Despite the calmest of crossings – thank you, gods of the high seas, coward that I am – I haven’t slept. In the campervan, She-Who-Wears-Her-Grey-Matter-On-The-Outside has clearly lost the will to live. I’d been pleasantly surprised on boarding the night before to discover that the deck for vehicles with dogs is not down in the smelly noisy airless bowels of l’Armorique, but in an open but covered area that is actually pleasant, and with plenty of access to sea air.
She perks up significantly when we pull up an hour later, though, and walk in the forest, where the canopy is thick with swarming bees, probably from the apiary near Huelgoat, presumably feeding on the tree-flowers, like the sweet chestnut. We head for the Mare aux Sangliers, Wild Boar Pool, though I have a sad sense there are no more boar here, any more than there are wolves – the last was killed in 1906, I learn; nearly two hundred years’ later than in England.
It’s very good to be back on granite, my ‘natural’ stone, characteristic, of course, of the Atlantic coast and hinterland of the Celtic countries (near Totnes we’re on schist and slate – quite different in tone). I’ve written before here how I suspect we each have a geology with which we resonate; I’ve always
suspected I’m radioactive at core, like granite; tough, enduring, good at transmitting and receiving. I learned today that it’s very hard to ‘earth’ houses that are built on or of granite, no matter how many copper stakes an electrician bangs into the ground.
Something I love about this landscape is the way the enormous rounded granite boulders emerge into and shape the land and its tone. In a poem about the megalithic alignments at Carnac I’ve written something like: ‘animate and placid / in the warm summer rain / the stones point at something / five thousand years / beyond our knowing’.
The stones are animate in the way they lie around in the landscape. Although clearly they’re actually millions of years old in their making, when they’ve been shaped by humans it’s from the Neolithic period. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which are natural outcrops, and which have been shaped by humans. Look at this one, ‘Le Champignon’, now neighboured by an ugly modern house, and a supermarket –
this must surely be human placing? And they crop up simply in fields, where it’s as if they’re growing like very slow trees. I remember being struck, again at Carnac, where some of the standing stones formed the back wall of a cottage: of course I knew that the cottage-builder had opportunistically used the stones to save him making a wall, but I couldn’t escape the impression that over centuries the stones had grown inch by inch until fortuitously they’d sheltered the cottage.
This enchanted forest of Huelgoat, the ‘little Broceliande’, is like a massive version of Wistman’s Wood on Dartmoor, the latter being a remaining fragment of mediaeval forest (most of Dartmoor Forest was cleared for building and fires, using stone axes, in the Neolithic period, unbelievably), in which stones and trees are virtually indistinguishable.
‘Wistman’ has been interpreted as being from ‘Wisht Maen’: ‘wise’ (or ‘sacred’) ‘stone’, in the old Brythonic tongue, which once would have held sway not just in Cornwall and Wales but in the land in between and above, too. And although I speak only a little Cornish and even less Welsh, it’s lovely to be able to extrapolate enough as to understand some Breton, too (and I did read – by which I mean limp through with a glossary and much sighing – the myths and legends of Wales, such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogion, the Hanes Taliesin [‘Song of Taliesin’], and the Black and Red books of somewhere and somewhere – Carmarthen and Hengest ring faint bells – in their original Middle Welsh at university).
Speaking of Bretons, if anyone reading this is or was an afficionado of the music of Alan Stivell, my own first intro to Breton music when I was an A-level student, and a fan of the Celtic Twilight, I have to tell you that Stivell has made the most beautiful and inspiring book, with photographs, of the places and legends of the Celtic lands that have inspired his music: Sur la route des plus belles legends celtes. Of course, there are plenty of photographs of this inspiring forest.
And speaking of inspiring: well, I haven’t actually done any writing yet, the avowed purpose of my solo trip here. However, I’ve been productive in other ways; and I’ve also thought up a nice twist for the novel I’m not writing. Must note it down, in between being tempted by stones, trees, good coffee and crêpes.