Friday 28 June 2024

Boats in Brittany

There are a lot of boats in and around the Gulf of Morbihan. These are a few of the more interesting ones.

The Unity of Lynn, an English smack, was launched in 1906 in Boston, Lincolnshire. Her homeport is Saint Goustan, Auray.

The Lys Noir is a French gaff rigged yawl built by the Barrière d'Arcachon shipyards in 1914.

Sails of Change is a maxi-trimaran preparing for a huge challenge. The objective is to win the Jules Verne Trophy by beating the round-the-world record held since 2017: 40 days, 23 hours, and 30 minutes.

Thursday 27 June 2024

The Cairn de Gavrinis

When I first thought about going to Brittany, my aim was to see the Alignments of Carnac, which I first read about in the book "The Crystal Cave", a retelling of the legend of Merlin by Mary Stewart. Reading about other things we might do whilst in the area, I looked at ferry rides to islands in the Bay if Biscay - Belle-Île-en-Mer, or Île d'Houat. Both of these held some appeal, but then a note about Gavrinis caught my eye.

The Cairn de Gavrinis is on the island of Gavrinis in the Gulf of Morbihan. It's a Neolithic passage tomb built about 5,500 years ago at the beginnings of agriculture and the move away from being hunter gatherers. At that time the Gulf of Morbihan was a series of broad river valleys, and sea level was about 25 metres lower than it is now. The photos make look like it was earth covered, but the earth and grass has accumulated naturally, and originally the bare stone would have been visible from a long distance. It would have been a real statement piece, proclaiming that the territory was occupied.

The Cairn from the entrance to the Gulf of Morbihan, 3km away.

The island and tomb can only be visited in small groups on a guided tour. We have had great results booking these sorts of visits in the past, and the photos looked intriguing. We took the ferry from Larmor-Baden, which costs 20€ and includes the ferry to the island and a tour given by an archeologist. For some reason I didn't expect to be able to actually walk into the tomb without someone standing over me, nor be allowed to take photos (albeit without a flash).

Our ride out to the island approaches

The cairn is of a large mound of stones, built without mortar, approximately 50 metres in diameter and 6 metres high, covering a passage that leads to a central chamber. Inside is a passage about 14 metres long, lined with large slabs of stone many of which are adorned with carvings of spirals, lines, and other geometric patterns. 

The entrance to the Cairn. This is how it would originally have looked, but this face has been restored.

At the end of the passage is a chamber with a corbelled roof constructed from large stone slabs forming a rectangular room. The purpose of the cairn and its carvings is presumed to be related to burial practices and the veneration of ancestors.

Our photos were taken without a flash. Some of the professional photos are much more revealing.

Excavations and studies have revealed that some of the stones used in the construction of Gavrinis came from other locations, including from earlier tombs, and parts broken from large menhirs. The carvings are mysterious and abstract, and many interpretations and theories exist. I doubt we'll ever know what they mean, but it's keeping "better" minds than mine occupied.

Wednesday 26 June 2024

The Alignments of Carnac

The reason we went to Brittany last week was to see the Alignments of Carnac. There's over 3,000 standing stones (menhirs) that stretch along 3.5 kilometers in an almost straight line about 50 metres wide which are believed to date back to around 4500 BCE. They are divided into three main groups: Ménec, Kermario, and Kerlescan, each containing rows of menhirs (standing stones), dolmens (standing stones with a "table" on them), and tumuli (mounds). The menhirs could have been used for astronomical purposes or religious rituals, and the dolmens and tumuli possibly contained tombs.

The Alignment of Kermario

and looking the other way

We visited the alignments of Kermario, and Kerlescan and saw the smaller alignments of Manio and Toul-Chignan from the car, but failure to look at the map means we missed Menec completely. Still - that means we have a reason to visit again.

The smallest possible view of the Alignment of Kerlescan

The alignment of the stones would suggest they were positioned to mark solstices or other celestial events, but we can't verify that, because the morning of the solstice (20th June, this year) was overcast. We did get up to try check the theory, though.

The Dolmen of Kermario

There are also individual standing stones, apparently not part of the alignments. These tend to be proper whoppers like the Giant of Manio, which is 6.5 metres tall.

Impressive though the Alignments are, they're not the most amazing prehistoric sites in the area. We'll write about them later.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Once Upon A Time in Loches -- the German Response July 1944


Poster for an exhibition on the Liberation of Loches, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire VaLLey Time TraveL.

