“A view of the Bridge”

 

The new Bridge at Terenez

All the time we have been travelling in this part of Finistere, and particularly since we have been living here, we have been following the construction of a bridge over the river Aulne between Le Faou and Crozon. The river Aulne is part of the chain of waterways that form the Nantes/Brest canal travelling across Brittany. At Port Launay the canal ends and the river flows 20kms down into the Rade de Brest near le faou. The road from le Faou to Crozon follows the meandering Aulne up the river past restaraunts and places to buy local honey and cider.

 The Old Suspension Bridge at Terenez

There is an old suspension bridge which has until recently been the crossing point for this journey. This was originally constructed in 1913 but had to be rebuilt after it was mined by the Germans in 1944. The bridge was finished in 1952. It had been suffering from concrete cancer and was costing a significant amount to maintain. The winning design for the replacement bridge was accepted in 1998.

New bridge at Terenez

We decided to take a trip out to visit the new bridge following its opening in April 2011 to traffic. It had been opened for pedestrians before then. We weren’t disappointed. Not normally excited by new bridges I was prepared to make an exception for this one. It has walk/cycle ways across either side, well worth the 20 minute round trip. The bridge provides stunning views up and down the river, and at the moment a view of the old bridge which is to be destroyed apart from leaving a vantage point for tourists at one end.

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The bridge has a stunning curved design and gives an amateur photographer like me a feast of different perspectives to look at. I will be spending time now seeing how many different vantage points I can view it from.

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The River Douffine

A short walk down the track from our property is the river Douffine. Twice every day this provides a place to exercise an enthusiastic young Springer Spaniel. We walk down through the oak to a plantation of pine running along one side of the river. The variation of light in here is spectacular, providing an almost mystical appearance when you look along the rows of trees and see a bright doorway at the end. The choice is to walk down the river to the weir along the edge of the pines to the weir or up the river in open meadows.

River Douffine from the weir

The Douffine is a fast flowing river of ever changing moods rising and falling to reflect the rainfall. At the end of March when this was written, the woods are starting to come alive with the first wild flowers appearing and the blossom on the hawthorn, reflecting in the water.

 River Douffine

Wildlife is always present with the never ending birdsong. The river is home to otters which I have seen on two or three occasions although they need an early morning walk without a dog to stand a better chance of seeing them. Currently there is a pair of Coypu resting on the bank in a particular spot. I am sure that two will become more soon. Red Squirrels are around although these timid creatures are hard to spot. Roe deer are regular visitors to the woods and river and we often see them strolling up across our field. The other afternoon when walking up from watching the coypu I saw my first Kingfisher on the opposite bank. Now I know they are about I will spend more time down there with the camera. There is often a cormorant near the weir and we have seen Heron and Egret ( I have yet to get close enough to see which one)

Coypu on the bank of the Douffine

The river apparently contains Gold, in I am quite sure, very tiny amounts. In the summer if you see someone standing in the river it will probably be me panning for my fortune. There is an old disused Gold mine somewhere around Loperec which was open for a short time in the eighties.

At this time of year there is also a steady trickle of fishermen fly fishing for brown Trout. It’s a good job they appear in the morning generally, as in the late afternoon they are more likely to catch a Spaniel swimming after sticks.

The river is constantly changing, the light in the valley providing a diverse range of mood. Soon there will be a carpet of wild flowers, Damsel flies dancing in the sunlight, and sparkling water jumping over rocks and stones providing a cool break from the warmth of the sun. I suppose the best thing about living by a river is that the constant flow of water reminds you that nature never, ever stops it just changes, evolves and adapts.

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Walking in Brittany

When we first arrived to live in Brittany, we were having drinks with our new neighbours when I asked if there were plenty of places to walk in the area. It was a genuine question as I hadn’t by then seen any indication of footpaths in the countryside. There was a genuine look of surprise on their faces as they replied, “Yes! lots of places, even around the farm”.

I have since been able to spend more time looking and investigating and can see why they were surprised at the question. France in general has a series of national paths between major destinations known as Grand Randonée’s (GR’s). There are in fact two very close to us; the GR 380 which is a huge circular circuit of the Hills of the Mont D’Arree region and GR 37 which joins Rohan to the beach at Pentrez on the Crozon peninsula. The latter is part of the larger National network of paths.

