Britain's bonds with its Celtic cousins across in Brittany are explored. Neil Oliver visits the province of Finistere, battered by some of the world's wildest waters.
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The north-west coast of France,
and a fortified city that repelled the British for centuries.
But the city walls represent a mere bad tempered blip
in a cosy cross-Channel relationship that spanned millennia.
After all, settlers from the British Isles gave this land its name.
In French, Great Britain is "Grande Bretagne",
but they call this place just "Bretagne."
You could say that, to the French, this is Little Britain.
We've crossed the Channel
to Brittany, like so many Britons before us.
A continual migration that shaped the landscape and language.
This is a coast of wild winds,
a home to free-spirited seafaring folk.
Nick is peeling back the layers of the French onion men.
-You wear the berets.
-And have the bike.
But all the English people ask me where is my striped T-shirt?
While Miranda gets to grips with a rare local seafood.
-It's an abalone back flip.
-At the standing stones of Carnac,
Mark discovers their irresistible pull.
This is a stupid way of moving a stone, you know!
Alice uncovers the elemental nature of seaweed.
This stuff is amazing, it's like a tiny chemical factory.
And I'm off to the end of the Earth.
In Europe's darkest hour it gave us a shining light,
an island of unassuming heroes.
There's no heroes, we don't want that title.
We only did our duties.
This is Coast and beyond.
Look closely at this shoreline
and the name Brittany really begins to make sense.
The Celts of Cornwall and Wales
felt at home on these rugged rocks.
It's even got its own version of Lands End.
We followed age-old connections across the Channel.
We're heading for Southern Brittany and the salt marshes of Guerande.
But we begin our Breton adventure 400 miles up the coast at St Malo.
Even this grand fortress, once a thorn in Britain's side,
has Celtic origins.
This city is named after a Welsh saint, Malo, or Maclou,
who washed up here sometime in the sixth century
in search of a fresh start.
He was escaping the chaos in Britain after the Romans left.
But Malo wasn't alone in seeking safe haven in Brittany.
Migrants had been making the short hop across the Channel
and the stories of those Britons are written along this coast.
Just offshore, the island of d'Aval.
Local legend say it's the site of Avalon,
where Excalibur was forged, the last resting place of King Arthur.
On this coast of Celtic myth, ancient tales submerged by the sea
are revealed at low tide.
A memorial to another saint, this time from Ireland,
It's said he was guided to this spot by the hand of God.
It's a leap of faith many cross-Channel mariners have made.
Celtic cousins bonded by the sea.
Brittany may be mainland France but the Bretons have,
at times, felt more at home with us.
On the road to Roscoff, Nick is following a cultural cross-over
which left a lasting impression.
It's an enduring image of the French -
bicycle riding, stripy topped.
All I need now is a string of onions!
Like a lot of people, I assumed this image was a myth.
But there may be something in it, just look at this photograph.
It was taken in the 1950's and it shows onion sellers
from this part of Brittany. They look every inch,
or rather the centimetre, the Frenchman,
I'm in search of what are known as the "Onion Johnnies".
I'm told there's a new generation of "Johnnies" and I'm going to meet one.
If I'm looking for the classic image of a Frenchman,
Emmanuel Le Noac'h doesn't disappoint. Hello, Emmanuel.
-A great pleasure to meet you.
-You're already stringing onions.
-Yeah, yeah, I'm starting my season.
Can you tell me what an Onion Johnnie is?
It's only a onion seller who goes to England,
and me particularly I'm going to London, but we really started
in Wales because of the language, because the Breton language
is nearly the same as the Welsh one.
-You're putting these onto the string
because this is how you have to show your...
It's not only to show, it's to keep it all the winter.
So you take your raffia,
you tie there with the neck, the air can't go through.
You can keep it 10-12 months.
So this is organic preservation?
It's organic preservation, exactly, yeah.
Now do tell me because some of these onion sellers
in the 1950s photograph are wearing berets.
How important is it to have an onion seller's costume to look French?
Yeah, it's like a costume, it's a bit like a business thing,
so with the beret against the rain is very good.
During the winter, I know they used to put newspaper in it.
-Keep your head warm.
