Huge rounded granite blocks that seem to have fallen from the sky, sometimes with peculiar shapes, others staying in an unlikely balance. Centennial trees that surround them and often prevent them from reaching the light, helping them to cover themselves with deep green moss. This is the forest of Huelgoat, in French Brittany. The adjective “magical” is very used to describe natural places of unique beauty, but, in this case, it looks like a glove. After all, the magician would have passed through here: Merlin himself! Not to mention the giant Gargantúa. Only a couple of the legends that, of course, have helped men explain the inexplicable: the whims of Mother Nature.
The images of the Huelgoat forest will encourage you to walk through it, but we know that its history and the legends that accompany it will convince you. That’s why we tell you about them and we show you the routes and corners that you can’t miss inside. And, to make it easier for you, we also explain how to get there and where to eat a good crêpe after your walk. Thus, the Breton experience will be complete.
THE ENCHANTED FOREST OF HUELGOAT: WONDERS OF NATURE SAVED
Both the trees of the Huelgoat forest and its large granite stones are wonders of nature that man was about to destroy. The trees, for the exploitation of the nearby silver and lead mines – from the end of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th – and the rocks, for the stone carvers. Part of the 555 hectares that remain of the original forest was reforested in the mid-19th century and, at the end of the same century, there were protests over the “theft” of rocks, which began to be protected from the beginning of the 20th century.
Strolling through the forest of Huelgoat we find the original oak and beech, with the pines and firs planted in the nineteenth century and with American red oaks of the late twentieth century – a hurricane in 1987 passed through the forest.
THE ORIGIN OF THE GREAT GRANITE STONES OF HUELGOAT
We go much further back in time. How did these groups of gigantic granite stones reach the Rivière d’Argent, the Huelgoat river? Why do they have those forms? And how are they in that peculiar balance?
If you are curious to know how that “bowling chaos” was formed, here is a summary in a few words of a few millennia of nature’s work. Granite is an igneous rock, formed by the cooling of magma as it rises to the surface. It is a hard rock that was left outdoors due to the erosion of the ground that covered it, softer. Rainwater and river currents gave them the shape. On the one hand, penetrating their fissures, breaking them, and, on the other, eroding their surface, rounding them. Thus, the granite balls were molded and positioned in that seemingly unstable equilibrium over each other.
THE LEGENDS OF THE FOREST: FROM GIANT GARGANTUA TO KING ARTHUR
The scientific explanations are fine … but the legends are much more entertaining. As we were told in Huelgoat, there have been all kinds of fanciful and even religious interpretations about the origin of those piles of giant rocks. Would it be the lumps of the boiling liquid with which God would have created the granite, pulled by the Creator himself on Strike? Would they have been transported there by water during the Universal Flood? Would the neighbors of the towns of Berrien and Plouyé have thrown them during their disputes, without being able to achieve their respective objectives and staying halfway in Huelgoat?
Of course, a legend is the most repeated: the protagonist of the giant Gargantua. Yes, that of the novels by Gargantúa and Pantagruel by the writer François Rabelais. Gargantúa, during one of his trips through the Monts d’Arrée, stopped to rest in the forest of Huelgoat. Hungry, he asked for food from the inhabitants of Huelgoat who offered him the only thing they had: buckwheat porridge. Furious at having to be content with such a poor meal, he promised to punish them. Upon reaching the coast, he grabbed some large polished rocks by the sea and threw them towards the Monts d’Arréeto fall down the river to the forest. The area that freed from the rocks could be transformed into arable land and prospered, while Huelgoat, with its land full of stones, became poorer.