Afoot In France - small group and personal tours in Brittany
Prehistory is my passion. Yes, sure, I love European history and all of its periods, culturally, socially, politically and militarily. The American Civil War fascinates me and Britains Industrial Revolution are amazingly important to the World, as a whole. However its our unwritten history (prehistory) that gets my creative juices flowing.
How old has that stone been there ?
Why was it put there ?
Who were the people that lived in our prehistoric periods ?
What do we know about the way they lived ?
These are some of the questions that I am asked by tour members...... none of which I can answer with any conviction ! All over Brittany in this isolated corner of Western France, I can find standing stones littering the landscape. Some you may have heard of, such as the World Heritage Site at Carnac, are visited by many thousands of people each year, whilst other equally impressive sites remain unknown. Some sites have ancient myths or legends attached to them, but others remain lost or buried under the ground, waiting to be found.
As a boy, I grew up in the South West of England in a small town nestled onto the northern edge of Dartmoor, which is also peppered liberally with ancient prehistoric sites, and I suspect that this childhood is when my interest in 'all things old' developed. I have lived in Britain, the United States and now in France, but have always harbored this deep rooted interest in stones and the people that revered them. Nowadays, I spend much of my time exploring many stone alignments and burial sites, vainly trying to explain why they still exist in our 21st century landscape, when they were originally constructed 6500 years ago. I suspect that we will never really know the answers to those questions.
Many of the myths currently associated with standing stones have one theme in common.... a fear of them by organised religions. Many stone circles and alignments are named after dancing maidens who would dance in circles hoping to increase their fertility.... but were turned to stone for the worship of pagan spirits. Isolated stones would be named after individuals who were evicted from a village for bad behaviour, but were turned into stone by God. Other stories relay accounts of mass sacrifice and worship of the sun or moon. Most legends are efforts by the new Christian religions to explain away these enigmatic symbols of a very distant past, or attempts to discourage 'pagans' away from their gods.
However, there are some such as a great story about Carnac, that are purely entertaining. The story goes, that when the Romans came to conquer the area, a local hermit or spiritual man (druid), turned on the legions who were chasing his kinsfolk into the sea, and turned them all into stone...... hence the 3 great alignments of Carnac. Interestingly enough, the local Catholic churches have tried to change this story into a 'good versus evil' drama, and even went so far as canonizing the hermit, and giving him a latin name Saint Cornelius.
One of my favourite sites is located outside the village of St Just, in Brittany. There are a number of majestic stone alignments crisscrossing the elevated landscape, but one in particular is wonderful. There are a number of stones, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other, but they are all made of different minerals and are of a different colour, ranging from bright orange to dark blue. They look like they must have been samples, placed there by some entrepreneurial prehistoric builder, wishing to sell his materials and services. Amazingly they sit on top of a ridge called the Landes De Lanveaux, from which 85% of all the prehistoric stones in Brittany were mined or quarried. Even more curious is that there is still, today, a quarry that sells large standing stones for people to put as ornamentation, in their gardens...... hows that for continuation of an industry.... nearly 7000 yrs of uninterrupted use !
Many myths, many stories..... but not too many facts. A real mystery that promises to continue for many generations. A beautiful enigma....Maybe that's why I enjoy visiting them and now organize small group tours so that others may enjoy them, also.