Carnac is one of the world’s greatest prehistoric sites with over 3,000 menhirs ( from the Breton men “stone” + hir “long”) – a tall upright stone erected in prehistoric times in western Europe which are the most common megaliths ( Those arranged in a circle are known as cromlechs) but throughout Brittany there are thousands of ancient granite rocks arranged in mysterious lines and beguiling patterns by tribes long since expired.
The original purpose of these structures remains obscure. Many speculate that their significance is religious, but their precise patterns also suggest some form of naïve astronomical calendar
My wife had some dim and distant memory of Brittany’s prehistoric past – gleaned from summer holidays spent under canvas on the coast. So, during a particularly bleak and rain-soaked February half-term she suggested we visit the nearby historic prehistoric site of La Roche-aux-Fées; the famous passage-grave which dates from the late Neolithic period between 3,000 and 5,000 BCE and is considered to be the largest Dolmen in France and it is reputed to be the best preserved of all Dolmens in Europe. (In Breton the word “dolmen” means tables of stones or more simply a stone table).
La Roche-aux-Fées is located in a wooded area about a half a mile north-east of La Roche village in the Department of Ille-et-Vilaine, about three miles north-west of Retiers. The slabs (some of which weigh up to 40 tonnes) have a slight purple hue and were quarried about three miles from the site. The “passage-grave” or corridor is about 20 metres long, four metres wide and two metres high and was originally covered over with earth – which, like its dead, has long since disappeared.
According to popular legend, young couples would come to La Roche to consult with the fairies. Then they were instructed to walk around the stones – the male in a clockwise direction, the female in an anti-clockwise direction. If both had counted the stones correctly then all would be well in their marriage, if not, then both went their separate ways.
Whether it was something in the air or the lure of ancient lay lines I had felt drawn towards the purple-hued stones scattered and half-submerged about the garden long before our visit to La Roche-aux-Fees.
“What are you up to?” my wife enquired, as I struggled past the window with my dwarf Dolmen.
“I’m building a folly,” I replied.
In truth I didn’t know why I just felt the urge to do it – perhaps it is my signature on the landscape. Something to stand the test of time – my time at least!
A deep-seated desire to be remembered, to survive in some way is rooted in all our natures like the migratory urges of salmon or arctic terns – an atavistic impulse from another place, another time.
So now it stands in a quiet part of the garden – my nod to the prehistoric in me, in all of us; a place to contemplate and to re-engage with something beyond the physical. Now where’s the folly in that?