Tuesday, December 16, 2008

hydro phobia

Today was the first outing for my superb new walking boots, which arrived yesterday after a nightmare of searching, ordering, being told that 'in stock' actually means arriving in February, or that my feet are unreasonably small and therefore not 'normally' catered for. England is clearly increasingly full of cart-horses. Thanks to the efficient and good-humoured staff at Cave and Crag (http://www.cave-crag.co.uk/ - thanks, Dave :-)) who rushed out a pair within hours of my plea, the great day is here and what a walk I had on the soupy, sloppy December moors, with dry and warm feet.
I have come back to my all-time favourite, the Hi Tec light-weight range - best on the market imo - by buying the new Altitude Ion Mask boots, excruciatingly called 'a breakthrough in surface enhancement'. Using a magnifying glass to check out details on the label of this 'quantum leap in footwear technology' I discover that the boots are not only waterproof but also hydro phobic - with the many problems water is already facing all over the world, I hope environmentalists will act quickly to nip this alarming new phenomenon in the bud.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sarkozy & Breton reunification

At the congress of French mayors in Nantes, Nicolas Sarkozy raises the reunification issue, apparently in a light-hearted aside, but he is too politically astute - notable lapse in marrying Carla Bruni notwithstanding - to draw attention where he does not relish the spotlight falling. His pre-election contemptuous dismissal of Bretons might yet have a worthwhile payoff.
Nantes was the ducal capital of Brittany from the 10th century, finally severed from its body by the Vichy government in 1941 and enshrined as head of the new region Loire Atlantique in 1957. Symbolic and historical significance aside, the economic repercussions of losing Brittany's main industrial concentration overnight were severe, despite later investment in the four remaining departments, Finistere, Cotes du Nord (now more seductively titled Cotes d'Armor, but not d'Armour as many British incomers call it), Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine.
B5 (the 'true' Brittany of 5 departments) is a rallying cry by the re-unifcationists. Good luck to them, even if it is necessary to get into bed with the likes of Sarkozy to achieve their end. It is after all an act of peculiar cultural barbarism to severe a capital city from its region. One of the many reasons for lauding the patrimoine of the Nantes-Brest canal is that this old waterway remains a physical link between the two parts of historic Brittany. You can read all about this in my latest book, Crossing Brittany.....................

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday's Megaliths - Carnac

Back in Brittany, I spent a day at Carnac with my good friend Jane Brayne, artist and archaeological illustrator (from Meet the Ancestors fame, and also well-known for her work on Avebury and Stonehenge) who has dashed back with me from England to do some preparation for an exciting new project. As the weather was appalling, we were the only people on site: I had forgotten how moving the experience can be without the hordes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Making a rare visit to England, and most vivid impressions so far are of stunning Somerset landscapes and the appalling volume of rural traffic. It's rather refreshing to have reached London in my travels and at last be able to drive as nature intended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Experiencing history

I used to think that the attraction of the past was its contrast with the present world, the separation of time and custom lending an aura of excited speculation. This lure of the evident spiced by fantasy was in the castle's turret stair and the lie of standing stones. After years of writing guidebooks and escorting visits of historical interest, I see rather that for most the thrill is in connection. Provide a link, however tenuous, to the contemporary world or to the particular historical framework of the audience, and the appetite of the imagination cranks up mightily. Here in Brittany so much is lost for the British audience by tedious and tortuous exposition of French history which might as well be an account of warfaring factions in Lord of the Rings. A sea skirmish off the coast west of Brest doesn't do a lot to pull in the punters until mention of the magic words 'Mary Rose' - then watch the line of craning necks on the cliff-top - even though there is nothing to see but the skittish Atlantic - and hear the avid speculations about wind-speed and turning circles for 16th century craft.
Brittany is a special case in this respect: the connections between Britons and Bretons are all-pervasive. Hence my chosen structure for the Britons in Brittany book: conflict, commerce, culture. From Ben Nicholson's modernist renderings of the Carnac megaliths to the 17th century export of cloth from Locronan via Pouldavid (hence the English name Powell Davies for the fabric!) to the allied bombing of the Morlaix viaduct that managed to wipe out a school full of children. What tales there are to tell, and what a trail to follow around some of the most interesting places France has to offer.

