Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Massif Armoricain
Neither traits nor plague here!


"Bre tagne", its former name "My tagne".
"My tagne of Arrée", "My black tagnes",
The oldest in European continent worn by the ocean wind that lives within us.
We tried our best to alleviate the winds on the thatched cottages of France
The plague, we knew it, but eradicated it by erecting our wayside crosses with faith.
As for the traits,try to find some in Brittany!
Come, come all,
We have created a new word: "Tourism".
Neither traits, or plague here, but certainly elves and goblins plus some pigs.
Normal, we are Bretons.

(Some talk about nitrates and pesticides, but do not know anything about reality. It’s just a question of vocabulary. The Monts d'Arrée and the Montagnes Noires are in Finistère.)

Ar Menezioù Du (Montagnes Noires – The Black Mountains), the spine of Brittany, long and impenetrable, whose name is abounding with dark mysteries…….. Time has trod a tortuous path, the secret history of the black mountains.

 

It speaks of megaliths, Roman roads, kings, princes and revolutions, giving credence to the stories, which are small, yet have been made great. Our native people, the residents, serfs, peasants, community leaders, shopkeepers; The foreign travellers impressed by the hunts for the Spézet wolves, the highwaymen and bandits in Laz Forest and the Breton rebels based in Leuhan. And by tales and legends that echo so powerfully that it is difficult to distinguish myth and reality today.

The storytellers of Brittany will tell you that that when Christ was born, God asked the trees of the Monts d’Arrée to go to Bethlehem to greet him. All except the humble pine, gorse and heather steadfastly refused to cross the sea, and were shrivelled to the ground by heaven’s wrath. This small story is a useful introduction to the area: it explains the general barrenness of the inland countryside; it reminds people of the sea’s dominant influence; and it shows the curious mix of Christianity and folk tradition that is everywhere present in Breton culture.

You are now in the heartland of a patriotic people, the Bretons, who guard their language with great fervour; and where the landscape, both natural and man-made, is always changing and always pleasing: An area that you will take to the crests of the old Massif Armoricain (200 million years old), with its rocky spurs and outcrops.

The Monts D’Arrée, the Montagnes Noires form what we Bretons call the spine of the peninsula. These two small mountain ranges, mainly of hard sandstone and quartzite, are not that similar. The Montagnes Noires are lower (326 metres – 1,043ft as against 384 metres – 1,229ft): their crest is narrower: their slopes are less steep and the heathland less extensive. The chain's name (noire means black) suggests that it was once covered with forest. As in all inland Brittany, the forests were cut down and the land laid bare, ... so that ships could be built for the and to produce charcoal for supplying the forges at Paimpont, Quénécan and Châteaubriant. It will gladden your heart to know that a programme of reforestation was begun at the end of the last century and in due course the fir tress will again adorn the Montagnes Noires. So justifying the name of Black Mountains…. Many regard these ranges as nothing more than escarpments, we Bretons look upon them as mountains, bleak and imposing in a harsh, exposed landscape.

This area offers many viewpoints, the most amazing of all being at the top of Roc’h Toull–al-Laeron [Roc de Toullaëron] (aka Le Rocher des Voleurs - Boulder of the Thieves), a stark slate summit at the western end of the range, where the legendary Breton heroine and highwaywoman Marion du Faouët who was born Marie-Louise Tromel in 1735 in the little village of Faouët is said to have ambushed and robbed priests and merchants on their journey from Gourin to Châteauneuf-du-Faou. At the age of 38, she was hung in Place de Saint-Corentin, Quimper on the 2nd August, 1755.

From Gourin take the road to Spézet (RD301N), this leads you towards the crest of the Montagnes Noires. After 5 kilometres you will come to this road-sign (pictured left): Now it’s time for you to get some exercise as you have to leave your car in one of the lay-bys and walk the rest of the way. This gentle stroll takes you along a stony lane lined with oak trees, at the top of the lane, climb the rocks!!!

From the top, which is the highest point in the Montagnes Noires (326m - 1 043ft), amazing landscapes may be enjoyed in clear weather: to the west is the densely wooded Vallée du Châteaulin and the Menez-Hom hills: to the north, the Monts d’Arrée: to the south, in the distance, the Breton plateau slopes gently down to the Atlantic.

Having visited the highest point in the range, it’s time to go off and find another “mountain” to climb. This time, Roc'h An Ankou (The Rock of Death), hidden in a small pine forest. Again you have to do some walking, around 800 metres, then there is the climb. Not very far but it can be rather difficult, so take your time. The views at the top are worth the effort, very impressive.

After all that exercise, you must be hungry or maybe in need of a bed for the night, so the short drive to Spézet (Breton: Speied) will only take you about 15 minutes. This small town on the banks of the Nantes-Brest Canal has wonderful small hotel, Les Bruyeres, with an excellent restaurant that serves local produce in the traditional style. Fabrice Alan is sure to make you very welcome.

No visit to this area is complete without a visit to Ménez-Hom (Ménez Komm in Breton), at the western end of the mountain range, a veritable mountain in Breton terms, one of the sacred mountains of Armorique: There are two peaks 800 metres apart, the small or Yelc'h Menez and the main summit, called the Yed. On the little Menez is a circle of stone, thought to be a remnant of a Gallo-Roman construction. From the Viewing table on the main summit, in clear weather, the vistas are breath-taking: Douarnenez Bay; bounded on the left by the Cornouaille coast as far as the Pointe du Van, and on the right by the coast of the Presqu’lle de Crozon as far as Cap de Chèvre. To the right the view extends to the Pointe de St-Mathieu, Tas de Pois Rocks. the Pointe de Penhir, Brest and its roadstead, in front of which you will see the Île Longue on the left, Île Ronde and the Pointe de l’Armorique on the right, with the estuary common to the Rivers Faou and Aulne, which nonetheless separate as they flow inland, whilst the Vallée de l’Aulne follows a fine, winding course, spanned by the suspension bridge at Térénez. In the distance are the Monts d’Arrée, the montagne St-Michel crowned by its little chapel, the Chãteaulin Basin, the Montagnes Noires, Locronan, Douarnenez and Tréboul.

