Thursday 21st September 2017, Plymouth

We left Exeter in good time to arrive in Plymouth before sunset to catch the 8.45 ferry and were able to enjoy a walk around East Stonehouse and the Royal Victualling Yard, watching the ferry arrive from Roscoff while chatting to a man in a mobility scooter who was a long-time Plymothian. As the ferry passed behind Drake's Island he told us of the folly of plans to redevelop the island into a luxury spa as it had no water or power supplies and shipping channels made the laying of pipelines and cables difficult.

Friday 22nd September 2017, Tréboul.
Our alarm clock failed to wake us early, so we arrived to find breakfast a pandemonium of spilt coffee ont the floor, long queues and no time for a final English breakfast. So we stocked up on rolls and butter, croissants and pain au chocolat which we crammed into sea-sick bags. The unloading bay then refused to open, so it was about 7.15 before we emerged into the bright dawn that bathed the little town of Roscoff. We were anxious to get down to the southwest point of the peninsula, the area of Cornouaille, so our first stop was in Sizun to admire one of the many wonderful parish closes. This one greeted us with an impressive Renaissance monumental arch, beside which was an ossuary built in the 1580s with a row of statues of the twelve apostles along its façade and a little museum inside which had a special display of women's coiffes, the lace headdresses which vary from village to village.

Enclos, monumental arch, Sizun, Brittany.

Enclos, ossuary. Sizun, Brittany.

Enclos, monumental arch Sizun, Brittany.

Enclos, ossuary, carving. Sizun, Brittany.

There is a chapel dedicated to Saint Iltud in the town and we realised that on our recent trip to Wales we had nearly camped at Llantwit Major near Swansea which is also named after Saint Iltud. It has a magnificent 9th century cross and a copy of this, on display in the museum, is regularly carried in the pardon procession for the saint each year – one of so many examples of the links between Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.

Saint Iltud cross. Sizun, Brittany.

The interior of the church was full of the elaborate furnishings that typify the local pride of  the Breton communities and we were delighted to see a corbel depicting an architect holding the tools of his trade and a bundle of plans. The enclos also had several interesting sculptures, often naive in style.
Corbel depicting architect. Sizun, Brittany.

Enclos with church. Sizun, Brittany.

Pieta. Sizun, Brittany.

Statue of a bishop. Sizun, Brittany.

A little further on, where the Faou river reaches the sea we stopped at Le Faou, its church with a typical openwork Breton steeple reflected in the waters beside the bridge which was adorned with flowers. It contains a remarkable 16th century font, full of symbolism and naming the four rivers which flowed from the Garden of Eden.

Church seen from across estuary. Le Faou, Brittany.

Font. Le Faou, Brittany.

The main street of the town was well maintained with many slate-hung houses.

Main street, houses. Le Faou, Brittany.

After these two gems our return visit to Douarnenez was rather a disappointment. Last time we followed the sardine trail around what claimed to be the sardine capital of the world, or used to be until the sardines inconsiderately swam away at the start of the 20th century. This time we got lost in the new port area and rediscovered little of this. But it was getting late anyway so we made our way through the confusing commercial area in the suburb of Tréboul where we picked up supplies from the local Leclerc supermarket and found this campsite where, to overcome our disappointment with Douarnenez we had a sardine supper - although we had brought the sardines with us from Lidl where they were much cheaper.

Saturday 23rd September, Plozévet.
The wonderful weather continued today and we took the opportunity of visiting some of the headlands on Cap Sizun to the west of Douarnenez.

Kastel Koz, Pointe de Beuzec. Beuzec-Cap-Sizun, Brittany.

Kastel Koz, view westward. Beuzec-Cap-Sizun, Brittany.

Jill at Kastel Koz. Beuzec-Cap-Sizun, Brittany.

Cap-Sizun ends with the two prongs of the Pointe du Van and the Pointe du Raz. We contented ourselves with the former of these as we could see the Pointe du Raz with its prominent semaphore station quite clearly from the Pointe du Van.

Chapelle Saint They. Pointe du Van, Brittany.

Chapelle Saint They. Pointe du VanFrance. Brittany.

Fontaine Saint Michel. Pointe du Van, Brittany.

We followed the switchback coast road beside the ominously-named Baie des Trépassés past the Pointe du Raz and on to the little fishing port of Audierne. It has a pretty setting at the foot of a steep hill with some interesting old granite houses in the town centre, but time was pressing so we continued along the coast to the village of Plozévet and the campsite on the corniche where the proprietors were busily closing down at the end of the season and provided us with the spectacle of pollarding a tree with a chainsaw as we sipped our wine and waited for the blanquette de veau to heat up.