-Yes, but normally
you wear it like that, on one side.
Have you ever worn a stripy...?
I haven't got, but all the English people ask me where is my striped T-shirt!
Onion Johnnies have been coming to Britain for nearly 200 years,
sort of informal ambassadors,
toting a taste of France door to door.
It began in the 1820s as a bit of market research.
Local farmers crossed the Channel to see if the British
had an appetite for Roscoff onions.
We liked them so much, they've been coming back ever since.
In their heyday, around 1500 Onion Johnnies left their loved ones
behind at the end of each summer to spend up to six months in Britain.
Straight from Brittany, madam, feel the weight.
Roscoff is proud of its cross-Channel connections
and its onion growing tradition.
At the local museum, the Maison des Johnnies,
they organise regular tastings,
with lashings of local cider of course.
I'm surprised to find that the guests here are all French,
as curious as I am about the Onion Johnnies.
If you go to Rennes, it's not far, it's only 200km from here,
people don't know the onion men, none at all.
We're more well-known in Birmingham than in Rennes!
The guest of honour tonight is former onion seller Pierre.
-So this is you here.
Was it necessary to wear an onion seller's uniform?
You should wear a beret, you always have a beret to do
door to door Frenchie.
It seems that from one small place in Brittany, we created our stereotype
of the French nation.
From Exeter to Glasgow, from Swansea to Newcastle,
they zigzag across Great Britain
with a little piece of France on a string.
It's certainly a romantic image, but what about the realities of life
on the road, away from your family for a large part of the year?
Sans glace, ni rien...
Olivier Seite and his wife Anne must have seen more tears than most.
Hello, very nice to meet you.
They were in the onion business for more than 40 years.
Olivier started selling at 14 with his dad,
and here he is in the 1960s.
-Want some onions?
-Yes, we'll buy some please, how much are they?
-Same price, four and six a bunch.
-How do you manage the English language?
Well, I know enough to sell my onions.
You don't find the Geordie accent baffling?
Oh, a little, but I'm used to it.
We travelled by boat, but after we were in England
we stayed six months and we find a place to storage the onions.
I mean, Olivier had a very hard life before,
they used to sleep on the onions with a sale cloth on over them.
Now Anne, you're not speaking with a very French accent,
-you sound as if you come from the north of England.
-Ah yes, well...
Raised in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Two bunches, please.
For most Onion Johnnies, their job took them away
from their nearest and dearest, but for Olivier it led him to his.
He met and fell in love with Anne while on a night out in Newcastle.
You fell for a blond-haired blue-eyed boy to dance.
-Oh, I did, I did!
-Did you know that your dancer was an onion seller?
I did not. I thought it was a myth - French onion men.
All my friends in the office, I said "I've just met this French onion man
"and I think this is the one", and they said, "A French onion man!
"Oh, trust you!" Cos I've always been different.
What's the most important quality an onion seller needs?
Just what is it about those onions that made it worth the Johnnies
travelling such eye-watering distances, some as far as Shetland?
And why would Brits prefer them to home-grown varieties?
On his farm overlooking Roscoff harbour,
I'm hoping veteran Onion Johnnie, Andre Quemener, can tell me.
Or better still show me.
Are they good raw?
-Yes, it's sweet.
They are, delicious. They're not bitter or sharp.
-You can eat them like an apple.
What is special about the soil? I mean, it's very fine and rich.
Oh, yes, a lot of seaweed on it.
-You put seaweed on it?
-Yes, every year.
-And does the seaweed fertilise the soil?
That's why they're so nice, you see.
Is there a future for Onion Johnnies selling onions in Britain?
Oh, yes, oh, yes, it'll be a few years yet to go.
-What about you, though?
-Ah, well, it depends on my health now.
-You look pretty fit.
-Oh, yes, but I'm 73 now!
-Do you still enjoy it?
-Yes, oh, yes.
-What do you call it? Like a drug.
-You're addicted to onions?!
All right, so we go for our cup of tea now?
Good, suits me just fine, Andre!
Andre's farmed and sold his own crops since 1951,
but when he hangs up his onion knife,
there'll only be 20 or so Onion Johnnies left.