Make sure you go as far as Geographical Institute (lnstitut geographique) mark to get a view of the horizon from all sides. You will then see, in the Doufine Valley, the village of Pont-de-Buis.

Moving inland again, through the Parc Naturel Régional d'Armorique, and having passed through Brasparts, you have found the ones you having been looking for, the big ones, Are Menez - Monts D’Arrée:

Firstly there is Mikeal Menez [Montagne Saint-Michel] (380 metres), overlooking the reservoir of the same name. A fascinating “mountain” with an unusual chapel at its summit, protecting the souls that are wandering the marshlands below; Even though the marsh is partially hidden beneath Brennilis lake, built to serve the needs of the, now decommissioned, Brennillis Neclear Power Station, we were brought up to believe that it holds one of the gates to Hell (Yeun Elez), a place frequented by the devil. The centuries have done nothing to change this strange area and the peat bogs of Yeun Elez are still shrouded in mystery, especially in times of fog when the place becomes magical and even distressing. Many still believe in the possibility that it still has the unhappy reputation of being the river of the damned. Remembering our childhood we can only liken this place to something we called “Youdic”, a bowl of boiled cereals we were given for breakfast, everything sank in it, gives you very good idea of how dangerous this place is, so be careful where you walk!!! However the views from the summit are truly magnificent, original and often breathtaking: mountains sculpted by erosion, rocky peaks, infinite moors, deep forests... Few places in Brittany profit from so varied landscapes!!

Why do we refer to this place as “the Gates of Hell”? Maybe, because of the really nasty climate: In winter it’s cold, windy and rainy, and it’s very common for the peaks to be snow-covered. In summer, the area quickly becomes a red hot furnace... In short, not a very welcoming area! On the other hand the marsh may well not be hell, as it is a paradise for numerous birds (ducks, martins-fishermen, ashy curlew...) and...The castors! Indeed, 10 beavers that established a home here in 1969 on the banks of Elez have proliferated!!

Continuing north, about 7 kilometres, you come to Roch Trévezel, a rocky escarpment jutting into the sky, a remarkable spot in an unbelievably mountainous setting. the walk to the summit is comparatively easy, cross a small heath and head for the distant rocky point. From there you will see some of the most spectacular views of the region; the Kreisker spire at St-Pol-de-Léon and Lannion Bay to the east

 

A few hundred metres further on is Roc Trédudon, the site of an enormous television transmitter mast. It is also the site of an infamous bombing by the Breton Liberation Army in 1974, a group that have given Breton Nationalists a bad name over the years. There are also unsubstantiated stories of a UFO sighting on the road, close to the transmitter. A number of motorists were brought to a standstill by a circular object, brilliant white with opaque red windows hovering over the roadside marsh. As yet nobody has been able to explain this sighting.

 

Leave Roc Trédudon and take the first turning on the right (RD764), This will take you to Huelgoat and its magical forest, a Mecca for Celtic legends. Situated beside a lake, a canal and close to the southern slopes of the Monts d'Arrée mountain range, the town’s name is derived from two Breton words:

• "huel"= haut (Fr), high (Eng)
• "koat"= bois, forêt (Fr), wood, forest (Eng)

Thus it signifies: "La haute forêt" or "Le bois haut" in French and “The high forest” or “The High wood“ in English.

The originality of this forest comes from the sprinkling of many boulders, large and small. Throughout our walks, we were enchanted by the poetic names of the different sites: Le Chaos du Moulin – very picturesque, La Grotte du Diable – climb down an iron ladder to see a brook babbling under the rocks – but be very careful, Le Ménage de la Vierge – this enormous pile of rocks appears to be a collection of kitchen utensils if you look carefully, La Mare aux fees – apparently the fairies came here to comb their hair whilst looking at their reflections in the pond, La Rivière d'Argent – very mysterious... The forest, although severely damaged by the hurricane of October 1987, when 3,1 square kilometres of trees were levelled or damaged, it still has an unrequited charm. This is tortured landscape extending over 1,000 hectares, the ground seems to oscillate, for ever rising and failing, occasionally in to deep valleys. As for the rocks, amazing, some precariously balancing on a knife edge; Then there is Roche Tremblante, little me, a 47 kilo woman, can make this gigantic 137-tonne block of quartzite rock on its base by leaning against it, because I found the exact place to lean!! Jean-Michel was expecting to see it topple over; alas it was not to be. The Huelgoat Forest is one of the most beautiful in Brittany, so don’t forget your camera…..

If you feel you would like to stay the night, head for “O’Brien’s”, a small guesthouse in Rue de Berrian overlooking the lake and the ‘Moulin du Chaos’. Get there early or book in advance as it is very popular, Rachael and David will make you very welcome, even arranging your reservations at a local restaurant for dinner.

Photographs above: Left, The Lake . Right, Watermill of Chaos (now tourist office) with bilingual sign and rocks of Chaos behind,

The importance of Huelgoat was no doubt because of the military. As early as Roman times it was a position, par excellence, from a strategic point of view. Thus the Gallo-Roman camp "Camp of Artus" used after the Roman conquest by the legions of Caesar as lookout point to keep watch on the ferocious Armorican hoards that inhabited the area.

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