Friday 16th September, 2022

Distance ridden 414 kilometres

In the morning I woke up very early and went for a walk around the immediate area. It was actually quite pleasant,  mainly small industrial units in streets linked by faster roads and roundabouts. Think Milton Keynes and you will be able to visualise it. A bit further out it became more residential, with streets of little boxes, all frighteningly similar, laid out on a kind of haphazard grid. Le Mans is actually quite a big municipality so there was no sign of the famous street circuit for the Twenty-Four Hour race.

I got a double-ristretto coffee from the machine (quite good, apparently) and awoke my dearest. Unusually, she got up almost immediately, not because she really wanted to, but because spending time in our room was quite depressing. There was not even a beam from which to hang yourself ! The breakfast was surprisingly adequate. As I said, Lucie liked the coffee and the croissants (that well-known Austrian delicacy) were as fresh and soft as you would have got in the Ritz.

I feel I have maybe been a little harsh on the ibis. You get what you pay for and it was very cheap. Just be warned.

Our early departure meant that we arrived in our first port of call, Nantes, before noon having had only one short break.

Somewhat to Lucie’s bewilderment, I had dragged her to Nantes with one purpose only, to visit a grave ! The tomb in question was that of Serge Danot, the creator of the iconic, not to say cult, animated tv series of the 1970s in England, “The Magic Roundabout”. However ridiculous it may sound, in those days nobody (and I do mean nobody) wanted to miss a single one of the five minute episodes which were, somewhat inconveniently, shown (on children’s television) shortly before six o’clock in the evening. Voiced, in the original, by the incomparably drôle Eric Thompson, the dialogue applied to the stories were carefully crafted to amuse not only small children, but also their parents, although in a very different way. Florence, Dougal, Ermintrude, Dylan, Brian and Zebedee were all household names. Lucie, of course, growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, had never heard of any of it and was bemused by my desire to go there.

If you want to see the grave, it can be found in the La Bouteillerie Cemetery (9 Rue Gambetta, 44000 Nantes).

Just inside the gate there are brochures in a holder which will direct you to a number of interesting tombs, but we (well I) were only interested in one.

In the brochure, this was grave number 18. It was straight ahead from the gate in the Rue Gambetta for about one hundred metres and then about the same distance to the right. Surrounded by more traditional stone graves, the brightly coloured tomb is not hard to spot. Sheathed in what looked like sky-blue plastic, but which actually seemed to be metal, the headstone (if you can call it that) is a familiar tree from the series with a crying Dougal underneath.

I could not help but smile. Thanks Serge !

One point of the trip was fulfilled. As Lucie remarked, we had driven over thirteen hundred kilometres to see the grave, but it had made me happy.
We set off for our next port of call, the prehistoric megaliths in Carnac. Getting into Nantes had been easy enough, but going through the town and exiting it was somewhat more difficult. There was a nice river, the Loire, of course.

But there were also some of the strangest road layouts and priority changes I had ever encountered.

These, together with substantial (and too new to be on the SatNav updates) changes to the road layout meant it was some time before we found open countryside.

The way was again along a Route Nationale, this time the RN 165 (E60) which was, in the main, nicely surfaced.

Sadly, having neglected, in the trauma of escaping from Nantes, to fill up the Harley, I then missed, due to some comedy French signposting, the next service area. I pressed ahead, but there was nothing with petrol shown as being on our road until long after the gauges indicated we would have been pushing the bike ! In the end, we left the highway for the only town in the whole of France (Ambon) which only had one petrol station – and this was hidden in a Carrefour supermarket car park at its very furthest end. In keeping with our need for drama, no sooner did we pull up, than the automatic refuelling system failed. A woman did come out of a booth and tried to explain what was happening. Sadly, her diatribe only revealed that I do not understand French as well as I thought I did. Luckily, someone, somewhere, probably hit a reset button and the pumps suddenly began working again. A fraction over seventeen litres of lead free gurgled down the hose – into a tank with a supposed capacity of eighteen litres …. phew !

Without the anxiety of running on petrol vapour, the rest of the journey to Carnac passed off largely without incident. We were near to the coast and, with my visor up, I could smell the salty air. We passed over a number of small estuaries and inlets with the sea glistening on our left and green countryside on our right.

The idyll was broken at the very last minute of course, because the SatNav had not been able to find the Hotel, only the street it is in. Luckily, Lucie soon put me straight with her iPhone map program and I was briefly grateful for the malfunctioning intercom.

We were staying at the Hotel An Ti Gwenn (4 Rue de Poul Person, 56340 Carnac), which is a pleasant little place with a friendly proprietress.

Our room was very pleasant, but we basically dropped our things in it and headed back out because I also wanted to see some other megaliths in the town of Locmariaquer. That was about thirty kilometres back the way we had come and I was worried about time.

Lucie proclaimed she was very hungry so, on our way back out of town, we looped around to the beach front and found a restaurant. Needless to say we had already missed lunch at the swankiest place on the beach. Luckily, almost next door was Lulu à la Plage (3 Avenue Miln, 56340 Carnac), which, despite not looking so up-market, had friendly staff and great seafood.

We shared dishes of prawns and salmon and Lucie kindly bestowed upon me a few spoonfuls of her chocolate, caramel and nut tartlet.

The beer was the big let down, a Corona with, you guessed it, a lime in it ! Were we in Europe or Mexico, I was no longer sure !

We headed around the the pleasant bay. With the sun out, the sea was quite blue and numerous small boats bobbed at anchor.

