Getting the finger

Breakfast is served in the lovely dining room at the Hotel des Bains. It is all buffet style and features various French pastries, rolls of ham, lovely cheeses, rolls and all sorts of lovely stuff. The coffee is particularly lovely. And everywhere the staff are pleasant and smiling.

After eating, Mirinda decided she was going to read her book in one of the rocking sunchairs overlooking the sea so I decided to go for a walk along the beach. The shore is littered with 600 million year old boulders as well as sand so I scrambled along, expecting to end up at a beach we spotted yesterday. The tide was low – which means you can walk about 10 miles out to sea – but the going was rough in places. I spotted some interesting graffiti high on a concrete wall. Eventually the rocks just became impassable so I scrambled up to the footpath and continued walking along the coastline like a civilised person.

Rocky beach at Locquirec

On the beach were people flying kites, running dogs, some even swimming, though it has to be said it’s not exactly peak summer weather at the moment. One little girl and her father were flying a big kite. Once it was nice and high, dad gave her the string and she ran along with it as happy as can be. She was so tiny I was surprised she didn’t fly off with it.

I returned via the church which has a small calvary out front, featuring two Marys supported by what appear to be snarling demons. The inside was lovely. Being a fishing port boats abound, hanging from the roof, on ledges on the walls. A very pleasant church.

The statue inside Locquirec church

Upon my return to the hotel I found Mirinda still looking out at the sea reading. She had had a very pleasant time. But lunch beckoned so we tried the very full seafood restaurant in Locquirec. Mirinda keeps accusing me of not trying new things so rather than the tripe sausages (yuck) I went for what I think was haddock in a coriander seed sauce (yum). It was very nice.

The restaurant was very full and at the table next to us was a big family group. From great granddad, who had to have each of his meals liquidised, to the youngest member of the family who bore a striking resemblance to Claudius the Roman emperor though he was just walking. He had a very old face on such a tiny body – it was like something out of Doctor Who. He spent a long time bashing on the window trying to get the attention of a normal looking kid on the other side who was noticeably frightened.

There are two main things we wanted to see this trip. One was to see some of the famous parish closes. These so-called enclose paroissial are unique to the Finistere region of Brittany and are regarded as one of the highest forms of Breton art. The term refers to the cemetery, which is enclosed by a wall. The main entrance to the churchyard is through a triumphal arch. This is generally a big, ornate archway where the funeral processions would go from the village.

Just inside the arch is generally the calvary. This is a stone depiction of the crucifixion with Christ at the top, the two robbers either side of him, his mother and Mary Magdelene somewhere in front of him and a whole host of Biblical scenes beneath. The carved scenes beneath the cross are mostly of the time leading up to the crucifixion. So, like Jesus Christ Superstar, you have Gethsemane, the betrayal and Judas getting paid off, the flagellation, Jesus lugging his cross up the hill, the guards falling asleep in front of the cave, etc. There’s a whole host of different little sculptures. They vary from close to close.

To one side of the close will be the ossuary or charnel house. About five years after burial, bodies would be dug up and the bones stuck in this place to accumulate. Eventually when there was a big pile, they would be reburied in a mass grave. Apart from short term storage, the ossuary served the purpose of reminding the parishioners that death was never far away. Most of these charnel houses have memento morti writ huge above the door – Latin for remember death! These days, most of the ossuaries have been turned into souvenir shops or are just empty.

Then there’s the church. It can vary but most of them are amazingly ornate inside, having marvellous carvings set high on the wall and painted beams spanning the pews. Some can be visually overpowering and mind blowing.

And so we set off for St Jean du Doigt or St John’s finger. So named because in the 15th century someone dropped off the top part of John the Baptist’s index finger for safe keeping in the church. Apparently when dipped into water and applied to someone’s eyes, it will help their vision. There are reports that Duchesse Anne was cured of an eye complaint by being given the finger. She was so impressed she gave the parish a whole load of cash so they could complete the church in a rather grandiose manner. It must be because St John’s dead. Normally if you stick a finger in someone’s eye, it only hurts.