While it seems the beret-wearing image is mostly
for the benefit of customers across the Channel,
it's that relationship with the British
that keeps the tradition alive.
Last string of onions on the handlebars.
I'm told by the Johnnies that, with all this weight
on the handlebars, you can't take the bike around corners.
And it's so heavy, it's like trying to peddle a Sherman tank!
Merci. Would you like some onions?
Some things haven't exported quite as well as the Onion Johnnies.
As coastal nations, we may share many pastimes,
but every summer Brittany rings out with a clatter of one we don't.
A sport created by the French that's part social occasion,
and the prestigious national championships are held on this coast.
It's called Petanque.
The name means "feet anchored to the ground".
It's a finely balanced game that requires a measured approach.
I'm playing Petanque since I have, er, six years old,
so 20 years now.
The team who has the nearest from the jack have a point.
If you have two balls near the jack you have two points.
You win the game when you have 13 points.
you have to throw your ball very high,
near the sky, yes, like that.
You can find different kinds of balls.
The smallest balls with marks,
and the heaviest one,
it allows to stay on the pitch...
a little one to avoid a smash from the opponent.
When you are a smasher, you use this one, no marks
on the ball, a big diameter.
You can play from seven or 77 years old.
There is a lot of young people who are playing football,
who are playing tennis, and here they are playing Petanque
because it's a very good game to teach you how to...
to behave yourself, OK.
The French gave us the idea that you are what you eat,
or at least what you grow.
They created "Appellation Controlle", a certificate of authenticity
to protect regional foods from cut-price imitators.
So whether it's Brittany onions or even Jersey potatoes,
we know our food is rooted in a sense of place.
In Plouguerneau, Miranda's looking for a local delicacy.
Brittany is famed for its produce
and a weekly market at Plouguerneau is packed with fresh fruit,
vegetables, and my particular favourite, cheese.
But I'm looking for one rather rare local foodstuff which
Sylvain Huchette has promised to show me, only we won't find it here.
We're looking for Abalone, a shellfish that would set you back
about £70 a plate in some of the world's top restaurants.
Brittany is one of the few places in the world
where you'll find Abalone in the wild.
Sylvain tells me it's the cool water that make the conditions ideal.
The seaweed provides an abundant source of food for the Abalone,
but it also makes it rather hard to spot them.
It's like swimming through a rain forest, lovely.
Abalone are in fact a form of mollusc
and I've been told to look for something that's a cross
between a large snail and a limpet, clinging to the underside of a rock.
Wow, look at that!
There you have a juvenile Abalone there, and a big, big Abalone adult.
This is a really speedy little one, isn't it?
It's just not what I really expected.
I think I suppose something that didn't move around very much.
This is about three years old.
Look at that one go! I can't believe it, it's moving really fast.
This is a much bigger one.
It's an Abalone zoo down here.
Yeah, look at that muscular foot
curling it's way around, getting a purchase on my hand. Look at that!
Superb, that's an abalone back flip.
I'd say now it's time to put them back where we found them.
Abalone are also found in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia,
but they're rare in European waters.
so the French government has placed strict limits
on fishing them out of the wild.
That's why Sylvain has set up
Europe's first advanced Abalone hatchery and farm.
It all starts, you know,
with the larger animals like the one we saw in our diving.
We get them to spawn in the hatchery and produce small
spats and it takes about a year to bring a spat to your small juvenile.
Once they're big enough they come in this cage and these ones are
already three years old, and we basically try to replicate their
natural habitat. We keep the density quite low because abalone
are not happy at high density.
And they have to be happy for up to five years
to grow to sufficient size to be served in a restaurant.
I'm told they taste somewhere
between fine steak and wild mushrooms.
So let's see if it's been worth that wait.
It's precious, what you're eating.
It's very, very mild, it's almost not seafoody.
How would you describe the taste?
Maybe a bit mushroomy, but only a hint of mushroom.
-That's difficult to describe.
Absolutely gorgeous, though.
As Cornwall is to England so Brittany is to France.
The people have their own coastal culture,
a fiercely independent lot,
and this stretch of shore does suddenly become awfully fearsome.
