The coast of South Finistère (6/6)

Next onto the Pointe du Raz, the western-most tip of Cap Sizun, and the westermost promontory of France.

Imagine Brittany as the head of a monster, facing left. A little reminiscent of the depiction of Hell on the calvaries. Jesus visiting Hell meets Adam and Eve, almost swallowed whole by an enormous, open-mouthed monster, the “Engoulant” (“the gobbler”). Cap Sizun is the lower jaw of Brittany, Pointe du Raz is the bottom lip. Further north come the three-ended tongue of the Crozon peninsula (presqu’île de Crozon), then the crucial harbour of Brest, the Pointe Saint-Mathieu, and the abers of northern Finistère, the nose of the monster.

Pointe du Raz feels like the end of the human world. 70 metres high, it points, across tumultuous waters, to the tiny sliver of île-de-Sein, eight kilometres away, and a few, precarious-looking islets of granite, just big enough to carry lighthouses. Beyond, nothing but the Atlantic Ocean.

Notre-Dame-des-Naufragés, Pointe du Raz, 26th March 2021

The human toll the sea has taken here is everywhere. On the Pointe du Raz itself, a baroque statue of Notre-Dame-des-Naufragés, Our Lady of the Shipwrecked, holding out the baby Jesus to a kneeling supplicant. Not usually my kind of art, but here, it is truly moving. Marble and granite plaques, the kind you find in cemeteries and churches, give thanks to Mary for past salvations.

Just behind the Pointe du Raz is the magnificent Baie des Trépassés, the Bay of the Dead. You can imagine how it has got its name. Romantic writers added to the drama by claiming the sand here is “white with the bones of the deceased”. It is actually a pebbled beach, and I count on the piety of the locals to give a decent burial to any unfortunate whose body had been given back by the sea here.

The whole bay is white with surf. Indeed, nowadays the Baie des Trépassés hosts a popular surfing school, and two rather conspicuous hotels. The bored souvenir shop-keeper tells me locals regularly swim here, even a curé (“a vicar”), who used to bathed at every time of year. Rumour has it he was warmed up from the inside, and that his drinking got so bad he was eventually fired by the Church! I am not sure I believe that.

Baie des Trépassés, 27th March 2021

Further east, pointe de Castelmeur is one of the tiny teeth of the Brittany monster. As the name indicates, it used to be a Celtic fort, then a Gallo-Roman oppidum. High above the waves, it is easy to see how the pointe could have been defended from all sides. To the untrained eye, and from afar, the granite boulders don’t look any different from their wild counterparts. If you want to examine them more closely, you have follow an uncomfortably narrow path in between the encroaching gorse and hawthorn. Red-billed choughs (Craves à bec rouge), peregrine falcons, buzzards, seagulls patrol the cliffs. On a sunny morning, the sea spray and mist rise above the cliffs to reach gorse, and then first houses. Shetland ponies have replaced the old breton breed of horses, the kind to pull boats, ploughs and carts of fish and grain, whilst being fed on grounded gorse.

Here I reach the end of the beautiful coast of South Finistère.

Published by languagesandlights

Solitary vagabond, philosopher, writer, poet, teacher

4 thoughts on “The coast of South Finistère (6/6)

  1. Wonderful descriptions and I do like the image of the monster!
    On a sunny September day in 2014, we walked from Pointe de Vann to Pointe de Raz (and back) and I remember the tidal race between ND des Naufragés and the Ile de Sein and the bay with its caves under the cliffs and wonderful views was terrific. Thank you for bringing it all back to me.
    Looking forward to whatever comes next.

    Liked by 1 person

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