 Chapel of St Michael Mont D’Arree

More locally there are a range of Regional circuits which can be walked for days: GRP’s (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée de Pays) and shorter hiking trails which can last for several hours: PR’s (Sentiers de Promenade). Also when you look on local maps there are a series of Chemins D’exploitation where access is freely available, although these are not always clearly marked or maintained. The main routes have a clear series of markings showing what route you are on and what direction the route takes.

The coast around Brittany is accessible virtually all the way around giving a huge range of scenery to enjoy. The Nantes Brest canal can be accessed along its whole length for walks. There are many recognized circuits around the towns exploring an abundance of historical buildings. From mid – March onwards the woods come to life with wild flowers and wildlife emerging to greet spring.

Nantes Brest Canal

Whether you like day long hikes or short strolls in the country, there is something to suit everyone in Brittany and particularly Finistere. As I write the woods are full of primroses and catkins cover the willows. The first shoots of bluebell plants are appearing, promising a great show in May. This year I have promised myself to try and identify some of the many types of wild flower growing on the walk down to the river.

Spring walk down to the river Douffine

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Warning: I am going to cross the road

I was interested to read the other day that the French government has changed the law giving right of way to pedestrians to cross the road anywhere, unless within 50 metres from an authorised crossing point. I found this interesting from a number of perspectives.

As an observer, while a driver may lose out by receiving a fine and points on their licence a pedestrian risks losing a lot more.

As a driver who has lived in France for 15 months and travelled here for years before, I had wrongly assumed that pedestrians had the right of way wherever they were in relation to a crossing. My only doubt was whether that right related to everybody or just those with a baguette in their arms. My approach to driving through “un petit village français” was to assume that anyone would or could step out in front of you at any time. I am rarely disappointed. Now at least the law also says they have to show clear intent; something that rarely happens at the moment. I can think of a clear hand signal I could give that would show clear intent that I wouldn’t be stopping.

As a pedestrian who rarely remembers to carry a protective baguette I was sure that crossing a road was akin to suicide anyway, unless it was on a crossing, the road was closed or you had a police blockade to assist you.

So now when I am trying to find a place to cross I have to make sure that I am not less than 50 metres from an authorised crossing point. I also have to psycho-analyze the oncoming driver to see if I believe that he or she has read the same information as me. As men we clearly have a disadvantage as it is known that we are not good at estimating lengths.

Finally however! The genius of this new legislation struck me; the Government has in one stroke created greater income potential and legalised suicide……… Brilliant!!

It just gets better! I’ve just woken up from the nightmare and realise we live in Brittany where we don’t get much traffic or many pedestrians, so order is restored.

Please Note: The author wishes to remind you that carrying a baguette is no guarantee of safety when crossing any road.

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Le Faou

About 15 minutes from us is the small town of Le Faou. Being so close it is a regular venue for meals out or a quick trip out with family and friends. It has a range of restaurants, creperies, café’s and bars as well as good shops selling local produce. There are a number of half timbered houses in the centre and an amazing variety of building types and stone colours as you walk down from the centre to the estuary.

The river Le Faou is one of two or three in this area which feed into the mouth of the River Aulne. The network of estuary’s when viewed on the approach down to le Faou create a spectacular backdrop in all kinds of lighting situations but particularly sunsets. Stopping at one of the viewing points to enjoy this is a must, maybe when returning from an early evening meal in the summer or on the way out when the days are shorter.

lefaou-sunset.jpg

As for the restaurants, our favourites are “Le Brasseries les halles” as well as the creperie “La Frégate” both of which have authentic charm inside and more importantly excellent food and service. “Le Brasserie Les Halles” has seating outside during the summer months. The Pizzaria next door is a good alternative when you have younger mouths to feed, who perhaps like something more familiar. As well as this there are a number of bars, hotels and restaurants that we have yet to try opposite the car park in the main square but all seem to be well used and the place has a nice buzz about it in the evening.

The Celliar du Regal’s is an excellent place to stop for your supplies of beers wines and spirits, the owner is helpful and knowledgeable.

lefaou-church.jpg

Visit the Penlan Gites website for holiday accommodation.

