Kernéléhen Things to Do
The Cairn de Barnenez is crosscut by a distinctive series of parallel passages which provide access to the tumulus along the south western side of the Cairn. Because of the quarry that was excavated into the Cairn to generate construction stone in the 19th and 20th centuries, several of the most westerly passage now pass from one side of the tumulus to the other, although this would not have been part of the original design.
It is desperately tempting to walk through these ancient passageways in the footsteps of our Neolithic ancestors as they interred the bodies of their loved ones and I felt a frisson of disappointment when I discovered that this was not possible. However, the logic is inescapable: it is forbidden as it poses an unacceptable risk of collapse, which would probably cause even more damage to you than it would to the structure.
As a result, the passage entrances are barred with chevron tape, but these serve more as a warning than a barrier. So keep a close eye on your kids if you visit here as a family, as I can guarantee that the passages will exert a magnetic attraction for small people!
This photo sums up in a single image why Cairn de Barnenez is the perfect place to visit with a family if you're in this part of Bretagne.
First - and most obviously - it is a superbly interesting megalithic site which has been sympathetically restored.
Secondly, it has a stunning location and commands beautiful views out over both the coastline and the surrounding countryside.
Thirdly, it is surrounded by extensive meadows which are perfect for picnicking, relaxing or just general frolicking. If you're travelling with small children, it is a wonderful place to break your journey and give the little darlings a chance to run off some steam after being cooped up in the car, and because the site is fenced, there's no chance of them running over a cliff or onto a road. Here my small son is scampering up the hill, with the site map clutched tightly in his hand, trying to work out where the burial chambers are.
I should prefix this tip by stating that I have spent most of my career trying to manage and moderate the activities of engineers, as they have an uncanny knack of buggering things up!
Take Cairn de Barnenez as an example. This superb megalithic site - which was painstakingly constructed by our ancestors with little more than their bare hands and a grand vision - was first recognised as a tumulus at the beginning of the 19th century but was not afforded protected status, leaving engineers free to loot it as a source of construction material (a practice that was only halted in the 1950s). Its archaeological significance was only recognised once a sizeable portion had been 'permanently borrowed', and to this day, there is a gaping hole in the structure, which the conservation agencies have sensibly decided to leave 'as it'.
As a result of the engineer's pilfering is that it is possible to see the internal structure of the cairn in the quarried section. This has exposed two burial chambers, which have been created by leaning large stones against one another to create the walls of the chamber, which then support a large flat stone that serves as the roof. This characteristic table-like structure is known as a 'dolmen' and is often all that is left of neolithic tombs, as the surrounding rock of the original tumulus has been either eroded away, or removed by humans for building purposes.
The sheer size and complexity of this structure confirm that whoever was buried here was enormously important.
Kernéléhen Warnings and Dangers
(work in progress)
The meadows in Bretagne are beautiful in spring and summer: lushly green (no wonder, given how often it rains), studded with wildflowers and alive with insects of the more plesant variety (butterflies, bees and ladybirds).
A meadow is the perfect place to picnic and then perhaps lie back and contemplate the inside of your eyelids for a few minutes to aid digestion. However, you should be warned that they are generally not as soft as they seem and are often damp, so if this is your plan, be sure to pack a picnic rug, coat or even a couple of plastics bags to sit on.
The meadows around Cairn de Barnenez are especially beautiful, as they carpet the top slopes of a hill that overlooks both the sea and the adjacent estuary: to my mind, this was one of the most picturesque spots that we found in Bretagne, so allocate yourself enough time to enjoy this glorious setting.