Member of The Society of Authors, Travelwriters UK, Association des Ecrivains bretons
In my last book Spirit of Place in Finistere (published in English and French editions in early 2017), I looked at distinctive places with complex personalities and ways in which humans forge relationships with landscape on many levels. Now I’m working on a new project about ancient paths and journeys in Brittany, and exploring the flavour of wayfaring in a variety of historic and emotional contexts.
The forest of Paimpont has its own drama of sweeping hillsides, tumbling waters and vantage points offering expansive views over the tree-tops which only intensify the sense of containment within a vast sylvan entity. Natural beauty here lies untouched by development, peopled only by infrequent hamlets lying low in the landscape. Apparently these days such simple natural advantages are not enough to build a major tourist destination, and under the ‘Brocéliande brand,’ the economy of an entire region now rests on what may well be a spurious claim even by the murky standards of Arthurian affiliation.
In Brittany the words of poems and the steps of dance have emanated from the landscape, an expression of the relationship between a people and their environment. Place-names today evoke the richness of the Breton language and the beloved nature of rock, moor, wood and valley. These are the ties of the heart, the simple song of connection that roots an identity beyond need of further definition.
Nantes’ fame as a port has somehow coined the popular notion that it is by the sea, when more than 50 kilometres of Loire estuary separate the beaches of the Côte d’Amour or the industrial centre of St-Nazaire from the settlement that was for 1000 years a major city of Brittany. In the other direction, the sumptuous chateaux that have become synonymous with the word Loire are but a distant whisper. What we might call the Breton Loire is a functional, workaday wide grey streak of shallow water, lined by marshy emptiness or brutal refineries.
Texts on these two pages represent previous exhibition work and current preoccupations
The Monts d’Arrée form an eerie heart of Finistere. These highest hills in Brittany are hardly mountains - the topmost point of Roc’h Ruz is only 385m – but they seem to retain an echo of their ancestral imprint, on a par with the Alps when the European landmass was formed, and what they now lack in height is more than made up for in atmosphere. This swathe of marsh, moor and crest certainly adds up to more than the sum of its geography, bearing a prodigious weight of legend and specific social history that mirrors the singularity of the landscape, a byword for separation, isolation and a semi-poetic desolation. Pity about the former nuclear power station in the middle.