Friday, 29 March 2013

Words at the Ashmolean, Oxford

Do I give the impression that I spend all of my time wandering round the galleries of museums?
Al least when I am not revisiting the memories of my home in Brittany?

In reality I spend most of my waking hours, and a great deal of my energy working here, as an internet threat analyst, or, to the layman, a computer virus analyst.

 It's a demanding role, fast-paced, the threats are always changing, evolving, becoming more sophisticated and challenging.

At work I live very much in the here and now and, of course, in the future as we work to second-guess the Bad Guys' intentions.

 Which is perhaps why, when I am not at work, I am drawn to return to the past and to a time when life was simpler, more easily comprehended, when we lived at a pace more in keeping with our human nature.

And so, after a visit to Brittany, I'd like to take you now to my second favourite, no wait, my fourth favourite, museum, after the British Museum, the Louvre and the Natural History Museum, the Ashmolean in Oxford when I went in search of Words which are, it must be said, one of my passions, after all, where would we be without words?


Walking through the familiar entrance door to the Ashmolean is wonderful enough but the host of lovely guides made it even more special. Each and every one of them seemed to be really happy to be there and each and every one of them was kind, helpful and gracious. So much so that it felt as if we visitors were all specially invited and very welcome guests.

I have to mention the lovely man who, when asked "Please could you tell me where Egypt has gone?" replied with a twinkle in his eye "Ah, that's too large and heavy to move far so Egypt has stayed where it was" and then proceeded to lead me through various rooms until we reached the Egyptian collection where he waved towards the exhibits with a flourish and said "Enjoy your visit".

And the quietly-spoken man who walked up to me as I took pictures and said gently "You are permitted to use flash photography Madam, we've found it doesn't damage the exhibits".

And all of the other guides who were so happy to help us navigate our way around the new museum and for whom nothing was too much trouble.

Where to start?
I decided that to try to see everything would be too exhausting and wouldn't do justice to the exhibits so I thought I would wander around the Ashmolean looking for a few of my favourite things, words, language, books and writing....

You wouldn't think that a museum would be the place for such things, would you?

Well it is, if you look carefully

Starting here...

Of course I headed first for "Egypt". I have spent the best part of twenty years accompanying the Ragazzi to Egyptian exhibitions. Along with dinosaurs all children are fascinated by mummies.

I prefer the hieroglyphs, of course, though I did linger by a very small mummy case containing the mummified remains of a woman and as I was trying to imagine just how petite she must have been a few passing ladies and I discussed whether our own hips would fit such a small burial box, and concluded that no, they wouldn't!

One of our group of casual debaters was almost compelled to stretch out on the case containing the mummy but we managed to persuade her that it was not a good idea to measure herself for a coffin just yet!

A copy of the Koran...
Open at Sura 23 - Believers

" Prosperous are the believers who in their prayers are humble, and who from vain talk turn aside, and who in alms giving are active"

Arabic script is so beautiful. I wish I could read and write it

Upstairs in "Early Italian Painting" I found a picture of one of my heroes.

This is St Jerome

Jerome is the second most voluminous writer (after St. Augustine) in ancient Latin Christianity. In the Roman Catholic Church he is recognized as the patron saint of translators, librarians and encyclopaedists.

Well, of course a patron saint of translators would be one of my heroes, n'est-ce pas?

Mary reading a bedtime story to an infant Jesus?

I expect that the book is the bible but I rather like to imagine that Mary is reading a Beatrix Potter to her baby.

It's so important to read to your children. I still do it even though the Rags are both adults now. In fact when we cleared out all of their old toys and gave them to the children who lived next door I kept the books back. They're sitting in boxes in my house in France, safely stored for future visits when I will, once again, sit and read to the Rags.

St Catherine
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel and The Great Martyr Saint Catherine (Greek ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνη ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς) is a Christian saint and martyr who is claimed to have been a noted scholar in the early 4th century.

The Catherine wheel firework is named after the instrument of torture, the breaking wheel, on which St Catherine was martyred.