Friday, November 07, 2008

website blues

My website has been out of action for nearly four weeks now. The hosting company Another Light took it down for non-payment of renewal. Unfortunately they sent the reminder, not to the current email they have in their records, but to a very old address. They have not responded to any of dozens of messages requesting the code without which I cannot move the site to another host. They are obliged to give me this, even if they can make me forfeit a year's rental. But nothing. And the next stage, an appeal to the registrar of sites has also remained completely unanswered for two weeks. Therefore not only have I lost my professional showcase, but I am unable to do anything to get it back. My only option is to change the domain name, which I am very reluctant to do, and not only because of all the stationery to be changed and people to inform, etc. I cannot wait until the resolution of a long appeals process - that is, if anyone ever takes policing of the net seriously for long enough to write me a message.

OK, after a weekend of thought, I give in. New site - (holding pages for the moment) - at http://www.wendymewes.com/

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Two days in Rennes, capital of modern Brittany, this week. It's not a city I feel especially at ease in, finding it less engaging than Nantes or Vannes, despite the breath-taking range of innovative architectural concepts. Religious buildings are varied and omni-present, likewise medieval colombage houses of many colours, but Rennes is hard to get hold of in a single grasp, slipping and shimmying away as the visitor grapples with each of its many salient parts.
I am pleased to meet up again with Pierrick Gavaud from Randobreizh to discuss my association's Days of Discovery event for September 2009, and with Michael Dodds, new head of tourism, who is generous with his time and attention to the possibilities of my Britons in Brittany project.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Saint Tex

Today is Tex's first birthday. What a fine little dog he has turned out to be!
As it is All Saints Day, I also honour with many tears my beloved lurcher Rufus, light of my life, who died last December, lovingly missed each and every day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Michelin Green Guide to Brittany

I'm pleased to hear that two of my books are to be in the recommended reading list of the new edition of this prestigious book. The selection is interesting: Discovering the History of Brittany is an obvious choice, but the other is The Five of Cups, my novel set in the Monts d'Arrée. In fact, however, only the other day I had a letter from a reader saying she was planning a holiday in Brittany on the strength of the descriptions and atmosphere in that tale, so perhaps it's not strange after all. I always thought the cover would make a good tourist poster.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 26

Day 26 on my 28-day detox régime. So no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, wheat, tea, coffee, alcohol or sugar for the duration. There's no limit on eating, only on what is eaten. It is sadly true that this does make a hugely positive difference to how one thinks, feels, moves and sleeps. But too limited and boring to adopt for life - my once a year stint is quite enough. This time I've been very good, with few lapses, just the odd cup of black coffee or sip of diet coke when cooking (I use the term loosely, because endless chopping of vegetables and fruit lacks creativity after the first five days). Not quite! A friend was buying me lunch on a shopping trip to Ikea this week and in the absence of anything totally suitable, I had one slice of smoked salmon with my rye bread and lettuce leaves. She had meat balls, chips and chocolate-almond cake. But the point is that because of this régime, I had plenty of energy for four hours in Ikea, whereas usually I would have wanted to sit down after twenty minutes or eat cake or hit people in those circumstances.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday's Megalith

This neolithic allée couverte at Mougau Bihan dates from c3000. It has an entrance in the north, a corridor to the burial chamber (without significant distinction) and a small separate cella (front in photo). The giant roof slabs would once have been covered with earth and grass. Inside are carvings of paddles/threshing implements, goddess breasts (raised pairs of dots - I can't really believe in that interpretation) and a hafted axe on the wall of the chamber. The latter, like so many other 'pagan' monuments in Brittany, was daubed with Catholic symbols in flourescent pink paint soon after the new pope's anti-pagan speech. Truly enlightened behaviour.
Theories of an inverted boat-shape for such tombs may explain the oar or paddle type carvings, as necessary props for the soul's final progress across water, presumably accompanied by a psychopomp.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

new novel

Progress on the new novel Walking for the Broken-Hearted is following my habitual and irritating pattern. Something triggers the first thought - in this case an incident related to me by friends - and I know by writer's instinct that conception has taken place. I try and fail to get things written down. The experience is still theirs and I have a long wait for the germination process that brings it into my consciousness and makes it mine. Usually this means several months of nothing at all or the odd desperate thought that leads nowhere. Even co-incidental visits to the setting of the opening scene made no impression, and I started to wonder if maybe I was wrong this time. But yesterday, whilst walking on the moors and thinking about something completely different, I suddenly got the measure of the story, the characters and several clear sequences. And on return to the house I managed to write for half an hour - so alea iacta est and all that.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Vannes is, or was, the least familiar of Breton cities to me, so I was pleased to spend two days there this week. It lacks the university buzz of Rennes and Nantes, and is a softer, more restrained member of the same family. I liked it very much, even though the archaeology museum closed for the winter last week. Why? Does a beautiful place like Vannes have no visitors from October to April? And if not, why not - because the best places are closed maybe?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Monday's megalith

