"Qui voit Molene boit sa peine
Qui voit Ouessant boit son sang"
“He who sees Molene, drinks his pain
He who sees Ouessant, drinks his own blood"
Breton sailor's proverb
No holiday in Penn-ar-Bed is complete without a voyage to the Euez Esua (Île Ouessant) with either Compagnie Maritime Penn ar Bed or Finist’Mer Compagnie Maritime from Konk-Leon (Le Conquet), Camaret, Lanildut or Brest. During the crossing it is possible to see the Brest Channel, Pointe de St-Mathieu, Four Channel, the famous Black Stones (Pierres Noires) reef and the Green Stones (Pierres Vertes) reef, the Islands of Beniguet and Molene, and Fromveur Channel. On the way to Euez Esua the boat usually anchors off and sometimes calls at Molene.
This is the largest of the islands in the Molène archipelago, that protects the western tip of Breizh and guards the entrance to the English Channel, 7 kilometres long, 4 kilometres wide and only 60 metres above sea level at its highest point and approximately 18 kilometres from Pointe de St-Mathieu, Pen-ar-Bed. However, the sun does shine here too! The Bay of Lampul is thus bathed in an incomparable sunlight illuminating bright heath flowers and sparkling foam around the rocks. Here, the nature is unspoiled; the landscape is virgin, wild and awe-inspiring. Many species of birds, especially migratory and nesting species, find the island convenient for nesting. It’s a great place for bird lovers.
This string of tiny lush green islands made of white sandy beaches and surrounded by reefs, is a paradise of virgin wilderness. The islands of Balanec, Bannec, Béniguet, Lédénes, Litiry, Quéménès and Trielen used to be inhabited by farmers and seaweed harvesters. These tiny islands now shelter birds and rabbits… The proof, if one needs, that the environment is unspoiled. Molène Island is part of the biosphere reserves of the Iroise Sea (MAB UNESCO).
The waters around these islands has been renowned throughout maritime history as being a dangerous area to navigate due to frequent mists and fogs, ferocious currents (the Fromrust to the northwest and the Fromveur to the southeast) and countless reefs and shelves. Chenal du Four, Raz de Sein and Passage du Fromveur ("large torrent"-Breton) are amongst the most perilous in the world. Waves can reach seven metres during the spring tides and the current can run at more than eight knots. Although it has been known for the tidal race to be in excess of sixteen knots between the islands of Euez Esua and Molene, the fastest in Europe. Any passage through the Fromveur is very difficult for the unwary mariner as it is more than eight kilometres from the lighthouse at La Jument and the one at Kéréon. During the winter, the wind is master hurling the waves against the broken and rocky shores with unparalleled fury for up to ten days on end. When the fog descends the scene is even more sinister with the mournful howl of the foghorns mingling with the roar of the storm.
The names given to the island have varied considerably during the history. Placed on the main maritime routes linking the worlds Boréen and Mediterranean, the island of Ushant has been known since the beginning of time, under two different names, one Uxisama, employed by the Greek geographer Strabon, other Anxantos, used by the Latin naturalist Pline the Old one. These two names precede, on the one hand, Breton; Eussa, on the other hand French; Exsent, Usent, Uxent, in 13th century, Ayssant, Aissent, Oixant in 16th century. The Welsh call the island Ushant. The extremely complex etymology of Ushant makes one’s mind work in mysterious ways, for some, it would be the island of the Gallic god Heuz. Given the terrible reputation of this god, Ushant would mean "the island of terror".
As for the island it is extremely curious as there the pastures on the rare patches of earth in this archipelago that are so small, according to a local humour, a Molène cow that has all four feet in one field grazes from another and manures a third.
Nature - Few tourists know the island in this inhospitable guise, for the summer season brings calm and a quieter atmosphere, similar to that of the coasts of Breizh. The climate ismild. In January and February, Euez Esua has the highest mean temperature in France. The colonies of sea birds that nest on the island's cliff and on the neighbouring islets are particularly numerous in the autumn when the migrants from northern Europe fly in, attracted by the beams of the two lighthouses.
The island has been a part of the Parc Naturel Régional d'Armorique since 1969 and this helps maintain its traditional character.
The men and their work- The majority of the island's population is made up of women and men who have retired from the Navy or the merchant marine. Their principle occupations are stock raising and food crops.