It's all Greek to me...

An ex-colleague, one of the nicer of the people I once worked with, studied Ancient Greek so that he could read old biblical texts. When he told me that I was deeply impressed.

His tales of ice-fishing in Norway and his lecture on how to bone a pike also impressed me greatly though when he told me "I expect you're like me, a portfolio of less than $4,000,000 is worthless when you come to retire" I realised that we live in different worlds!

More Arabic.

Since it is forbidden to use images of living creatures in mosques you will find some very elaborate and beautiful calligraphy used as a decoration instead.

Suits me, I find words as beautiful as artwork any day

I really must study calligraphy one day.

There's a manoir in the next village in Brittany which is owned by a fascinating man who offers courses in it. Now why didn't I enroll on one while I had the opportunity?

I can't recall what this is!

But it forms part of an exhibition on restoring old manuscripts and reminds me of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Apparently they use some form of magnetic scanning thingy now which reveals the words hidden under the grime and dirt of centuries.

So much better than the days when such scraps were stuck together with sellotape and washed with detergent!

I think this is in praise of Allah.

I listened to a BBC World Service programme a few weeks ago devoted to the Most Beautiful Names Of Allah...

Allah, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim...

As well as learning calligraphy and Farsi (see a previous post on Iran), I would love to visit some of the world's beautiful mosques and sit and gaze at the "writing on the wall".

This is a scrap of Old English.
It's not very impressive, is it?
It's not even real, being a picture of the original page.

Hwæt. We Gardena in geardagum,þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena/ þreatum,Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,egsode eorlas. Syððan ærest wearð/feasceaft funden, he þæs frofre gebad

Of course I'm not serious.
This is Beowulf, the oldest piece of Old English writing in existence. A linguistic treasure.

"Noumenis, an infant, lies here"A child's gravestone.
A few years ago I took The Ragazzi to the museum in Viterbo, Umbria. I will never forget wandering round that dusty, empty museum with a forbidding old female guardian following us to ensure that we didn't touch anything.

When we reached the little stone sarcophagi that held the mortal remains of children my daughter asked me to translate the words engraved on the sides and, as I whispered the grieving prayers of parents she cried.

I think...
Correct me if I'm wrong.

I thought of learning Japanese once.
When my daughter was born I embarked on my first French course. Those were happy days, her safely in the creche at Caversham Adult Education Centre, me sitting at a desk conjugating irregular French verbs...

When my son was born I took up Italian. A double blessing because that's where I met my best friend Jeannie and together we studied for the Institute of Linguists exams that were to earn us both distinctions.

Had I had more babies I would have enrolled for Japanese and German.
Perhaps it really is time to start studying Farsi?

So,that's my linguistic tour of the Ashmolean museum.

Please excuse my self-indulgent memories but this is the real treasure of a museum like the Ashmolean. It leads you on a voyage of discovery, not only into a whole world that you never knew existed but also into the depths of yourself that you often forget.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Île de Bréhat

It was a post by Lucy at Box Elder that set me thinking about memories and the past and whether it should be visited often or left alone. It's very easy to dwell on the past, to look back longingly with rose-tinted glasses and to imagine that life was lovely back then. It's also easy to contemplate the realities of the present and to question why we made some of the decisions that led us to where we are here and now.

I've been doing that a great deal recently. Hindsight can be a curse, can't it?

So here is a post that I wrote almost five years ago. I was living in Brittany but unsure whether I wanted to remain there. I am reproducing it now to help me decide the path that I wish to follow in the future. And because I want to smile as I revisit the past and a very happy day spent with someone I once loved.

Here's my personal account of a day trip to the island

Île de Bréhat 

After several days of navel-gazing I welcomed the arrival of The Someone's parents

Well, after an initial panic concerning a missing mattress (who knew that the beautiful old French bed that I'd bought would turn out to be larger than average?) and 'Where did I put those Egyptian cotton sheets bought specially for guests' and as for the paw prints all over the newly and lovingly waxed wooden floor...

