Huelgoat, an antic mining town

Huelgoat sits on the edge of a large man-made lake.

Chaos d'Huelgoat
Chaos d’Huelgoat

The name Huelgoat comes from the Breton huel meaning high and goat for wood.

The Celts and Romans already exploited the area’s lead and silver mines.

However, the local mining industry reached its heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Around 1,600 miners indeed extracted up to 700 tonnes of lead and nearly 2 tonnes of silver per year.

These mines left their name to the river Argent that flows from the 15h lake that sits at the centre of Huelgoat.

German miners constructed two canals in the 16th century in order to run the hydraulic machinery at the old lead and silver mine, which is nestled in the heart of the forest.

All that is left of it, though, are old mine workings, the wheel and ruined master’s house.

Le Chaos De Rochers – Eccentric rock formations

The Arboretum du Poërop – Les arbes du monde au Huelgoat indeed boasts about 3,600 types of trees and shrubs from five continents.

It is well worth a visit particularly during the spring and autumn.

However, Huelgoat is mostly renowned for its 1000ha forest which is littered with heaps of strange rock formations.

The huge granite boulders (some 20m high) of Le Chaos De Rochers border the sparkling river Argent.

La Roche Tremblante – Trembling or Shaking Rock

La Roche Tremblante in Huelgoat Forest
La Roche Tremblante

La Roche Tremblante, also known as Logan stone, is one of the most impressive boulders in the forest.

The 137 tonnes and 7m long granite boulder is pivoted in such a way that it can be moved if you know the right place to push… the pivot point!

These types of stones are also known as roulers.

Druids considered them a symbol of universal balance.

Le champignon – Mushroom

Le Champignon is another well named boulder!

This huge 200 tonnes boulder is balanced on a smaller rock to form the shape of a mushroom.

You’ll need to leave the forest to see it, as it is located in a little wooded area across from the Intermarché supermarket on the road that links Huelgoat to Berrien.

Le Champignon in Huelgoat Forest
Le Champignon

If you can’t see it from the road, look for the pointed finger signpost opposite the supermarket car park.

However, you might find that dense foliage obscures it during the spring and summer.

Legends of the Forest of Huelgoat

As you can guess, these eccentric rock formations gave rise to numerous legends, many linked to the Arthurian Tradition.

However, there are many different versions, so here is a selection of our favourites.

Le Camp d’Artus and La Grotte D’Artus

Le Camp d’Artus, a large Iron Age hill fort.

It is said that King Arthur was buried with his servants in the natural cave La Grotte D’Artus.

Legend has it that Merlin the Wizard helped Arthur to find a fabulous treasure in the Valley of no Return, and that this treasure is hidden in this cave.

However, beware that demons who fly around in the form of Willo-the-wisps guard it.

La Grotte du Diable – Devil’s Grotto

La Grotte Du Diable plunges 10m below Huelgoat’s lake.

La Grotte du Diable in Huelgoat Forest
La Grotte du Diable

Access is easy, as you can park in town and walk to the entrance to the chaos, by the bridge at the end of the lake.

It’s also a few 100m from Le Moulin du Chaos, a working water mill dating from 1339.

A flight of slippery metal steps with a handrails lead down to the grotto.

However, be aware that it’s quite dark and a torch is much welcome!

Apparently, the grotto is the gateway to Hell…

Legend has it that it is at the end of the Chemin de l’Enfer – Path to Hell, a street lined with bars.

The devil will indeed allow anyone, who manages to reach the last bar in the street in a sober state, to return home; he will even spare his evil doings.

La Rivière de Sang – River of Blood

In the 4th century, Gradlon Mawr – Gradlon the Great, King of Cornouaille, fell in love with a beautiful half-woman/half-fairy.

Rivière Argent in Huelgoat Forest
Rivière Argent

They had a daughter, Dahut, who was raised by her father after her mother left him.

Her mother eventually returned and took possession of Dahut’s mind.

Dahut therefore became a cruel princess who took a new lover each night.

However, in the morning she would throw them into the River Argent from the Kastell Guibel, which stood on a bluff above the river.

In high winds, it is said that you can hear the cries and complaints of her dead lovers coming from the depths of the abyss.

If ever you hear them, you must say the ritual phrase “May God forgive the Dead” and pray for their eternal rest.

Le Chaos d’Huelgoat

In ancient times, a giant called Garguantua stopped in the forest of Huelgoat where he was suddenly struck by a terrible hunger.

The locals were very miserable (or perhaps just poor) and only offered him a thin porridge which, one suspects, did not sate his hunger.

He thus continued on his way to Léon region and found some more people who served him a hearty meal.

However, later as he was strolling along the coast, he lost his temper and hurled some large rocks that he found on the shore towards Huelgoat.

He thus formed the fantastic chaos of moss covered boulders that you can see in the forest today!

La Mare aux Sangliers – Wild Boar Pool

It is said that the fairy of the forest gave healing powers to the crystal clear pool.

A first legend says that the Lady of the Lake came to see Arthur, while he was bathing here, and healed his wounds with magic water from the pool.

La Mare aux Sangliers in Huelgoat Forest
La Mare aux Sangliers

Another legend says that, one day St. Peter and God descended to earth, dressed respectively as a lumberjack and a labourer.

However, a pregnant sow accompanied them.

The holy figures came across a house inhabited by an old baker woman.

They told her that the sow was about to give birth and that they would give it to her on the condition that they would have half of its litter when they returned.

The woman agreed.

They said that they would be back in a week.

The woman therefore built a hut for the beast and cared for her.

The following day the sow gave birth to eight piglets.

The woman thought that St. Peter and God would not know how many piglets the sow gave birth to.

Le Ménage de la Vierge in Huelgoat Forest
Le Ménage de la Vierge

She therefore decided to tell them that only four had been born, and hid four of the piglets in the unlit oven.

When the travelers returned they asked how many piglets had been born.

“Four” said the baker’s wife.

God and St. Peter asked “What about the ones in the oven, do they not count?”

The woman quickly apologized for the lie and St. Peter opened the oven and the four piglets scampered off into the forest.

However, the warm ashes had singed their coats.

Since that time locals say that pigs from Huelgoat have brown hair.

La Mare aux Fées – Fairies Pond

La Mare aux Fées in Huelgoat Forest
La Mare aux Fées

Legend has it that during the day fairies would paint their long hair with combs of gold and use the pond as a mirror.

However, if a fairy was caught talking to a boy she was thrown into the pond as a punishment and would drown!

You can indeed see the fairies at the bottom of the pond by moonlight.

However, beware!

They turn into the ugly toothless witches who can cast an evil spell on you!

Le Ménage de la Vierge – Virgin’s Household

Local folklore identifies this as the site of the Virgin Mary’s first house.

The piled up boulders indeed create a shelter with oddly shaped rocks resembling everyday utensils.

Apparently, you can work out a cauldron, ladle, butter dish, butter churn, some bellows, armchairs and a bed!

Supposedly you can even spot Jesus’ cradle!

Departement of Finistère
Coordinates: Lat 48.364725 – Long -3.745646

Source photos and text: © Maria Richardson – Wikimedia Commons header

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