Norm’s Britain and Brittany 2013 – Episode Five

18th May 2013

After our not quite as early start at Manchester airport as Roger and Denise’s, we made our Air France hops to Paris – and then to Rennes. There we were met and warmly welcomed by our barge skipper and co-host, Ian Slade. The hour-long drive to Redon, where “Libje” was moored was leisurely and enjoyable – passing as it did through at least one of the villages, La Gacilly, that we would be visiting later in the week.

“Libje” – Our private hotel barge for the next five nights
19 to 25 May 2013

We were equally warmly welcomed by Ian’s wife, Jane, and shown to our well-equipped and spacious cabin. We loved the light and airiness of our cabin – adjoined as it was by as minute but practical an en-suite as you are ever likely to find.

Our Cabin on “Libje”

Regrettably the weather on arrival, and later, prevented us making as much use of the comfy outdoor seating on the foredeck. That it would have been just wonderful in more clement weather was emphasised by the hour or so we did once spend there one evening enjoying the view – and the wine and nibbles served to us by Ian and Jane. That’s not to say that we didn’t make good use of the comfort and warmth of the Wheelhouse both to view the stunning scenery or Ian and Jane’s lock-working skills.

The Wheelhouse on “Libje” – and wet weather sightseeing refuge

Over the next five days we enjoyed the warmth of Ian and Jane’s hospitality and relished the fresh croissants and fruits at breakfasts, those just too tempting salads at lunch, and just scrumptious dinners – whether prepared by Jane or partaken with Ian and Jane at some of their favourite local restaurants along the canal. And, how could we forget to mention the just great wines that enhanced our repasts.

All ready for relaxed repasts…

To complement Jane’s culinary and canal lock-working skills, Ian was not only our expert skipper but our driver/guide on excursions ashore. His knowledge of and love for the region showed wherever he took us – be it to the more than just picturesque villages of Rochefort-en-Terre or La Gacilly, the just wonderful 11th century church in St Gobrien or the standing stones at Monteneuf.

We know the expression “the devil’s in the detail”, but devilish or not here it is:
On our arrival on the barge, we were greeted, too, by two canine supernumerary crew-members, Millie and Pippa – welcoming greetings they repeated each time we returned from an excursion.

While we were settling in, Ian “skippered” us to Malestroit, about 30 kms away, where we were to moor for the next couple of nights. On the following morning, while Ian was motor-cycling back to recover the mini-bus, we had our first walk through the village. On his return, Ian chauffeured us to Rochefort- en-Terre. Rochefort won the village with best flower displays in France so many times that it was eventually banned from entering again to give the others a chance! Although too early for the spring flower displays, we could see why it is so regarded.

Rochefort-en-Terre, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to Rochefort-en-Terre, Morbihan, Brittany – 20th May 2013

After one of Jane’s light but beautiful lunches with accompanying wine – something we became quite readily used to – Ian took us on a guided tour of the Malestroit. Founded in 978, this medieval town with its winding streets has many half-timbered houses with overhanging gables liberally decorated with wood carvings. And what a beautiful village it is – not only because of the things we saw, but also the friendly people. In fact, in every village we visited, one of the real attractions was the friendliness of people whether it was in shops or just on the street. The cheery “Bon Jour” greetings, accompanied as they were by eye contact, were something we’re just not used to – but love.

Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013
More beauty in Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany
20 May 2013

Photos: A few of the carved wooden characters of Malestroit, Morbihan, Brittany – 20th and 21st May 2013

Next morning we were off to view the standing stones at Montneuf which, unlike the more famous ones at Carnac, are accessible and “touchable” – something that always has appeal for us whether it be a ruined abbey or a piece of sculpture. This smaller version of Carnac was discovered only 30 years ago after a forest fire revealed the alignments. Extensive searches have now revealed over 200 menhirs (upright stones) and several burial sites.