Once across the headland, we came to Locmariaquer. This is the home of the Grande Menhir Brisé d’er Grah (Route de Kerlogonan, 56740 Locmariaquer). When I visited the same site, in the mid-1990s, this was called the “broken megalith“. This name came from the theory, still valid at that time, that the three huge sections remaining had once been a single megalith over twenty metres tall and weighing a startling 280 tons and which had been deliberately toppled. To me, it is almost disappointing that modern technology has now revealed that this was not the case and that it was always four separate stones weighing a mere 70 tons a piece. Science can pretty much spoil a good story. It is worth noting that the brochure still indicates it WAS one single stone …..

Nearby, in the 1990s was a so called “table grave”. This was a huge slab, balanced (somewhat precariously) on stone legs. This has now been restored to its full neolithic grave format with the slab forming the internal ceiling and to get under that you need to walk down a narrow gap in the piled stone walls. There are carvings of ornaments, animals and mystic shapes and the place has an almost spiritual air. The lintel at the doorway is a bit low for people of a modern stature though, do not ask me how I know this !

There is also the remains a second, really huge tomb with a long embankment of stones. The notices state that this was for a single person, but not how this is known. What is for certain is that, if this is true, even in Neolithic society, among equals some people were a lot more equal than others.

On my first visit, the stones lay quietly in a field beside the road as they had done for almost six thousand years. Now, the whole site is fenced and you have to pay to go in. It was only a six Euros though and well worth it. Once you pay, you also get given a “Pass des Mégalithes” which would give you a discount to the entrance fee at other local sites, but sadly our tight schedule precluded us taking advantage of that offer.

There is also now also a small museum on site which is really very informative, there were even explanatory leaflets in Czech ! There are also reproductions of some of the carvings on the stones outside that you might otherwise miss. One of these carvings seems to be a plough and it appeared (to me) to be very similar to one of the Neolithic carvings we saw in Alta, in Norway. Sadly, my backup two-legged memory could neither remember nor confirm this !

Because we had ridden there on the Harley, we trudged through the Neolithic Park in full biker “armour”, which for Lucie meant about four layers of clothing. We were cooking in the now very hot sun, while everyone around us was in shorts and short sleeved shirts. We decided to go back to the hotel and change before going to see the stone rows for which Carnac is world famous.

The stone rows or Alignments de Carnac (LIeu-dit le Ménec, 56340 Carnac) were not far from our hotel. They are also known as the Alignements de Ménec and we walked there in only about twenty minutes. There are over three thousand megaliths of all sizes arranged in neat(ish) lines. Just by looking over the fence (only guided tours can go in) you can tell that even the smallest of the stones would have needed at least twenty people, working unison, to move it a centimetre.

We shunned the museum (no one knows why they put those lines there anyway) and also declined the guided tour. We went along the path that borders the site like other small groups of tourists. But, unlike most of those tourists, we were a bit naughty ! In an quiet moment, I helped Lucie to climb onto one of the unfenced megaliths on the path.

Then, taking advantage of a small megalith that protruded through the fence, I used it to climb over the wire and I went to see the rows up close.

The whole thing is genuinely breathtaking. Most people have seen the rows in pictures and in film documentaries, but like all the great ancient monuments, up close and personal they are something else. Who can help but wonder what made so many people with, by our standards, a very primitive, hand-to-mouth existence, devote so much time and physical effort to not only moving the stones great distances, but to carefully lining them all up !

At the end of our circuit, we spotted another sign directing us to the “Tumulus“. This is an artificial hill, constructed entirely of stones imported there to make a grave mound. These are not huge stones like the megaliths in the rows, but they are not small ones either. The grave mound is 125 metres long, 60 metres wide and over 10 metres in height and is the largest such mound on the European continent. It can be seen from a long way away and is thought to be at least six thousand years old which pre-dates the pyramids. There are tunnels inside which cannot, sadly, be accessed and a chapel was thoughtfully placed on top of it in very much later times. Because of Saint attached to that chapel, the mound is known locally as the “Tumulus of St Michel” 

The tumulus lays at the very top of Chemin du Tumulus, 56340 Carnac. To see itfollow the signs for Hôtel Restaurant SPA Le Tumulus (which is constructed right beside the mound) from the D781 Rue de Tumulus

We walked down from the tumulus into the town centre of Carnac and started looking for a place to eat. Rather surprisingly, because there are a lot of tourists, there was not much choice and, in the centre, there are more cafes and bars than restaurants. We finally did find what looked like a “proper” restaurant, Brasserie La Dame de Caro (2 Rue Saint-Cornély, 56340 Carnac.

Sadly, the promised “fish from the market”, noted on the blackboard outside, was all gone. I chose the mussels, which were quite small, but tasty and well cooked.

My local beer (mercifully lime free) was good too.

Denied her promised fish, Lucie boldly opted for a Breton “speciality”, that I translated as a duck and pork sausage. In the middle of eating it, Lucie asked me to check whether “canard” truly meant duck (it does) and then announced she could not taste any duck and that she could not taste any pork either. I am assured that, although it was edible, it had absolutely nothing else to recommend it !

On our walk back to the hotel we inadvertently wandered into the Crêperie De La Pompe (1 Place de la Chapelle, 56340 Carnac) where we indulged ourselves with some simply delicious crêpes with salted caramel. Fortunately this enabled Lucie to completely forget about the disappointment of her duck and pork free, duck and pork sausage.

We ambled home, exhausted from overeating and general tiredness. We fought and lost in a futile attempt to make our Prague bank do something via the internet and, as soon as I stopped concentrating, I fell asleep in a second.