" The German Army did not appreciate the defiance of the people of Loches against them. They decided on reprisals against the maquisards and rapidly made more radical decisions to directly attack the inhabitants. 

23 July 1944, around midday, a thousand German soldiers arrived at the forest of Preuilly with the aim of surrounding the Maquis Eperon hiding there. Trapped by the Germans, who attacked from all sides, the young men beat a retreat on the orders of their commander. They escaped by crossing the thickets to the north, which were not under surveillance. The Maquis Eperon was thus dispersed. There had been more than 900 men gathered in the forest and only 6 of them were killed in this attack. This bitter partial victory for the Germans led them to install a garrison at the Tivoli Camp in Loches, in order to have better surveillance of the town.

Graves of resistance fighters in the forest, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire VaLLey Time TraveL.

27 July 1944 the Germans decide to undertake a hard hitting operation in order to reinforce their presence and so they went ahead with a real roundup. On this Thursday morning, agents of the Gestapo, the Milice and German soldiers swarmed through the streets and indiscriminantly arrested everyone they encountered. Also arrested, at home or at the station, were most of the Sud Touraine police, who were on a list of suspects to interrogate. Nearly 300 people were brought together in the courtyard of the girls school, to wait for their interrogations. At the end of the day 64 people were sent to the prison in Tours. Amongst these, about 40 of them were police (gendarmes). All were deported to Germany, under inhumain conditions, to the camps of Neuengamme for the men and Ravensbruck for the women. Of those 64 Loches inhabitants, only 16 returned alive."


This poster is part of an exhibition in the Chancellerie on 'Loches in 1944'

Monday 24 June 2024

Classic Choc-chip Cookies


Classic choc-chip cookies. Photo by loire Valley Time travel.

I made these classic choc-chip cookies to take on an outing recently and they went down a storm with my French friends. Several people wanted the recipe. I pointed out that these days you can get big coffee shop style choc-chip cookies at many boulangeries-patisseries, but my friends pointed out that they are dry and hard, whereas my homemade ones are a bit squidgy in the middle and crunchy on the edges. They really liked that texture, and it is how classic choc-chips cookies should  be.


Classic choc-chip cookies, ready to bake. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.


125 g butter (half a block if you are in France)

1.25 cups brown sugar

0.75 cups white sugar

4 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla essence

2.75 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

1 tsp sea salt

250 - 300 g chocolate chunks (I often use a mixture of dark, milk and white)


  1. Put the sugars and butter in the stand mixer bowl and beat on medium fast speed with the paddle (cake) beater for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg yolks one at a time, then the vanilla.
  3. In another bowl, make sure the dry ingredients are well mixed.
  4. With the mixer still on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients.
  5. Once it is well mixed, add the choc-chunks.
  6. Cover and chill the dough for at least an hour.
  7. Heat the oven to 180C and put baking paper on oven trays.
  8. Using a scoop which holds about 30 - 50 ml volume, make balls of dough the size of ping pong or golf balls and put them on the baking trays with lots of space for expansion around them. The biscuits will end up about 15 cm across.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes (be careful not to overbake, as they will be like rocks).
  10. Sprinkle with sea salt as soon as they come out of the oven.
  11. Leave the biscuits to cool for 5 minutes on the trays, then transfer to cooling racks.

Makes about 15 - 25 biscuits. They should be a bit squidgey in the middle and crispy on the outside. 

Classic choc-chip cookies. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Saturday 22 June 2024

Lunch in Mindin

Last Monday we drove to Carnac. As it's a longish sort of drive (certainly longer than the 3½ hours Google maps suggested) I planned a picnic lunch, with shelter if necessary. The spot I chose was in Mindin, across the water from St Nazaire. There were a couple of reasons for this, none of which I shared with Susan.

Approaching the Pont de Saint-Nazaire

This was the first reason. I love big bridges, and this qualifies. Unfortunately the weather was not great, but it was still a bit of an experience.

Where the Loire meets the sea.

I figure that line of rocks pointing to the far shore marks the end of the Loire river and the start of the sea. The Loire is important to us, so this is quite symbolic.

The Bridge again.

