Brittany – Menhirs & Mausoleums

21-22 March 2019

A half-day drive south of Dinan took us to the extraordinary area around Carnac which has the largest number of standing stones in the world. In an long narrow strip stretching over 4km more than 3000 menhirs stand in testament to mankind’s need to make a mark. There are 3 major groups of ‘alignements’  where rows upon rows face the same direction – Menec, Kermario & Kerlescan – and we walked them all. There has been considerable human interference, particularly in the 20th century, and serious steps weren’t taken to conserve the stones until 1991 so who knows whether they all formed part of a single group or were always separate? Regardless, the converging rows of menhirs are fascinating. From 4m tall  huge slabs to small stones less than a metre high, the sheer number is a bit mind-boggling.

There are dolmen in various states of disrepair amongst them, the bodies long rotted away by the area’s acidic soils and any funeral goods lost or in the hands of the experts. The grass and bracken amongst the stones is now being managed by grazing with a rare and ancient breed of sheep – the Landes de Bretagne – best adapted to the bad weather and poor food, calmly chewing away oblivious to the wonders of the strange manscape around them.

Next day felt as though spring really had arrived – the sun came out and insisted on staying out as if determined to show Brittany off in different colours.  Just outside Carnac tucked away down a dead end the Tumulus St Michel – the largest grave mound in Europe at 10m high, 60m wide and 12m long, built about 5000BC, the huge mound is now topped with a small chapel and a Breton calvary with it’s characteristic figures of saints. There is a central chamber in which funeral items were discovered but this is now closed off. From the top we could see a farmer ploughing, and wild deer grazing in the next meadow, but not a sign of the 3000+ standing stones, shielded from view by the trees. 

Nearby the small village of Locmariaquer has it’s own pre-historic treasures : a huge Menhir, a dolmen and a Tumulus. The broken “Great Menhir”, the largest from the prehistoric age in the west, is a huge piece of granite over 20m long which now lies on the ground in 4 pieces. The Table des Marchand dolmen is open and inside are fascinating symbols carved into the huge stones – crooks, an axe, a gazelle and an ox. And the biggest feature is the Er Grah Tumulus, a closed grave some 140m long containing multiple burials. 

From the works of mankind to the works of Nature – we headed down onto the Quiberon peninsular. A narrow finger of land with sheltered, sandy beaches on it’s east coast and the rocky, windswept and unswimmable Côte Sauvage to the west. We set up a couple of miles from the southern tip in an Aire overlooking the west-facing cliffs and cycled into the small town of Quiberon where we joined the Friday throng at a cafe looking south over the beach. A good way to end the week.