Stoned again

It might be an activity that wouldn’t appeal to a lot of people, but if ever I’m within range of a dolmen or a menhir then I have to go and find it.

Mrs Shark is somewhat less enthusiastic than I am, having been disappointed by some of the rather less spectacular examples I’ve insisted on visiting, but she humours me and is occasionally impressed by a good example.

For the uninitiated, dolmens and menhirs were erected roughly five millennia ago by stone age man. Dolmens are burial chambers and typically remain today as upright stones which support a large stone slab. These were originally covered with earth to form mounds within which the stone chamber and the burial were contained.

Menhirs are simply standing stones – sometimes solitary and sometimes in groups.

The megalithic culture which erected these structures and stones reached its zenith with Stonehenge, the alignments at Carnac in France and many other famous monuments.

However, there are hundreds of far lesser-known megalithic remains which can be visited and these often have their own charm and fascination – albeit rather more low key than Stonehenge and the like.

We tracked one down yesterday – a single menhir a couple of kilometres south of Pouance called ‘La Pierre Frite’. This translates as ‘The fried stone’ or even ‘the chip’, I suppose.

Following the sign from the main road to Craon, we took a right up what was obviously a farm track and great for tractors but not too good for a Ford Fiesta as it was heavily rutted, leaving a high middle which was a tad sump-unfriendly. Leaving the car as the track got more uneven, we walked the rest of the way which only turned out to be a couple of hundred yards.

This was a welcome change as most of the menhirs and dolmens we visit are tucked away and need a good hike to reach.

Anyway, here it is:

P1010236

Standing some 5 metres high it had a sort of pyramidal top and just over halfway up on one face there was a niche cut into the stone with a mesh grille which contained statuettes of Jesus and his mum.

I’ve heard of this practice before, when pagan monuments were Christianised by priests but have never seen an example. Sometimes, crosses are incised or even sculpted in the stone, but in this case someone had opted for figurines.

At least it hadn’t been taken down and then eventually smashed up for building stone or even dynamited, which has been known to happen when some ‘good’ Christian folk have decided that such stones are the work of Old Nick.

La Pierre Frite stacked up pretty well against other menhirs I’ve seen. Its setting was unusual – tucked away in a small woody glade and when you stood right next to it, you realised that it was quite big and must have taken considerable time and trouble to erect, given the primitive means at the builders’ disposal.

I have to say that I prefer menhirs to dolmens. I can see the point of dolmens quite clearly – to mark and protect a burial, but the reason menhirs were erected is far less clear cut. This one wasn’t even built on high ground – the glade was in a sort of dingle  – so it wasn’t clearly within the line of sight of any other conspicuous objects; not that there seemed to be any in the immediate vicinity.

It must have been placed there for a what seemed a good reason at the time, given the obvious cost in man hours to a people whose time was mostly spent just surviving.

Anyway, well worth the small detour in my opinion and curiously atmospheric, standing in its small shady glade – although It probably stood out in the open 5 000 years ago.

Beautiful.

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5 Responses

  1. Me. I prefer basket weaving.

  2. That’s pretty spectacular!

    The fact that it’s just there and you can walk right up to it, touch it, is pretty cool. No CCTV, no National Trust ‘custodian’…

  3. Great post. You’re obviously loving it over there……bites hand off in sheer jealousy.

  4. Wasn’t Obelix a menhir maker?

  5. @Catosays
    It’s rather a honeymoon period here. We can’t really settle until the house completes then it’s all systems go for the renovation work. Until then it’s rather like being on an extended holiday, but August/September will see us ‘back to work’!

    @Mr Rob
    Indeed he was. I love the Asterix books.

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