Calvary at St John du doigt

Driving along the scenic route, passing lovely white beaches and fun-loving French families, we found the small town of St Jean du Doigt and had no problem locating the church. The steeple is extremely high and ornate! I blame Duchesse Anne for that. Passing through the triumphal arch, a wonderful fountain is set bubbling away between the graves. Standing in a graveyard with the only sounds being the constant flow of water and an old woman scratching in the dirt, is pretty amazing.

Inside the elaborate church, it is quite disappointing. Largely simple with not a lot of decoration, it appears that they spent all of Anne’s money building the outside and ran out by the time they got to internal furnishings. Actually this is being a little unfair but is written after seeing other parish closes and in this respect, this church is a good first one!

The old woman was tending the graves, by the way.

So, from an old burial site to an even older one, as we searched for the Barnenez burial cairn, a Neolithic monument near Morlaix. I was expecting something quite small. Not so!

Tomb at Barnenez

A huge burial mound built between 4500 and 3900 BC, the cairn has led a somewhat charmed life. After laying dormant for a very long time and even growing grass and shrubs over the top of it so it eventually just blended into the landscape, in 1954 it was purchased by a civil engineering company and became a quarry. Very handy. The rocks had already been brought up from the seaside by Neolithic man, why not use them? They quarried a huge chunk out of the side of the cairn before the scientific community eventually put a stop to it.

Excavations took place between 1955 and 1968 when it was restored. The main principles for developing the megalithic sites in France were as a result of this restoration. In effect, this was the first of its kind and now Brittany and, indeed, a lot of Europe, is scattered with sites that have been studied and preserved.

Chamber at Barnenez

The whole thing is just stones piled on top of each other but in such a way as to support itself. Absolutely brilliant. From small stones to massive boulders, it sits magnificently. Archaeologists believe it was built in two stages. The overall length is over 72 metres and the original height would have been 8 to 9 metres. There are 11 funerary passages which vary in length. Visitors are not allowed to enter the structure but because of the 1954 demolition by the civil engineering company, the ends of three of the tombs can clearly be seen.

It is an amazing place sullied only by the silly man taking money. He dithered over every person, annoying most of the visitors. When it came to me, I handed over the stuff I wanted to buy and he totted it up. I gave him a 20€ note and accepted the change. As I was leaving he made a big fuss. He’d left something off the bill. Fair enough but when he asked me for the extra 1€50 he was annoyed that I didn’t have it in change. Sacre blue! But the cairn…now that’s worth remembering…

Upon our return to the hotel, we ordered coffee and tea at reception and sat out on the lawn to enjoy it with a couple of cakes we’d purchased at the patisserie which wisely stays open all day.

Another lovely dinner followed by a late stroll down to beach. The food at the Hotel des Baines is truly delicious. There’s a set menu each night with three options for each course. They changed each night we stayed and were all excellent. The wine list is extensive and ordered by region. I can’t praise the restaurant fare enough. Even the cheese was formidable, though I’m sure it wouldn’t have been hard enough for Nicktor.

Down at the dock we watched three girls in a boat. We saw them a long way out – at first I thought they’d thrown a child overboard but it turned out that one of the girls (all in their early 20s I think) in a bikini was walking and pulling the boat along with her. The bay appears to be about two foot deep at low tide. Most boats are out of the water, their keels buried in the sand, making them lean precariously. We followed the girls’ progress as they approached our side of the bay. Just before the shore there is a channel deep enough to moor boats in, maybe seven feet. When the girls reached this, the one in the water suddenly vanished. When she resurfaced, she swam with the rope in her mouth, dragging the boat across the narrow dip.

Arriving at the shore, she stepped out and pulled the boat close to the rocks so the others could get out. One hopped out but the last girl sat and waited for the boat to be on solid, dry ground before bothering to stand up. It was at this point that I realised they hadn’t just hired the boat, the girl in the bikini came with it because too many people lose the oars when they go out for a day on the water.

I should add that we weren’t the only ones watching this. By the time the girls reached the shore a good crowd had gathered to watch the final moments. Either that or it had something to do with the girl in the bikini.

Back at the hotel we sat in the rocking loungers watching the sea. A slightly drunk woman from dinner sashayed down to the seats in the avenue of trees looking well pleased with herself. Mirinda thinks she was SO pleased that she was definitely NOT with her husband. The guy that did join her eventually vanished so that when we returned to our room the drunk woman was there, all alone.

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