On Monday I fulfilled a long held desire to see the neolithic cairn with its famous carvings lining the passage and single burial chamber on the tiny island of Gavrinis. Of course, no photographs allowed inside, but it was an extraordinary experience. Normally I hate enclosed spaces but there was a palpable calm and sense of peaceful rest in the chamber that made me reluctant to leave. The forceful carvings enhance the liveliness of departure.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Ergué Gaberic

On the trail of Dallam organs for the Briton/Breton links book yesterday. The Dallam family, having left England to escape the puritan revolution in the mid 17th century, for several generations settled in Finistere and made fine organs for some of the most attractive churches. That at Ergue Gaberic near Quimper is one of the most original (i.e. least restored) and still in working order: renowned English musician Robert Woolley gave a concert there.
Finding the church closed I was sent from the mairie to the maison du patrimoine where a delightful and most helpful young woman, Gael Martin, got the key from the rector and let me have a good look inside the church. Pity my camera flash failed to function properly :-(
She was very interested in my project - it would certainly be of great benefit to small places like Ergué Gaberic which have notable heritage features to attract visitors through linkage.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

waiting for a reply from Brittany tourism

I'm waiting for a reply from Brittany tourism's new head honcho, who happens to be English. I wrote three weeks ago asking for a late October meeting about my Briton/Breton historical trail project. No reply. Yesterday morning I sent another polite message and reprinted the first in case it was never forwarded to him. Now I wait and hope and wait and .........
My reply rate from Breton tourist boards/organisations/officials over the years has been less than 25%, but I remain absurdly optimistic and put all my faith in Mr Michael Dodds. After all, why wouldn't he be interested in such a project?

Sunday, September 28, 2008


This small city, capital of Finistere and the Cornouaille region, has gradually gnawed its way into my heart after our lukewarm first meeting six years ago. It has its quirks in addition to the much-pictured cobbled medieval streets and maisons à pan de bois. The walled medieval ville close was in fact unusually the preserve of the bishop, whilst the duke of Brittany had to content himself with the Terre au Duc, west of the Steir. Each had their own essentials: mills, fishponds, markets and seats of justice. But Quimper has always been a place of clerics, once awash with Franciscans, Jesuits and convents of every persuasion. Standing on the old rempart above the paradisical Jardin de Retraite, the huge Jesuit chapel dwarfs the fortifications that failed to protect this little settlement in the Wars of Succession and Religion. The luminous cathedral is renowned for its crooked axis of choir (13th century) and nave (15th century). Does this symbolically reflect the droop of Jesus' head on the cross? No: some idiot built the bishop's palace alongside inbetween times and there was nowhere else to go. The gleaming spires with their lofty statue of legendary founder King Gradlon are 19th century add-ons.
But if it's symbolism you want: the Max Jacob passerelle, augurated in 1994 for the 150th anniversary of his death in the camp at Drancy, stands almost between the two buildings designed by loathsome Breton nationalist and one time architect Olier Mordrel (born Olivier in Paris, Corsican mother, a late learner of Breton), who was condemned to death as a traitor after the war, and hid out in Argentina before returning to Paris and the same repulsive rhetoric in the 1970s.
The name Quimper means 'confluence' and the fluvial trio of Odet, Steir and Frout has led to some merry flooding, as recently as 2000 when plaques marking the water's highest point suggest that I would have been swimming along the rue René Madec (named for one of lowly Quimperois origins, whose private army in 18th century India won him the title of nabob).

Friday, September 26, 2008

cross in Brittany

Sad news. The Long Thought is no more. The title, that is. Whilst I understand the marketing and promotional reasons for this change, for me it means giving up the true name of my new book. It is now to be Crossing Brittany - well, yipppeeeedoo :-(

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday's Megalith

Part of the Neocropolis at Menez Dregan. There is also a paleolithic site on the cliffside just below.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

American Historical Trail?

