Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our Loc Envel walk - by Lesley and Denise

Photos above thanks to Dick Westcott

What more perfect way could there be to spend a sunny autumn afternoon than to walk through a beech wood, luminous under a glowing sun that reflects on the golden trees wetted earlier by a seasonal downpour. Crisp fallen leaves tracing a footpath of gold as they rustle beneath your feet. All this, great company, homemade fruitcake, and chocolate brownies….. As we drove through hail and rain under purple black clouds, nothing seemed less likely.
The first surprise came as we drove into the car park at Loc Envel, the smallest village in Cotes d’Armor boasting a population of just seventy. We expected to be two of just half a dozen brave or foolish souls who would even contemplate an afternoon’s country walking in such appalling weather. However, we were just two of twenty four enthusiastic walkers and four dogs. What’s more, the sun was shining!
We set off along a tree-lined footpath to our
first interesting pause - the Chateau de Coat Noz (Wood of the Night). Built in the 19th century, this magnificent building, now derelict, gave the impression of being very much older. Wendy, a treasure chest of the most fascinating historical information, told us that the chateau was a gift from Sir Robert Mond, a nickel magnet, to his wife, a miller’s daughter from Belle-Isle-en-Terre.
Lady Mond was evidently a ‘swinger’ of her time and loved to party. After a spell in Paris and a brief marriage, she returned and settled down here with Sir Robert. Looking at this lovely building, one can imagine the ‘Beautiful People’ draped around the ancient stone staircases, now entangled with brambles, sipping champagne and dancing the night away. Today, it was a huge flock of rooks that provided the ‘music’ and irridescent pigeons that looked down upon us from the glassless windows high above our heads.
We then followed a botanical trail of trees and plants marked with plaques giving their names and further information on the species. A huge sculpture of a Fly Agaric toadstool stood in all its red and white spotted glory in the middle of a clearing to the left of the path.
We continued up the other side of the Guic valley, then down to the river, where there stood an old water mill, now serving very well as somebody’s dream home. Wendy told us that in its hey day the mill served both as a saw mill and a flour mill. It also supplied enough electricity for every home in the village to run a 25 watt light bulb. A
very timely downpour brought us to a halt on the riverside path under the shelter of golden branches, where we were treated to a welcome drink of apple juice and a slice of Sue’s delicious home made cake.
Refreshed, we wound our way along the babbling river that tumbled around rocks and boulders, flanked on either side by coppered ferns. We crossed the river and took a path leading upwards past a fontaine, faced by three menhirs. We eventually came to a clearing where there stands a stone oratory dating from 1892, with a statue of St. Sebastian. This provided a great backdrop for today’s group photograph.
The final part of our walk back to the village, took us along a stretch of footpath lined on either side by huge moss covered stones that resembled giant green fluffy cushions. These, along with some magnificent boulders of quartz, formed part of an old wall, giving the footpath the same look as the old drovers’ roads in England. On returning to the village, there was one final treat in store - the 16th century church overlooking the little bourg in its care, three huge bronze bells visible in the open bell tower. What a stunning interior awaited us! The carved wood rood screen is exceptional. Indeed, the entire decoration inside this church is a credit to the skills and craftsmanship of carpenters and wood sculptors from centuries past. The domed gothic ceiling is entirely of wood, giving the impression of an upturned boat, and everywhere on the ceiling are polychrome sculptures of saints, angels, and dragons.
Driving back home under purple black clouds and through torrential rain and hail it seemed almost like a fantasy that the sun had shone down on us for the almost all of our afternoon’s walk. They say that the sun shines on the righteous. That may or may not be true. However, one thing’s certain, we had just spent a near perfect afternoon in some very good company - dogs included - and there were chocolate brownies!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We have a walk next Tuesday (28th) at Loc Envel (near Belle-Isle-en-Terre), where the church has a fine wooden rood-screen dating from the 16th century. We will also have a look at the semi-ruined chateau once owned by Lady Mond. This is an easy route (6kms), not too long or too hilly, with restful woodland and river scenery. All are welcome - meet in village car-park at 2.00pm.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Meet the Members (3) Three Lovely Ladies

June, Val and Mary (l-r above) are stalwart supporters of Brittany Walks. All three are great walkers and have been keen to keep fit since moving to Brittany.
June – a former county badminton player and teacher in Northamptonshire – is also an experienced sailor, having travelled around Europe with her husband by boat. After settling in Cornwall for a while, they came to Glomel five years ago and she has explored the countryside on foot with friends as well as joining many of our walks.
Mary and her husband used to be members of the Rambling Association in England and particularly enjoyed walking on Dartmoor. After retiring from the prison service, they moved to Brittany and kept up the walking habit with a group of friends. Mary is also a keen artist and we hope to see her work at the Xmas event.
Val has been in Brittany for 11 years after a career in the insurance industry. Having walked in the north of England over many years, she continued in France by joining a local group of randonneurs in Langonnet. Unfortunately her husband is no longer able to walk long distances, but Val continues to enjoy walking with us and discovering local history.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Howard's account of our Langonnet Abbey walk