Vegetables and potatoes grow in beautifully maintained plots. The grain cultivated on larger parcels of land is used as feed for poultry and also as a supplementary fodder crop for the cattle's diet. The livestock (sheep, dairy cows, horses) consists mainly of sheep with brown wool, which graze on meagre tufts of salt grass; the result is meat with a splendid flavour, comparable to the famous pres sales of Mont-St-Michel Bay. They live in the open and take shelter from north-westerly or south-westerly gales behind low dry-stone walls built in a star formation or wood shelters. Though from early February (first Wednesday; a great cattle fair) before lambing to late September they are tethered in twos to a stake; they wander freely the rest of the year. Their owner's mark being nicked on their ears.
A few dairy cows are raised and two riding centres have reintroduced horse breeding. The cultivation of algae and the raising of mussels have developed into very promising enterprises.
The men of Ouessant work on the mainland (Brest region), at sea (the Navy or merchant marine), fishing (coastal or in deeper oceans) or on oil platforms.
Tradition - The important part played by the women of Ouessant in family life was recognised by an old custom whereby it was the girls who proposed marriage.
The traditional dress of the women is severe and not often worn; it is made of black cloth and consists of a short skirt and a small coiffe; hair is combed back and falls on the shoulders.
The character of the people is reflected in the customs that were observed until 1962, for when a member of a family was lost at sea. The friends and relatives would meet at the man's home to pray and watch over a little wax cross that stood for him; the sad vigil would last all night. Next day at the funeral service, this cross would be deposited in a reliquary in the church. Later at some major ceremony it would be put in a mausoleum in the cemetery where the crosses of all the missing were assembled.
These little wax crosses are called Proella crosses. The word means "the homecoming of souls".
Touring Euez Esua
Enez Eusa is steeped in pagan mythology. Including the alleged existance of Morgans - small beings that are thought to live in a palace under the sea close to the island, occasionally venturing out onto land .
Roads from Lampaul lead to the best sites but there are many paths and tracks enable you to criss-cross
the island, to reach the fine cliffs, the pretty little creeks and to discover the flora as well as the marine fauna: herring gulls, cormorants, oyster catchers, puffins, terns. etc.
Lampaul - This is the island's capital, a tiny, west-facing port that is very picturesque. Note the old houses kept in excellent repair; the shutters are painted in green or blue, the island's traditional colours. A small monument containing the Proella crosses stands in the cemetery. Nearby is the sandy beach of Le Carl that extends south.
La Côte Sauvage - Leave Lampaul west by an uphill road: after 500m - bear right.
Ecomusee de l’île d'Ouessant - At the hamlet of Niou Uhlella, two traditional houses have been restored and refurbished by the Parc Naturel Régional d' Armorique. You will see in one of them furniture typical of the island built of wood from wrecked vessels, painted in blue, symbol of the Virgin's protection, and in the second a display of farm and domestic implements and costumes, etc, which depicts aspects of life on Ouessant; an exhibit on the island's geology and population is upstairs.
Carry on towards the coast:
Moulin de Karaes - This is the island's last mill (restored) with its round stone base. It was used to mill barley from which bread was still made at the beginning of 20th century.
Phare de Créac'h - This lighthouse, with that at Land's End, marks the entrance to the English Channel; it has two tiers of revolving beams. The light is cast by four lamps giving a total of 20 million candlepower and an average range of more than 60km - 37 miles.
In the old machine room, there is a small Centre d'Interpretation des Phares et Bailises- (Lighthouse Museum) retracing their history from Antiquity to the present. It shows how the original lighthouse was a tower, with, at its summit, a light fuelled by burning coal, wood or oil. The exhibit includes turbines, lens, lamps, and beams and recounts the 1ife of the lighthouse keeper. An audiovisual show completes the tour.
Go round the lighthouse to the right to view the coast. Its extraordinarily jagged rocks (rochers) pounded by the sea are very impressive. A gangway in front of the lighthouse gives access to Pointe du Créac’h where the foghorn stands. Cargo boats and oil tankers' can be seen on the horizon; some 300 ships pass daily in the area, which is patrolled day and night by the French Navy.
Turn back and bear right towards Pointe de Perno
Chapelle N-D-de-Bon-Voyage - Also known as the Chapelle St-Gildas after the English saint who came here in the 5C, it was built at the end of the 19C. The people' of Ouessant come to the chapel every year for the island's pardon on the first or second Sunday in September.