The coast of pink granite is truly a lovely landscape. Big pink granite, rounded off by the elements, line the coast of Trebeurdun, Trégastel and Perros-Guirrec. They look like voluptuous hippos, hauled up on the beach, sun-burnt, sleepy.
Saint Mamert, Pancrace and Boniface are called the “Saints de Glace” “Icy Saints”, as between the 11th and the 13th May, there is traditionally a period of bad weather. Gardeners and farmers fear the last frost of the year. It is good practice to wait until after the Saints de Glace to put out seedlings. Frost is rare in Brittany, but this week, the weather reminds me of the inside of a washing machine, with water, wind and sunshine in equal measure. Finally the saying comes true: “En Bretagne, si tu n’aimes pas le temps, attends cinq minutes” “In Brittany, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
In the gardens, arums, wisterias and rhododendrons. As I go inland between Trégastel and Perros Guirrec, I go up the valley of Traouïero. Here the pink of the granite boulders meet the vibrant green of oak, chestnut, ash, hazel trees, alders, bracken and ferns. Navelworts (I much prefer the French name, nombril de Vénus) take a foothold over the rocks.
The white and yellow flowers of early spring have been joined the pinks, blues, violets of foxgloves (les digitales), bluebells (les jacinthes), the delicate white Stellaria palustris (les stellaires). You can almost hear the sap going up each plant, and the buds cracking open. After the showers, the ground is covered in bits of leaves and caterpillars. The leaves drip then glow in the sunlight. Never has the triskel of water, air and land been so vivid.
There are creatures everywhere, midges, bumblebees, butterflies, shrews, voles and polecats. Blackbirds, robins and song-thrushes come to the ground and hop around with their beaks full of wriggly worms and caterpillars. Early risers, and dusk singers, they fill the woods with their songs. Warblers, finches and tits join them during the day, at least when it is dry.
In the fields nearby, hares chase each other; yellowhammers eagerly come to the ground to feed in between the gorse, yellow as ever, but now but with the heady smell of coconut on warm afternoons. A female blackbird, looking rather ragged, grabs a quick snack before returning to her nest. All around, all the time, creatures are busy finding mates, protecting their patch, building nests, laying eggs, giving birth, feeding their young. Recreating life.
In the valley, the big granite boulders have given shelter to generations of humans. There were prehistoric sites where hunter gatherers sheltered from the elements. The Grotte des Contrebandiers (“Smugglers Cave”) used to hide goods and horses. Apparently, during World War II, some horses requisitioned by the Germans spent quite a while there, too. A leper took refuge underneath another block in the 19th century.
Somewhere along the path, a (relatively) small boulder shelters a charming village of Korrigans, made with pine cones, scallop shells (coquilles Saint-Jacques), plant pots, gnomes and figurines of frogs, snails, mushrooms. It is a proper village, with (nomal-sized) postbox, a school, and a town hall. Watching from a distance, a solitary figure. The Big Man.
This is the long weekend of Ascension. Ascension, a bank holiday, is on a Thursday, so people tend to book the Friday off and make a long weekend out of it. With the end of the third lockdown (“le confinement”), the Ascension weekend this year sees the liberation of a whole nation. Hordes of “Parisians” arrive. Finally, facemasks come down, and people have some new places to explore, trees to climb, strangers to talk to. Never I have seen people been more attentive, sociable, helpful, talkative.
An enormous chestnut tree is so inviting that I can’t resist, give it a long hug (solitude does that to you…) and climb up it. From its branch I overlook the path that goes along the valley. Each group of walkers has a different reaction: they call me Mélusine the fairy, a Korrigan, a witch. I remind myself of a squirrel, the Cheshire cat, or the “baron perché” of Italo Calvino. I help kids up the lower branches. I am high on Life and I don’t want to come down.