On the southern bank of the aber Ildut, people have widened and deepened the river valley. The local granite, the renown “Laber”, is beautiful, with its pink feldspar crystals up to five centimetres long. It resists well to erosion, and is, apparently, easy to carve. It is also (relatively) easy to transport from here, as the tide connects it gently to the open sea, twice a day.
Later on I have found tales of Gargantua, in the Monts d’Arrées credited for the chaos of granite boulder along the valley of the rivière d’Argent common in the rest of France and in Britain, don’t seem to have impressed the people living near aber Ildut. Since the Neolithic Era, and up until the twentieth century, people have carved and moved giant stones here.
They have built dolmens (ancient stone tumbs) and menhirs (standing stones) – Breton has given the two words to the French language. In Kerloas, inland, the tall menhir le Bossu, “the Hunchback”, is still impressive. But at Porspoder, just north along the coast from aber Ildut, you stop counting the monuments.
The Kernoglou quarry’s most famous calf sits in the centre of Paris. Indeed in 1833, when the vice-king of Egypt Mehemet Ali gave France one of the obelisks of the Luxor temple, he did not provide the pedestal. Talk of a poisoned chalice.
Stone workers at the Kernoglou, extracted 200 tonnes of granite, including one 100-tonne block. When the three-masted, five-keeled ship “Luxor” arrived, the ship-builders of the area dismantled her front end for the loading operation, which took a month. When the “Luxor” returned to sea, the steamer “Sphynx” towed it along the coasts of Brittany, then of Normandy, up to Le Havre. The Luxor and its granite blocks was then towed and hauled by horses up the Seine to the capital.
Next time you are on the vast Place de la Concorde, admire the view: the golden-tipped obelisk, the Champs-Elysées, the Hotel de la Marine, the Tuileries gardens, the Louvre, the Palais Bourbon across the Seine, and the Eiffel tower further down the river. Shiver at the tales of Revolutionary decapitations. Catch a glimpse of celebrities getting in and out of cars, perhaps. Watch for traffic. Watch people. But take the time to look at the sturdy block of stone under the obelisk. It has come all the way from Brittany to play its humble part here.
As the tide rises in the aber, a pair of shell ducks leave their silt bank they have been feeding on. Egrets leave their communal roost and spread themselves along the bank, to catch crabs and fish as they emerge at the first splash of seawater. In the deep channel in the middle, the water bubbles up mysteriously in places. It is wrack, rising to life once more.
As the tide recedes, seagulls congregate to bathe and socialise on a certain bend of the river. The water there must be fresh enough to rinse their feathers. A feral goose has joined them. A green shore crab scurries on the silt just under my feet; I wouldn’t have seen it if it hadn’t moved. Others lie, belly up and empty, in the gulleys between bushes of samphire.
Slowly the influence of the tides lessens, grass takes a timid foothold on the banks, the estuary slowly becomes river. The gorse is replaced by sessile oaks, their leaves in bud. Wrens and chaffinches fill the air with their songs.