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Gavrinis, Standing Stones and a Tiny House

Just off the coast of Brittany, in the Gulf of Morbihan, there’s a special little island called Gavrinis, ‘goat island’. It’s special because it has a large burial mound or cairn known for the detailed engravings that adorn the wall, floor and ceiling slabs of the cairn’s interior passage that are 6000 years old. In Neolithic times Gavrinis was a granite hill on the mainland coast overlooking the River Vannes, but the seas rose and the hill became an island. Today you can visit it by boat. We have just returned from a trip to Brittany where we visited Gavrinis on a day trip.

Gavrinis from the sea
Gavrinis island from the sea
Gavrinis cairn
Gavrinis cairn.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the burial chamber. In the photo below, taken from the Brittany Tourism website, the interior passageway looks longer than it seems in real life. It is an intimate space about three and a half feet wide. The granite slabs are engraved with swirls, chevrons, wavy lines and axe shapes and look very like fingerprints. What they symbolise is a mystery. It has been suggested that the lines represent waves or water or perhaps furrows of ploughed land. The Neolithic creators of the megalith were the first farmers and the land was revered and sacred. Gavrinis appeals to my liking for islands, for caves and for deep, quiet, ancient sacred spaces. The carvings remind me of labyrinths. How tempting it is to trace the lines with one’s finger. Perhaps they depict a kind of map to the next world? Perhaps an underground, underworld way of water.

Cairn de Gavrinis
In the passageway of the Cairn of Gavrinis.

No evidence of any bodies have been found at the cairn. It is thought that the acidic nature of the granire stones may have eroded any bones away.

You can see another island from Gavrinis, Er Lannic.

Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis
Er Lannic seen from Gavrinis.

On the boat journey back we crossed a strong current at high tide to see the half submerged stone circle on Er Lannic. It illustrates how sea level has risen.

Er Lannic submerged stone circle
Er Lannic showing the half submerged stone circle.

The same day we drove to see the long lines of standing stones at Carnac – rows, dolmens and tumuli. There are over 3,000 prehistoric granite stones erected over 5,000 years ago. There is a myth that says the stones were Pagan soldiers turned into stone by Pope Cornelius.

Carnac
Prehistoric stones in the Kermario alignment at Carnac. Kermario means ‘House of the Dead’.
Keriaval Dolmen
Keriaval Dolmen

After our megalithic sightseeing we travelled north to the Parc Naturel A’Armorique where we stayed in a little cabin on a permaculture farm.

Tiny house
Tiny house in Brittany.
Little tin with finds from Brittany.
Little tin given to me by a friend with finds from Brittany – yellow gorse and heather from Ménez Hom; quartz from the sea cliffs; sea purslane from the River Aulne.

Each day we went down to the River Aulne to watch birds, mullet feeding in the shallows and the tide coming in or going out.

Sunset over the River Aulne
Sunset over the River Aulne. The River Aulne was sacred to the Romans, who named it after Alaunus, Gaulish God of healing and prophecy.

From my diary:

River, still as a lake. carrying the sky’s visage, the splintered reflections of egrets, the crescent moon. Fish prick the surface waters of the incoming tide. Golden is the eastern sky. The shore crackles as inch by inch, silt upon silt, salt into fresh the water creeps, almost silently, unobtrusively. A cormorant now wings along the farther shore towards the sun over the white dots of roosting gulls. A curlew calls. The forest that was mirrored in the glass of the river is now bronze, now dense with darkness. The river says nothing. Spleechless it shifts, slowly it sucks up the land. The tide says nothing; this is its prerogative. All is held in a quiet dislocation, a shifting constant of sea and river. Silence bears witness to silence as the shore shrinks and we wait on the bank for some action, for a mammal, for a fox perhaps, or even an otter. Nothing comes and the hour gapes, waiting, waiting, waiting. This is forever. This is what forever sounds like, the silence then the crackling shore. In it comes, slowly, while above the crescent draws and pulls, pulls and draws. The sun behind the hill. A faint breeze. The gloaming now.

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Midway Film

I have just seen a trailer for the film, “Midway” which has deeply moved me. It strikes a cord with me because it features albatrosses that remind me of the gulls on Havergate, but mainly because I feel terribly irresponsible at having contributed to the Mid-Atlantic gyre – my message in a bottle! I want to do what I can to promote this film and the issues it raises.

I read much about ecological and environmental problems and it all gets very depressing. Often I want to just switch off, it all seems so painful. The trailer to this film is about an environmental tragedy but it is both beautiful and poetic.

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Havergate Island

Hare on Havergate IslandA stay on Havergate Island off the Suffolk Coast in June inspired this piece of creative writing:

“We head south into weak sunshine poured through a washed out sky, up and down banks of pink thrift and close cropped turf. The shingle protests underfoot. Threadbare hares eyeball us from a distance. An old drum, a reel of wire, land scooped out in dips, mounds and barren mudflats. As we approach the gull colony, lesser black backed and herring gulls greet us with a crescendo of raucous cries. Walking into the colony gulls lift up, a clamour of screeches and cries. ‘Yarh yarh yarh’ and the sky is littered grey with birds of all sizes, motes of soot or litter in the wind. I hear the occasional peep of an oystercatcher, then a deeper more gutteral cry as, amongst the whirl overhead, a great black backed gull is mobbed by his smaller cousins.

Gulls' NestI look down to see a confusion of loose nests, speckled green eggs and huddles of downy chicks, dotted mud-grey and well camoflaged against the grass and splattered ground. I feel a well of excitment seeing nests with eggs and stoop to pick up a broken eggshell embroidered on the inside with a trellis of red veins. I hurry to catch up with Anthony who is fast tracking it through the haze of gulls. They swoop in big arches, their cries deafening. I think I know when they are going to attack as from a distance they fix their gaze intently and then shape to dive bomb. Anthony braces against the attacks and then I receive a vicious kick on the back of my head. I feel the sharpness of feet and beak and know that blood has been drawn. I put up my hood just as a missile of guano splatters my sleeve with chalk white smears.

Through more waves of thrift we reach the hide, out of the wind and into the smell of damp wood and dust. Inside, safe from the birds, I recall fragments of a dream and sit gazing blankly at the mudflats while Anthony latches open a window and sets up the telescope. I am in an alien land wearing a pink gingham dress the colour of pink thrift. The dress is one I wore when I was twelve. I mingle with a group of people I am trying to please but feel awkward and distant from them. I remember the feeling of being caught between people and a wild, other self of tree climbing, birds’ nests and wanderings alone over the Downs. The dream and memories are rosy with sunset light, the same as last night at sundown over the mudflats and thrift. Pink thrift stirs pink memories.

Later that day we move heavy sheets of plastic guttering into the garage where the barn owl is supposed to live in a boarded up corner. Weary but relieved that the task is done, I notice a couple of soggy owl pellets near the garage entrance, the round, dark remains of a barn owl meal. We prise them apart and find fine vole bones. There are no signs of life in the garage. Then I discover a barn owl behind the cabins, a hollow eyed carcass leached of life, soggy feathers fanned out white against the black bins. I am reminded of how harsh it is here.

Lesser Black Backed Gull Eggshell and Jaw bone

Anthony finds a rat skull in the gloom near the decaying remains of a hare and I discover the bleached jawbone of a seabird, slender and springy as a wish bone. On returning to my cabin, I secrete it safely away with my eggshell inside an empty egg-box.”

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