Pardon? Yes indeed!

Woke up still asleep after the night time exertions in pit lane. Dragged our sorry selves downstairs for breakfast. There was no coffee for a bit but at least Mirinda managed a tea. I spotted cold galettes and decided instead on a baguette with ham and cheese on it, I’d go a bit original and have ham, cheese and an egg on a galette. Unfortunately the galette was a sweet one, sort of like a cold pancake. Eventually the coffee came. I had two cups of the foul, brewed to hell stuff. At least it lined my stomach with something and hopefully helped break up the splodgy galette.

We paid up (regretfully), packed the car and left the god forsaken place. Once we saw the sign saying we’d left Treboul it was rejoicing all round in the front seats of our little VW. It was still a bit hairy finding our way back to Plonevez-Porzay but we finally made it. Suddenly the day seemed brighter and all together more jolly.

One of the must-sees this trip was a traditional Breton pardon. These are religious festivals that happen every year in certain areas. The locals get dressed up in their traditional finery and have, basically, a big party with a Catholic service at the end where they parade around a few relics. They are very famous and Mirinda has wanted to see one for years. Unfortunately, finding information about them is not as simple as you’d think. The Internet tends to give you a rough guide to when they are and precious little else. I dare say if you read fluent French, you’d find a lot more.

Still, we had the name of a town and that’s where we started looking for the Pardon of St Anne le Palud. St Anne, for those that do not know (we didn’t) was Mary the virgin’s mum, Christ’s gran, Joseph’s mother-in-law. I wonder if they had stand up comedy then?

Statue of St Anne le Palud

It was market day in Plonevez-Porzay and everyone from about 300 miles around had decided to park in the main street. Naturally the car park was full of market stalls. We went first to the church, figuring this would be a good place to advertise a religious festival nearby. But, alas, no such advertising was to be found. Actually the church was closed. Somewhat odd, it being Sunday and all.

We then popped into the TiC to ask them. At least that’s what I thought we were doing but actually Mirinda just wanted to use their loo. After wandering around the market and trying to buy a 44€ hat for 4€, Mirinda bought some fruit and we returned to the car. We decided to drive down the road to the town of St Anne le Palud and see what was there. We knew that the procession was supposed to take place near the dunes.

As soon as we entered the tiny village we knew we were in the right place. A nice chap directed us to a field which was gradually filling with cars, to equal the field on the other side of the village. We parked and wandered down to the small main street which was lined with food stalls, gifts and funfair attractions. Up ahead we spotted the church and a huge crowd sitting on the hill beside it. Loudspeakers all around the village echoed the service being read and sung from the small sheltered area outside the church. It was an amazing sight.

A couple of Bretons dressed traditionally

We wandered into the church to find it full of people waiting for a service to begin while others milled around buying and lighting candles or studying the pardon related photographs on the walls. The church had three doors open and people were flowing all around. We went through to the other side and climbed the hill, finding a good vantage point. We sat down and listened and watched as the mass finished up. Then we saw our first coiffe!

Coiffes all round

A family of three women all with elaborately curled head pieces and gold embroidered dresses were quickly surrounded by hordes of energetic photographers snapping them either alone or with a random child, plucked from the crowd. I preferred to snap them largely unawares. There are lots of different sizes and shapes. I’ve created a collage of many of them which you can get to by clicking here.

The service over, we had three hours to kill before the procession up the hill started – the real reason most people were there. We wandered around a bit then bought some takeaway rubbish labelled as food and ate in the sunshine, outside the church. We watched as men roped off a corridor around the church and up the hill to keep the crowds back. Having eaten we decided to walk up the hill and see what was beyond.

Sand dunes is what was beyond. Sand dunes covered in plants and dotted with little family groups. From the top of the hill, the beach seems a very long way away. It’s nothing to do with perspective or tricks of the light, it actually IS a long way away.

Beach at St Anne le Palud

In the picture above, the blurry little dots are actually people. After the dunes the sand stretches a further couple of miles before the sea eventually trickles in. Ok, not a couple of miles but a fair way! We wandered down to the water for a paddle.

The water was very cold at first but very refreshing on hot feet. We walked up and down, Mirinda gave her feet a mud treatment and then we walked towards the oddly placed red danger flags off to one side. A channel suddenly appeared at the edge of the beach so we assumed the danger was a swimmer (walker) at high tide may not notice the 6 inch drop and the rocky base of the small stream.

Back at the church we staked out our place on the uphill stretch of the processional alley. And then something joyous happened. The loudspeakers that ring the whole hill burst into life drowning out the truly awful bagpipe version of Amazing Grace that had been playing loud and nauseously from a CD sales table all afternoon. Unfortunately Mirinda will now always remember Pardons as being accompanied by Amazing Grace.

After a few Psalms and prayers which Mirinda gleefully translated into a sort of English, the procession began. Scores of men and women in traditional Breton costumes, carrying the banners of their villages, marched up the hill. Some groups were big some small but they all marched with conviction and pride. Every now and then the procession would stop and the big banners were handed to someone else to carry. It was very poignant when a man and a woman with a bare simple cross passed, stopped and then continued without swapping it.

Mass at St Anne le Palud

The coiffes were certainly something to behold as were the dresses. The men’s clothes were a little more subdued though the pirate pants were certainly noticeable. After the parade had passed us by it was time to bid the small village adieu as the festivities continued. For us, it was a trip to Château Guilguiffin, but a short hop away.

The château is very big! It has taken 32 years of restoration to make Guilguiffin a spectacular place. The Big Storm of 1987 put plans back a bit when it ripped through, taking off bits of the newly repaired roof, uprooting trees, blowing down walls but eventually it was finished and now it looks brilliant. It sits, all French and noble in 520 hectares of parkland. After settling in I plonked myself on the little table and wrote the following:

I am sitting in the Chapel room overlooking a part of the garden to the side of the house. There is a large bed of yellow flowers cutting across the lawn. Hydrangeas line the trees on the right. It is very, very quiet. This is a wonderful place to sit and write.

View from the window at Château Guilguiffin

After a short stroll around the immediate grounds we went into Landudec for dinner. There are three (or two, since the third is impossible to find) restaurants in Landudec. We went into the Auberge as the menu looked very good. The doors (for there are two) seem to contain some sort of wormhole between the street and the dining area as each time you go through a sudden rush of air almost blows you off your feet and drags the door out of your hand. Creepy.

We stood waiting for the woman to notice us. The big, gruff chef, who was busy shoving pizzas into takeaway boxes looked at the woman, then at us and said, “Only pizzas“. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and said we’d like non-smoking please.

They make really great pizza (which didn’t smoke) at the Auberge – I recommend it. We ate, drank some Breton cider and were back and in bed by 10. Silence and bliss coming through the windows. And a cooling breeze. Ah, sweet sleep.

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