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Menhir-Overload, into the void, surprises and demises in Loire-Atlantique

So after weeks of sticking pins in maps and searching (fairly fruitlessly) for source material I have finally come into possession of my own four-wheeled carriage (or to be more ccurate , my sisters Vauxhall Nova which I'm borrowing for the summer). At last I can venture out and find out if the enigmatically marked and oft-unnamed menhirs and dolmens to be found within driving distance of Nantes are actually of any interest.
Last Saturday I began with a day of mixed fortune which began with disapointment then ebbed and flowed to a rather satisfying conclusion.
Fairing better than my previous trip (to Carnac) I was actually on the road and clear of Nantes before 9am! First stop was the Menhirs des Pierres Blanche, about two thirds of the way to Brevin-les-Pins, which, inspite of immpressive signposting, turned out to be a rather small and not especially white, menhir by a farm track. Its nearby companion was probably more impressive but is now fallen.
The next site was the Dolmen de la Haute Gedeliere. I couldn't get very close due to private proerty signs, barbed wire and a shady looking guy stood by an old Renualt Master about a hundred yards away, but I saw enough. The dolmen appears to be completely ruined, blocks protruding willy-nilly from a low mound. A mound which, incidentally, appears to be the ideal place to dump hay and manure and then burn it. How this can possibly be allowed I don't know but I can only hope the dolmen was long ruined before these ignorant folk began their work.
I was similarly denied at the Menhir de Pierre Bonde, Menhir de Megerie and the Menhir des Cassis! I was forced to view all from various distances and always from behind rusty barbed wire. Too many shotguns out here I have become aware...
Well what a fine morning this was turning out to be. The Menhir de Pierre Gargantua was (rather ironically) about a foot and a half tall and my famous patience was becoming eroded. I consoled myself with the thought that this was at least an adventure. Like the antiquarians of of old I had little to go on but locations on maps. No books, no information, so one has toi explore everything in order to find anything.
My luck began to change at the next site, the Menhir de Plessis-Gamat. Incredibly there were no fences or signs and I was able to get right up to the two and a half metre granite pillar where it stood on the edge of a field of short grass. The stone had clearly been split from the bedrock along a quartz vien as one flattened side was covered with a smooth layer of the stuff. Fairly flat in section the wide side has one of those rounded shapeds reminiscent of the the 1970s pink cartoon shape shifting blob Barbapapa (if anyone remembers him and his family).
Suitably bouyed up by actually sucessfully visiting an impressive site I bunbled on the the Dolmen de la Briordais. After a bit of getting lost I finally came upon this ruin. Although it is ruined the dolmen retains some magic. From a low mound (11m x 5m) set on (slightly) higher ground protrude a number of blocks, two of which could be in situ capstones although there is no access to any chamber which may remain beneath. As I say, inspite of its ruin, I rather liked the Dolmen de la Briordais, forgotton in the corner of a field.
Further bumbling and some completely instictive left and right turns in St. Brevin-l'Ocean led me to the surprising Dolmen des Rossignols. This is a curious and unique site indeed. The entire dolmen in actually below ground level. It sits in a 'crater' in an empty plot within an estate of bungalows, some residential and some clearly holiday homes, all set in shady pine woods. I would hazard a guess that the dolmen was actually discovered, beneath these old sand dunes, when the foundations were being dug for one such bungalow. Indeed a line of holes connected by a crack which run along the top surface of the capstone appear to be evidence that and attempt was made to split the stone before (hopefully before!) its significqnce was realised.
The dolmen is ruined, and maybe partially restored, to such an extent that it is difficult to ascertain its exact original features. However its massive capstone, which is about three by four metres, and its unique situation make it well worth a visit. So enamoured was I by this pleasant and intriguing spot that I chose it as the location for my lunch and in doing so (inadvertantly) broke my first and only rule of the day. For as I wandered around looking for good angles from which to photograph the site I spotted the 'Pique-Nique Interdit' sign! Oh well, no harm done. In fact I was surprised that this suburban dolmen was completely free of litter, broken glass and such. Either the yoputh of the area are a curiously well-behaved lot, or the site is very well looked after. Something it is alaways a pleasant surprise to find.
From here it was a run around the wonderfully named Menhir du Menhir, the Menhir de la Riverais and the Aveburyish Menhir de la Pierre Attelee, before I came upon my last and best surprise of the day.
Partially because I was eager to get to the show-site of the Tumulus de Mousseux at Pornic and partially because I was begining to feel a bit menhired-out, I almost ommited the Menhir du Boivre from my itinerary. How glad I was that I didn't.
What a stone! This huge menhir is around four metres high standing alone in a small meadow. But what is amazing is its shape. The SW face is a huge Goddess figure, complete with undersized head, possibly carved breasts and downward pointing pubic triangle. So obvious is all this that Almost did a cartoon style double-take when it struck me as I have never seen such a huge or perfect example of such a thing. But another surprise was yet to come. For the NW aspect is a huge phallus, sloping upwards at a priapic 75°! The head of the Goddess becomes the glans and the natural(?) grooves and fissures rather realisitic viens. This was the first time I had visited such a stone, I even had to give it a name (after the nearest hamlet) as on the map it is just marked as 'menhir'. Of course this now means I must visit everythin marked on the map that I can find, just in case, but if I find anything such as the Menhir du Boivre the effort will be justified.
After all the exitement I only got a few minutes at the Tumulus de Mouseux so descriptions of said monument will have to wait. But I am now sure that there's more to France than Carnac and a few fabcy show-sites so who knows what's yet to come...