Sunday 24 September 2017, Loctudy.
Last evening it started to rain and continued for most of the night. By the morning it had become a mizzle condensing from a thick mist. Eventually we bit the bullet, disconnected Modestine from the electricity, folded up a sopping wet screen cover and set off in the mist to search for a favourite holiday haunt of some friends.

Manoir de Hilguy. Plougastel-Saint-Germain, Brittany.

Manoir de Hilguy. Plougastel-Saint-Germain, Brittany.

We arrived in Pont l'Abbé in the rain and sought out a lively PMU for shelter and lunch – croque-monsieur with a coffee – while soaking up the atmosphere of the regular punters betting on the trotting races and served by two delightfully cheerful and busy women who greeted the customers with a kiss and knew exactly what drinks they wanted.

The place takes its name from the bridge originally built by the monks of nearby Loctudy. It is now largely built over by houses and separates what is now the commercial harbour from a large pond. The main church Notre-Dame-des-Carmes looked forbiddingly closed but in front of it was a monument to the Bigouden women. Pont l'Abbé is the main town of the Bigouden region, perhaps the only region in the world to be named after a headdress – the ridiculously high coiffe once worn by most of the women in the region.

Monument aux Bigoudens. Pont-l'Abbé, Brittany.

Bridge and port. Pont-l'Abbé, Brittany.

In the late medieval castle was the Musée des Bigoudens where we took shelter to learn more about this curious region of France, defiantly different and attached to the old ways.

Castle. Pont-l'Abbé, Brittany.

Musée des Bigoudens, lit clos. Pont-l'Abbé, Brittany.

In the evening the rain finally stopped and, realising that our campsite, about a mile south of the village, was near the coast, we took a walk by the sea, peering at the rocks and massive pine trees that line the shore emerging through the mist.

Monday 25th September 2017, Penmarch.
This morning we explored the village, formerly an agricultural settlement, but which turned to face the sea in the 19th century when it began to ship potatoes to England. The Colorado beetle put paid to that so they turned to sardine fishing until the sardines left their shores. But it remains a fishing village, with a large port area and a marine store filled with rack upon rack of fishing baits of all types of shapes, sizes and colours and every kind of maritime paraphernalia. We were fascinated by this but the real gem of Loctudy is its Romanesque church, probably the finest example in Brittany.

Church, Romanesque capitals. Loctudy, Brittany.

Church, apse. Loctudy, Brittany.

We made our way westward, to the southwest corner of the peninsula to visit the Eckmühl lighthouse 65 metres tall with 307 steps leading to the lantern – we resisted the temptation to enjoy the view. It replaces a smaller lighthouse which now serves as a signal station and there is also a fortified medieval chapel nearby. The treacherous rocks all round are covered in seaweed and as it was low tide we were able to explore them and admire the lighthouses from the sea.

Eckmühl lighthouse. Saint-Pierre, Penmarch, Brittany.

Eckmühl lighthouse. Saint-Pierre, Penmarch, Brittany.

The rocks and reefs, the strong currents and the frequent storms often put mariners' lives in peril and a series of lifeboat stations were set up in the area in the later 19th century, at first supplied with lifeboats of an English design.

Eckmühl lifeboat. Saint-Pierre, Penmarch, Brittany.

Eckmühl lifeboat, alarm siren. Saint-Pierre, Penmarch, Brittany.

Eckmühl lifeboat, breeches buoy. Saint-Pierre, Penmarch, Brittany.

We found an excellent campsite in nearby Penmarch, a village whose main point of interest is its late gothic church, elaborately decorated and obviously financed by wealthy ship-owners, if the sculptures of the sailing ships, so painstakingly carved into the granite facades are anything to go by.

Church. Penmarch, Brittany.

Church. Penmarch, Brittany.

Tuesday 26 September 2017, Crozon.
An interesting day, in the Chinese sense. We decided to make our way gradually back to the north coast and our first port of call was Locronan, on the list of the most beautiful villages in France. That it undeniably was with its massive church and its solid granite houses filled with gift shops, art galleries and restaurants selling overpriced crepes and galettes. We were in search of nothing more than a loaf of bread but we sought in vain. The nearby unassuming village of Plonévez-Porzay was much more productive and had several busy bars, perhaps filled by the Locronians. We decided to visit Crozon peninsula and passed through the town of Crozon to the little port of Morgat nestling in a bay lined with sea caves just below. We watched sailors careening a yacht which dangled in an undignified manner from a crane, then turned to rejoin Modestine and go out on one of the several headlands that sprout from the peninsula. At that point, staring ahead to admire some luxury yachts Jill fell over a low bar flat on her face breaking her sunglasses and scratching and bruising various places. An off-duty sapeur-pompier happened to be nearby, shared Ian's opinion that it had been a dramatic and alarming fall and summoned his colleagues. By the time Jill had got over the initial shock and realised that no bones had been broken the ambulance was on its way, arriving with a wail of sirens and three burly men in uniform who examined her and decided to take her to the clinic in Crozon for a doctor to confirm that nothing serious was wrong.