And I've also got plenty of ideas for an American tourist trail in Brittany. Apart from the obvious WWI & WWII sites, there's Benjamin Franklin's visit in 1776 (before he was president), when he landed at Auray's exceptionally picturesque port of St-Goustan; Fulton's testing of the first submarine at Camaret in 1801; Jack Kerouac's family origins at Huelgoat - all fortunately highly attractive places to visit. And there are many more I'll keep to myself for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Briton/Breton Historical Trail (1)

The trail is developing well. I've just spent a day on the island of Molène, in the Atlantic between the continent and Ouessant (Ushant). It's a small place of 100 hectares and only 250 regular year-round inhabitants. It makes a pleasant change from the Celtic saints and Hundred Years War incidents to be researching an event, albeit a tragic one, from the Victorian era for my Briton/Breton historical trail. On June 16, 1896 the steamship Drummond Castle hit the rocks (Pierres Vertes) west of Molène on the last night of its voyage from South Africa to England, and sank within minutes. Fishermen saved two sailors and one passenger early the next morning, but the other 244 people on board perished. 29 of the bodies recovered were buried in a special corner of the churchyard on Molène. The islanders received thanks both practical and spiritual, with Queen Victoria putting up the cost of a cistern, which still stands near the church, to relieve the perennial freshwater problem, and the Guild of All Souls sending a jewelled chalice and plate to the priest in acknowledgement of the Christian burials accorded to the victims.

Monday, September 08, 2008

in praise of the pringle

I am going through an obsessive phase of Pringles. I bought my first tube on impulse a year ago in a little shop in the Monts d'Arrée as I drove back from Quimper. I have a strange history with the crisp: as a child I used to save up and buy small cardboard boxes of Chipples salted potato sticks from an old-fashioned grocer's shop in the Gloucestershire village where I grew up. I always ate these secretly in my room: comfort food and an a early type of protection ritual. When they stopped making them, I never made the step to that poor substitute for the potato stick, the common and ubiquitous crisp. As an adult in London I discovered that M&S had the goods, but in large packets so that the salt intake meant borderline hospitalisation if eaten all in one go (and how else could they be eaten?). In Somerset I had a similar relationship with tesco potato sticks, but all this was in my pre-thyroid days and once that hereditary menace emerged I gave up such indulgence.
So here in France where crisps are foolishly called chips and so loaded with salt that wrinkles appear as you eat, there has been nothing comparable to tempt me until now. What is it about Pringles? Partly the perfect light texture and seasoning, partly the challenge of the shape: it tantalises the mouth and requires, for the greatest oral satisfaction, two bites, the first of which must be clean enough to avoid shattering the second half into fragments. Then there is the effort required to plunge one's hand further and further into the tube, and the test of how many days you can make one lot last. I can't do better than four. But the whole process has all the fulfilment of a ritual beyond physical gratification.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

sunday afternoon

How I hate Sunday afternoons and their inherent purposelessness. How do normal people manage to pass those world-without-end hours? I spend all week walking and reading and writing - what else is there to do? Today I can't seem to find any task to lift the dreary energy so I try to match it by using time to delete hundreds of photos from the laptop as the new XP update tells me I am running out of space. Several thousand pictures of the Nantes-Brest canal have just flashed past my eyes, reviving old passions, but it seems a fitting moment to get rid of many now that my active love-affair with the canal is very nearly over - although I hope we will remain good friends.
The puppy, from his bed on the windowsill next to my desk, has just been sick in spectacular fashion all over the final maunscript changes to The Long Thought and over my diary. Whatever I was going to do in October has lost its appeal, and I will need another updated manuscript, but hey, I have something purposeful to do at last - pass the mop and bucket, Alice.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

covers up

The cover of The Long Thought is evolving slowly. These are the front-runners.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Megaliths & the Monts d'Arrée

Preparing for an association event next week, and had a good walk on the Landes de Cragou, where Dartmoor ponies graze and buzzards wheel. The theme is both landscape and the earliest traces of man.

Friday, August 29, 2008

viaduct views

Morlaix is famous for its viaduct, built in the early 1860s to carry the Paris/Brest railway. It was an obvious target for allied bombing in WWII to break the Germans' vital communication line. A raid in January 1943 succeeded in knocking out part of one arch, as well as destroying a primary school, killing all the pupils and a teacher. 12 days later the Germans had the line repaired.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

cover pic

The Long Thought will going to press in a month or so and I'm starting work on the covers. I'm torn between symbolic wintry pictures or June splendour showing the canal at its best. This picture is my current favourite: it also connects to the opening scene of my new novel, which would be a neat transitional image. The infinite variety of the Nantes-Brest canal requires a whole book of photos to do it justice, but I've decided to do without pictures in the text, which can stand up for itself well enough, I hope.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

