One of the main reasons for our trip to Brittany was to visit the Carnac standing stones – one of the most extensive Neolithic menhir collections in the world.
For that reason we only lingered in Brest long enough to take some photos of the city’s incredible fortifications.
Like other strategic French ports Brest was almost totally destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II with only a tiny number of buildings left standing. However, the medieval Château de Brest and Tour Tanguy, a medieval tower on the opposite side of the Penfeld river, still stand proudly today defending the city as they have done since Medieval times.
We also saw the American World War I Naval Monument which stands on the ramparts of the city overlooking the harbour. Brest was a major base of operations for American naval vessels during WW I.
As we drove towards Carnac we were amazed to see Neolithic standing stones here and there along the road side. Sometimes there was just one stone and at others there were several but they were just “there” – with no information notices or protection.
We arrived in Carnac in the afternoon and found a free camper van site just a short bike ride from the fantastic Carnac museum and the standing stones.
There are more than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones in Carnac and the surrounding areas, erected around 3300 BC although some date to as early as 4500 BC. It is truly breathtaking to see the stones in their immensely long and straight lines, looking for all the world like stone soldiers about to march off into battle.
It is a mystery as to why these stones were erected but there are many theories – as a place for Druidic gatherings, to depict the stars in the sky, to record the directions of sunsets at solstices, to act as astronomical observatories, to be family memorial stones etc.
The first day we were there we met a fascinating lady in the gift shop called Dame Anne-Marie Delmotte who had a different theory – that the stones were a source of life enhancing energy that can still be measured today and which she believes, could still be utilised.
The fact that Anne-Marie Delmotte has an Associate’s Degree in Clinical Chemistry and works as a scientist at the Belgian Government perhaps makes her theory more plausible. In 2018, she received the title of Knight in the Leopold Order from the King of Belgium for her work (unrelated to her work with standing stones). As a scientist she has set out to objectively research her theory and has spent years measuring these energies using a Lecher antenna which is an instrument rather like a divining rod but able to detect the length and frequency of electric waves.
Whatever the reason for their existence, the stones are magnificent and extremely impressive. Unlike at Stonehenge you can wander through the stones, touch them and enjoy trying to make sense of them.
There are three major groups of stone rows – Ménec, Kermario and Kerlescan. The largest – Ménec – has eleven converging rows of menhirs stretching for 1,165 by 100 metres with what could be the remains of stone circles at either end.
Having our bikes meant we could cycle easily to the smaller groups and really soak up the atmosphere of these ancient and mysterious stones.
Close by to the standing stones are a number of tombs (dolmens) including the Kercado which is on private land and is one of the few dolmens in Brittany that has survived under its original cairn. Amazingly we were able to enter the dolmen and walk around and over it unimpeded.
We left Carnac feeling inspired, intrigued and full of wonder at this amazing feat of Neolithic man.