Monsters, saints, queens, and shipwrecks

The Coast of Legends is dotted with shoals, rocks, islets, islands, peninsulas. Some islands are accessible on foot at low tide still, if you don’t mind risking wet feet. Rocks seem to rise up to the ocean. Mounds, towers of huge granite boulders won’t budge for waves or sea spray. Some look like petrified monsters, or giants. In others, some see a dog’s head, a toad, or a witch. On beaches, the rocky outcrops, have a sea shadow of smaller boulders, or perhaps the ridge of an old outcrop, covered in wrack.

Some report that the locals of pays pagan, as they called Pays de Léon, would light fires to confuse navigators, cause shipwrecks and live on the pickings. People now consider this tale unlikely to be true, as lights would signify land, and pilots would rather steer away than towards. But by steering away from one rock, the confused victims may have smashed against another… Who knows.

The ageless battle between sea and land have wrecked havoc on buildings. Neolithic covered alleys emerge from the dune at of Corn-ar-Gazel, and beaches, like in anse de Kernick. Storms have claimed medieval churches and chapels, like Iliz-Koz, in the 18th century.

In the dunes of Keremma, people have used a spring since the Palaeolithic. There, Saint Guévroc built his hermitage, in the early years of Christianity. A medieval chapel was then built, low, its back to the wind. It was engulfed in sand storms in the 17th and 18th century. Then the chapel was dug out, consolidated and re-roofed, in 19th century. It had been beautifully – some would say miraculously- preserved under the sand. Its early Christian carving of the Crucifixion is poignant.

In the nearby anse de Goulven, people had built a dam, and were gaining lands on the sea. “L’impossible n’est pas francais”, had said Napoleon. This was the age to stretch your imagination. And technology could conquer the landscape. Louis Rousseau, in 1822, wrote to his friend Marc Seguin : “J’espère obtenir bientôt la concession d’un terrain ravagé par la mer et les sables et, au moyen de travaux d’art, parvenir à le conquérir à la culture. C’est cet hiver que je compte en prendre possession“. “I hope to soon obtain soon the sale of a piece of land ravaged by the sea and the sands and, by means of works of art, manage to conquer it for (agri)culture.” This is when people started to intervene in the great battle between land and sea. See what he has done here.

The Coast of Legends has had historical episodes that challenge the imagination. In 1510, the five-year-old queen of Scotland landed in Roscoff. She was on her way to meet her fiancé, the future king of France François II. After a stormy crossing, the poor child and the four Marys must have been so relieved to feel under their feet solid ground “le plancher des vaches“, literally “floor of the cows”!). Several houses in Roscoff claim to have hosted the queen, and several religious objects are attributed to her generosity. It turns out they all seem to be made or built at later dates. Obviously, on this coast, history has been weaved into myth.

In 1644, the ship carrying the Queen of England ran aground at the tiny harbour of Melon. She was Henriette Marie of France, aunt of Louis XIV, and wife of the beleaguered Charles I of England. She was fleeing from the English Revolution, and would never see her husband again. Now that’s another unlikely story, but true.

For shipping, this coast is less dangerous since the 19th century network of lighthouses. In Plouguerneau, the lighthouse on Ile Vierge, finished in 1902, is the tallest in the world. But still, in 1978, the shipwreck of the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz, and the marée noire (“black tide”) that followed traumatised a whole generation. Two hundred thousand tons of oil killed thousands of birds and other wildlife. Now that’s a true story.

Thankfully there are no signs left of the Amoco-Cadiz’s marée noire (“black tide”) on the Plage des trois moutons, “beach of the three sheep”…

Published by languagesandlights

Solitary vagabond, philosopher, writer, poet, teacher

2 thoughts on “Monsters, saints, queens, and shipwrecks

  1. Making a start on my catch up having been away myself. Sure there are parallels between Brittany and Pembrokeshire.
    Enjoyed tales of wrack and huitrières pies – never thought of oyster catcher pie! 😉
    Enjoyed the Aber Ildut, the granite links to Paris and the coast of legends to L’Ile Vierge and Amoco Cadiz which I’d forgotten happened there.
    4 more to read later, now it’s back to taming the garden!


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