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Hiring a car with no money or means of identificaton

We could have argued all day about who had locked the keys in the car boot, who had opened the boot only and not the main car doors, who forgot to check the keys weren’t in the boot before it was closed. We could have argued all day but the boot would still be locked and Sunday was running out. Our perfect sunny Sunday was ending in a less than perfect manner.

We had decided to explore an area west of Brest in particular Le Conquet and St Mathieu. I had taken all the photos I wanted, we had walked all the cliffs we wanted and it was time to get back for supper. We stopped by the back of our car (a Passat estate) to enjoy a drink and some fruit before setting off. Putting my hand in my pocket I realised I hadn’t driven out so asked for the keys, there was a moments silence and the glance to the boot told me all I needed to know. Isn’t it funny how you think that standing and looking at the car for ten minutes will resolve the problem?

The facts were, it was a late Sunday afternoon in Brittany out of the holiday season and all our money, mobile phones and documents were locked in the car. We were an hour and a half away from home. Our French at this stage is still poor at best. We walked down to a hotel on the side of the road where the friendly receptionist in the Hostellerie de la Pointe St Mathieu telephoned a local garage to see if they could help. The mechanic was already on a call and would be an hour, which was no problem so we sat down for a drink and waited.

After 45 minutes an elderly gentleman in a small white van turned up and followed us back to the car. He tried everything to try and get us back in, the old wire trick; he even had some little inflatable bags to help prize open the top of the door enough to get the wire in. Alas after half an hour he confirmed one of the reasons why we had chosen a Passat. They are very secure, and he would have to pick it up with a tow truck in the morning. We couldn’t face the thought of leaving our possessions in the car overnight and still having to get back home. We asked about a taxi when the mechanic suggested he could hire us a car for 24 hours for 60 euros, probably about the same price as a taxi and we could come back for the car with the spare keys. We accepted the offer to go back to his garage, for some reason I was made to crouch in the back of the van with the tool box and various car parts.

The kind man asked us to follow him into the office and wait in reception at the Renault garage in Plougonvelin (Garage Lamour). After a couple of minutes he came back with some keys which he placed on the counter. “We have no money or cards they are all in the car”, “no problem” he replied, just get it back tomorrow and pay then. “Our driving license and passports are also in the car”, “no problem” he replied just write your name and address on this piece of paper and sign it at the bottom. He showed us the brand new Renault asked us if we had any questions and bid us a safe journey.

Happily we retrieved our car that evening, we returned the hire car the following day, paid a very reasonable price for it and left with a renewed belief in human nature and trust.

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Beware professional people bearing gifts from the east, west or any other direction.

Like everyone in the travel letting business a request for two weeks accommodation for two couples in March is a welcome sight. March not being a typically busy letting period as far as I am aware in Brittany and this being our first year. A Dr from Malaysia has recently contacted us by email and wants to book our accommodation, why wouldn’t we be interested to pursue that one.

We looked at the wording and it was slightly unusual, why would you introduce yourself and immediately say what you do for a living. We thought perhaps it was just “lost in translation” or a cultural thing.

Anyway being professional we followed it up with a polite email stating that the accommodation was available and giving details of how they could go about confirming the booking. Thinking it may have been a round robin sent out to lots of establishments to see what was available we expected to hear nothing further.

Imagine our surprise when we received an email complementing us on our prompt response and confirming the booking. Yes! this holiday business is so easy, and look, they want to give us a cheque for  6000 euros more than we asked for so we can take out our expenses and pay an agent they are appointing locally to pay for flights hire car etc..

Yes that was then the truth dawned on us someone was trying to scam us and get a few more  personal details, a variant on the old 419 scam if you haven’t heard of it go on line and look it up.

I am notifying you of this as I would hate to think that there is someone out there who might be duped into thinking, what could be the harm of this? Just wait for the cheque to turn up. It won’t and if it does it won’t be worth anything they suck you in, get a few more details and before you know you are getting bills for things you have not received the money to pay for or they have got enough information to clean your bank account out. Being professional again we have sent another email repeating what we have already said and refusing the offer of extra money and hopefully convincing them that we have not fallen for it.

