22 June 2009

2006: Tour l'Argoat

22 June

Along the way, I occasionally stop into Tourist Information offices, and they are even occasionally open. Well, somewhere along the way, I acquired the "Côtes d'Armor (Bretagne) Carte Touristique 2005" tourist map. While the map itself isn't terribly useful (indeed, I have yet to encounter one that does justice to rural Bretagne, period), there are several "tours" located within that are designed to give you the flavour of a particular bit.

And so it was that "Tour l'Argoat" was the plan I would follow for the next few days. While the tour says "Start in Guingamp", I changed things a bit, leaving out the first five or six local towns already visited frequently. So, without further adieu, welcome to Louargat.

The Menhir de Pergat and its current "purpose" have been dated to 5000 BC, and is one huge block of granite, approximately 7.6 metres in height. You can find this stone just north of town and, considering other locations that would be chased over the next few days, remarkably-well marked by directional signs. The menhir can be reached by a footpath that will take you approximately 200 metres from the closest road, and it will continue for another 1.5 kilometres to the eastern edge of town.

Eglise Saint-Eloi is not located in Louargat, but several miles north in the tiny village of St Eloi. (Don't worry. You get used to directional road signs, maps, and tour descriptions that lie. It's easier that way.) It has been a parish church only since 1874, a relatively-short period of time in Europe. Even so, it is beautiful, and situated on the village square opposite the memorials dedicated to those from the town who died in each of the World Wars.

The main church in Louargat is Eglise Notre-Dame des Neiges, "Our Lady of the Snows Church." The original building was constructed in the 15th century, but only the tower today is still intact after a fire in 1832.

Just down the road to the west is what small churches should be. Chapelle de Locmaria can be easily found on the north-eastern boundary of Belle-Isle-en-Terre. It was built in the 15th century, and was originally known as Notre-Dame de Pendréo, or Our Lady of the Whooping Cough. People would make a pilgrimage here to pray to the Virgin Mary for the health of those afflicted. The exterior has a wonderful grace and elegance to it, and the interior, muted and uncluttered, feels lived-in.

While wandering the grounds, I met several young women from the Isle of Jersey, and between us we explored much of this fascinating place. There is a turret on the west of the tower you can climb if you aren't terribly claustrophobic OR thick-footed. In my experiences in Europe, the church/castle turret stairway seems standard for the period, where the width of each step varies from nothing at the centre column to perhaps six inches on the outside edge, and each upward step rises from the lower by much more. Compounding this problem is that the stone has been worn in spots due to traffic. This makes going up feel less harrowing than going down.

I've often wondered whether the size of each step was "not a problem" as people of 400 years ago were much smaller, or if this was done for budget reasons, and safety just wasn't part of the equation. Oh, and the view from the top of the turret is not too bad...

Not far away in the town of Belle-Isle-en-Terre is the Eglise Saint-Jacques. Not sure how, but I managed to smooth-talk myself inside as it was closing for the evening; unfortunately my interior photos do not do it justice.

My next stop was within the town of Plounévez-Moëdec... Well, it was supposed to be. After trusting the map twice, I then asked for directions from four different people at both ends of a four-mile stretch of roadway, and each said I wanted to be where the previous person was. Literally. So, while the Menhirs de Keranscot were apparently famous enough for all to recognize, they could not be found, even with personal directions. The maps and tour descriptions were useless beyond stating they were here somewhere. Quite frustrating, and the first time that even face-to-face interactions with the locals could not trusted.

So, the Fiat Punto turned south to what was described as "...the picturesque village of Loc-Envel...", and the tour description gets it right. There are subtle similarities between Loc-Envel and Tuscany hill towns, and beyond the occasional anachronism of satellite dishes and cars, the village probably looks and sounds much as it had in previous centuries... As I arrive, it is early evening and two locals on horseback were following the road with two hunting dogs in tow... As they reached the peak of the road on the hillside, they meet with a friend to converse and rest the horses... Another villager was performing maintenance on her vegetable garden.

And overlooking this pastoral scene was the small chapel,no name given by road signage or plaque on chapel wall. It appears to be in the throes of repair, and its interior, described as charming, with rood screens, carved beams, and an old vaulted ceiling, could not be explored.

The numerous unusual, frayed, and eroded gargoyles on the outside guarded the secrets within its walls well...

My last stop of the day was Ménez Bré, an old friend. This tallest hilltop in the area has been regarded as sacred for a very long time, and with beautiful weather you really can see for miles in each direction.

The chapel on the mount is named for Saint-Hervé, and it can be visited inside during summer months on Sunday afternoons...

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