The Forest of Paimpont: The Broceliande of Arthurian Legend
I think we’ve all been to places that figure into famous stories or legends that are part of our collective memory. There are so many of them in the United States: Tombstone, Gettysburg, New Orleans, and
Savannah, just to name a few. And there are local legends surrounding tales that we have heard for years. The French medieval chronicler Gace said the following in his work Le Roman de Rou about his wanderings in the legendary forest of Broceliande :
“I went there in search of marvels; I saw the forest and the land and looked only for marvels, but found none. I came back as a fool and went as a fool. I went as a fool and came back as a fool. I sought foolishness and consider myself a fool.”
Broceliande was a magical forest in Arthurian legend. The Val sans Retour was located here; the adventures of Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, unfolded here; and here the Lady of the Lake imprisoned Merlin the magician in a tree after learning all the secrets of his magic .
There has been much debate as to the actual location of Broceliande. Based on the old legends, the forest has been placed in Brittany. Some believe that Broceliande is located in the Foret de Paimpont, which is near the Breton city of Reims in the commune of Paimpont. The locals have made much of the legend and lore surrounding the region, and believe it or not, these places are now almost tourist attractions .
This is the tomb of Merlin. Legend has it that after the lovesick Merlin taught Nimue all of the secrets of his magic, she used one of his spells to imprison him in a tree or hill in Broceliande. While this structure was once believed to have been the tomb of Merlin, it is really the remains of an old walkway that was destroyed by hopeful treasures hunters in the nineteenth century .
The Val sans Retour, or Valley of No Return, in Arthurian legend has also been identified with a place of the same name in Paimpont. It was here that Morgan le Fey imprisoned unfaithful knights who had strayed from their journeys and fallen prey to her charms. Because of his undying devotion to Guinevere, it was Lancelot who broke Morgan”˜s spell over the valley and freed his fellow captive knights .
There are a few legends surrounding the Barenton Fountain, which is a mineral spring. Its waters are known for their healing properties, and when a piece of copper or iron is thrown into it, the water begins to bubble . But the other supernatural attribute is a little more sinister: If someone were to take some of the water and pour it onto any of the rocks in the forest, a terrible storm would blow in, summoning Esclardos, the knight who lived on the land . It was Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, who defeated Esclardos and married his wife, Laudine, the Lady of the Fountain. Merlin also met Nimue alongside this fountain .
Comper Castle, which lies in the same area of the forest as Barenton Fountain, was supposedly the home of Viviane. Merlin constructed a palace of crystal for her in the lake beside the castle. The castle has public exhibitions dedicated to the stories of King Arthur and his knights, which make up such an integral part of the local lore.
If Brittany is one of the places you will be stopping during a trip to France and this is relevant to your interests, plan to take a trip to the Paimpont region and visit some of these places. Not only is the forest gorgeous, but I’ve only scratched the surface of the stories, myths, and legends which still haunt it. This region has a lot of history, but of course, those are other stories for other days.