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.


  1. We enjoyed our first visit to Huelgoat last September, when we visited the nearby falconry centre which is run by a fantastic Scottish/Welsh couple, Paul and Elleri. There looks to be a wonderful amount of walking there, and also a terrific restaurant (among many good ones) called La Mirabelle! I didn't know all the background stories you tell here. That descent to theinto Satan's Grotto is really scary though isn't it?

    1. A falconry centre, please send details, I'd love to visit. Yes, lots of good walks, must try the restaurant. I'm a great one for fairy stories, I think one must believe in a few in order to remain in touch with the inner child, although the Breton tales are quite adult, aren't they? :-) Yes, I did not enjoy that ladder in flip flops...

  2. There's a post I wrote about the centre at

    including their address and a link to their website. They are fantastic people and it's a terrific experience. They hope to open to the public to visit soon, but at the moment you need to book in to spend a day or half-day training with them, it costs a bit but is good value, we did it for Tom's birthday.

    I e-mailed but here's my e-mail address in case it's gone astray!

    (No need to publish this comment!)


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