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


  1. Bréhat is such a magical place. An elderly friend, from Wales originally, who now lives in St Brieuc lived there for many years and raised some of her children there. She's written a lot of poems about it, and they're always about home and exile, belonging and not belonging, memory and loss.

    Did you walk out to the far end of the second island? There's a lighthouse all built out of that orangey-pink rock, which I think is actually pink sandstone, the same vein that crops up again at Erquy, rather than the granite you get out at Paimpol. It really glows, especially a bit later in the day...

    Hope you arrive at a decision about where you want to be. Perhaps longing for over there when one is here is a perennial state for many of us!

    1. It is magical Lucy, a lovely place. My dream would be to be able to have a house there and a small one here and to split my time equally between Brittany and Britain. Perhaps writing, that would be perfect!

      How lovely to raise one's children there! And such a wonderful childhood. Your friend must tell enthralling stories. And yes, living in another land brings its own challenges, doesn't it? I feel torn now between France and England, Brittany and Oxfordshire.

      No, we didn't make it that far, perhaps in May The Ragazza and I will visit again and spend another lovely day on the islands.
      That's if this interminable winter ever leaves us!

  2. That was a very lovely post, Julia. I also long for something from my past. It must be the longing to once again feel safe that we remember from childhood. Nostalgia is very bittersweet.
    Now I just try to remember this quote, "Examine all things. Hold on to what is good." I think that might have come from the Bible, I don't remember.

    1. Hello Caterina, thank you. Yes, to feel safe and to have the burden of being responsible for oneself and others lifted, at least for a little while. Alas, even as a child I felt responsible for others but still...

      Yes, Thessalonians 5:21
      "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good"
      I'm a traditionalist, my bible is the King James version

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  4. Hello Anonymous. I just found this comment in the spam folder...
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