So last Wednesday we drove north, in tourist-mode, past Paimpol and up to the pink granite coast where last year his mother fell and broke her arm (and so assisted in my acquisition of 'at the French emergency services department' vocabulary), and we boarded a boat for Ile de Bréhat.

The slightly choppy boat trip took around 15 minutes to cross the small stretch of water to the island, a few thousand metres there and around 45 years back in time

At least for me...

Stranded boats always catch my eye...

There's something about being beached and helpless and having to wait patiently for the inevitable return of the trusty tide that fills me with a sense of hope that no matter how bleak and helpless a situation may seem to be, all will be well...

On verra
tout serra bien

When I have time I will paint pictures of boats. Washed-out water colours of sun-bleached boats...

The pink granite rocks give the island a warm rosy glow and a feeling of peace.

Rather like the town of Assissi which also has an air of pink peacefulness under a warm Umbrian sun

So much softer than the grey granite houses inland...

We set off in the opposite direction to the rest of the crowd, I have always preferred to find my own path, never was one to follow the herd...

Walking along twisty little lanes was a very Zen experience that perfectly balanced my chi and made me feel centred and calm, as confident as the feisty 7 year old that I once was....

I walked on a little way ahead eagerly taking in the sights of cute little houses, glimpsing gardens full of flowers and shrubs and trees heavyen with blossoms, admiring quirky little features, an unusual post box, a wooden boat nailed to a gate, turrets and towers of tiny proportions...

The air was heavy with the heady-scent of cow parsley
bees buzzed from bloom to bloom
birds twittered and trilled in the trees

It was more delicious than a glass of the best champagne
and more seductive than the finest French perfume

I felt intoxicated
once or twice I lost my balance and stumbled and the sun-warmed granite walls gently caught me

An old and gnarled tree resting on a dry-stone wall

There are no cars on the island which adds to the feeling of having traveled back in time to a more peaceful, less harried, very gentle existence.

Visitors walk or they sweep past on cycles with a musical tinkle of their bells that are so melodious they sound like wind chimes on wheels...

The chapel of St Michel...

Below us a group of handicapped adults were happily playing games on the grassy mound. As I climbed past one of them waved at me and as I waved back he treated me to the widest, sunniest smile that felt like a gift from God

Along the steep path rock gardens of beautiful flowers reminded me of English gardens and a pang of homesickness washed over me like a small wave of longing for Other Places, Other Times

The view from the chapel shows the beauty of the island and it's nearby neighbour

Memories of the seaside holidays of my childhood flooded back

Long, hot days playing on the beach...
Walking back along cliff paths to the little B&B run by Mrs Wynne...
A bath to scrub salt-encrusted, sun-seared, wind-scoured shoulders...
Clean shorts, wet plaits making damp patches on a striped T-shirt...
And a welcome dinner of boiled bacon, new potatoes, minted peas
and rice pudding with clotted cream

I sometimes wish that I could swap a year of my adult life for one more carefree summer day of my childhood

In the chapel I lit a candle and sat in quiet contemplation...

Should I follow my heart and stay here?
Is this the way for me?
Or should I return to my old life
A life that was good and worthwhile, even as I couldn't see that for the stresses and strains.

So now I wait
For a sign

"Lost in France"?
No, temporarily Beached in Brittany and waiting, with trust, for the tide to return

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Flint Napping at the British Museum

Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and often has a glassy or waxy appearance. A thin layer on the outside of the nodules is usually different in colour, typically white and rough in texture.

Flint was used in the manufacture of tools during the Stone Age as it splits into thin, sharp splinters called flakes or blades (depending on the shape) when struck by another hard object (such as a hammerstone made of another material). This process is referred to as knapping.

My interest in the stone tools made by our ancestors was aroused by the BBC radio series A History of the World in 100 objects.  Once I'd heard, and been captivated by, the episode devoted to The Swimming Reindeer I became a devoted follower of the other ninety-nine objects chosen by the director of the British Museum from their collections.