Jill in ambulance. Morgat, Brittany.

Once safely back in Modestine with the prescription collected, we decided to give up on the headland and seek out a comfortable campsite to settle in early and clean up Jill's wounds. Easier said than done. The campsite guide's directions were misleading and the first site we discovered down a warren of country lanes was closed although advertised in the guide and on the gates as being open until October. The second one looked quaint with chickens strutting around and inside the reception – what about bird flu? – but the facilities have proved to be grossly inadequate, on a day when we could have done with the luxury of the campsite we had left this morning.

Wednesday 27 September 2017, Plouezoc'h.
We picked up on our original intention to visit the Pointe des Espagnols. It was a beautiful morning, the landscape deserted except for a definite military presence. The Pointe commands the Goulet de Brest, a narrow channel leading to the Rade de Brest anchorage. We observed a submarine returning to base - which may have explained the presence of circling helicopters we had noticed earlier and a jeep with soldiers on the head of the Pointe. There is a long history of fortification since area was captured by the Spanish in the 1590s.

View of Brest. Gouerest, Brittany.

Goulet de Brest, nuclear submarine. Gouerest, Brittany.

Pointe des Espagnols. Gouerest, Brittany.

We continued to the Landevennec peninsula to find the abbey we first visited many years ago. It consists of the ruins of an old abbey founded by the Welsh saint Gwénolé (Winwaloe) in the late 5th century. The more recent Benedictine monastery was refounded a little inland in 1950 – an austere church. Landevennec is a remote village, deserted out of season. The Hotel Beausejour shows that it is too remote to share in the tourist boom of other coastal resorts. The village looked a little morose in the rain which returned at midday.

Saint Gwénolé. Landevennec, Brittany.

Benedictine Abbey. Landevennec, Brittany.

Medieval abbey. Landevennec, Brittany.

Medieval abbey. Landevennec, Brittany.

Hotel Beausejour. Landevennec, Brittany.

Church. Landevennec, Brittany.

We drove on to join the north coast just north of Morlaix, to be on hand to visit Geneviève and Marie-Francoise in Paimpol tomorrow. Like yesterday the first campsite had closed early but we found hard standing in a second which was due to close on Friday. Once settled we rang Geneviève to wish her a good journey, only to learn that their visit had taken place the previous week – so we need not have come here after all! The last few days have been a chapter of accidents. The situation was saved by a phone-call to Joël in Guissény who said that we were welcome to arrive the following day.

Thursday 28th September 2017, Saint-Pol-de-Léon.
Our campsite proved to be close to what is described as the largest Neolithic mausoleum in Europe, the Grand Cairn de Bernanez and, especially as Brittany Ferries had offered us a discount if we presented our cabin card, we decided we could not pass by without visiting it. And it proved to be well worth the seeing. Built in two sections, the first about 4500 BCE and the second about 500 years later, it was a massive mound of granite boulders, carefully faced, with eleven passage graves built into the east face. First recognised as an ancient monument in about 1850, it was nevertheless acquired by a civil engineering company in 1954 who proceeded to use it as a quarry. Campaigns by archaeologists in the 1950s and 1960s managed to rescue it with the dubious benefit that, while most passage tombs are closed to the public, quarrying operations on the north side had laid bare several burial chambers in a sort of cross-section, A variety of constructional techniques were used, with long slabs roofing the passages and burial chambers in some tombs while others used a carefully engineered corbelled vaulting. Some tombs also had sculpted decorations, bows and axe heads, probably intended as a warning that the place was sacred, and a disc topped by radiating lines, variously interpreted as totemic insignia or the depiction of a fertility goddess. It set us wondering about the people who built this massive mound two millennia before Stonehenge and one millennium before the pyramids of Egypt. Who were buried there – eleven generations of chiefs and their families? What language did they speak? It must have been pre Indo-European, perhaps related to Basque. How did they communicate the plans for such a massive project? The granite was sourced from two nearby locations but the construction must have demanded years of teamwork from the entire community. Its site too was well chosen on a headland overlooking the Morlaix estuary, six thousand years ago when sea levels were lower and verdant meadows skirted a winding river.

