Monday, 18 April 2011

The pilgrimage begins

It has been a year of waiting to visit Mont Saint Michel. I was originally going to visit it with Pascal last May, then maybe last Christmas. Finally, on Friday, I was on my way and how exciting to be able to spend my birthday there. That's why I suggested this last weekend's visit to Jean-Claude. He didn't know it was my birthday until the day dawned but he made it all possible for me.

We set off, heading for Chartres and then turning towards Brittany, stopping off for lunch, skirting Fougères and Rennes, driving through Pontorson and there it was- barely visible through the 'brume' or misty haze. It's incredible to have a place in your mind for years, to read all you can find about it and then, one day, circumstances make it possible for you to be in the same space and time with it.

It was mid afternoon; too late to visit it and too early to stay put in a hotel room so we checked in, took some photos of the monastry from a distance and set off towards Cancale, a town in Brittany, further west on the coast. Along the way we would stop and get out and take photos. It's an interest Jean-Claude and I have in common. Throughout the trip we could both be found, cameras and spare lenses in hand, capturing the countryside, and each other. JC's camera is a lot more advanced than mine but we had a lot of fun looking for the best angles and comparing ideas.

JC is very knowledgeable and points out changes in architecture or countryside, plants, birds, history. I do my best to understand some of it. He pointed out the weird shapes of some of the trees; very skinny and tall with a topnot and fine, twigging foliage growing out the sides. Apparently up until 40 years ago the residents would cut the side branches off each year to use as firwood for heating and cooking, just as they had through the ages, without cutting the trees down. Since electricity is now used for cooking and heating this practice has ceased and the trees are putting out fine, twiggy growth that will never result in strong branches. They have an other-worldly appearance.

Brittany continues to attract me. The stone villages, the churches and windmills speak of times long ago. It reminds me of that old BBC TV series Poldark which was set on the Cornish coast-the grim, grey architecture is very similar and everywhere there are distributors of oysters and mussels. The sun came out for our arrival in Cancale, a breton village around the point from St Malo and at the oppostite end of the bay of St Michel as the Abbey. So much haze made photography frustrating but one must take it as it is.

On the return to our hotel we passed past Dol de Bretagne with its imposing cathedral (parts missing, never completed) and back through the greening countryside with its apple trees and crows. A windmill complex cought our eye so we stopped, photographed the memorials and little church and soaked up the atmosphere. JC is Breton, knows Normandy very well but there were places he had never visited. I was rather impressed with how JC navigated. I couldn't help because I get instantly sick if I try to read while in a moving car so he did the map reading across several publications, stopped frequently to check things; as soon as he thought he was lost he would stop and ask the nearest person who was invariably very friendly. The one thing that made me nervous was JC driving with one knee instead of two hands. His big BMW is very stable but its still off-putting. He's never had an accident in his life; how I don't know why, when he's multi-tasking like crazy instead of just driving. Clearly I survived since I'm writing this to you.

We had dinner across the road from our hotel, in a restaurant that was not that great but it filled a hole. We then drove to the Mont as far as we could as it's not possible to drive right up to it unless you are a resident there. My camera couldn't deal with the light conditions but JC managed to capture the Mont in it's romantic night lighting. Groovy. Tomorrow (my birthday) we'd be exploring the Abbey which dates from the year 708.

Photos of Breton windmills, monuments, the Abbey from a distance in the brume and Cancale coastal fishing port.


Alison said...

Great recount and fabulous photos - thanks! How wonderful that you are living a dream. :-)

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