Huelgoat Things to Do

  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt

Most Recent Things to Do in Huelgoat

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    A pretty little town with good services

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    Huelgoat (meaning 'high wood' in Breton) is a pretty and well kept little town that has a lot to offer the tourist.

    The town square is picturesque and offers a couple of pleasant bars and restaurants with pavement seating for days when the weather is fine, as well as a range of other services, including shops, a phramacy and a '8 a Huit' convenience store.

    If you're looking for a bigger supermarket, head a couple of hundred metres down the road to Berrien where you'll find an Intermarché which also sells petrol and diesel.

    There's also a market in the main square on a Thursday morning.

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    Play 'caveman' at the Grotte d'Artus

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    In common with nearby Camp d'Artus, Grotte d'Artus ('Arthur's Cave') is another nod towards Arthurian legend in this region: the entire Celtic region holds King Arthur and the legends of his Knights of the Round Table.

    Like the Grotte du Diable, la Grotte d'Artus has been formed by huge granite boulders which lean against each other to create a natural shelter. More fanciful legend has it that this is the last resting place of Arthur and his knights, but I could point to half a dozen places across the West Country of England that lay similar claim to this honour, you'll have to forgive me my cynicism on this count!

    Arthur apart, this is indeed the sort of natural shelter that Neolithic people would have chosen to live in, and my kids thought that this was a tremendous place to play 'caveman'!

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    Accessing the Camp d'Artus hill fort is a struggle

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    Camp D'Artus is an Iron Age fort perched on a hill top in the forest above Huelgoat and was used by Gauls as a place of refuge when the area was invaded by Roman forces in 57 BC. It was given its current name - Arthur's Fort - much later as a nod to Arthurian legend.

    Unfortunately we visited in summer when the vegetation was at its highest, completely obscuring the fort. We tried to push our way through the undergrowth, but couldn't really make anything out, except the characteristic arrangement of embankment and trench that delimits the fort outline. Most of the vegetation is seasonal bracken, so perhaps those visiting in winter would have better luck.

    Be warned that the ground falls away very steeply once you crest the rampart, so be careful that you don't turn an ankle here.

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    Huelgoat's picturesque watermill

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    It's amazing how a century or two can rehabilitate a piece of functional industrial infrastructure into a picturesque tourist attraction.

    Huelgoat's watermill (charmingly referred to as 'Le Moulin du Chaos') is a case in point. The first mill was built on this site in 1339 and was subsequently upgraded in the 18th century once the River Argent had been dammed to create the lake which provided water supply and hydraulic power to the nearby silver/lead mine.

    Today the mill amid the surrounding 'chaos' of boulders is probably the best known image of the town.

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    Scramble down to Grotte du Diable (Devil's Cave)

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    The Grotte du Diable is a cave that is located close to the entrance to the forest if you're coming from town, and is well signposted from the path.

    Technically, it's not a cave, but a cavity created amid a tumble of enormous boulders that have been washed down into the stream bed. It's possible to clamber down into the void onto a rather cramped platform, from where you can see the stream rushing underfoot.

    It's cool and mossy and damp inside, which makes it a somewhat unlikely place for Beelzebub to camp out, and legend has it that it is the entrance to Hell. The theory goes that the street leading to it was originally known as the Chemin de l'Enfer ('Path to Hell') - remember that this was a mining community full of drunkards - but that anyone who makes it to the last pub on the street in a sober state will be allowed by the Devil to escape. So best opt to be the Designated Driver on the day of your visit just to be safe side!

    It is certainly worth a look, as you'll probably have to pass it anyway if you're venturing further into the exquisite forest beyond. Just be aware that access to the cave is challenging and should only be attempted by people with unimpeded mobility: parents would also be well advised keep kids under particularly close supervision.

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    Who could resist a chance to explore Le Chaos?

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    I really enjoy French, and I only wish that I spoke it well enough to be able to appreciate the nuances of the language. However, there are happily times when nuance doesn't matter, and you have to admire a language which so graphically describes the boulderstrewn stream in the photo above as 'Le Chaos de Rochers'!

    There is a charming folk tale that explains the origins of Le Chaos. A hungry giant called Garguantua was passing through the forest and stopped to ask the local people for food. They could only provide him with a bowl of porridge that failed to meet his approval, so when he reached the coast later in his journey, he took revenge on the hapless residents of Huelgoat by hurling rocks back at the village.

    In truth, the boulders have been swept downstream by the force of floodwaters and were marooned in their current position when the flood abated. In the 16th century, the stream was dammed to create a source of water for a nearby silver mine, creating a picturesque lake. This also had the effect of muting the flood peaks which might have remobilised these rocks, so the boulder field is likely to be fairly stable for the forseeable future.