Pagan Nativities and Grimacing Menhirs, a rainy yet productive day in Carnac

A few Saturdays ago saw my first proper visit of the year to Carnac. I'd already passed through a few times since my return to France after the New Year, but this has mainly been on route to the council tip to dump another load of old matresses and cushions (don't ask).
The main purpose of my trip was to try out my new camera, sadly analogue due to lack of access to a computer out here, but I did find a few interesting new things during the course of the day.
As I left Nantes at 9am (my rather pityful attempt at an early start) the rain commenced and inspite of a good weather forecast it was still raining when I reached Carnac. I parked up for a few minutes in the Manio carpark and and decided that the best bet was to go and get a cup of tea and see what happened.
Well, the first thing that I noticed was that the posters outside the newsagents were proclaiming 'Carnac: Un nouveau projet'. Intrigued I bought a copy of Ouest-France and read the exiting news (detailed in the news section of this website). Most pleasing was the news that the, much reviled and protested against, fences which currently surround the alignements are to be removed and replaced with 'low hedges'.
Suitably jubilated I then took the opertunity to visit the interior of the church of St. Cornély. Now, St. Cornély is the parish saint of Carnac and the patron saint of horned beasts. He is one of the crucial figures in my researches into the bull cult at Carnac that may have persisted from prehistoric times to the present day.
Inside the church I found the nativity scene was still in place, including the baby Jesus being born in a hut between two giant paper-mache menhirs! This hut was at the end of a stone avenue which lead to the church of St. Cornély itself and in the background was a model of the Tumulus St. Michel! All this pagan imagery still hanging on in this (Celtic) Catholic church was a sight to see in 2003.
If freizes (is that how you spell it?) on walls are your thing then the whole interior is covered in paintings in the Breton fashion refered to, rather patronisingly, as the 'niave' style. Mighty entertaining.
The rest of the day was spent visiting various well known sites and playing with camera and tripod and discovering how far one can run when ones camera has a ten second camera. The sun finally came out late afternoon, just as I was about to run out of film, but I think I got some good pictures of some fantastic grimacing anthropomorphic stones in the Kerlescan Alignements, small wonder legend has it the rows are a Roman legion turned to stone...I also got some shots of a Breton Jesus on Kercado hill, this one was the wierdest I'd found yet, looking like a Jellybaby, with no beard, what appeared to be a flat-top spikey haircut and sporting a wry half smile yo have to wonder just how respectful the sculpter was being.
Next stop; the dolmens and menhirs of La Baule, St.Nazaire and Pornic.........


The first post of Spaceship Mark's Weblog

Hello, I thought I'd start writing in this thing in order to make myself carry on (if that makes sense). I'm off back out to France in a few weeks so I'll try to write about sites I visit and post them here (as there's no Europe yet).
Hopefully this will be informative for yous and give me the kick up the ass I always need to write up my field notes properly.
It'll probably be a bit few and far between until May, when I return to Carnac for another season, but keep your eyes peeled as I have plans for trips up the Loire valley and down into the Vendee as soon as I have transport (which will be part time from January and hopefully full time from March).
Anyway hope this'll be of some use t'y'all.

Name: Spaceship Mark Williamson
Born: 1976CE
Lives: Europe
Specialist Subject: Carnac and its environs
Favorite UK site: Castlerigg
Favourite European site: Tumulus de Kercado, Carnac

I've been visiting megalithic sites since about 1990 when I went to Castlerigg and inbetwen getting mashed and falling over I realised what a fantastic place it was. I've spent four summers working in Carnac and hope to return there in the summer of 2004 to finish the fieldwork for the epic 'Fields of Stone: an Exploration of Megalithic Carnac'.
Looking forward to The Megalithic European so this site can be expanded into Europe and I can climb the contributor post chart.

"Knowledge is an inexpensive commodity but its possession is priceless"
Dennis Thompson, the MC5

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