From the Chartres Cathedral in France, we headed southwest by car. We were excited to visit Broceliande in Paimpont, the remains of a primeval forest of Brittany… and haunt of Merlin. Yes, the Merlin. King Arthur, Knights of Camelot, all of that has its roots here.
We drove at night, heading into woods engulfed in dark and mist, peaking out the window and trying to get a feel for what we were experiencing. Our hotel sat on a quiet road, across from a large stone building with a stone arch over the road. In the morning, when the sun lit up the sky but mist still covered the ground, we found Merlin himself, waving at us from behind the arch.
On closer inspection, we found a whole street of little magic shops full of gift items for the lovers of all things mystical in your life: witchcraft, wizardry, dragons, fairies, and elves, etc. The scene would not be complete without the various cats strolling in and around many of the stores.
At the end of the street stood a massive, gorgeous stone building with flowers in all the windows, the Abbey of Paimpont. As we slipped inside, we were immediately admonished by a sign telling us to be quiet. We wandered slowly through the Abbey, admiring the church first built in 1199 and renovated several times since. We joked in whispers about whether the church had been built to convert the nature-worshiping pagans.
Our visit to the visitor’s center across the way paid us a little luck, our French being barely passable. We found a map, and then another visitor’s center not that far off, where the lady inside kindly humored us by explaining the route in English. She strongly advised us to stop inside the church next door, where King Arthur, Merlin, and the white lady had been integrated right into the church’s paintings and stained glass. She was right; it was intriguing to imagine the blend of Christianity and Arthurian Legends that must have been preached from that pulpit at one time.
From there, we were headed to the Valley of No Return, land of the dark enchantress, Morgane. Legend has it Morgane (Morgan Le Fay) caught her lover cheating, and decided to punish all unfaithful men by imprisoning them forever in the forest. I teased Kevin, would he make it out? Only the journey would tell. On our way to the Valley of No Return, we passed a beautiful lake, the Fairies Mirror. I could certainly imagine fairies fluttering on the edges of the reflective water. There was a deep presence in that lake. Next to it stood the Golden Tree, which protects the forest. We made our way safely through the trees, and out of the valley to meditate on top of the mountain. Lucky, Kevin. He must have passed Morgane’s test.
After another short drive, we followed a trail into the woods searching for the mysterious Barenton Fountain, the spring where Merlin and Viviane met. Along the way we passed a group of men and boys, quietly picking blueberries. Several generations seemed to be present, and I imagined it as a family tradition, passed on for years. We finally came across the fountain. Of course, I had been hoping to meet Viviane herself. Perhaps she was there, hidden in the bubbling springs.
If we had time we could have continued onwards to Merlin’s tomb- apparently Merlin is held forever here, a tragic end for a powerful wizard in my view. And there is much more to see, Vivian’s House, the Monk’s Garden, the Giant’s tomb, and various fortresses, and chapels. As always (or so it seems on our vacations) I would have liked to stay longer, but, we were off to Carnac to see some megalithic stones.
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