I am sure that we are not the first in this industry to receive this sort of approach but hopefully this is a timely reminder at the start of a New Year. If you know of someone that may be susceptible to this type of approach please forward this to stop them falling for it. I will add more information about helpful websites as I identify them to further combat this type of conn.

If we have just upset a Dr in Malaysia and lost a very profitable business deal then I guess so be it.

Happy New Year to one and all.

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Camaret-Sur-Mer

This is a real favourite for a day out with friends and family when they visit us. A small port at the end of the Crozon Peninsula, Camaret-sur-Mer provides not only sea, scenery and seafood; it has something of interest for most people.  As you drive down the hill into the port you will see the historic Vauban tower (UNESCO world heritage site 2008) built to help protect the Goulet de Brest.

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The road leads you along the harbour, past a line of traditional, multicoloured buildings housing restaurants, shops, bars and creperies. In the summer months when Camaret is busier with visitors, it still maintains its dignity and identity as a local harbour town and the more lively summer activity simply adds to its wonderful atmosphere.

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Camaret is also well known for its artists’ quarter and in side-streets off the harbour, you can also find artists’ shops and galleries. In the past, famous artists such as Boudin, Riviere and Derain were regular visitors to Camaret-sur-Mer.

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Having a keen interest in photography I am particularly drawn to the remains of the old fishing vessels which lie on the far side of the port. To some, these vessels may be a reminder of the decline of the fishing industry (Camaret used to be the best place in Europe to catch langoustines and sardines) but to me, these grand old ships provide more colour, contrast and texture for some excellent photography opportunities.

camaret-boats.jpg

From the Vauban Tower you can look back across at the beautiful coloured buildings lining the main road and be tempted back for a meal or snack. The seafood is excellent and we have also enjoyed a variety of other meals in Camaret in both daytime and evening. You can also relax on the white sandy beach outside the main harbour area or take a walk around the cliffs for something more energetic.

You can drive west to la Pointe du Toulinguet and walk to La Pointe de Penhir where you can find the remains of what was a grand manoir belonging to the little known French poet Saint-Pol-Roux. The sad story surrounding the demise of the manoir can be explored through Wikipedia if you type in the poet’s name; there is also an illustration of how the manoir may have looked in the past.

Camaret is accessed via the main road from Crozon itself, or alternatively you can turn off at Tal ar Groas and take a detour north through Lanvéoc Le Fret, Quélern and around the Pointe des Espagnols which is a beautiful drive. We have seen a numerous cyclists around that area showing that even in the summer this is a popular cycling route as the roads are not too busy. With a wonderful mix of heath and rugged coastline and only a few restricted areas, there is so much space and plenty of opportunity to enjoy the surrounding scenery with a bracing walk, a stroll or just to stop and look. According to our French neighbours there is a fantastic restaurant in Le Fret in the small port there which, at the time of writing we have yet to try. If you beat us to it please let us know.

 Visit the Penlan Gites website for holiday accommodation

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Pentrez Plage a beach for all seasons

Brittany has many miles of coastline; as much as one third of France’s total according to some documentation. Having never measured it I will leave that for others to ponder. There is a lot. The Breton coastline is exposed to the English Channel, Atlantic Ocean and Bay of Biscay providing a variety of coastal areas to explore. This includes rocky cliffs, bays, sandy beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes and islands.

The Crozon Peninsula is an outcrop of land South of Brest with its own North and South coastline. Pentrez is one of its many sandy beaches towards the eastern end of the south shoreline. It is in the bay of Douarnenez. As it is only half an hour’s drive for us it is a regular trip both in the summer and winter.

In the summer it is one of the more popular beaches in this part of Brittany, although even on a bank holiday in August you would struggle to call it crowded, more a healthy gathering. For the rest of the year it will see a few dogs exercising their humans and locals enjoying walks with friends and family along its vast length of flat sand. Sundays may be a little busier if lunchtime has passed.

 Pentrez Plage a beach for all seasons

Above the tide line is beautiful soft sand – so fine you can hardly see it if you pick it up. Below the ever changing tide line it takes on a reflective quality magnified by the beach’s 4km length and shallow fall.