bloody journalists - Ouest France

A reporter from Ouest-France, the main daily paper here, accompanied a Morlaix town walk I guided last week. He was a young man who admitted he did not know the history of the town. All the more reason for him to listen? Not a chance, he's a journalist after all. The next day he sent me a PDF of the article - full of errors and misquotations, but I expect that after long experience of being interviewed by the French press. You accept these colourful diversions from the truth in return for publicity.
I was just about to file the article and think no more of it when I spotted the photo caption: there I am, on the bandstand in the Place des Otages, explaining the tragic fate of 60 Morlaisiens taken hostage and then transported like cattle to the death camps in reprisal for a resistance attack. What does the caption say - that I am describing the hostages being SHOT. Now not only is this a nasty slur on my reputation, but it is pretty unpleasant for the families of these poor men - Morlaix is a small town and this terrible event features large in many memories.
So I send an email at once to the journalist, Morgan Bourven. No reply. After brooding all weekend, I write a letter of complaint to the editors. Shortly after the journalist sends a brief email of apology and says a retraction will be published in the paper the following day. It isn't, so I write to him again, this time in anger. He replies blaming a secretarial error (!) and promises the text will appear tomorrow. Half an hour later he sends me the text to see if I approve. Frankly I think it is very little, but it includes a public apology to me as well as a correction of the facts, so I say OK.
Today, the retraction appears, but lo and behold! the apology has mysteriously disappeared and only a bald statement of fact remains. Anyone reading without significant attention might still have the impression that the mistake was mine. I am seriously upset by this - by their stupidity and ignorance in the first place (no-one in the Morlaix office of Ouest-France noticed such an appalling error before the paper went to press) and then the apparent play-acting that followed.
I think the best thing to do with Ouest-France in future is to stuff it in my walking boots to help the drying process.

POSTSCRIPT I have just received a message from the journalist saying that it is an 'apology to history not to Wendy Mewes' - there you are, folks - NOW they care about history, but they don't give a shit about my professional reputation. If I was French it would be a very different story.............. but at least this shows them in their true light.

ADDENDUM: after reading Laurent's comment and receiving another message from the journalist, let me say that he, Morgan Bourven, tried to do the right thing but was overruled by more senior staff who did not feel I was important enough to merit an apology.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Portrait of the Young Dog

Painted by animal artist Debs, here's my young chap Tex, now eight months old and of wide vocabulary.

on the trail

Personal reasons have kept me off-blog lately, but I'm getting going again this month. Starting work on a new novel, Walking for the Broken-Hearted, which in its embryonic state appears to be a strange amalgam of fiction and reality. Also working on the development of an historic trail throughout Brittany, tracing the Briton/Breton connection over centuries. This is essentially a tourist project, concentrating on places and remains, but I expect a guidebook will accompany the basic leaflet information.
Otherwise BWs association business takes much of my time, with new walks to research and a programme of events for the autumn/winter to plan. There can't be many Morris dancing workshops on offer this December in Brittany. Plus the total reworking of the Brittany Walks website, which is going to be a big step forward for anglophone walking over here, and a major task for me.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Nearly two months ago I knocked my hand awkwardly against the car. A minor irritation, not especially painful at the time. Now that hand is almost useless. My old bugbear of arthritis has set into the virgin joints with the grip of a terrier. After twelve years free of the crippling pains that ruined my thirties when walking was often too painful to contemplate, the nightmare returns with a vengeance. It is my left hand and I am left-handed: writing, cooking, any normal everyday action is now an ordeal. Perhaps I should be thankful that the savage pain in one finger that kept me awake night after night has at least faded to a constant dull ache - but the slightest pressure on the hand brings out that blast of agony only too quickly. My world has shrunk swiftly into limited actions and strategic movement, a way of living I thought was well buried in my past. Funny how quickly the old patterns return - I find myself instinctively guarding my knees and feet from potential trauma and moving with the gait of a cripple that once came so naturally. And yet there is nothing wrong with those joints. Yet.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

puppy brain

Never, never try finishing a manuscript with a new puppy in the house. I am exhausted and Tex is obliviously exuberant. My office is a mass of shredded cardboard and decimated broom twigs. As well as the coastal book to complete by the end of January, I have a talk to give next week in central Brittany and cycle routes in pays bigouden to prepare for an English travel company. Actually, I'm quite enjoying it all, although whether I'll be able to remember details of the Seven Years War or the history of the seaweed industry when questioned is quite another matter.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

new puppy

New puppy able to come home today.

Bonne année, etc

2008 at last - I've been looking forward to it. This is a year of change.

Finally finished coastal book walking on December 31st, only two months behind schedule. Most of the text is written, however, so I'll still hope to bring it in on time. Have been distracted by doing some research work for a travel company and giving talks about this and that, as well as spending two weeks in England. For the first time since coming to live in France I enjoyed my trip back over the water, and had an excellent time in Glastonbury, Shropshire and London.