Lemony Snicket meets the Cat in the Hat

At breakfast, Mirinda tried explaining to Madame about the Rohans being arrogant. Not knowing the French for arrogant she said they had big heads (grande tete). This doesn’t mean the same and Madame had the most amazing look on her face. I could read her thoughts: ‘The Rohans had giant heads? What does this crazy Australian woman mean?

A family group of Italians had arrived at the château. They did not speak French, they did not speak English. Tricky. I hoped they wouldn’t start singing. They managed to put Madame into a terrible spin. She likes to sit with her guests in the mornings over breakfast and chat about the day just gone and plans for the one ahead. Most of the guests we have seen are either French or English and Madame has enough English to get by. Italian? Not a chance.

On your first night you are to let Madame know what time you wish to have breakfast (we opted for 9:30) and a place will be set for you at one of the two enormous dining tables which are piled high with traditional Breton food. The Italians, so said Madame, had said they would breakfast at 9…how they all managed to communicate this is anyone’s guess. But then they turned up at 9:30! Of course we managed to get in first so the Italians found themselves without three seats together. This caused a lot of mayhem.

When asked why they were late for breakfast, the older woman said ‘dormir’ which seems to be the only French she knew. It means to sleep. It was all a bit weird seeing Madame in such a flap because she couldn’t chat to them. They, of course, were blissfully ignorant of it all.

It rained all day.

We started off in Montford where we visited the Eco Musee – a museum housed in the tower. We found out the real story of the Cane! The entire bottom floor of the museum is a light and picture show to the legend – though all in French.

Tower at Montfort which houses the museum

If you would rather maintain your ignorance and go with our previous version, the one about the walking stick, then skip the next paragraph. The real version is not as good as ours.

It seems the woman was abducted, lost her virginity, and tried to escape but was recaptured. When St Nicholas heard about it he prayed and, by an odd miracle, she was turned into a duckling and flew out the window. Every now and then a duck and her brood turns up at the church and quacks. Cane means duckling. A simple dictionary would have sorted it all out but I reckon the spectre of a walking stick appearing near the tower every few years is totally brilliant. Especially when most statues and paintings of St Nicholas have him with a walking stick in his hand as he strides across the land.

The second floor is given over to a short film about how the buildings in the area are constructed – some with schist, some with pink granite, some with mud – and was in French. The third floor was especially for Mirinda, it was all about the types of coiffes worn by Breton women of this region. From massive constructs to things hardly worth the effort.

Lastly, the top floor is full of hand made toys.

In the courtyard there is a large display of photographs from early Montford leading up to present day. It was interesting, made even more so by the rain and the fact that it was outside. Around a corner and in the dungeon was a display of modern art. Mirinda didn’t like it because it felt like a dungeon. And the modern art looked a lot like straw plucked from a field and tied together with string. Which it was, basically.

We next visited the church of St Nicholas. Big and gloomy, though this could have been the weather as much as the lack of windows. It did have a rather pretty ceiling which I took a photo of. All in all, rather austere but, given the massive quantity of chairs and the acres of car park, I assume there’s a sizeable congregation.

Ceiling of St Nicholas church, Montfort

We wandered in the rain up to the Hotel de la Cane and had a coffee and a tea then visited a boulangerie for lunchtime supplies of an American ham roll and a somewhat dubious gherkin and pate roll for Mirinda.

We then set off for Les Iff and the famous, (by God, the tourist book says, you musn’t miss this) Gothic church. By the time we reached it the rain was pelting down so we ate lunch in the car park feeling very British – we had a lovely view of a skip. The rain eased a bit so we ventured forth. The town of Les Iff was deserted. Apart from us and another couple of tourists in a car, it was a ghost town. If it hadn’t been raining, there would have been tumbleweeds.

Gothic humour at the church at Les Iff

On the door of the church was a sign which said, if you’d like to see inside, get the keys from the bar. On the door of the bar was a sign which said they’d be closed from July to August. I decided the town should be called ‘As If’. We saw the outside of the Gothic church through the rain then decided to continue on to Le Château de Montmuran.

Alas, the château was not open although it was supposed to be! Three cars of tourists were disappointed along with us. We were going to just return to our room but Mirinda was determined we should see a château so we drove on towards Combourg.

Chateaubriand, the French writer, lived in the Château de Combourg as a child. I’ve not read his work, but assume it was either very gloomy or else very light. The château is grey and cold and ugly. The tour guide was miserable and not fond of a joke. It was all in French and no-one in the group (it was very big) laughed so we assumed it was as grim as her face.

Chateaubriand's tower at Château Combourg

Poor little Chateaubriand! He moved there with his family when merely a young lad. He remembers when they moved in and they all had a different room as far from each other as possible. His room was atop a tower and he was constantly being bothered by the spectre of a black cat and a peg leg. The cat didn’t have the peg leg, it was, presumably, left behind by a pirate though why you would see the ghost of just a peg leg is well beyond me and just shows the sort of humour played by the dead on us living – such a great jape.

Anyway, for some unknown and decidedly cruel reason, at some stage whenever a building with towers was built in Brittany, a live black cat would be tossed in the wall cavity of one of them for good luck – though, obviously, not the cats. At some stage when someone was renovating the tower in which Chateaubriand slept, they found the mummified carcass of a cat, its teeth bared in a final attempt to chew through the bricks and mortar. We presume that Chateaubriand saw the ghost of this cat. The odd thing is, why did he see a normal, purry, furry black cat? Surely it should have been the snapping, snarling, revenge seeking monster we saw in the glass case in his room.

Although generally known because Chateaubriand lived there, the Castle was built in 1016 by the archbishop of Dol. As usual with these things it was then rebuilt in the 12th and 15th centuries. And lots more additions and removals followed. The guidebook has little about the history of the place other than that the author lived there. A great pity as I’m sure the place must have seen quite a bit of interesting history.

The views from the battlements were pretty good but the features dotted around the roof were more interesting. The whole area around the battlements looked like a film set. Think Lemony Snicket meets Cat in the Hat. It was pretty amazing.

Wet Combourg streets

Having been suitably taught and drenched, we decided to stop in Combourg for a tea and coffee in a Bar which had a betting shop in the back. It was fine but the atmosphere was a tad rank. Mirinda complained about the joy with which the French seemed to take in flaunting the rules. I suggested she take up the matter of smoking in enclosed places with the European Union in Brussels but, as the French seemed to be able to do whatever they liked, I thought her case a little shaky.

[Had a text from Kel saying she’d just cut Karen’s hair. Not surprisingly, she didn’t recognise her seeing as it’s been about 16 years and Kel was six at the time.]

Back at the Château de Pin we finally managed to get warm and dry. All the times we’ve travelled through France it’s been winter or autumn and it’s never rained. This trip we go in the summer and…damn it!!!

Went into Montfort for dinner. The Relais de la Cane was the only place open so this was it. Had a lovely dinner with wine and an evil dessert simply drenched in calvados.

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