At the very tip of Brittany,
like a defiant finger pointing out at the Atlantic,
this is the district of Finistere.
With a smattering of schoolboy French,
you understand the meaning of the name.
"Finis" is the French word for the end,
and "tere" is earth, so Finistere -
the end of the earth.
The full fury of the Bay of Biscay unleashes itself here,
whipped up by the Atlantic airstream.
These aren't freak storms.
Often in the winter months, these waters boil.
Here, the mouth of the English Channel has swallowed many ships.
1967, the Torrey Canyon wrecked off the coast of Cornwall,
the world's first oil tanker disaster.
11 years later, the Amoco Cadiz lost control during a violent storm,
ran aground and was ripped in two all within sight of the Brittany coast.
And the whole world watched the aftermath on television.
Guillaume Le Ru lived 12 miles away,
but it wasn't the TV that alerted him to the disaster.
At the time, it was the worst oil spill in history.
220,000 tonnes of crude
spread over 200 miles of coast, covering beaches in a thick emulsion.
It's impact on the local environment lasted years.
This devilish sea has spawned an awful lot of lighthouses.
There was a time when I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper and people
used to say, "What a boring job," but I beg to differ.
Look at that lighthouse keeper, what can possibly be boring
about a life like that?
This photograph of La Jument lighthouse was taken in 1989.
It became one of the world's most reproduced images
and made a reluctant star out of the man at the eye of the storm.
A lot of people thought that he must have died just a few seconds after the photograph,
swamped by that wave, but he survived and I'm going to find out how.
Apparently, that lighthouse man has always wanted a signed copy
of the photo, so we're taking him one.
I'm hitching a lift with the man who made him famous,
-photographer Jean Guichard.
-How are you?
In 1989, Jean set out to capture the end of an era.
La Jument was about to be automated,
as were all the lighthouses on both sides of the Channel.
This was a tough posting, so it was particularly poignant
to capture an image of its keeper for posterity.
On duty that day was Theadore Malgorn.
He now lives on a nearby island, having never really cashed in
on his fame.
I don't think you sign up to be a lighthouse keeper
so you can be famous.
But we've got a photo to deliver -
it's only taken 20 years!
I'm told Bretons are not known for great displays of emotion.
But I think he likes it. Time to try out that schoolboy French.
Signed and delivered.
Tres bien. Ca va suffire, tres bien.
But I'm curious to know what it feels like
to be possibly the most famous lighthouse keeper in the world.
How does it feel for you, Jean, to have created that image?
You know I feel to have the lucky photographer
who did a great picture and after that,
this is something which is not really my picture,
it's a picture of the lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse story in the world.
Now that way of life is gone.
And now all the keepers have gone from the lighthouse
and that's the end of a... of a story, you know.
There's nothing much but ocean between here and North America,
but beneath the waves, the Atlantic yields an abundant crop,
and it's a harvest that helped heal the world.
Alice Roberts is with the seaweed farmers of Lanildut
in search of a medical wonder plucked from the ocean floor.
They've been pulling kelp out of the sea here since the 17th century,
first by hand and now by hook.
The farmers only harvest one type of seaweed and it's this, Laminaria.
They do it with this bizarre crane called a Scooby Doo, which
plucks up the seaweed from the sea bed and then twirls it round
getting rid of excess water, but also flicking off unwanted varieties.
Lanildut is Europe's largest seaweed port,
but there's a tradition of harvesting it in Britain, too.
Like the French, we've used it for fertilizer, fuel,
and it's even played a part in glass making.
The current crop finds its way into goods as diverse as cosmetics and
toothpaste, but as a doctor I'm drawn here by a particular seaweed product.
It has saved countless lives around the world,
and was first discovered in seaweed on this coast.
This is iodine.
In a world before antibiotics, iodine played a vital part
in fighting infection in cuts and wounds.
Among the mud and dirt of the First World War trenches,
it was standard issue to the troops,
and it's still used in modern surgery.
But this lifesaving stuff was discovered by accident.
What scientists were actually looking for was a better way to kill.
At the start of the 19th century, France was desperate for gunpowder
for Napoleon's campaigns in Europe.
