We’d originally blasted our way down the French coast in a rush to get to a traditional festival in our friend’s town in Valencia. In that rush to Alcoy, we skipped visiting the Brittany peninsular, jumping from the incredible Mont St. Michel and Saint Malo down to the mechanised wonderland in Nantes.
Now that we are (more or less) free of these time constraints, we can go and see what Brittany is all about.
This was our first real taste of a real Breton town, and it was so very different to where we’d come from in the Northeast in Alsace. The towns were built using a nearly uniform granite. There was none of the flamboyance, with houses built like the kind of houses that children draw – a rectangular box, with rectangular windows, and a trapezoidal roof keeping everyone warm and dry.
Looking over the city was the unmissable Joselin Castle. It was built of stern stuff, and it appeared to melt into the small cliffs below. It’s not the kind of building that inspires fairy tales, but it’s certainly something that grabs your attention. It too was closed for the season, but we were able to walk around and see most of it from the outside for free anyway.
The old town was quite different to what we’d seen elsewhere. I’m sure it sounds obvious, but the old town was much older than the rest of the town. There were some amazing half wooden houses, with their intricate exposed timber framing. I’d always assumed it was a Tudor style – and that it was uniquely English. What I mean is, I’d always assumed that, until this trip, because I’ve now seen this style all over Europe.
It was a pretty little town, which was currently deserted, possibly because it was a random weekday, more likely that it was now the end of Autumn.
There was a big gothic church in town, however there was a funeral taking place, so we didn’t enter.
From Joselin, we headed directly towards the south coast. Just before the ocean, we arrived at these mysterious fields, filled with giant rocks in a vague form of alignment.
We started seeing them while driving, but it wasn’t until we stopped and visited properly did we realise just how large some of these were! The largest would have been at least as large as a regular car – though most were only the range of a sheep/cow. There even appeared to be what looked like a small dwelling, with rocks for a roof, and more rocks for walls.
I’m always amazed that these primitive Neolithic cultures (5000-3500BC) were able to man-handle such large objects. I had a feeling that I had read that the stone was not local, and had been brought from some distance away. I know it’s hardly the Pyramids of Giza, but still, these are big rocks.
There is a path that takes you through all the many megalith sites, which we would have enjoyed to walk, except it was nearly time for the sun to set. Sunset: our current arch-nemesis.
We drove and stopped at a few different ones, though the first site was clearly the largest. There was easily hundreds, and there could have possibly been many times more here.
I had wanted to spend the sunset by the ocean, since it will be one of our last. By the time we made it to the ocean on the small peninsular to Quiberon, it was well and truly dark. We did however get to spend the evening listening to the sound of waves crashing against the pebbled shores.
We’re in a funny space with the time zone right now. We were west of Greenwich, but an hour ahead. Because of this, the sun didn’t rise until 8:30 this morning, which meant that I was truly awake well before the first rays finally started glowing on the van. Feeling nostalgic (and curious), I took the camera for a quick walk down to the shore to see what was here. And, what was here was a nice, wild, windswept coast, with several small rocky islands. It was beautiful.
After breakfast, we continued driving westward, getting deeper and deeper into Brittany. This tiny town was described as a bit of an artist’s colony, and we certainly saw our fair share of art studios before we’d even parked.
We had a quick walk in town, but there wasn’t a lot that took our initial interest. There were plenty of arty shops, be it paintings, or something more tactile. But, living out of a suitcase in a mobile home, art is not one of the things that I have much need to purchase.
We followed the small river downstream for a while, amazed at the boats stranded high above the muddy floor of the river. This area must be affected by the same gigantic tides that hit Mont St. Michel.
We were ready to make a move to our next town, but Risa was interested in having a Breton lunch, so we did some research and found a nice little restaurant, Les Ajoncs d’Or. It looked quiet from the outside, but when we pushed through the doors and made our way to the dining room, it was nearly at capacity – with people that looked like retirees. Risa has wanted Coquilles st. Jacques (scallops), and I had wanted mussels and fries. Thankfully, they had both. Even better, they were both amazing. My mussels were perfectly cooked, and still large and juicy. The soup was intense, rich in garlic, butter, sour cream and onion. I could almost be content with a shot glass of this – but why hold back, I had a whole bucket!
Risa also had an incredible grilled squid dish, which again was cooked to perfection – the squid nearly melted in your mouth. And, since it was likely to be our last meal at a restaurant in France (and for this journey), we found space for dessert. The desserts were fantastic, but I’m not sold on French coffee.
Each time we have a ‘last whatever of the trip’, I have another soft wave of sadness break upon me.
I don’t have words for this town. I think it’s the epitome of what I was expecting to find in a small Breton village. It was by no means hidden, but once we’d parked Gunter and started walking along the cobbled lanes, made from stone indistinguishable from the buildings themselves, I felt like we’d fallen through a door hidden inside the rear of a cupboard in a child’s bedroom.
OK, time hadn’t exactly stopped still in this town, as there was all the regular signs of modern tourism, however, the core of the town itself felt unchanged. The buildings felt like they’d been sitting here time in memoriam, just like the rocks that they were built out of.