(thanks to Dick for the excellent photos)
An impressive group of 32 members and guests, plus 4 dogs, assembled in the car park of Langonnet Abbey for our walk. The weather was overcast, but mild.
The Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1136 and continued as a functioning, flourishing institution until the French Revolution, after which it remained empty until 1806 when Napoleon, leaving the monks’ vows of chastity far behind, made it the first National Stud Farm. Later in its history it became the base for the Freres de Saint Esprit Missionary Order and they are still there to this day.
Once away from the Abbey confines our walk took us through a wooded area flanked by a gurgling stream where the path was strewn with freshly shed chestnuts. Two fallen trees provided the group with Agility Tests number 1 and 2 -duck under the first and clamber over the second.
In true grand old Duke of York style Wendy marched us up to the top of Morvan’s hill and marched us down again. In between times she explained that Menez Morvan was the last fortified stronghold of the 9th century Breton chief, Morvan, but that he was captured and beheaded in 818 by the forces of Louis the, on this occasion, not so Pious.
The walk then proceeded through a marshy area alongside a cow pasture. The cows were held at bay by an electrified fence that in Agility Test No 3 required Steve and Roger to raise the fence with wooden sticks so that the group could limbo beneath it. All managed this successfully. The cows watched with interest, presumably seeing this as a possible escape route for themselves. The last I heard was that they were still looking for volunteers to hold the fence up. At this point I happened to notice that the marshy area had transformed our Golden Retrievers into a new breed of Black Muddy Retrievers.
We then had our cake stop. Karen gave us a choice of raspberry and coconut buns, pear and almond buns, or a French carresau citron. By clever planning on Karen’s part there were enough cakes and more to go round. I tried the pear and almond bun. It was excellent. I tried to lay my hands on a raspberry and coconut bun, but without success. All snapped up within seconds of being on offer. Note to cake monitor, Liz -ask Karen again, soon, please.
Continuing on our walk, duly refreshed, we passed a Bronze Age tumulus dating from 1500 B.C., long since robbed of its treasures and contents, and an early medieval motte. The wooden tower had gone but there were still remains of a dovecote. The motte had been built in fairly low lying country so its presence may have been more symbolic than practical.
At the end of the walk we had an opportunity to look around the Abbey. All in all an excellent walk in good company. Special thanks to Wendy and Karen.
Howard Lawson

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Langonnet Abbey

We have a walk this Tuesday (14th) starting at 2pm from the abbey parking area, with a gentle rural route passing many points of historical interest, including a Bronze age tumulus and a medieval motte. Langonnet Abbey was originally a 12th century Cistercian foundation: after the Revolution it became an important haras breeding war-horses, and is now a missionary centre, with an excellent African museum (limited opening) on site. All are welcome to join us for this event.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

committee meeting

This morning we had a committee meeting to discuss the Xmas event we are organising for December 12th. This is to be a festive occasion with things to do, things to buy, and seasonal fare, like mulled cider and hot chestnuts. We spend a long time trying think of ways of making the day enjoyable for members and their guests. There will be workshops (card-making and cake-decorating in the morning, morris dancing and upholstery in the afternoon), tarot readings, stalls with walk/guide books and gifts for sale, and the new Brittany Walks Cookbook with some fabulous cake recipes will be available for the first time. Not forgetting gift memberships to Brittany Walks for 2009 - what a perfect present idea!
So we have a lot to talk about -with plenty of food and drink details to be decided and tasks to be assigned, as well as all the entertainment to be organised - and the morning passes quickly, but very pleasantly, thanks to our great hosts John and Joan.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Brittany: A Day out in Nature

This weekend sees the annual event 'Une journée dans la nature' with a programme of outdoor happenings all over Brittany. Many guided walks are on offer and many animations revealing the vast wealth of natural wonders here. Don't worry about language barriers, just get out there and use your eyes! For details see:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Meet the Members (2)

Joan & John Cundy

Both of us, Joan and John, in our youth, spent happy holidays in France, before we ever met and then again after our marriage. Our real “love-affair with France” began in 1984, when in January, John was invited to join a multinational company in Paris. On the 8th of June, I was offered a position with the same company. In six-short-weeks, I left the job I loved in Leeds, sold our house in Harrogate, kennelled our two dogs and joined John in Paris. By the 13th of August we were “En-Franced”.
In the wonderful years that followed, our walking was in two parts. One: the pavements of Paris, hard on our soles and glorious on our souls. We found ourselves entertaining business, family and friend visitors, frequently. Our love of the history and culture of France meant that our poor visitors were subjected – to it all.
Two: the forest of St Germain, north of Paris, where we had chosen to live and which our dogs adored, having forgiven us for removing them from their beloved Yorkshire. The Autumn and Winter walks hold special memories as the dogs, Highland Rough Collies, preferred these seasons.
Many more joyful years passed between Paris and the Vendee, where we walked the beaches of La Tranche sur Mer, also adored by the dogs, all that sea, sand and space; before we returned to the UK and new careers. The love-affair continued during many holidays in various parts of France. In 2005, retirement brought us to Brittany. Our need to learn the history of the region was ever present. Thus, one fine day John remarked, to me,
Joan – What’s this? – “Brittany Walks” ...
Following many wonderful walks, I can reply ...
This Brittany Walks is: delightful people and their delightful dogs; it’s fun and it’s learning; it’s being in open space, shrouded woods, wild and wonderful coast, warm walled cities, all with the very best of guided knowledge and ... scrummy cake.

Joan Cundy