In particular, they needed a compound called Saltpetre.
In 1811, chemist and Saltpeter manufacturer Bernard Courtois
was given a job by Napoleon of finding a new source
for this vital component used in the manufacture of gunpowder.
Courtois knew that seaweed contained many of the chemicals he needed.
It was while he was experimenting on kelp from the Brittany coast
that he accidentally produced iodine.
Biochemist Philippe Potin is going to show me how he did it
by extracting iodine from this lump of dried burned seaweed.
I was expecting it to be soft ashes, but it's actually
grinding up bits of rock.
Now I will mix that...
..with very hot water,
it was exactly the process which was used by Courtois.
Back in 1811, it seems Courtois got a bit carried away with his chemicals.
He was probably too generous
with his experiments, he had too much acids.
-Oh, it's changing colour.
-Changed the colour.
His happy accident produced a curious purple vapour.
Oh, you can see it, this is definitely purple iodine
vapour coming off that solution.
He didn't know it at the time, but Cortois had discovered a new element,
a basic building block of chemistry, and something vital to our wellbeing.
Around the turn of the 20th century,
doctors realised that we all need trace amounts of iodine in our diets.
Too little and it can lead to serious problems
with the production of hormones by the thyroid gland in the neck.
It swells up producing what's known as a goiter.
And this is where living by the coast can come in really handy,
because this stuff is naturally rich in iodine.
It's sea salt and, in fact, this particular sea salt
has got seaweed mixed in with it as well, so even more iodine.
Seaweed is full of surprises, each piece like a tiny chemical factory
containing an element we all need to stay healthy.
But the surprises don't stop there.
It influences our body's metabolism,
but could it also influence the weather?
Chemist Gordon McFiggans has been working with scientists in Brittany
and they've come up with a remarkable idea.
They think that iodine released by seaweed forms particles
that could make the coast more cloudy.
To understand this, Gordon is first going to show me how a cloud forms,
by getting the water vapour in this jar to condense
on some floating smoke particles.
So what we'll do now, we'll open this valve,
which will create an expansion in there, a drop in temperature,
and, hopefully, will form a cloud
-on those smoke particles.
Clouding... Oh, yes.
'Yes, it's a cloud.'
So, that's the sort of thing that will hopefully happen, but at a much
lower degree from the particles coming off the seaweed.
So now we've got air in the jar, which has come from the seaweed
and should contain those all important particles with the iodine.
That's right, yeah. OK.
Yes. Yep, it misted.
'But if you "mist it", here it is again.'
'So, maybe, making the coast cloudy
'is another of seaweed's many surprising by-products.'
I've got some seaweed delicacies here.
-There's these rather odd-looking haricot vert Marie.
I don't like that.
-I wouldn't order it in a restaurant.
And I've also got some seaweed beer.
Doesn't look too bad, at least it's not green.
-That's not so bad.
-That's pretty good beer.
Like the south west of England, this is a coast out on a limb.
The name for this area of Brittany,
Cornouaille, translates as Cornwall.
Out here, it would be easy to turn a blind eye
to the problems of the mainland,
but the Bretons pride themselves in helping those in distress,
answering a rescue call,
even if it comes from the other side of the Channel.
It's a heroic streak that runs deep
on the smallest of Brittany's outposts.
Five miles off the Pointe du Raz is the tiny Ile de Sein.
I'm on my way to a reunion
with two islanders who share a remarkable bond.
Both in their 80s, Louis Fuquet lives on mainland France,
while Francois Tanguy has travelled here from his home in Cardiff.
As teenagers, they took part
in an incredible act of self-sacrifice, one made by the entire island.
There it is, just clinging on
to the edge of the world, thin line on the horizon.
Apparently, there's not one part of the island
that's more than six metres above sea level.
In June 1940, this sliver of an island stood alone.
Hitler had launched his lightning war against Western Europe.
In little over six weeks, his troops overwhelmed the Lowlands and France.
The French government surrendered,
German forces lined the coast of Brittany.
The inhabitants of the tiny Ile de Sein could only look on,
wondering when the Nazis would come.
-So can we go up this one here?
-Yes, I think it's the best way to go.
