are a pretty addition, in the absence of a park.
The area around the villages of Le Quiou and Tréfumel where the chateau is situated was once at the bottom of a sea linking what would be the Channel and the Atlantic in the Miocene period about 15 million years ago. This separated the ‘Ile d’Armorique’ (later western Brittany) from the eastern part and later mainland France. These warm, shallow (40m at most) waters harboured all kinds of marine creatures – sting-rays, the huge megalodon, a prehistoric shark, and snub-nosed seacows – and created an accumulation of shell sand, called le falun. This sedimentary layer has yielded a myriad of fossils, and in the modern era the more solid masses of falun were quarried and the light, malleable limestone called pierre de jauge used in local architecture for ornamentation. It is easy to spot in the villages of the area, and remains of lime working can still be seen in Le Quiou.

The Maison Nature des Faluns in Tréfumel is well worth a visit, and there are extensive remains of a Roman villa near the Green Way in Le Quiou, with open access.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


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


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 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!

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. 

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.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Nantes-Brest Canal guide - 4th edition

Very pleased to announce that the 4th edition of my Nantes-Brest Canal guide is available now. There will also be a new French edition for the first time on release shortly. The enduring popularity of this guide shows how important the canal is as a leisure resource, although the balance between walking and cycling has definitely swung towards the latter. It always saddens me to see cyclists whizzing along to make their daily kilometre target and not noticing all kinds of wildlife and natural treats along the way. The guide includes all the accommodation information needed to plan a trip, as well as showing restaurants and cafés or where provisions can be purchased within easy reach of the towpath. All this has been checked and updated for this new version and the route itself verified on the ground.
Every inch of the towpath is carefully mapped, with detail of locks and crossing points, direction of flow and distances. Places of interest on and around the canal are given on the relevant pages and there is a long introduction describing the origins and development of this extraordinary engineering feat. We have Napoleon to thank for the go-head for this incredibly expensive and labour-intensive project, with work carried out in fits and starts over twenty-odd years from 1806. The heyday of the canal was in the last years of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th. Burgeoning railways and, after WWI, lorry transport were invincible rivals for this slow form of transport and decline was long and sad, although a few barges operated right up until 1977 when the last load of sand was deposited at Saint-Congard in Morbihan.
Many people do not realise that that the vast majority of the 365km length of the canal consists of beautiful, wide, windy, free-flowing river with few locks, and it is only the connecting sections between river valleys that are the straight narrower channels often associated with the word 'canal'. There is nothing monotonous about a walk or ride across the very diverse territory from Loire-Atlantique to Finistere. The introduction to this guide gives an idea of the changing landscape and atmosphere right across historic Brittany. Better note before planning a trip that the canal actually starts just over 20km north of Nantes and ends nowhere near Brest....