In the background is The Ville De Bordeaux, an airbus Roll On / Roll Off ship. It is now en route to the port of Mobile, USA and is expected to arrive there on July 1. Those three white towers on the ship are eSAIL, which uses wind energy to generate thrust, which means substantial fuel consumption and CO2 emissions savings. The system also generates lift, reducing the load on the ship’s main engines. 

Last year the ship was fitted with a 500m² 'Seawing' - an automated foil kite developed by AirSeas (an Airbus subsidiary) to provide wind assistance to propulsion. You can read more about it here. I'm not sure if both systems run at the same time.

Utopia of the Seas 

According to Wikipedia, "Utopia of the Seas is a cruise ship under construction for Royal Caribbean International. She will be the sixth ship in the Oasis Class and is scheduled to enter service on 19 July 2024 out of Port Canaveral." With any luck that means the last time France will see this monstrosity is in less than a month's time.

The Serpent d'Océan

The third reason I chose Mindin is the Serpent d'Océan, a 130 metre long sculpture made of aluminum. It represents the skeleton of an immense imaginary sea serpent, whose vertebrae undulate to end in an open mouth.

As somewhere to stop for an hour Mindin is full of interest. There is also a picnic shelter (only one), but the public toilets weren't open. Luckily there's a café restaurant opposite, that does good after lunch coffee.

Friday 21 June 2024

Summer Solstice

Yesterday was the longest day of the year. As we were near an arrangement of prehistoric standing stones it felt wrong not to do something to mark the occasion.

So at six o'clock yesterday morning we left our cabin and walked the 200 metres to a vantage point I had previously chosen, and waited. At 06:14 I took a photo of what should have been the sun rising over the standing stones of Carnac.

As you can see, it was cloudy in the east. The west was clear, though.

Thursday 20 June 2024

Wednesday 19 June 2024

A View From Brittany

We're away for a couple of days. This is what we've been looking at. Details will follow in due course.

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Once Upon A Time in Loches -- Resistance Attacks 1944

 Poster for an exhibition on the liberation of loches, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

" Fighting intensified in the Touraine during 1944. Allied bombing was more frequent and Loches was welcoming a new wave of refugees. The tension, and the hatred of the German enemy, grew and the new landing of the Allies in Normandy gave hope to the population of Loches that the end of the war might be close. The maquisards (armed combattants) and Resistants saw it as an opportunity to redouble their action. 

On the night of 10-11 July 1944 a group of men led by Captain Lecoz arrived at the home of Dr Abribat in Saint Flovier to requisition one of his vehicles. Dr Abribat was a confirmed supporter of the Vichy Regime and a conviction Pétainist. He had even met Maréchal Pétain several times, making him a traitor to the Nation in the eyes of the Resistance. So when he refused their request and raised his voice a burst of machine gun fire from one of of the maquisards resulted in Abribat receiving two bullets in the head. His brutal death on this night in July, the first summary execution by the Maquis Lecoz, was perceived by the Germans as a provocation.

 During the summer of 1944 the Resistance attacks against the occupying Germans multiplied. On 14 July the young Resistants hoisted a Cross of Lorraine flag on the Donjon de Loches. Around Loches roads were blocked, railway tracks sabotaged and bridges dynamited. The Maquis Lecoz increased their provocative actions with snatching supposed collaborators and forcing the sons of Pétainists to join maquis groups. Lecoz's men frightened the local inhabitants and the Germans felt they had to respond."


This poster is part of an exhibition in the Chancellerie on 'Loches in 1944'

Monday 17 June 2024

Turning Back the Clock on the N10

Yesterday we did something that's becoming increasingly rare for us. We actually went to a car gathering with Claudette. It's not that we don't enjoy these events any more, it's just that Claudette is living in our garage near Tours whilst Célestine is poorly in our garage at home. This means that serious logistics is involved if we wish to take Claudette out for fun.

However - last week we happened to have Claudette at home, but needing to be returned to Tours. It just so happened that Nostal'10, who are restoring the old Bellevue (which we wrote about here), hold a monthly meet and it coincided (a planned coincidence) with our trip to Tours with Claudette. 

As usual, we ran into a number of friends and acquaintances, saw some cars we hadn't seen before, and had a convivial time.

The weather wasn't great...

A new banner.

We haven't seen this H-van before

Claudette with her close contemporaries 

Saturday 15 June 2024

We've had Visitors

I returned home from a little drive yesterday, and parked Claudette in the garden. Then I realised something was moving.

