BY MATTHEW CORRIGAN
Twenty years ago a restless youth spent an idyllic spring and summer working throughout Western Brittany. Last week, after far too long a delay, I finally managed to return for an all too brief seven days to what, for me, is the loveliest region in France.
It’s clear some things haven’t changed during the last two decades. The warmth of the Breton people is still very much in evidence, welcoming as they do, with endless good humour, the tourists and our ham-fisted efforts to communicate in long-forgotten classroom French. Myriad silent and dreamlike villages still dot the countryside, stuffed to the gunwales with flowers providing an explosion of colour to contrast with the stone grey ancient churches that still dominate the centre-villes.
For anyone used to our overcrowded roads, the simple act of travelling from point A to point B is a joy. American-scale highways cross the wide open spaces, at times utterly bereft of traffic. Pointing the car at the distant horizon, huge distances can be covered with ease. Lush green farmland passes briskly by, only an occasional mysterious low-rise industrial unit giving any hint of commercial activity amongst the dairy herds that feast on the fields.
Refreshingly for a Brit, the French are not ashamed of patriotic displays. Tricolours flutter in the breeze above the mairie and other public buildings, the historic, and entirely apolitical, black and white flag of Brittany flying proudly alongside. All along the coast the ports and harbours are bustling. By day sleek, sea-going yachts jostle for position with the hardy vessels of the Finistere fishing fleet as they return to unload their staggering daily harvests, ready for sale fresh from the Atlantic depths. At night the boats tie up, the quayside café lights are lit and townsfolk descend to the water’s edge for an evening of eating, drinking and conversation beneath an indescribably bright blanket of stars – the Milky Way clearly visible. Looking out of the window at a grey sky this morning I miss it. Badly. It doesn’t take much to deduce that I love Brittany. I won’t leave it for so long again.
So far, so perfect? Actually, no. For reasons best known to themselves, the Bretons are allowing their countryside to be desecrated. Standing on the side of far too many wild and rugged hillsides are examples of a menace that, unlike the aforementioned flag-flying, are becoming ever more prevalent in my own country. Giant – and I mean giant – wind turbines are everywhere, blades spinning uselessly in the breeze. At night the inky darkness is punctuated by their anti-collision lights, a reminder that they remain, towering malignly over the sleeping populace.
I hope that when I return the French have paused for thought, that they have ended their terrible vandalism of this most attractive of landscapes. I hope too, that a halt is called here. That we stop this self-inflicted harm, realise what we are doing and consign these environmentally destructive monstrosities to the dustbin of history.
Matthew Corrigan is a Country Squire Guest Writer and author with a love of the beautiful European countryside. His books can be found here