Object No 3 Olduvai Hand Axe, the first great invention of early man, some 1.5 million years ago.
Found by Louis Leakey in Olduvai Gorge, Africa.

This hand axe made of green volcanic lava represents a tradition of tool-making which began about 1.6 million years ago. Smaller hand axes became common handheld tools used for cutting meat or woodworking. Produced with great skill by ancestors we would recognize as becoming human, this object shows that manufactured things, sometimes of distinctive quality, were starting to be important in the evolution of our behaviour.

Humans spread out of Africa

The makers of handaxes are the first humans to spread across Africa into Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Handaxes reflect the first great spread of humankind and the establishment of a way of life in which we recognize the beginnings of our human characteristics. No other humanly made object has ever been manufactured over such a long period and before the 20th century no other object has spread over such a wide geographical area.

(BBC A History of the World in 100 Objects) 

As part of the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum a flint napping course had been offered, it was an opportunity that I couldn't fail to grasp so last Saturday, after visiting the exhibition, and sustained by a bowl of pasta of mammoth-proportions, I joined a group of fellow-enthusiasts for the workshop.

It was led by Karl Lee of Primitive Technology UK  lovely chap with a great sense of humour, a good knowledge of archaeology and an obvious passion for his work. As he demonstrated the art of flint napping he described the materials, from the raw flint, to the stones, antlers and copper that are used to transform a lump of rock into a life-saving hand tool.    

The process of napping involves holding the flint in one hand and gently, but firmly, striking it with the stone or antler so that thin slivers of flint fracture and fall from the underside.

He made it look ridiculously easy.  

A sample of his work some of which I picked up and held in my hand and yes, I could imagine using one quickly to cut up a carcass.

Preferably the one in the bottom left of the picture.

Hand axes were made for use by men, women and children. In the harsh climate of the Ice Age it was essential that everyone assisted in the dismembering of the kill before larger, vicious predators arrived on the scene. 

It was the first modern technology, brought by our ancestors when they left Africa.

It was also used by our cousins, the Neanderthals who, far from being the savage beasts that many accounts portray them to have been, were pretty much like our own branch of the evolutionary tree, the homo sapiens. But more about the cousins in a later post. Suffice to say that I was pleased that Karl also shares my views on the Neanderthals. 

So, after the demonstration and instruction we were given a piece of flint from which to nap our own hand tools.

I am not a practical person.
I tried very hard to create a good flint tool but alas, I was caught napping and one hasty chip with my stone caused my formerly leaf-shaped tool to fracture. I was a little crest-fallen but Karl was reassuring, "Keep napping and you'll have a handy little tool that you could use to skin an animal."

Towards the end of the workshop Dr Jill Cook, mother of the Ice Age Art exhibition, arrived to see how we were doing. We were very enthusiastic, wonderful workshop given by a great teacher, let's have more such opportunities to learn and engage with such topics, please. Oh and also, may we have sleepovers at the British Museum for adults? It's not fair that only kids get to spend the night in the galleries.

While checking on Karl Lee's website for this post I discovered, to my delight, that he sells flint tools.

Of course, I'm planning to order this one.

Rather beautiful, isn't it?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Ice Age Art - The British Museum Exhibition

This one's for Marja-Leena...

I'd waited a while. The British Museum's Ice Age Art  exhibition has been open for over a month, I'd read about it, I'd eagerly anticipated a visit, fate, life, had other plans.

Until this weekend.
Last night I attended a lecture called "Art and the arrival of the modern mind" in one of the museum's lecture theatres. It was fascinating but frustrating, everyone else had, it seemed, seen the exhibition, everyone except me.

Today I went to see for myself. So here is my amateur but very enthusiastic account of a visit to the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum.

Note, the exhibition is very popular and was fully-booked.
I was able simply to turn up and wander in thanks to my membership of the museum which grants me free and unrestricted entry to the exhibitions at any time, a generous discount in the shop and the restaurants, and a member's cloakroom and lounge, in addition to special member's events and evenings.  It has been a real gift to me.