 Pentrez beach reflections

Walking along the beach in the sun you might see words or names scribed in the sand (writing in the sand is just irresistible). There might be groups playing boules, football, volleyball or just splashing around in the shallow surf. At the far end you will often see land-yachting; something I’ve not yet tried but I am sure I will before too long.

We have acquired a small collection of shells which are usually in abundance as the tide falls and often seem to find their way in to our pockets and back home.

 Shells on the beach

A road runs parallel with the beach giving plenty of parking opportunities and half way along there is a small group of snack bars, restaurant and gift shops, unusual in this part of the coast.

In 2007 the Sunday Times listed Pentrez in the top twenty European beaches.

For us, sitting in the sun or walking along the beach with the dog in the winter is equally enjoyable because it is such a vast space. It is one of many beautiful sandy beaches along this stretch of coastline.

 Visit the Penlan Gite website for holiday accommodation

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Why pick a farm in Finistere, Brittany?

Why pick a farm in Brittany, Finistere for that matter; the mysterious outcrop on the North West edge of France? From a detached house in a busy village in Hampshire, England to moving, ‘lock stock and two smoking chairs’ to a property on its own in a foreign land.

Having both been used to a very rural family upbringing and benefiting from close links to farming and the countryside through training and profession, moving to the country was the obvious decision. It was then surely just a simple matter of which country.

Both Claire and I loved France from family holidays:  the food, the culture and peace and quiet which is particularly provided in the western extremes of Brittany. “Traffic” is a word you can save for those trips back to visit family and friends on the “other side”. Instead of playing “spot the gap” to get onto a motorway you can play “spot the car”. In the evenings the only way we could hear our neighbours would be if they decided to put up a stage in their garden and invited “Take That” to perform. Something we are sure they wouldn’t be doing even if they were familiar with the band.

 Penlan House Front

We were lucky that we were able to find an old farm house with a few acres of land, including a wood and some outbuildings at a price we could afford, whilst leaving us a few Euros to convert outbuildings into Gites. For us the checklist with which we went property shopping included the following:

Five or six bedroom house: so we could get away from each other when we needed to and have a study each. (Oh yes, and so we could put up friends and family when they visit )…. Check!

Easy ferry/airport access for friends and family visitors from the UK:….Check!

Outbuildings: To earn us a bit of pocket money (i.e. the Gites) also to store the lawn mower, rake, fork, spade, tractor and our huge stacks of wood….. Check!

A bit of land: so we could justify having a tractor in the barn and some woodland so we had an excuse to chop wood…. Check!

 penlan_field.jpg

Water near by: that was mainly for my interest in wildlife and photography. The river Douffine certainly qualifies for that with its Otters, Coypu, red squirrels (they are in the trees of course) and fast flowing water….. Check!

River Douffine

Penlan has given us all of the above and a lot more which we hadn’t initially included in our shopping list. We are within walking distance of Loperec which is a lovely Breton Village. It boasts a restaurant, bar, village shop, a bread oven in the square (used during the regular summer markets) and a church in the centre of the square with an elaborately carved church tower. We are also close to Pont De Buis, giving us quick access to a supermarket, post office, banks, patisseries, boulangerie and hair dressers – if Claire forgets to use the one in Loperec which I forgot to mention. Civilisation is not far away when we want it. We are also conveniently very much at the centre of this beautiful region.

We can be on a clean sandy beach in 25 minutes; in the beautiful medieval city of Quimper in 30 mins or in the hills of the Mont D’Arree in 20 mins. Restaurants at Le faou, Chateaulin, Camaret-Sur-Mer…. sorry I was drifting off then.

As you can see, for us there really wasn’t very much difficulty in making the decision in the end. After arriving here we have continued to add to the list of positives: Particularly our neighbours who are extremely friendly, lend us their tractor, insist on us having crates full of their homemade cider, help us whenever we have difficulties completing French forms and they have never held a “Take That” concert.

 So now when I take the dog for a walk in the evenings I can just about hear the sound of the birds above the River Douffine meandering through its rocky course to the sea. At night with clear skies and no light pollution we can clearly see so many of the stars and so much of the solar system (might even try and find out more about them if I can dig out the “I spy” book of the stars).

Finally do you know what we heard the other night when we arrived home after visiting friends?…… absolutely nothing.

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