Monday, 6 June 2011

Looking for Arthur and Merlin

I wanted to visit the Forest of Brocéliande, to take photos and appreciate the magic of the place. Regrettably the Breton weather behaved as it often does with rain, drizzle and sea fog. It was too wet to visit the forest, such a disappointment. It’s a fair drive from Binic using indirect roads but we decided to at least drive to the area on our way back home. There are many cute little stone villages but a dearth of toilets.

We arrived at the Chateau de Comper which is now a centre dedicated to Arthurian legend. How much of the Arthur story is real and how much is fiction? I’m reading a book in French about that very subject but it doesn't really answer the question, alas.
The centre was established 20 years ago, behind the ruins of medieval ramparts and a dried moat.
At the back of the Chateau is a vast lake. Could it be The Lake containing the Lady of the Lake who loved Arthur and took back the sword Excalibur and ferried the dead Arthur to Avalon? It certainly looks as if it could be.

The ancient oaks had structures of character, the weather was damp, mysterious. The rocks were pink and the stream a noisy tumbling thing beside the castle. Yes, you could imagine the knights of the Round Table having fights and assignations, ladies in elaborate sleeves and headdresses. I was intrigued by Arthur’s genealogy displayed inside the building and a chronology of writings and films through the ages, relating to Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and Gawain, and Morgan le Fey and her nasty son Mordred.

I miss all the books I used to have on these tales and legends. I had to give them all away to schools in Auckland in preparation to move to France.

The trip home required extreme resignation to going nowhere fast. The great migration back to Paris and other places had begun and it was as bad as it could have been. It took us 3-4 hours longer than our outward journey. It’s as well JC’s car is automatic. I forget how many times we listened to The Corrs and Rod Steward CDs as we inched south.

I hope one day I can explore the Forest of Brocéliande and its Fountain of Youth, Merlin’s Tomb, The Valley of No return, The Fountain of Barenton and the trees themselves, just 30kms west of Rennes. There are less of them now.

 In 1990 a terrible fire devastated more than 400 hectares of it. A golden tree (sculptured branches really) was created at the entrance to the Valley of No Return in memory of the ancient forest. Paimpont/Brocéliande reminds me somewhat of the forest of the elves in Tolkien’s Middle Earth during the time of the tales in the Silmarillion. The geography is remarkably similar to Brittany.

You will note from one of the photos, the odd-shaped trees. These are examples of trees I mentioned last time we were in Brittany. Many years ago the villagers would cut the faggots for firewood. JC remembers this distinctly, but this practice has since stopped and the trees now have scrubby growth on the sides and crowns on their tops. There are many of these deformed trees throughout Brittany, still.

All well and good, but it took over six hours to get home. JC needed a pee and so hopped across to the side of the road and voila! What was I to do? No trees to hide behind on this public road. JC simply opened both doors on my side of the car, thus creating a pseudo room, and I had to down my knickers there and then. Actually, this is not a bad strategy ladies, if you can get over your initial reluctance.

Most people are too busy driving to momentarily notice the details of what you are doing. It wasn’t much different to the toilets in a shop we had earlier visited. I was surprised to see the cubicle consisted of only a hole in the ground that you have to squat over. Not clean for the jeans and shoes because things can splash and past visitors leave remnants of their activities. You are hereby warned.

Kilometres after kilometers of traffic jams saw us so desperate we had to take time out for McDonalds. The chips are consistent but the burgers are at least as horrible as I remember, maybe worse-how the french can eat them is beyond me but there's less competition for them in France than in NZ.

Times they are a changing. I enjoyed spending more time with the lovely JC and experiencing more and deeper explorations of La Bretagne.

Photos show the deformed trees, Chateau de Comper, medieval ruins.


Alison said...

Another interesting post. Loved the weeing story!

Post a Comment

I welcome your comments, contributions and feedback.