So, let's wander back in time some 40,000 years....

 This is a thought-provoking exploration of the masterpieces of sculpture, drawing and decoration of the last Ice Age. Produced between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, this is some of the oldest known figurative art in the world. Looking at these art works provides a fascinating insight into the earliest modern minds and their capacity to express ideas symbolically through art.

Over 100 objects are featured, including small but exquisite sculptures made from mammoth ivory, engraved drawings, ceramic models, decorated objects and jewellery from the age of the great painted caves. Some are celebrated masterpieces such as the Swimming Reindeer (13,000 years old), the so- called Willendorf Venus (25,000 years old), the Vogelherd Horse (32,000 years old) and the Lion Man (32,000 years old); others are lesser- known treasures from the collections of European museums. The author examines them in a new light, as works of aesthetic – not solely archaeological – interest, and as such forming part of an unbroken continuum of human creativity.

The compelling narrative is also illustrated with a wealth of images, from classical sculpture to twentieth-century painting and even contemporary advertising campaigns, which demonstrate surprising aesthetic parallels between these ancient works and familiar modern pieces.

In this way,
Ice Age art will bring home the point that the minds that created these objects in all their diversity and inventiveness were modern minds like our own, capable of highly sophisticated thought and expression.
(British Museum)

It's 40,000 years ago. Europe is emerging from the last Ice Age, Britain is joined to continental Europe, ice covers most of the country.

Times are hard, food is not abundant, your prey is difficult to catch and kill armed, as you are, only with stone tools, and if you do manage to bring down a bison or catch a reindeer, well, there are other predators ready to deprive you of your kill and, if you're not agile and smart, of your own life.

You are an early human, out of Africa, a cave-dweller, you lack sophistication, some people would even suggest that you are still a savage.
Or are you?

The oldest known figurative art in Europe appeared 40,000 years ago.
Our species, homo sapiens, was not solely surviving the harsh realities of life in the Ice Age, they were also creating art. They were painting the walls of the caves that gave them shelter, with vivid and breathtakingly beautiful images of reindeer and bison, lions and rhinos.

They were carving the tusks of mammoth and reindeer to create beautiful sculptures, and not just of the animals that figured so prominently in their everyday lives, but also of naked women, of pregnant women and of women in childbirth, they were making amulets to hang round their necks and they were making models of fantasy creatures.

Pause to think about the time span. 40,000 years ago and our ancestors were making art.

 I took few pictures during my visit to the Ice Age Art exhibition.
The lighting was subdued, cave-like, people wandered in silence, for me the atmosphere was reverential, almost religious. I wanted to look and to really see, rather than be distracted by my camera. I did, however, feel compelled to capture a few images,so here are the best of them...

The Zaraysk Bison
Zaraysk, Osetr Valley, Russia

This sculpture of an adult, female bison was carved from the the tusk of a mammoth.

It is around 21,000 years old

The Lion Man
Hohle Feis Cave, Baden-Wurrtenburg, Germany
What makes this statue special and so significant is that it is not a carving of a real animal. This is a figment of one of our ancestors imagination and it shows that the human mind had taken a huge leap forward.

There are theories that the Lion Man may have had a special significance, perhaps it was used in shamanic rituals devoted to giving the lion's strength and hunting skills to its owner.

Carvings of deer on the tusk of a mammoth

This pair are quite simple but quite lovely.

A collection of horses, mammoths, and lions.
Some of the carvings have holes in them which leads us to believe that they were designed to be worn as pendants, interestingly upside-down so that the wearer could lift them to look at them.

Why? Because they were beautiful, or was it because they would endow the animal's qualities on the wearer?    

The Woman from Dolni Vestonice
The oldest known ceramic lady.

A full-figured mature lady made from earth baked in a fire. She has obviously borne children, her body bears the evidence of motherhood.