'Francois was just 17,
'he'd just returned to the island after exams on the mainland.'
'Everybody was looking forward for a good summer.
'The news from the Front was very, very good.'
And then, suddenly, there was Dunkirk,
who came along absolutely like a bombshell.
Charles de Gaulle had been a minister in the French government.
Just before the surrender, he'd flown to London.
He went on the BBC to rally his countrymen to join him in England
to fight in a free French force, but almost no-one heard de Gaulle.
There had been no trail of his broadcast.
A few days later, he tried again,
but this time the people of Isle de Sein had got wind of it.
The entire population gathered here,
on the quayside, to listen to the radio.
'On the very spot that de Gaulle's call to action was heard,
'Francois and Louis meet another veteran, Noel Meneux,
'who still lives on the island.
'It's been almost 70 years since de Gaulle's rallying call
'first rang out on this quayside.
It became known as L'Appel -
The Call. It was a defining moment for everyone.
Their message was heard,
what to do.
And the first person to speak...
Yes, he said, was the curate,
And he said that we must follow, but he said...
..and it was necessary to take measure locally immediately,
because the Germans were crossing the Channel.
Over three nights, almost every man
on the island between 16 and 55 boarded fishing boats
and small ferries to join de Gaulle's Free French in England.
Leaving here about 9 o'clock at night,
and we all arrived in UK, near Penzance, I think.
At just 14 years old, Louis was too young to go,
but he persuaded his dad to smuggle him off the island.
Our first place was the Olympia Hall in London. Yes, there.
And started our training practically within the week.
I joined the Navy, so I was sent to...
on board a French ship that had come from Cherbourg
in France to Portsmouth.
This tiny island sent 128 men, a quarter of all those who made
it to England in response to de Gaulle's initial call to action.
Francois was photographed with shipmates from the Free French Navy
out on the town in London, but serving on a warship
in the Atlantic was far removed from this breezy image.
Life in the Navy was inhuman,
the ship was looked after by the crew
and you had to be on there practically 24 hours a day awake.
And after two or three years, most of the people
couldn't do it any more.
'He was invalided out in 1942,'
and finally returned to Ile de Sein in 1945.
So, you three are heroes.
Er, only... It's not heroes, we don't want that title.
We only did our duties.
Of the 128 islanders, 18 where never to return, killed in action.
After the war, President de Gaulle
awarded the entire island The Cross of the Liberation, one of
just five districts in France to receive this high military honour.
Francois' career in the French diplomatic service
took him around the world.
But he returns to remember fallen friends
and reflect on their struggle.
It is difficult to analyse into words what it all means.
One feels satisfied to be on the right side.
There's no... Because one cannot contemplate the other side.
For some, the wild winds that blow in from the Bay of Biscay
are a reason to hunker down to wait out the storm.
For others, winds bring freedom.
The world's most difficult single-handed yacht race,
the Vendee Globe, launches from these waters.
And one Brit loves the challenge so much, she's made her home here.
My name is Sam Davies.
My job is my passion, and fitness training is really, really important.
To be here is the perfect place.
I race offshore all the time, mostly single-handed,
and I came fourth in the last Vendee Globe round-the-world race.
Here in Port la Foret, it's a base of all the
top racers in the world, basically, most of them being French,
and I realised that the only way to get as good as them and to beat them
was to come here and learn their secrets.
Sidney's a crew skipper. I'm actually out just looking at some sail trim.
I think I have become quite well-known in France,
because of the Vendee Globe.
Even people who've never ever been on a boat in their lives before
follow this race from all over France.
SHE SPEAKS FRENCH
She's very famous. She is.
I could see through videos that she was really enjoying what
she was doing, and that's what came off big time to the public.
These boats are designed to race offshore
in all conditions and cross oceans.
We're kind of on the doorstep of the famous Bay of Biscay.
For sailors, it's one of the most feared places,
almost just as much as Cape Horn. Not necessarily the biggest waves
in the world, but just the most boat-breaking.
There's some quite big waves.
I love the life in Brittany. All the French say,
"You're nearly French now". I say "No, I'm British".
And I'm really proud, cos Artemis has got a British flag
on the back of the boat.
