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Carnac virgin loses her cherry

We were staying up on the north coast of Brittany due to free accommodation but this - coupled with determination and nose-thumbing to the horrible two hour drive to get there - was not going to stop me from getting to Carnac. Moth had been before. In fact, everyone seems to have been before. At last, this was about to change. My first day in Carnac.

Having already established we couldn't get the ferry over to Gavrinis until later in the afternoon, we drove straight down to the Locmariaquer peninsula, just east of Carnac.

Grand Menhir Brisé, Er Grah, and Table des Marchants are all on one managed site with a car park, visitor centre and shop for which you pay a small fee of €4.60.

Grand Menhir Brisé (GMB) is almost too vast to comprehend. After we arrived off the ferry in St Malô the day before we swung by the Menhir du Champs Dolent at Dol-de-Bretagne and I thought that – at 32 feet tall – was a big one. (pictured below)

Turns out that compared to GMB, it's a tiddler. The difference is that GMB no longer stands. It lies fallen and broken in four mammoth pieces on the manicured grass to be marvelled at in the same way as one would view the body of a dead, beached whale. I was aware that a 'fragment' of this great broken stone had been carted off and reused to build Gavrinis which I would see later. So large is this stone that I wonder if it was ever vertical?
Pictured below, Moth enters the Table des Marchants with GMB in the background

Within 15metres of GMB is the large stony cairn of Table des Marchants. Today there were a few visitors around and it would be impossible to have it to ourselves, though most visitors didn't stay long. Bowing our heads to enter the 6 metre long passageway, it soon opened up and increased in height to perhaps nine feet tall, lined all around by vast walling slabs, some gloriously carved repeatedly with crooks, axe-shapes and other unknown symbols (which will probably be interpreted by someone somewhere as breasts or pubes.) The ceiling slab of the main chamber particularly impressed me – it was simply vast. Pictured below, the lofty passageway at Table des Marchants

And just a few metres away from Table des Marchants is the long mound of tumulus Er Grah – a mighty tapering cairn maybe over 100 metres long. You can't get inside it any more but must walk its length to appreciate it.

With the sun out and dozens of 'Hollywood' sites to see we had to crack on. Moth insisted I see one in particular, knowing my mind would be blown by it. Les Pierres Plates is at the very southern tip of the Locmariaquer peninsula, now hidden away in the dunes overlooking the beach. Parking among the camper vans in the shade of the pines, a short walk of 300 metres takes you to the monument which heralds its existence in advance with a tall menhir poking above the gorse.

This amazing tomb is full of mega-surprises. Its little low portal leads into a long passageway which curves sharply round to the left. The total length must be 20 metres or so, but it never gets tall enough to stand up in. After five metres or so is a side chamber to the left. But keep going – you'll need your torch – and you are rewarded with the most magnificent and surprising carvings on the great walling slabs. Something that looks like a fern leaf or a rib cage, another looks like a diagram of botanical cell, another looks like a phallus… Cup-marks be damned! THIS is rock art and you'll wet your panties.

The outside of the mound is badly eroded, how much longer people should be allowed to walk around it and on it is debatable. Footfall is taking its toll.

Just a kilometer or so away, hidden among the homes of Locmariaquer village you'll see the sign to Mané er Hroeuk tumulus. There's a parking place right by it. This is a right big bugger of a mound and from what I could see rather untidy on the outside; there is no clear profile.

Steps have been constructed that lead down into the tomb. A short low passageway takes the visitor into a single large roughly round chamber. The chamber is lined with big slabs, but with no carvings that I could see. Above the wall slabs is a rough attempt at corbelling before the whole thing is topped with two giant capstones.

Leaving Locmariaquer to drive round the bay towards Gavrinis, we stopped to take in tumulus Kernours, near Bono.

This huge grassy mound, about the size of Duggleby Howe is built high up on a ridge among pine trees on the edge of the River d'Auray estuary. It has recently been tidied of gorsey undergrowth so much so that Moth didn't recognise it. By now I was getting the hang of this Carnac-tumulus-visiting stuff so I grabbed the torch and entered swiftly and with the enthusiasm of a ferret in a warren. Just like Pierre Plates the long, long passageway swings round, banana-style, to the left. Lots of gorgeous large flat wall slabs but no arty carvings in this one. Right next to the mound is the outline of another small cairn which reminded me hugely of the pincushion cairns up on Porth Hellick downs on the Scillies. As we grubbed around among the pines needly, gorsey paths we spotted a number of large stones. Erratics? Or something else? Who knows…

And then it was time to head down to Larmor Baden village to catch the 3.30 ferry to see Gavrinis. (Cost: ten euros.)

