Monday, 18 July 2011

Into the Channel- for nature lovers

Jean-Claude had organised for us to explore more of the Breton coast. In particular the Rose Granite coast from Trestraou to Ploumanc’h which is only 10 kms long but includes a “custom officer’s path” along the cliffs, offering great views. We weren’t planning to do that. JC had booked a boat trip to the Seven Isles (really five islands plus two big rocks) to see the gannet colony. We left Binic early so that we’d have a chance to find a place to park.

First we stopped off at the quaint coastal village of Ploumanac’h. There are two sea mills from the 14th century in the harbour and Gustave Eiffel built a granite house there around the same time he was building the Eiffel Tower.

Another item of note is the oratory of St Guirec, on the beach. The story goes that young women who were hoping to marry would come there with a hair pin and insert it into the nose of the statue of the saint. If it stayed in they’d marry, if it didn’t, well, they were out of luck. It’s thought the current statue was preceded by one in wood which was quickly worn out by ardent women with pins. The current statue is much the worse for wear too.

Time was short so I couldn’t explore further or look at Gustav Eiffel’s house. The rocks here are very interesting. They are massive, upthrust and eroded over the past 300m years into fantastic shapes, easily seen from the sea. It’s not the only place you can find rose granite but it’s probably the only place you’ll find it eroded in this chaotic way.

After steak and chips and lashings of anti-seasickness pills I felt fortified enough to take the boat out into the ‘English’ Channel. The sea was fairly calm and the boat comfortable but I kept the medication going as travel sickness is a ‘given’ with me. Our first stop was the gannet colony where between 14,000 and 20,000 couples nest (there’s a big discrepancy between what one piece of publicity says and another regarding the population.

One piece of literature says it’s the most southern colony of gannets there is. This annoyed me as we have gannet colonies in New Zealand and they are 20,000kms further south than the Ile Rouzic. In fact the gannet colonies in NZ tend to be on the mainland rather than on islands. At Cape Kidnappers on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ you can walk right up to the birds. They are separated from you only by a low chain fence. The French even call one of their sea birds penguins but they are not real penguins in my opinion because true penguins don’t fly and are limited to the southern hemisphere.

You can smell them before you can see them. There they were, white blobs stuck to the almost vertical rocks or wheeling in the air. There too were black shags. I would have liked to see some of the rather rare puffins but this day there was no sign of them, only a lone gannet on the lowest rocks. He was there because he was sick and it was unlikely that he’d survive much longer, away from the colony and his mate.

Gannets are the largest seabird of the Atlantic with a wingspan of 1.80m. They each eat 500g of fish per day and sometimes fly as far as the south coast of England if they’re hungry. They keep their mate for life, often living until the age of 20 years. Other birds to be found in this area include the Fulmar Petrel, and the Oyster Catcher.

After admiring the colony and watching the younger birds skimming in curiosity over our boat, we went further to see some seals. Attention: when the person doing the commentary talks about ‘phoques’(seals), yes, he is not using a rude word, but it certainly sounds like it when the French say it. It was hard for me to keep a straight face. The boat disgorged it’s passengers onto the only island where visitors are permitted as these islands are a nature reserve.

Monks Island used to have monks living on it in the 15th century. They were monks who wanted a hard life because they thought that the harder their lives were on earth the quicker they’d get to heaven. Life was so very hard that they obtained permission from the pop to return to the mainland on the condition they destroy all evidence of their habitation there. After the monks had left it was popular with smugglers and pirates so Louis XV established a fort there to fight smuggling and piracy.

The lighthouse was built in 1834 but destroyed in 1944. It was rebuilt and on a good day you can see close to 40kms from it. It is still habited by two lighthouse keepers. We walked up to the fort and watched the birds. There was a good view of the little islands and rocks dotted about. JC managed to surprise a rabbit and I surprised a herring gull. It started to rain as we set off in the boat for the return journey.

Photos- rose granite, lighthouse of Mean Ruz, port and sea mill of Ploumanarc’h, oratory to St Guirec, Fort at Monks Island, the gannet colony, two seals on the rocks, the Seven Isles environment.


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