Sidney doesn't like that there's no French flag.
The local guys here say, "Well, you're an adopted Breton now".
That's a real honour when the Bretons tell you that they will adopt you.
The wild west coast of Brittany
has captured the imagination of more than just sailors.
Writer and visionary Jules Verne grew up here.
In 1869, Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
He described a submarine, long before they were in practical use.
The author also realised its destructive potential.
70 years ago in Lorient, his vision took on a terrifying reality.
Verne wrote that whatever one man is capable of conceiving,
other men are able to achieve.
I wonder if he had anything like this in mind.
This giant is the Keroman U-boat base.
During the Second World War, it was at the centre of operations
for Hitler's deadly attacks
on supply convoys crossing the Atlantic.
The monolithic U-boat pens were an obvious target for Allied bombers,
and the Germans knew it,
so they were built to withstand just about anything.
This was done by creating a huge air pocket,
a gap between the outer and the inner skin to absorb the blast.
This buckling in the ceiling above my head is all the damage
that was inflicted by a direct hit.
Unable to destroy the pens, the Allies decided to isolate them
by bombing the surrounding city.
In the days before the attacks, leaflets were dropped
warning the people of Lorient to leave.
Then, 60,000 incendiary bombs flattened the city,
but the U-boats where here until the bitter end,
finally surrendering in May 1945.
They remain as a symbol of Hitler's tyranny, and how close
he came to cutting Britain's lifeline across the Atlantic.
We use concrete for our monumental building projects,
and the early people who colonised this coast
used the most resilient resource they could find...
These enigmatic lines of stones were positioned around 2,000 years
before Stonehenge was even assembled.
They point to a link between Brittany and Britain.
At Carnac, Mark Horton is following an ancient thread.
They have an almost magnetic pull - standing stones
that mark a presence of a mysterious people.
We may not understand why the monuments are here
but they keep drawing us back for another look.
It's amazing to think that these stones
were being erected some 2,500 years
before the great pyramids of Egypt.
That makes this site around 7,000 years old.
Curious regimented lines
that attract visitors from around the world.
Today, it's like a megalithic theme park,
but at its heart, the big attraction -
a man-made hill, the Tumulus.
Howard Crowhurst has spent 20 years building up a picture of Carnac.
He believes the landscape here was once completely covered
with stone monuments.
And this used to be the vantage point on the site.
-So, here we are.
-Ah, what a view!
Was it, was it like this 7,000 years ago?
No, it was very different. The sea was much lower, seven metres lower,
the trees were much further inland.
So, in fact, you had a perfect view here of the landscape and all
-the stones going right along it.
-And how many stones are there in total?
In the Carnac alignments, there are 3,000, over 3,000, 3,100 stones.
Megalith means very big stone, and what we can see today
represents around a tenth of what was originally erected.
But why here, pointing out at the coast?
I don't think it's a coincidence that these monuments are right by the sea.
I mean, to build these monuments would have needed a lot of people
and travelling was much easier along the coastline than through the land.
And the sea is a massive larder where people could eat, you know.
It's full of food, so it's a perfect spot
for grouping large amounts of people, really.
In fact, the coast seems to have been crucial
to the location of these monuments.
Similar sites of Stone Age structures are dotted all the way up
Europe's Atlantic shores,
from Portugal to France,
Ireland to Wales,
up to northern Scotland.
But hundreds of years, and as many miles, separate the Carnac monuments
from the sites on the British Isles, such as this one on Orkney.
So were the builders communicating ideas along the Atlantic coast?
I'm hoping French archaeologist Guillaume Robin
can show me clues carved into stone.
On the island of Gavrinis, there is an ancient tomb
with artistic connections to North Wales.
Here we go. Wow! There's circles, spirals
and then these semi-circular arcs coming up.
-Yes, that's mostly nested arcs.
-It's a technique to make the carving is called the pecking...
..and it was probably done with a quartz chisel, with a hammer,
-tac-tac-tac, like this.
-All the way down?
And look, I've brought you some
illustrations of megalithic art from Wales, they're both from Anglesey.
Look, you see, we've got the chevrons.
