September 2018


Outside the kitchen window the single hollyhock, like Jack’s beanstalk, has reached the eaves and turned back towards the ground. It’s been flowering for two or three months now, and among the hard round seedheads there are still flowers up the main stem and on the tip.

I’m particularly proud of this one. Unlike the ones I’ve planted with so much care and attention in England, this one has thrived. It’s emerged from the single seed I dropped into the gravel lining the dampcourse; a seed collected from a stray plant by a small bridge near the River Lot in 2011. It’s a delicate pale peach with crimson centre.

At the bottom of the garden the rosa rugosa have matured and evidently, from the number of fat spherical round hips, had a great flowering season, with plenty of pink and white fragrant blooms still opening.

When the garden and hedge were destroyed for the legally-required replacement of the septic tank, the fosse septique, last year, my little garden gate and fence into the back private garden also disappeared. We erected a wooden arch, and I planted jasmine and a perfumed white climbing rose given me by a friend. The latter has rampaged over the top of the arch and down the other side, with the jasmine filling in the gaps.

Unfortunately, the arch now frames the view of the washing whirligig. So I’ve brought in a reconstituted stone Buddha to draw the eye. It was so difficult to find a Buddha with the ‘right’ face, and this one is not perfect*, but I can live with it. Although my own spiritual practice is eclectic, my Zen meditation has underpinned it for more than 40 years. So the little Buddha, rather than being merely a garden ornament, is a focal point for me: an instant reminder to drop my concerns, my habitual anxieties, my judgements – just to drop my shoulders, drop into my feet, be present to this moment. (*This judgement has no place in a Zen philosophy but then, I’m not perfect either! Or at least, we’re both perfect in our imperfections.)

The willow outside the bedroom window is going to have to be topped. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for it: it’s so often been a close-by tree that has sealed somewhere I’m considering living. I’m so grateful too for its cargo of small songbirds, warblers – yes, willow warblers – included.

September is beautiful in the Forest. There are fewer tourists, the Forest seems to be breathing out, and we’ve had a small heatwave until today’s pre-equinoctial gales, so that the woods have been full of spilled soft light. We seem to encounter dragonflies and herons wherever we go this time. I find a new-to-me little fontaine in the Forest, and its genius loci or tutelary deity was a bright and beautiful young yellow dragonfly.

What a joy to walk through the woods – and another joy is the 2nd-hand English and French bookshop.

Today I took TM to Mougau-Bihan – the magnificent late-Neolithic allée couverte (translated as ‘passage grave’, though in fact it might never have been constructed as a burial site; there’s still so much we don’t know about the megaliths). This one has some carvings in one end: two pairs of breasts, presumably a gesture to the Mother Goddess who was probably significant in that era, and some axes or swords (that could just as easily be phalluses).


We had a coffee in the shabby-chic little café-restaurant by the Lac du Drennec – checking out its potential for swimming for TM (verdict: good), and then walked the 7 kms around its wooded perimeter (along with many French/Bretons doing the same thing, if they weren’t on or in the water or having one of those extended Sunday lunches en famille at a picnic bench that the French do so well).

It’s an artificial lake created by damming the River Elorn, but it still manages to be beautiful, with plenty of wildfowl and, apparently, otters. (Nearby is an area where a colony of beavers thrives.)

On the way back I stopped to show TM the Fontaine de St Jean, a beautiful restored and tended holy well plus lavoir (often they are both; a comfortable rubbing-shoulders of the sacred and secular, which pleases me).



In the same vein, there is a picnic table here too: a huge stone slab with a little monolith behind it right next to the well. The hydrangea bush, with its erstwhile sky-blue flowers, is now adorned with that many-shades-of-bruise colouring in the striking (pun not intended) way that only nature’s makeup artist could achieve.

I long to be the kind of person who would have organised a sumptuous picnic – and I long for TM to be the kind of man who would have really liked to sit and eat and converse in a languorous way for a couple of hours on a Sunday lunchtime; but hey, we are not.

Four or five lots of guests have used my cottage now when I’ve not been here. I’ve had amazing, glowing feedback – this is truly a place of inspiration and restoration. Others appreciating and coming to love this place as I do sets in motion another dynamic: in addition to the conversation between me and the place, there’s a third strand now that braids those two, so that we are all interlinked: me, the Forest, the other people who, via me, come to know and love it. More strands in the web of belonging.

I was nervous at first. This is the first and only place I have ever ‘owned’, and since I bought it with a legacy I feel precious about it. But in fact it’s been enriching and deepening for me too as an experience for others to come and share the tranquillity.

My programme of courses seems to facilitate change in people: a deepening of the way they live their lives, an enhanced sense of creativity.

How lovely, then, that I might facilitate change and creativity in a different way, with the collaboration of this place. When someone ‘gets it’ here, the gift that was my father’s to me carries on round, circulates.

dusk-huelgoat copy






The other morning a merlin skimmed down the holloway at a ferocious speed. It was clearly as surprised to run into us at my chest level as we and dog were to meet it so suddenly. It swerved into a smooth U-turn as swiftly as if it hadn’t had to stop, which according to the laws of physics I think it would have to have done, at least for a micro-mini-second (do you remember the thing everyone quoted way back last century about the fact that when a bumblebee and an express train meet head-on, both are halted for an infinitesimally small moment?).

I’m sad to see that the huge old sweet chestnut tree that had leaned to make an arch over the footpath has been cut. Looking at the growth rings on the stump it must have been two or three hundred years old, predating the cottage (the stone barn has 1848 carved into the lintel).

Its flowers were such a great food source for the bees, and although there are many sweet chestnuts in the area, it was one of the best local fruiters, providing huge numbers of fat marrons, big as any from further south, and a significant source of foraged protein for us here in the autumn/winter.

In February, amid the frost and ice or gales and storms, it’s easy to forget that the month can bring gentleness too, in the southwest of GB as well as here (the climate’s much the same, perhaps plus a couple of degrees). For many years now in the southwest of GB I’ve expected to be able to sit outside on at least one February day with a cup of coffee, or lunch; and last week was no exception here in Finistère. In fact it was warm enough to have bare feet and wear just a T-shirt.

The japonica blossom is on the cusp. Snowdrops of course are out, and one or two narcissi. Celandines and primroses are starring the banks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such waterfalls of hazel catkins as there are bordering the lanes and roads. After Morlaix, it’s woods all the way to Huelgoat, and they’re gilded. The other broadleaf trees are wearing that dull monochrome washed-out end-of-winterness that actually disguises the fact that any day now they’ll start to put forth their green.

We wake each morning to a thrush belting out spring, balanced on the slender uppermost twig of a fir tree opposite, and the garden is full of birdsong. Over the hedge, one of the resident magpies does a very convincing impression of a cat miaowing – and a dog yapping. Nearer, I frequently hear, though rarely see, a green woodpecker.

Bees and a brimstone butterfly are around, though there’s not too much nectar for them yet.

The town at the weekend – half-term – was buzzing; and in warm sun everyone was smiling. Even one of the crêperies, closed for the season, was open again for a day or two.

On the lake, to my delight, the lone swan (widowed in 2015) was swimming with a new mate, at last.

Later, we treat ourselves to lunch at the café-librairie which is such a feature of the eastern edge of the forest. Even out of season, the place is buzzing and inspiring.

It’s been very good to be here again. And to have done a little writing, as well as some simple cottage maintenance.