    The best know feature of 'Le Chaos' is the Grotte du Diable ('Devil's Cave') - a hollow between boulders - which is accessible via a ladder and is well signposted from the path into the forest.

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    The remarkably stable Trembling Rock

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    La Roche Tremblante ('Trembling Rock') is probably the biggest attraction of the Huelgoat forest - and, in my opinion - the most misnamed.

    The rock is a 'rouler' (or 'rocking stone') which - despite being 7m long and nearly 140 tonnes in weight - will rock when pushed at the right point. Where this might be, however, remains a mystery to me, since when we visited, there were several families taking it in turns to give this recalcitrant rock a hefty shove, and despite keen observation, I didn't see it move an iota!

    Apparently such rocks were considered particularly significant by the Druids, in whose world view they symbolised universal balance. And if you're lucky enough to visit Huelgoat, I can assure you that you'll have no problem whatsoever in sensing the presence of Druids - past and possibly still present - in this glorious forest.

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    Scramble up to the Mushroom Rock

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    Unlike the Trembling Rock, the Mushroom Rock (Le Champignon) is one of those attractions that genuinely lives up to its name. It comprises a huge boulder perched atop a couple of smaller rocks and the base appears to have been artificially reinforced - presumably in the interests of stability - which is not a bad idea given that it's perched up a steep slope which abuts the road from Huelgoat to Berrien.

    If you'd like to visit this rock, take note of the fact that it's not on one of the main forest paths. To find it, head a couple of hundred metres out of town on the Berrien road, where you'll find the Intermarché. Follow the signpost up the steep slope: it's probably only 100m, but you won't be able to see the rock from the road (particularly when the vegetation is dense in summer).

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    A lake which owes its origin to mining

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    One of Huelgoat's great attractions for tourists is that it combines the charms of both the exquisite surrounding forest and a picturesque lake. However, the lake would perhaps seem a trifle less romantic to visitors if they realised that it was created to provide reliable water supply to a neaby silver/lead mine!

    Lead was first discovered in this area by the Celts, and was considered to be extremely valuable by the invading Romans, who needed to secure reliable sources of lead to manufacture the pipework through which they reticulated their urban water supply. As a result of this practice, some historians have mooted the possibility that widespread lead poisoning was a contributing factor to the subsequent decline of the Roman empire.

    The appropriately named Argent ('Silver') River was first dammed in the 16th century by German miners who sought to upscale production by providing a water storage facility, from which it was conveyed by gravity through a 3km canal. Later modifications included the construction of a watermill slightly further downstream to provide hydraulic power for the operations.

    At the height of production in the 18th century, the mine was producing about 700 tonnes of lead and nearly 2 tonnes of silver a year, and employed an impressive 1,600 people.

    These days, the mine has long since closed and the lake is used for recreational purposes such as fishing.

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    Pretty well the perfect ancient forest

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    I absolutely love forests, and one of the attractions of visiting Bretagne was the prospect of being able to visit the ancient forests that have given rise to so much Celtic folklore.

    Unfortunately the vast majority of the ancient forest has long since been cleared in the interests of agriculture, and only pockets remain in the Breton interior. The forest of Huelgoat is perhaps one of the best known - and most accessible - remnants, and is absolutely worth a visit.

    The forest covers 10 square kilometres and is made up of the sort of beautiful broadleaf species that would have covered most of north west Europe in times gone past (much more interesting than single species coniferous forest in my book). The vegetation combines perfectly with moss-covered boulders to create a fairytale landscape that looks like a set from Lord of the Rings. It looks and feels ancient, so it comes as a surprise to know that 30% of this forest was flattened by a massive storm in October 1987, and that much of today's vegetation today is regrowth.

    Just looking at this sort of forest - let alone wandering its paths, picnicking in its hidden glades or playing hide and seek between the huge fallen boulders - is good for the soul.

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    Check whether there's a concert on at the church

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jul 24, 2012

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    Being Brittany, Huelgoat has the requisite granite church ...

    It is, of course, quite lovely. But perhaps even more lovely are the events that it hosts.

    We dropped in on the first Sunday in July (2012) and saw the local posters to determine that there was a concert that afternoon. My parents decided that they wanted to attend the concert that quite coincidentally was taking place that afternoon, and we went for a wander in the forest and collected them two hours later. They were absolutely evangelical about the event that they'd attended and a good time was had be all!

    So, the moral of the story is twofold: always read the notices, and just becasue you're travelling as a group doesn't mean that you have to be joined at the hip!

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