Tourists heave menhirs in France to solve ancient mystery
In the Asterix comic books you only had to drink a magic potion to be able to lift a menhir. But in reality you need vast quantities of muscle power and lots of patience. That is what a group of 30 holiday-makers found out when they heaved on a rope to move a 4... continues...
18th - 22nd June 2009 - Stones, Snakes and Sun....
A unique chance to approach the mysterious megaliths of Carnac ! Talks, sunrise and sunset observations, visits on foot, by boat and by helicopter, workshops, exhibitions, films, story telling, music...5 incredible days of wonder and discovery... continues...
In the Cornouaille district of Brittany, where pagan ceremonies still linger in most force, there is a custom which Villemarque believes to be Druidical. In June the youths and maidens above sixteen years of age assemble at some lichen-clad dolmen, the young men wearing green ears of corn in their hats, and the girls having flowers of flax in their bosoms. The flowers are deposited on the dolmen, and from the manner in which they remain or wither the young lovers believe they can divine the constancy of their selected partner. The whole party then dance round the dolmen, and at sunset return to their villages, each young man holding his partner by the tip of the little finger. At whatever time this practice originated, it may be presumed the dolmen was not then considered a sepulchre, as we cannot suppose the youthful population of a district assembled to deposit the offerings of love on a tomb, or to disturb the dwellings of the dead with their joyous revelry.
Mentioned in "The early races of Scotland and their monuments" by Lieut.-Col. Forbes Leslie (1866).
The writer is contemplating how stone axeheads might have been used, and concludes from their variety of sizes that they were tools (or the larger ones being weapons).
.. the large celt appears to have been fixed in a cleft stick, or enclosed within the folds of a tough, slender branch [..] It is said that when the Breton peasant finds a celt, called in most countries on the Continent a "thunderstone," he places it in the cleft of a growing branch or sapling, and leaves it there until the wood has formed and hardened round it; but this must have taken a great length of time. We do not, however, find the slightest trace or mark of such a handle on a single celt in this Collection [that of the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy].
From p46 in 'A Descriptive Catalogue of the Antiquities ... in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy' by W R Wilde (1857) - on Google Books.
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.