Friday 7th August
This morning we were awakened to the unaccustomed sound of sheep being herded by a lone sheepdog without shepherd through the narrow street below our room at Mont St Michaels. After spending many weeks in some of the world’s largest and most popular cities we felt deliciously rural breathing sea air and even sheep dung air which some of our colleagues on trip advisor were critical of our hotel for. We soaked it up, slept in and were amongst the last to get down for breakfast.
Getting on to the island however returned us to Tourist Central with amazing crowds gathering in the carpark to walk to crowded shuttle buses which take off every 3 minutes. For a minute or two we thought we were back in Rome as it was a pleasantly warm day but quite hot in a crowd. Crossing the causeway, no matter how often seen on travelogues is still an interesting experience reminding us in particular of the Holy Island monastery at Carnarvon in northern England only here the towering fortress monastery build over a complex protruding and uneven rock face makes its somewhat menacing presence felt more and more as you approach.
It was interesting that the vast majority of the tourists were French so it is clearly a much loved family summer adventure and they came in their thousands with, of course, their dogs in every shape and size even though theoretically their dogs were not wanted in the monastery. Not sure how that worked. (tag team i suspect). Once into the base of the monastery visitors are assaulted with a bewildering mass of souvenir stores and restaurants. Sort of San Gimiano in Tuscany on steroids but without the high end wonderful shopping in San Gimmies. We wound our way ever upwards resisting the tempting sideways offerings of historical knights of old in various sections of the monastery and eventually joined a 30 minute queue to enter the actual working monastery. (Richard has now experienced four queues in his life!).
The many stairs are worth the effort as the official “tour” takes you on a well organised path first directly to the top level with panoramic views over the low-tide tidal river and very quickly to romantic and dazzling views of the English Channel and the Atlantic reaching far into the misty distance from the immense height of the structure. it was an interesting experience to have started in Istanbul on the Bosporos, almost the sounthern most part of Europe and to have wended our way to the northern coastline (obviously not counting Britain or Scandinavia,) and the variety of languages, customs and cultures we experienced to get there.
I was not prepared for the very high Gothic chapel on top of the mountain and we there at midday Friday for a weekly sung service of deep beauty. It was like a transport to seriously heavenly heights although for me conflicted having recently read the history of these fortress monasteries being designed in particular to fight the “evils of the Protestant heresy”. I know the world and the church has moved on but it has saddened me throughout Europe to see the remnants of Eastern vs Western Christianity, Protestant vs Catholic, all vs Islam, state and city vs state and city. Humanity’s inability to get on with fellow humanity is heart breaking!
We journeyed through the monastery from chapel to refectory hall (huge) to a beautiful cloister garden,
to a series of smaller simple chapels through to scary dungeons (during the French Revolution St Michael’s mont was a prison) and other large rooms and eventually down a steep back stairway back to civilization to the outside beautiful gardens. In all a (literally) breath-taking experience. From Mont St Michel we journeyed south leaving behind the fertile fields of Bretagne and Normandy and avoiding Paris we drove through many beautiful French villages with houses and shops right on the road as in many English villages. Further south the fields are gofden with cut grass neatly machine rolled into stacks as we passed Laval and Le Mans and drove into the Loire Valley and our home for the next four nights, the ancient city of Blois.