Was she revered as such? Was she seen as the perfect example of the female form? Rounded, soft, fertile? Was that her claim to fame that resulted in her appearance in a museum 30,000 years later?

I wish that I'd taken pictures of the little statues of pregnant women, some evidently at the start of their pregnancies, some heavily pregnant, some in the act of giving birth. Sadly they were too small to be captured on film, they have to be examined up close and personal to appreciate their beauty.

But I was struck by how much our ancestors revered pregnant women and how they must have been captivated and fascinated by the whole process of giving life to the next generation. It's also obvious that pregnancy and child birth would have been very dangerous times in the lives of these women, little wonder that so many statues and carvings were made, possibly to offer them protection.

Art and Identity

It is always subjective, is an object decorative or utilitarian? Sometimes we have clues, the beads and pendants that are found still adorning bodies that were buried so long ago, the carving placed on the breastbone of a corpse...

Sometimes, in the absence of evidence and of clues we have to use our imagination  

The Swimming Reindeer Carved on a mammoth tusk 13,000 years ago and found in Montastruc, France.

Not a good picture, I was a little over-excited to be, once again, up close and personal with my favourite museum piece. 

But how could I not include The Swimming Reindeer?

I'll doubtless write about them again. In the museum shop I bought a small book devoted to these reindeer, written by one of the curators, Dr Jill Cook, who kindly signed my copy. I admit it, I am not averse to a little hero-worship, even at my age.  

If I have one criticism, no, request, it would be that the Swimming Reindeer be given pride of place in the exhibition. But that's my own, highly personal opinion based on my devotion to this particular piece of Ice Age Art. It was a chance-meeting, a serendipitous meeting, that introduced me to this sculpture and so to a late-flowering fascination with the Ice Age.  

I've collected many books on the subject of the prehistoric, several about our cousins, the Neanderthals, some devoted to cave paintings, a few weighty tomes on the evolution of the human brain, and now this one has been added to my book shelf...    

Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind

My two trips to London were exhausting. I don't feel comfortable in a crowd and I don't feel at home in a city.

So, on Sunday, as I recover from my adventures and plan a quiet day reading my books by the fire and revisiting my memories of the Ice Age Art exhibition, it's rather fitting that this is the scene that greeted me as I pulled back the curtains this morning.

Thick, fat snowflakes falling on the green

The story of how I followed my visit to the exhibition with a workshop on flint napping and made my very own flint hand tool will have to wait for another post, suffice to say I am now equipped to skin a mammoth should the carcass of one happen to appear on the village green today. And if it keeps on snowing as heavily as it is now that could be a distinct possibility! 

A few links:

British Museum - Ice Age Art


Interview with Dr Jill Cook on Ice Age Art

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Huelgoat - devils, virgins, drowned lovers and a big mushroom

Huelgoat means 'high wood' in Breton, a fitting name for a town that sits happily by a lovely large lake in the midst of one of Brittany's last remaining wild forests.

This forest, like so many others in this region, was devastated by the hurricane that swept across northern France and England back in October 1987.

Large, mature trees crashed to the ground leaving bare huge swathes of forest that, even now, resemble the bloody battle scenes of times long-ago, mighty warriors felled in a heartbeat.

Nature recovers, albeit slowly, life will find a way....
As long as Man ceases his wanton destruction of the natural eco-system and gives her a chance.

So, lecture over, park next to the lake and cross the road by this bridge and you will enter a world of legends and fairy-tales set amidst a stunning natural environment.

This is the tourist office, open in high season, from whom you can obtain the maps and itineraries for walks in this beautiful region.

(Personally, I think the house would make a lovely home for someone with a vivid imagination and a love of all things wild and wanton, I wonder if they'd consider taking on a tourist guide in residence?)

Or else this white house, perched precariously above the tumbling stones and rushing water???

Imagine sitting by the fire on a wild and stormy night when the korrigans and forest-folk are abroad about their bad business!

For those not familiar with Breton contes, a korrigan is a fairy who appears as a long-haired maiden with red-flashing eyes.

