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.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Friday, December 04, 2020
|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
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 (reddogbooks.com/stst.htm) - hope it will be an enjoyable experience for everyone. I might even start the second in the series now...
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
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'.
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: www.reddogbooks.com/stst.htm
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.
Sunday, October 25, 2020
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
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
|St Jean fontaine|
Friday, August 28, 2020
Sunday, August 02, 2020
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
Wednesday, July 08, 2020
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Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Le guide indispensable à vélo ou à pied! www.reddogbooks.com
Thursday, June 25, 2020
|Chateau de Coat-an-Noz|
Friday, June 12, 2020
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.
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|
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
Monday, May 11, 2020
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
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.