Tuesday, 19 April 2011

View from the top

My birthday dawned cool but with the possibilty of sunshine. Here I was, in France (miracle #1), at Mont Saint Michel (miracle #2) with a lovely french man (miracle #3). What more could a woman want? After driving a short distance down the road (causeway), we parked the car, assembled our cameras and set off to explore this very historic national monument.

The first thing you notice is the canon on your right, so old and marking the fortified entrance. This monastry has survived so long despite wars, fires, natural disasters. I felt rather emotional being there. Yeah, the main street is touristy to the point of nausea but it's still a very special place. Stairs and more stairs it took us a couple of hours with our respective audioguides to have a good look around at the various terraces and churches, the cloisters with their disappointingly uncared-for garden, the refectory which is a real marvel, a guests hall, pillared crypt, an enormous wheel for hoisting provisions when the monastry was a prison - in what was once the monks' ossary, lots of halls. The outside of the building is supported by great buttresses.

What must it have been like in its heyday- tapestries, furniture, manuscripts, giant fireplaces in the kitchen, candles everywhere, monks chanting and praying and entertaining weathy patrons. Royals stopping off for a pilgrimage, being a prison during the french revolution.

It was established by Aubert bishop of Avranches who was visited by St Michael, telling him to build the sanctuary. The stages it has gone through over so many centuries are, to me, beyond a miracle. It survived the Hundred Years War, seemed to be constantly having bits destroyed by the Bretons, so many fires wiping out bits of it. It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 but this is threatened by companies wanting to establish wind turbines (eroliennes) along the Bay of Mont Saint Michel. If they were to be constructed the monument would lose its status.

The other thing about this site is that the topography has changed markedly in the past few years, mostly due to human activity. The bay has silted up and vegetation has appeared where it shouldn't. It's increasingly losing its magnificent isolation and becoming united with the mainland instead of being surrounded by sea. This is as a result of the construction of the causeway and parking areas as well as other human landuse.

The bay has the fourth largest tidal range in the world (14 metres). The tides carry in silt but would normally also flush it out. Instead there are salty paddocks with particular breeds of sheep capable of eating savoury grass.

However, a mammoth engineering feat has just completed which will enable nature to reverse the processes and bring the site eventually close to its orignal condition. It's a very interesting project costing close to 200m euros. It's expected the site will be back to its optimal condition within 15 years. Visit http://www.projetmontsaintmichel.fr/en/index-2.html and click on the British flag at the top of the page for details in English on this environmental project.

It's impressive, so as much as I like renewable energy I do hope they don't allow wind turbines around it. JC bought me the best possible book in the little bookshop-it's in english and in french so it couldn't be better and contains excellent photos-my birthday present from him and he didn't know it was my birthday until I announced it that morning.

Photos are inside the monument and from outside, inside looking out.

After our visit to the Mont my back and calves were complaining bitterly though it was no doubt a good cardiovascular workout to get to the top-no problem.

We then headed off to explore the coast all the way around to Normandy. That didn't quite work out as we got a bit lost and missed Avranches but we did wind through many of the little villages those names end in -ville, up to Carteret and then Flamanville. I'm sure it was comical for JC. He knows I'm vehemently anti-nuclear (except for medical purposes) and at Flamanville he told me there's a huge complex to process french and german radioactive waste, though that's actually not quite right. Checking out a website I discovered that...French utility EDF is building the world's largest European pressurised reactor in Flamanville, France. Supplying 1,750MW, Alstom's steam turbine is the largest ever for a reactor. The company is supplying the complete turbine island in an order worth more than €350m. Lastest reports say that construction on the third reactor has been halted.

The actual radioactive waste processing is done at Jobourg.It handles waste from several countries. We drove right past it on our way to visit the picturesque coastline at Nez de Jobourg. It's an enormous complex, looks nasty and I feel rather ill thinking about the horrendous toxicity sitting there, being transported to and fro from it. And then what?

Pressing on to Cherbourg we found a place to eat and kip down. After a couple of glasses of wine I was pretty relaxed. What a great day I'd had... laughs, serious debates, exploring, taking photos, smelling the sea and ancient history in the country I LOVE. MAGIC!

More photos above- the Normandy coastline (follow the Cap trail on the West coast) with a lighthouse.


Alison said...

Yep. A miracle. Magic. Fabulous. All that and more! Thanks for sharing.

*yves said...

" at Flamanville he told me there's a huge complex to process french and german radioactive waste."

Sorry, it's wrong.
Flamanville is the site where there is a nuclear central.
Currently, there is the construction of the first atomic reactor EPR new generation by the french company: AREVA.

But the nuclear complex at La Hague is not a nuclear central.
It is on villages of: Jobourg, Omonville-la-Petite, Digulleville et Beaumont-Hague.
It treats radioactive waste of many countries as France, Germany, Japon, Belgium, Switzerland...
It is run by the french company AREVA.


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