She seduces many an innocent young man with her beauty and siren-call but beware, once seduced by a korrigan you will surely die.

Korrigans also like to play tricks on people, not the fun kind of tricks that amuse and delight us, no, these spirits are prone to stealing human babies and replacing them with changelings and other such nasty goings-on.

Where were we?

Ah yes, a wild and stormy night in the forest at Huelgoat...

This is the way to the Devil's cave.

During the Revolution a soldier, fleeing from the Chouans, ok, another explanation is called for here...

The Chouans were a secret society of Breton traditionalists who fought against the Revolution, the name Chouan comes from the owl-screech chat huant that they used to communicate during their nightly excursions.

So, this poor soldier took refuge in the cave armed with a pitchfork which, when raised in defence as he stood in front of the red glow of his fire, gave him the appearance of a creature with horns, ie the devil himself, and so scared the superstitious Breton boys away.

The way into the cave is pretty scarey in itself.

Down this steep metal ladder that is, on a wet, winter's day, as slippery as an eel and twice ten times as long.

Note to self : Always wear sensible shoes, you never know when you may be called-upon to climb down to a devil's cave!

This is chaotic!

No, really, round here un chaos is the name given to a pile of boulders lying all in a heap that have, over time, been smoothed by the gentle caress of waves of water.

Follow the signs to the Trembling Rock...

This lump of granite weighing 100 tonnes can be made to rock ever-so-slightly by any person with a pure heart and a clean conscience.

Shall I let you into the secret?

Ok, stand with your back against the rock on the left side, just under the groove and push against it and it will, as the name says, rock

Amidst the trees there is a fairy concert hall.

Can you imagine the Little People sitting here to enjoy concerts of Celtic music by moonlight?

The Virgin's kitchen.

I'm not sure why she should be called The Virgin rather than a witch or a fairy but...

Walk down the stone steps carved in granite to a small cave where, with a good light and an even better imagination, you will see the shapes of her pots and pans in the rocks below

OK, here's a rather long and tale.

Are you sitting comfortably?
Then let us begin...

Il y avait une fois...
(once upon a time)

Gradlon The Great was the king of Brittany in the 4th century. In his wild and pagan youth he fell in love with a beautiful woman who was half fairy but, sadly, they did not live happily ever after.

When he decided to convert to Christianity she felt betrayed and fled with him in hot pursuit. In his haste to catch his lover he fell into a fast-flowing river and, so much for action heroes, had to be rescued by her.

Hell hath no fury, as they say, and she wrought her revenge by bewitching the king's daughter, Dauhet, wth a spell that turned the hapless princess into the most badly-behaved girl in Brittany.

Dauhet built a castle by the river at Huelgoat and every night she enticed one of the local handsome young men to her bed, asking that he wear a black mask so that he could not gaze upon the face of a princess whilst engaged in nocturnal naughtiness. Alas and alack, once her carnal cravings had been satisfied the black mask strangled the young man and his lifeless body was then thrown from this spot into the river.

Dauhet was also responsible for drowning her father's beautiful city and thus creating the bay of Douarnenez, but that is another story for another night....

For fans of funghi, such as Yours-Truly this 200 tonne mushroom is quite a find!

When the Anglos-Saxons invaded Britain many of the Celts feld to Brittany bringing with them heroic tales of the king who fought off the foreigners.

The legends of King Arthur thus became firmly established in the mossy and mysterious, fern-filled forests of Brittany

and this is his cave, where we sat to rest a while

Before leaving this fairy-forest we stopped at the little cafe for a cup of weak tea and a tastier crèpe. It's unusual to find such sustenance readily available to walkers and wanderers in France. Obviously Huelgoat and it's forest trails are a popular tourist attraction. The town also offers eateries, hotels and chambres d'hotes ('scuse lack of accent), in abundance for visitors

So, good folk of The Internet, that concludes my Cyber Tour of Huelgoat.
I hope that you enjoyed your visit and please remember to collect all of your belongings as you leave the virtual van.