According to my guidebook, the megalithic sites of Carnac are a model of monumental architecture unequalled in Europe. Having been to Stonehenge more times than I’ve wanted to, I thought I should see what all the fuss was about.
Most people leave Stonehenge feeling cheated. “They’re not as big as I expected!” Certainly, the megaliths of Carnac are even smaller, but what they lack in size they make up for in number. It is estimated that there are almost 3000 stones in the alignments of Carnac and I think during the last two days I’ve seen most of them.
On day 1, I decided to walk the length of the Alignments, a round trip of 10km. It is also possible to cycle or even ride a horse around the sites but the stones are fenced in and you can only enter certain areas on a guided tour or out of season. Luckily it’s October so there are several areas where I can wander freely among the stones. Those with less energy or less enthusiasm can drive from car park to car park, hopping out to take photos along the way, or take the little train for €7 – a 50 minute tour with guided commentary.
The highlights of my own personal quest were the view from the top of the ruined Kermaux windmill, allowing views of the alignments in both directions, and the site of Le Petit Menec, hidden in a forest of oaks and sweet chestnuts. The lowlights were finding children using the Manio Quadrilateral stones as a playground and a Frenchman pissing on the Manio Giant, one of the largest Menirs and one that certainly deserved more respect.
Day 2 was to be more relaxed starting with the Visitors Centre, followed by a wander through the town and ending at St Michael’s Tumulus, a large Neolithic burial chamber on which the locals decided to build a church. The visitors centre proved to be very informative but failed to answer the burning question of why people placed the stones as we found them. Popular theories are that the site was a temple and burial ground based on astrological alignments. More interesting is the theory that the stones acted as some kind of seismic early warning system. But my favourite is that Merlin (of King Arthur fame) turned the attacking Roman Legions to stone.
Day 3 found me driving to the nearby peninsula of Locmariaquer where an unusual assortment of Neolithic monuments can be found. The Grand Menhir Brise (big broken long stone) once stood at a height of 18.5m and weighed 280 tonnes. It now lies in four pieces having probably been toppled by an earthquake. The Er Grah tumulus was a huge cairn built over a tomb for someone of importance, according to the rare items found inside. Finally the Tables des Marchands is a dolmen containing some interesting carved stones. Being able to walk inside the stone chamber and see these carvings was worth the €5.50 entrance fee.
I don’t think we’ll ever really know why the alignments were put there or why such elaborate burial chambers were built but the mystery is part of what draws people to the region, along with the breath-taking coastline, historic towns and amazing local food.