In France, as in England, and indeed most countries [Stones] are usually connected in the popular belief with fairies or with demons - and in England, with Robin Hood. In France this latter personage is replaced by Gargantua, a name made generally celebrated by the extraordinary romance of Rabelais. A cromlech near the village of Toury, in Britany, is called Gargantua's stone; a not uncommon name for the single stone or menhir is palet de Gargantua (Gargantua's quoit).
A very common name for cromlechs among the peasantry of France is fairies' tables, or devils' tables, and in one or two instances they have obtained the name of Caesar's table; the covered alleys, or more complicated cromlechs, are similarly named fairies; grottos, or fairy rocks. The single stones are sometimes called fairies' or devils' seats.
The prohibition to worship stones occurring so frequently in the earlier Christian ecclesiastical laws and ordinances, relates no doubt to these druidical monuments, and was often the cause of their destruction. Traces of this worship still remain.
In some instances people passed through the druidical monuments for trial, or for purification, or as a mode of defensive charm. It is still a practice among the peasantry at Columbiers, in France, for young girls who want husbands, to climb upon the cromlech called the Pierre-levee, place there a piece of money, and then jump down. At Guerande, with the same object, they despose in the crevices of a Celtic monument bits of rose-coloured wool tied with tinsel. The women of Croisic dance round a menhir. It is the popular belief in Anjou that the fairies, as they decended the mountains spinning by the way, brought down the druidical stones in their aprons, and placed them as they are now found.
From Thomas Wright's 'The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon', parts of which are reprinted in a review in The Gentleman's Magazine v.193 1852 Jul-Dec (p233).
Oppidum (plural oppida) was the name used by Caesar to describe the Celtic towns that he discovered during his conquest of Gaul.
In archaeology, the term is now used to describe all fortified Celtic sites covering a minimum area of 15ha and dating back to the second half of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC (the late La Tène period).
These towns were both economic and political centres. They are considered to be the first towns to the north of the Alps.
This website offers you the opportunity to find out more about each of the oppida via information sheets. For more information, click on an oppidum or go to the themed exhibitions…
Within five minutes of leaving Quiberon these fine stones put in an appearance on high ground looking out toward the start of the Cote Sauvage. A quick right turn off the main road brought us to a spot where we could park, but not without narrowly avoiding a gaggle of cyclists that suddenly sped out across the road in front of us where a cycle track cuts across the lane.
Pulling up on the verge I get to examine the stones more closely, a shapely pair which frame a coastal vista. This place should be twinned with Penrhos Feilw in Anglesey, it has much of the same vibe about it, albeit with a bit more room between the ‘goalposts’, but the commanding views are the same, as is the sense of the stones marking out some form of gateway, a symbolic entrance to the start of the Wild Coast perhaps?
If you carry on up the lane, as we had to in order to turn the car around, you soon come to the village of Le Manémuer, a little hamlet of whitewashed houses, all sporting pale blue shutters, which reminded me of the sort of village you’d see on a Greek island, but which sports another 6’ tall standing stone sat amongst a walled shrubbery like some gargantuan garden ornament, yet another of the many fine Quiberon menhirs.
The Cote Sauvage or ‘Wild Coast’ is just that, a meandering jagged coastline of rocky coves and cliffs pounded by Atlantic breakers, which stretches down the west side of the Quiberon penisular, just to the south of Carnac. It is also dotted with more menhirs than you can shake a stick at.
Heading along the coast of the peninsular within two minutes of leaving the town of Quiberon we had already encountered a fine pair of megaliths, and every few minutes the breathtaking views were punctuated with shouts of ‘Oh look there’s a standing stone!’, but there are simply too many to stop at each one (or at the very least to give each visit the time it deserves), that is until you reach the Menhirs Beg-er-Goalennec.
Here two wonderful stones stand on either side of the D186A, one right next to the Les Mouttes restaurant, the other right on the shoreline. Plenty of space to be had for parking here next to the restaurant, so we just couldn’t pass them by. There’s no little ‘property of the state’ marker to give the name of the site, so I’ve no idea what the stones are called until later when I manage to look them up, but I do at least think to get the co-ordinates from the sat-nav!
The more northerly stone stands uncomfortably close to the restaurant, and is a slim rectangular block, somewhat sadly diminished by having had the top five feet or so break off the menhir at some time in the past. Standing behind it and focusing on its shorter companion across the road you get a lovely view along the aligned stones and out to sea. It is busy today though, unseasonably warm weather (well it would be unseasonable in England, maybe late October is always this warm in France?) has bought people out in droves to this popular coastline, and a steady procession of motor homes drives past to obscure the view.
It’s on the shore though that I really fall in love with the place, when I stand next to the heart shaped stone and stare out to sea. The placement of the stone is sublime, along with the great shaping along the top of the menhir (probably due more to the luck of the way the stone has weathered than the artifice of the stonecutter, although you never know?) this second menhir is a bit shorter (but still taller than me, although that counts as tiny in these parts!) and is now set in concrete to keep it stable.
With the sun still warm, and the stone at my back I look out along the coast, and for a minute all the tourists, cars and caravans enjoying their day out at the seaside seem far distant and I imagine the wild coast as it would have been to our ancestors, and it’s clear why they went to such efforts to raise these stones here, the beauty of the land calls out as much to us now as it did 5,000 years ago.
Also known as Mane Groh, this is another well signposted dolmen just outside of Crucano, and right next to a lane just off the main road.
Although we are on our way back home after a hard day megalithing I just can’t pass up the little brown signs signifying an ancient monument without feeling an irresistible urge to stop. I still can’t get used to literally falling over megaliths that at home I’d be blown away by if I’d driven several hours to see a site half as impressive.
And impressive Mane Croch is. The name means ‘the sorceress’s hill’, and it consists of a T-shaped passage grave of satisfyingly chunky stones, which leads into a well preserved chamber. A couple of the capstones have been removed, almost as if someone's taken the lid off so you can look inside, where an axe head carving is visible on one of the orthostats, thanks to being handily outlined in chalk.
It’s yet another site surrounded by woodland, and a path leads off through the woods which takes in other megalithic sites, but sadly it is too late in the day to wander far this evening. We have a meander about nearby and find a jumble of stones that once may have been the remains of a now destroyed dolmen, as well as a small cist near the main site, and the path tantalisingly beckons on towards further unseen megalithic riches. Still it’s no hardship to just spend some time here instead.
Burl says it would have once been covered by a rectangular mound and is aligned toward the SSE. There are several of these types of passage dolmen in the vicinity, and they are certainly unlike any I’m used to from Britain, but having seen so many they all start to blur together and I struggle to remember which one is which but Mane Groh is memorable by virtue of a carved stone trough which sits beside the dolmen.
We have a wander in the woods nearby and come upon a lovely lake, dotted with reed beds and small islets, it sits amongst the trees, and I almost imagine a shimmering arm to emerge clutching a sword, such is the look of the place. Alas no Lady of the Lake today, but we do spot a pair of little egrets wading in the water.
What I forget until later is just how close several other monuments are through the woods nearby, particularly Caeser’s chair, which on my last visit I didn’t get any photographs of as my camera batteries had died, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get chance to take some today. Still the dolmen is itself a worthy place to visit on its own, so I shouldn’t sound ungrateful. We have the place to ourselves and I happily poke about in the transepted chamber. The shadows lengthen as we sit at the dolmen, tired after the day’s exertions, and thoroughly old stoned out. What can you say, another superb Breton dolmen.