Just as the timber framed buildings in Joselin yesterday reminded me of the Tudor-style houses that we came across in the Cotswolds in England, the stone buildings here also reminded me of the small villages in that very same area. However, unlike the Costwolds, this still felt authentic and not just a tourist attraction.
It was only a small village, and it didn’t take us long to walk the entirety. It was late in the day, and even later in the season. This was both good and bad – good because we saw very few other tourists, bad because most things were shut, like the old church.
The winds that had been gusting all day were continuing to pick up in intensity. The skies were brooding, and my phone was warning of thunderstorms. Once we felt the first drops of rain we instinctively made our way back to the van for shelter. It didn’t take long for those first spots of rain to intensify and before long we were being thrashed by heavy rain from all directions like an automated car wash. We had a big day of driving ahead of us tomorrow, so I tried to travel as far as possible tonight.
I was feeling positive about our decision to camp on top of a barren hill, underneath a tall tree when the lightning started striking all around us. (I lie – we were sheltered next to a metal barn, a little way down from the top of the barren hill). Anyway, we clearly survived to tell the tale.
Now that we were back in France, we resumed a previous comfort food for dinner – galette complete. It’s a thin buckwheat pancake, fried in a frying pan and topped with cheese, ham and an egg. It’s pretty cheap, simple, and truly delicious. I keep meaning to try making my own galettes now that I can no longer buy a six-pack of premade ones from the supermarche.
There were several options for ferries to the UK from Brittany. I had originally thought that I would catch the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth, which is where my uncle resides. I had checked the prices a week or so ago, and they were quite reasonable. However, by the time we were close enough to be able to accurately estimate when we’d arrive, there were no more places for motorhomes on the ferry until the start of December.
I looked at so many options, comparing the savings in the ferries to the costs in fuel/tolls, and the best option at this moment in time was to go via Cherbourg, which was deep in neighbouring Normandy. The ferry left at 6:30PM, so we didn’t have a lot of free time today.
And, to make things worse, the toilet broke this morning. It broke in the worst possible way, and I won’t say any more than that. We were so close to being home, and I really didn’t want to have to deal with this today – especially in the cold. We found a temporary solution, but it meant that the toilet was going to be out of action until I could buy some new parts once we’d returned to UK.
While the day was mostly one of driving, we did take a few moments for a minor detour to Dinan. We parked for free just outside of the giant city walls at the Château de Dinan and made our way towards the centre of the old town.
On the way we passed by a small food market that was busy packing up. Even though we’ve been eating quite a few galettes recently, when I saw them being made fresh, I did my best Fry impersonation, and threw fistfuls of Euros at him to make me some food. I actually grabbed one with cheese and a sausage, and it was exactly as heavenly as it sounds.
The old town was beautiful, and the word higgledy-piggledy couldn’t be more appropriate. The small cobbled lanes that snaked away, with their gorgeous old buildings were beyond captivating. Each building was different to its neighbour, and each was beautiful.
There was also a large gothic church in the middle of town, the Église Saint-Malo. My usual love affair with the gothic style continued, and while it wasn’t as ostentatious as the gothic cathedrals we saw in the Germanic cities, it was still an imposing sight. The interior was dark and free of decoration and adornments, but the recently replaced stained-glass windows were beautifully coloured.
Cherbourg Ferry to Poole
We stayed as long as we could, but now we had to rush to make it to Cherbourg to catch our final ferry. I had toyed with the idea of visiting Mont St. Michel just one more time, but it was going to be impossible. We made good time, and drove without stopping, other than a visit to a French supermarket to stock up on all the treats that we’d not be able to buy in the UK – cider, cheese, saucisson, duck confit, galettes etc.
Getting to the supermarket had proven to be quite a detour, and had taken up more time that we really had to spare. When we finally reached the outskirts of Cherbourg, we ran into long lines of traffic. My heart started to sink and race at the same time. We weren’t far from the port, and we still had time, but I wasn’t quite sure how long this traffic would last. I was making plans in my head, do I try and push my way past all the traffic, and bear the ire of angry Frenchmen being aggressively overtaken by an old British motorhome. Thankfully I didn’t have to leave my comfort-zone, as we broke through the traffic and were making good progress to the port. There was a service area just beside the port, where I could dump the dirty water, and fill up with fresh water, which I knew would be a little more difficult in the UK. It was already after 6PM, and we dared not risk being any later. As it was, we were the final vehicle to board, and their frustration at having to wait until now for us was visible. We had barely parked aboard the ship before it started on its way – for the record, it was still before 6:30PM when it set sail.
The waves of emotion that had been rippling recently were now building like a tsunami. This was it. We’d be in England in a few hours, and back in London tomorrow night. The trip is over. The life that we’d been living for the last two hundred and thirty six days was over. Reality would be waiting for us all too soon – though, neither of us actually knew what that reality would be, and that was the scariest part.
We finally docked in Poole, and I did my best attempt to remember to drive on the correct side of the road. I said the mantra, “In the UK, one drives on the left” over and over before starting the car. Thankfully, to date, I have been able to avoid incident.
And that was it. We drove back to London via a service area in Portsmouth, via adopted family in Guildford, via friends in Croydon, finally arriving in Hackney around 10PM. The unpacking, cleaning, relaxing, memory digesting and soul searching began now. But first, a day or two of well deserved rest.