-We've seen chevrons.
And here, look, we've got the sort of serpenty things.
Yes, that's amazing, because here in Gavrinis, you have a lot of symbols
-that also exist in Wales or in Ireland.
What's even more amazing is that
Gavrinis was built hundreds of years before the Welsh monuments and yet
the art they contain could have been chipped away by the very same hand.
Unfortunately, we don't have a clear picture of what the stones were for.
As to how they were moved here,
well, French archaeologists
have turned it into a fun puzzle for all the family to work out.
Using the tools of the time and a bit of public grunt...
Un, deux, trois!
..they've taken a very
Breton approach to history - getting their hands dirty.
After all, there must have been a great gathering here
some 7,000 years ago, to create these remarkable monuments.
It is a stupid way of moving a stone, you know!
Since the stones of Carnac were aligned, empires have come and gone,
and the fabric of the coast has been re-fashioned.
Here, they channel seawater into shallow pools so that evaporation
by sun and wind leaves the smallest of commodities, once so precious
it was used as currency.
As we near the end of our Breton adventure at Guerande,
they marshal the forces of nature to farm salt.
Sophie and fellow salt farmer Emmanuel represent a new generation,
but the techniques they use are age-old.
This is quite a bizarre landscape to my eye.
Is this natural in any way, or is this all tampered with?
It's not a natural landscape, all those pans were made by,
by hand centuries ago.
So, the water comes in from the sea and human beings trap it.
Yes, that's right, we can say that.
But don't be deceived, the elements are definitely in charge here.
-There's the harvest.
-There you see at last the salt.
-So this is the stuff.
-Yeah. This one is produced in those pans.
-So the ones out in the middle.
-On the bottom, so it
touches clay, so that's why it's a little bit grey.
-And will we be able to collect some of this now?
-No, not today.
Unfortunately, it has rained three days ago, and we have to wait
that the water evaporates again, that the salt concentrates again,
to crystallise, so it's quite frustrating that we have to wait,
but it's part of the job.
Just as it was for the monks who first created these salt pans
in the 10th century, it's a waiting game.
I'm all muddy, nobody else is muddy.
But patience brings its rewards.
Before the day is out, the sun breaks through,
evaporating away enough water to produce the cream of the crop.
So it's that simple? You just scoop it off the top?
-It's like snow.
So white compared to the grey salt.
So that one is a Fleur de Sel.
It is an incredibly strong flavour.
A thousand years of change,
and yet a way of working that has remained the same.
This coast, on the edge of Europe, feels timeless. It's steeped
in the spirits of the ancestors that we in Britain share with the Bretons.
Myth and reality merge, until it's difficult
to tell Brittany from Britain.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The Bafta-winning Coast journeys around the British Isles and beyond to see how shared seas unite us all.
Britain's strong bonds with its Celtic cousins across the English Channel in Brittany, or 'Little Britain' as the French think of it, are explored, as the programme visits brand new territory.
Neil Oliver tours the province of Finistere, which is battered by some of the wildest waters in the world, meeting a lighthouse keeper made famous by one of the world's most reproduced photographs. The image shows him about to be swallowed up by mountainous seas, so how did he manage to survive? Neil also visits Île de Sein, a tiny 'island of heroes' which was honoured with a prestigious military award by President de Gaulle after the islanders took to their boats at the start of the Second World War to fight with the Free French forces. The last survivors relive these moving events.
Nick Crane joins the Onion Johnnies, who provide the stereotypical image of a Frenchman in stripy T-shirt, beret and on a bicycle laden with onions. For nearly 200 years these bulb sellers have pedalled their produce around the homes of Britain. Nick finds out what's so special about their onions and meets a Johnny who picked up a Geordie accent and married a Newcastle girl.
Alice Roberts reveals the life-saving chemical element that's locked away inside seaweed as she recreates the remarkable accidental discovery of iodine. At Carnac, Mark Horton moves among the mysterious lines of standing stones erected thousands of years before Stonehenge to investigate their age-old connection to Britain. Miranda Krestovnikoff dives for a seafood delicacy: she's in search of a rare mollusc with a beautiful shell that fine diners pay a fortune to eat.