Standing Stones – Montneuf, Morbihan, Brittany
21 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to the Standing Stones at Montneuf, Morbihan, Brittany – 21st May 2013

We later lunched at Creperie Mael Trech in Malestroit (a nice enough restaurant – and a favourite of Ian and Jane’s – but we have to say that neither galettes nor crepes are altogether favourites of ours).
After lunch we were barging again, stopping on the way to visit the 11th century church in St Gobrien – which has a just wonderful array of wooden statues. Ian tried to convince us that the village had been founded by a Celt from Ireland named G. O’Brien – and the village was named after him!!

Church of St Gobrien, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Photos: Our visit to the Church of St Gobrien, Morbihan, Brittany – 22nd May 2013

On the way, we passed through some of the prettiest countryside on our cruise, with meadows coming right down to the river as it wound through natural woodland.

En Route to Josselin Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Photos: En Route to Josselin Morbihan, Brittany – 22nd May 2013

On approaching Josselin, where we would be based for the next couple of nights, we were told that just around the next bend in the river Ouse was one of the best and most famous canal views in France. And there it was – the magnificent chateau of the Rohan family towering above the river.

Josselin Castle, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013
Josselin Castle, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

The next day was something of a walking day, but with our mooring just below the chateau walls, nothing was too far distant – even for Norm.
Regrettably, as the only tour of Josselin Castle (as the Chateau seems to be called) was in French, we really did quite well matching the Guide’s French commentary with the English in our guide booklet. If we missed some of the highlights within the castle itself, this wasn’t the case with the garden which was just beautiful as was the view from the ramparts down over the river.

Josselin Castle and Gardens
22 May 2013
Josselin Castle and Gardens
22 May 2013

Flushed with this success, we then made our way up the main street to the heights of Josselin where we found, very appropriately, the “Bois d’Amour”. We had no trouble at all meandering our way – for what must have been an hour or so – along the well-kept paths through both woodland and open areas coming out almost at our mooring. But we still had not visited the Basilica “Notre Dame du Roncier”, built on the spot where, in the ninth century, a peasant is said to have found a wooden statue of the Virgin under a bramble bush.

On the following day, after a walk through the western side of the river, Ian took us on an excursion to the artisan village of La Gacilly. The old main street of this town has been converted over the years into a haven for artists and craftsmen. Each shop now houses a different skill with its own workshop. From glassblowing to wood carvers to artists, La Gacilly has it all. In addition, the village hosts each year one of France’s major outdoor photography exhibitions with large and spectacular photographs decorating the town as well as several galleries – sponsored, we understand by Yves Rocher, who are based here.

La Gacilly, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013
La Gacilly, Morbihan, Brittany
22 May 2013

Although the exhibition does not open until the summer, there was still a sizeable display from last year – an attraction which we found it difficult to leave to head “home”. We had dinner with Ian and Jane that evening at a fine local restaurant “La Table D’O” and, without remembering what we had; know that we enjoyed it thoroughly.

On Friday morning, the weather was at last kind enough, to allow Carol to enjoy her early-morning cycle on the canal path – Norm meanwhile rested up!! After breakfast, we set sail once more passing beneath the walls of Josselin Chateau and past the old artisan quarter of St.Croix. After several locks and increasingly quieter and more rural scenery, we arrive at the little village of Pomeleuc, where Ian and Jane moor for the winter. After lunch we continued upstream, passing the Abbaye de Timadeuc where monks to this day offer a retreat in peaceful surroundings, before reaching our final mooring place at the market town of Rohan that gave its name to the Rohan dynasty that still owns the Chateau at Josselin.

It was with regret that we recovered our suitcases from the spare cabin to pack for our return home, before heading off with Ian and Jane to a local restaurant for our last dinner with them. And, although the name of the restaurant escapes me, the flavour of the escargot that Ian and I had will not!! Whether garlicky or not, it was a fittingly relaxing finale to what had been one of our best holidays ever.

All of which deserves a sampling or two of what we saw and enjoyed:

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 20th May 2013

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 21st May 2013

Photos: A sampling from our “Libje” Cruise – 22nd and 23rd May 2013

Next morning we farewelled Jane, Millie and Pippa before being ferried back to Rennes by Ian to catch our flight to Paris to Tokyo to Sydney and home.