These are this years brood, only about 4 or 5 inches long. We've never seen hedgehogs in daylight, and we've never seen more than one at a time.

A little time after I took those videos I went out to check on them. I could find only one, and he was in our (grass) driveway, so I took more photos. It was obviously unafraid, because it kept shuffling towards me, making focusing rather difficult.

Later in the day again, we had another look and found the mother. All this means we'll have to check the garden before we do anything. Including moving the car, hanging washing on the line, and - of course - mowing the lawn.

Friday 14 June 2024

Outing to La Cabane, Bossay sur Claise

The group learning about a spider.
Group learning about spiders, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Around thirty people enjoyed discovering La Cabane on Saturday  25May. This privately-owned site has at its heart a former kaolin (china clay) quarry, which has been left to regenerate naturally for the past 40 years. Today, it is an extraordinary habitat where thousands of Tongue orchids thrive.


Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe (Fr. Mélitée des centaurées) on Ragged Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi (Fr. Lychnide fleur de coucou).

Knapweed Fritillary Melitaea phoebe, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.


This outing was the fruit of a partnership between the Association de Patrimoine Vivant de la Claise Tourangelle (PVCT), the Association de Préhistoire et d'Archéologie de Bossay (APAB) and the Association de Botanique et de Mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine (Botamyco37). The aim was to present the Cabane as a brand-new Zone Naturelle d'Interet Ecologique, Faunistique et Floristique (ZNIEFF), and to explain the importance of recognizing these sites, which are still remarkably rich in biodiversity.


 Golden-eye lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus (Fr. Téloschiste ocellé), a lichen that is recovering from having been nearly wiped out. It nearly always grows on plants in the rose family.

Golden-eye lichen Teloschistes chrysophthalmus, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.


Each association contributed its own expertise, from ecology to industrial heritage. In addition to "star" species such as orchids, participants were able to see little-known species, enthusiastically presented by specialists. Everyone left with a new appreciation of the fascination that groups such as spiders and lichens can exert. Unfortunately, some of the details of the history of kaolin mining have already been lost, as all those who worked on the site have now passed away. 

Willowherb Hawk Moth Proserpinus proserpina (Fr. Sphinx de l'Epilobe). Although these are one of the few insect species that are protected, entomologists now think that it came about as a result of a misunderstanding of their behaviour, and although they are by no means common, they are probably localised rather than rare and endangered.

Willowherb Hawk Moth Proserpinus proserpina, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

The range of species we observed was remarkable, adding to an already interesting and diverse species list. The protected Willowherb Hawk moth Proserpinus proserpina was observed for the first time on the site, and we saw everything from fish to flies, beetles to birds, woodlice to slugs.


 The group learning about orchids.

Group learning about orchids, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.


The day ended with an aperitif in the field, complete with cider and homemade cakes. My chocolate chip cookies were a big hit, and the recipe was distributed.


 The former kaolin quarry, now full of water.

Former kaolin quarry, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.


APAB - Christian Caillet and Solange Bigot, for booking and setting up the village hall.
PVCT - François Lefebvre and Bruno Delalle for organizing the flyers (and much more besides...).
Botamyco37 - Marie-Claude Derrien, Patrick Derrien and Marc Fleury for sharing their enthusiasm and expertise for lichens, spiders and orchids respectively.

Jean Pelle for sharing data from the last two decades on the site.

Didier Tranchant and Jean-Marie Millet for their help in researching the history of kaolin extraction.

Monique Bergeot, the owner of the site.

Jerome Desteve, the neighbour at la Touche au Lard, who kindly mowed us an area to park on.

The members of the three associations who participated and are now the defenders of this special site.


 Tongue Orchids Serapias lingua (Fr. Sérapias langue).

Tongue Orchid Serapias lingua, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.

Further reading: The outing report on the Botamyco37 website, in French, with photos, species list and my article on the history of the kaolin extraction.

My blog post on the history of the kaolin extraction:


 Two male Gorilla Jumping Spiders Evarcha arcuata (Fr. araignées sauteuses) fight over territory and a female.

Male Evarcha arcuata spiders fighting, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.
The habitat at la Cabane.
Habitat, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.
The site was very wet when we visited.
Habitat, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.
Female Field Cricket Gryllus campestris (Fr. Grillon campetre).
Female Field Cricket Gryllus campestris, Indre et loire, France. Photo by loire Valley Time Travel.