It is said that King Arthur, of the legendary Knights of the Round Table, was buried with his servants in the natural cave of La Grotte D'Artus. Legend has it that there is a fabulous treasure in this cave garded by demons who fly around in the form of Willo-the-wisps. Arthur had found this treasure in the Valley Of No Return with the Wizard Merlin's help.
Andy and I visited Le Camp d'Artus, a large iron age hill fort which can be found in the middle of the forest, on our first trip to Huelgoat where we had one of our traditional jambon et fromage baguette picnics. Whilst tucking into our crunchy baguettes we heard a loud hullabaloo, dogs barking, horns blowing - yes, it was the infamous "la chasse"! One of the hunters, luridly clad in a bright orange vest, called out to us in English (he obviously knew only mad Brits would be picnicking in the middle of January), "Are you not afraid?!" "Non!" we responded - though now I have learnt how many of these chasseurs manage to shoot each other perhaps we should have been!
In the 4th Century Gradlon Mawr (Gradlon the Great), king of Cornouaille, fell in love with a beautiful half-woman/half-fairy. They had a daughter, Dahut, who was raised by her father after her mother left him. Her mother eventually returned and took possession of Dahut's mind.
Dahut became a cruel princess who took a new lover each night and in the morning would throw them into the River Argent from the Kastell Guibel which was built on a bluff above the river. In high winds, it is said that you can hear the cries and complaints of her dead lovers coming from the depths of the abyss. If ever you hear them, you must say the ritual phrase “May God forgive the dead" and pray for their eternal rest...
In ancient times, so it is told, a giant called Garguantua stopped in the forest of Huelgoat where he was suddenly struck by a terrible hunger. The locals were very miserable (or perhaps just poor) and only offered him a thin porridge which, one suspects, did not sate his hunger.
He continued on his way to the Léon and found some more people who served him a hearty meal. Later he as was strolling along the coast, he lost his temper and hurled some large rocks that he found on the shore towards Huelgoat, thus forming the fantastic chaos of moss covered boulders that you can see littering the forest today!
The grotto is not far from the bridge that crosses the river Argent in the centre of Huelgoat, a few hundred metres from the still working water mill at the entrance of the forest. You need to go down some slippery metal steps that have a handrails to access the grotto itself - be warned - it is quite dark and a torch wouldn't go amiss!
This is supposedly the gateway to Hell. Legend says that it is found at the end of a street lined with bars. Anyone who manages to reach the last bar in the street in a sober state will be allowed by the devil to return home and spared evil doings. Drunkards will be damned to Hell forever – you have been warned!
There are a number of other legends associated with the forest but you will have to wait for a later installment to hear about these! ;-)
We weren’t really sure what to expect, thinking that it would all be a bit more formal but in the event we met a charming young girl (okay, I’m showing my age again...) who could not have been more helpful (particularly in allowing us to practice our French despite her excellent English!).
The first property that she took us to was owned by a lovely old French lady who was on hand to show us around. She spoke no English so it was a good test for us and I was thrilled when I heard her say (in French) “but they do speak French!” to the immobiliere at one point during the tour – we must have said something in French that she understood!
The house was less than a hundred years old and look in good condition from the outside. Once we got upstairs we noticed that there were large cracks where the walls and ceilings joined and the lady had collected pots of plaster that had fallen off the walls – something you think that she would have put away before we arrived! Still, this only goes to show the French attitude to property – it was still standing so it was obviously okay! We went outside and immediately saw what the problem was – there no guttering or drainage. The ground at the bottom of the walls was absolutely sodden – no wonder the walls were moving! It’s frustrating to see things like this, something that could have been easily prevented. So this was going to be another no.
That was the end of our property viewing for that day and we spent the afternoon exploring the lovely of Gulf of Morbihan which has been described as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. We were delighted to see some spoonbills – unfortunately they were too quick for us to get a picture. They are amazingly weird looking birds with their long spatula shaped bills which they sweep from side to side in the water.
The next day was supposed to be a day off from house hunting but a viewing had been arranged virtually as we walking out the door to go to Brittany – this one looked like the idyllic picture postcard cottage in the country – what would it be like in reality?