Grand Cairn de Bernanez. South face with entrances. Plouezoc'h, Brittany.

Grand Cairn de Bernanez. Secondary cairn, cross section. Plouezoc'h, Brittany.

Grand cairn de Bernanez. Burial chamber B. Plouezoc'h, Brittany.
Grand Cairn de Bernanez. Burial chamber B. Plouezoc'h, Brittany.

Grand Cairn de Bernanez. Carved images, bows, axes and insignia. Plouezoc'h, Brittany.

We moved on to Carantec, a genteel family resort, much of the coastline unspoilt by the normal tourist razzmatazz and with wonderful views over the rock-strewn coastline, including a panoramic view of the Ile de Callot, complete with houses and a little church, reachable on foot only at low tide.

Coastal view. Ile de Callot. Carantec, Brittany.

We found a campsite open just north of Saint-Paul-de-Léon, by the coast, so we were able to see the port at Roscoff and watch the Pont Aven leave for Plymouth. The rain came down with a vengeance despite the fact that the campsite owner told us that we were in Brittany, so it could not rain.

Friday 29th September 2017, Guissény.
The campsite owner's optimism was borne out. Despite the fact that it was still raining, Modestine did not get bogged down and we were able to explore Saint-Pol-de-Léon, taking shelter in the Cathedral. We had memories of it being green with algae on our last visit and this time there were puddles in several places on the floor after the rain, but it is now undergoing a massive refurbishment. A number of features caught our attention this time. First a series of shrines containing severed heads. These ranged from one of the bishops to a child of six and they were arranged on shelves behind a bier – a very macabre corner. There was also the effigy of a bishop (whose head may or may not have been placed in one of the boxes) looking a little bemused at the book he held in his hands, whose writing looked Arabic in style – was he a secret apostate taking a surreptitious peek at the Koran? Another bishop with a monk reading by his side was merrily impaling a charmingly inoffensive dragon curled up at his feet.

Cathedral. Heads in boxes. Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Brittany.

Cathedral. Dragon. Saint-Pol-de-Léon,Brittany.

Prebendal house. Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Brittany.

Doorway. Saint-Pol-de-Léon, Brittany.

Saturday 30th September 2017, Guissény.
In the morning we went westward along the costal footpath.

Quillimadoc estuary. Guissény, Brittany.

Barrachou rocks.Guissény, Brittany.

In the afternoon we set off in the other direction, eastward toward Kerlouan and then towards the coast at the little harbour of Pontusval.

Pontusval lighthouse. Kerlouan, Brittany.

Pontusval. Rocks.Kerlouan. France. Brittany.

Pontusval, coastal view. Kerlouan, Brittany.

Just to the west lay the deserted settlement of Ménéham, first established at the start of the 19th century with a watch tower set between rocks and then in the 1840s developed as a hamlet for customs officers. By the 1860s it had been sold off and occupied by villagers who tilled the land, gathered kelp and fished, preserving an unchanged lifestyle until the 1960s when the settlement was abandoned, later being acquired by the community and opened as a visitor centre, much developed since we lasted visited it several years ago.

Ménéham. Kerlouan, Brittany.

Ménéham. Watch house. Kerlouan, Brittany.

Potirons. Kerlouan, Brittany.

Jill's bruises. Guissény, Brittany.

At 9.00 in the community hall we were promised a bagpipe concert by Patrick Molard, a noted expert on all types of bagpipe music. In first half played irish uilleann pipes which have a separate set of drones which can be individually activated. In second half he played Scottish pipes which were a reproduction of a set by the famous pipe-maker Donald MacDonald which were played at Waterloo and are now in the National museum in Edinburgh. It was certainly a tour de force, more than two hours of performances with commentary on the history of the music and composers from the 17th century onwards and when the concert ended just before midnight, many of the audience of about 50 danced in a line round the room as he played his encore. To us it was a long exercise in strangling cats - a loud noise in a confined space.

Sunday 1st October 2017 Guissény.
More Breton rain today, so we drove out to gaze at the sea through the mist.

Phare de l'Ile de Vierge. Plouguernou, Brittany.

We returned to meet Emmauel and Jacqueline who were visiting for lunch, caught and prepared by Joel. It was our last meal together as we took our leave the following day after being made very welcome at such short notice.

Lunch. Guissény, Brittany.

Lunch. Guissény, Brittany.

Joel with bagpipes. Guissény, Brittany.

Joel's fishing boat. Guissény, Brittany.