The ferry takes about a 15-minute chug across calm waters largely used these days for yachting and oyster beds. As we approached the southern end of the island of Gavrinis, I looked left to see the silhouette of some of the stones of the Er Lannic cromlech poking up.

God, I wish the guy driving the boat could have taken us round a bit closer. But one doesn't like to ask the French for favours, does one?

With great anticipation I leapt off the boat and tore up the pathway towards to cairn. No bags, no cameras, no nothing can be taken in to the cairn and each tour is strictly guided and limited in both number and time. I sensed this was going to be frustrating.

Indeed it was. A guide, speaking only French, naturellement, began his talk. Being unable to follow French with any competency, I whizzed on ahead up to the cairn to admire its much restored façade of carefully laid stones, stepping up like a pyramid, with its little –locked – portal behind which held so much promise…

The group approached the cairn's façade and the guide continued his talk. And continued. From what little I could follow he gave a potted history of the neolithique et âge de bronze which was probably quite good, but in my mind I was screaming: 'shut the f**k up and let me inside, you bâtard!'

Finally after perhaps 20 minutes he let half the group in. WOW. WOW. WOW. Swirls and spirals and waves and triangles and zigzags and lines and spots and bumps and WOW, WOW, WOW! Everywhere were the carvings; not just on one or two, but on practically ALL the wall slabs and even on the riser of the interior step into the slightly wider chamber at the end of the psychedelic passageway."/>
Imagine what this would have been like when it was painted- as it surely was. (Everything else in antiquity was, after all. Think of all the Egyptian tombs and temples, Greco Roman statuary and so on.) I could easily imagine the yellow and red ochres, ultramarine blues and umbers, chalks and charcoals swirling around in my mind.

The guide burbled on. I sat down to begin a sketch to try to study and understand some of the wild rhythms before my eyes. But, oh lâ lâ, I was asked to get out. Merde! I felt cheated and robbed. I'd only had ten minutes viewing.

Back on shore again we whizzed back round to Locmariaquer to find Kercadoret dolmen. This one is such a 'minor' site here in this megalithic wonderland that it is not signposted. Julian's instructions in TME are not exactly clear but eventually we managed to work out what the dear old hippy meant.

It's a sweet, classic dolmen found en route down to the main drag to the Locmariaquer monuments and quite complete. If this was in the UK people would travel miles to see it. But here it feels quite forgotten.

Not far from Kercadoret is tumulus Mane Lud which is well worth stopping by. It has a huge long mound, inhabited by what looked to me like redwoods. And they're big buggers.

At the end furthest from the road is the chamber and it's surprising! Go down a little staircase and you enter the passage and into the massive chamber. It has remarkable carvings on its wall slabs. OK, this ain't Gavrinis, but at least you have time to study them. On the main slab at the back is a gigantic representation of a pair of ram's horns. There are also wiggly lines, stripes, phalluses, crooks and axes, or at least I think that's what they were. All housed underneath a MAMMOTH capstone which I paced out at 7 metres long on top.

It was about 6 o'clock. And I really, really, REALLY wanted to see the alignments. We drove the short way back towards Carnac passing the MONSTER St Michel tumulus as we entered the village. It has a silly little chapel on top which only serves to make Christianity look very paranoid. And rightly so. It also has a hotel, Hotel Tumulus, built right next to it in which we would stay over a few days later.

We were approaching the alignments from the middle and Moth wanted to give me a real mind-blast by driving me along the road from one end all the way to the other to get a proper sense of scale for my first view, so I closed my eyes until we reached the very end at Menec. I could hardly wait for Moth to say: "open your eyes!" Then came the command.

For as far into the distance that I could see were rows and rows and rows and rows of stones, stones, stones, stones! WOW. WOW. WOW. Menhirs galore snaked gracefully across the undulations of the land. We drove along slowly – and the stones kept on coming. More and more. A break in the lines for the road. Then more. A break for some trees (though there were still one or two peppering the verges). Then yet more. Some cottages. And more still. A lake. And even more. After perhaps three kilometers they finally pierred-out. We turned the car around and drove all the way back to Menec to see them all again. I could've done that until nightfall.

We stopped at Menec hamlet which forms the western end of the main alignments to walk around the village which is neatly embraced within the horseshoe/circle of stones known here as a cromlech. I stared and stared, leaning on the fence barring my way into the alignments and watched as a stonechat landed on top of the nearest tallest menhir and sang his little heart out.

What a day.

Jane Posted by Jane
23rd April 2005ce
Edited 24th November 2005ce

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