Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Enchanted Forest at the End of the Earth

Le Chaos
To visit the enchanted forest, you must travel to the far, far west of France, to a place called Finistère, the end of the Earth. From the shores of the lake, you take a little path by the side of the river gorge which weaves between mossy boulders as high as a house, into the woods where the light dances with the shadows amongst the trees. Once you have entered the stony gates, if you wander along the meandering paths with open eyes and an open imagination, you will discover many wonderful things.

As you can probably tell from the above paragraph, I'm a bit of a sucker for Breton history and legends. Over the past couple of summers, Understanding Frenchman and I have done a fairly thorough exploration of the Forêt de Brocéliande, home to the Chêne à Guillotin, the Miroir aux Fées and the Fountain of Eternal Youth. This year, however, was the first time that we had been out west to the Forêt de Huelgoat, where there was even more to be discovered.

La Grotte du Diable
Just after the entrance to the forest (which is located at the end of the lake in Huelgoat) is the Grotte du Diable. The story behind the name of the cave is that a Revolutionary fighter once hid there on the run from the Royalist army. Wearing a hat with two feathers in it and carrying a large fork as a weapon, he built a fire and stood behind it. When the partisans entered the cave, they saw his shadow and ran away screaming, convinced that they had seen the devil. As well as this story, the cave is also worth visiting for its dramatic rock formations, as it's actually perched in the boulders above the river gorge. It's now all safely enclosed with metal barriers, but I would still recommend good footwear if you want to go down there.

A little further into the forest is Le Chaos, a large boulder field through which the river flows. The geological origin of the boulders is volcanic: the granite rocks were pushed up from the bowels of the Earth, then developed cracks as they cooled. Rain water running through the fissures changed the shape of the rocks to the heaps of boulders stacked haphazardly on top of each other that you can see today. In the legend, however, they were hurled there by a hungry giant!

La Pierre Tremblante
Our next stop was the Pierre Tremblante. This block of granite is the size of a small van and weighs about 7 tonnes, but if you push it in exactly the correct place, even a child can make it wobble. We were lucky enough to see somebody else do it as we arrived, and after a couple of tries, we were able to move the massive boulder ourselves.

There are a couple of sites with links to Arthurian legends: the Camp d'Artus, and the Grotte d'Artus, where Arthur kept the treasure which Merlin revealed to him in the Val sans Retour in Brocéliande, guarded by flying demons in the form of will-o'the-wisps. And there were some places we didn't see, as we had another mission to complete in Finistère before the daylight faded (more on that another time), but we did make it to the Gouffre de Dahut, the chasm where the dissolute Princess Dahut liked to throw her lovers once she had had her wicked way with them.

Inland Bretagne is always so much quieter than the coast in the summer, and this particular area is so isolated (it takes six or seven hours to drive there from Paris) that even at the height of the holiday season, we had plenty of the sites to ourselves a lot of the time. I would imagine that if you go off-season, it really is absolutely magical. 


  1. Breton culture, well, some aspects of it, get on my nerve, including the drinking, the separatist movement, etc. But I must admit it's a lovely place full of culture and history. Breton "contes et légendes" are fascinating... when I was a kid, I was scared of "L'Ankou" (death angel) because I read about it!

    1. Sometimes historical culture is a lot easier to deal with than modern culture. The advantage of retreating into the past is that we can choose to visit the bits we like!

    2. So true about the advantage of retreating into the past. We can romanticize the past in ways that we can't romanticize the present. I'd love to enter La Grotte du Diable.

  2. Your description is so pretty!! I love the idea of Arthur having been at the Camp D'Artus and the Grotte D'Artus. I would love to go there - I love anything Arthurian!! Great photos too!

    1. There have been a couple of TV series based on the legends recently in France. We're they shown in Canada too? We watched quite a bit of one of them, and it was really well done, apart from the fact that Arthur looked like a Hollywood hunk who would have fitted in better in Baywatch, which was pretty much the reason why I didn't watch the whole thing.