The island traditions still alive
Through the sunshine and spindrift, from dawn to dusk, Ondine Morin takes visitors to discover the highlights of Ouessant and tells them the most picturesque stories of these places. Fascinated by the history of her native island, she has listened to the narration by the elders and undertaken research in the archives. ‘In the times when sailors were embarking for long-distance journeys, the women had to look after everything on the island,’ explains the young islander, who insists on the harshness of life at the time. ‘Shipwrecks were part of the daily life of the islanders and there is a long list of people who lost their lives at sea. Hence, the people of Ouessant decided to simulate a burial ceremony called “proella” for those who drowned and were left without a grave.’
Tales and legends of Ouessant
As the visit unfolds, Ondine Morin introduces visitors to all the aspects of the islanders’ daily life before the major changes that occurred in the 1950s including the most touching anecdotes that she recalls with admiring respect for her ancestors. The young woman namely provides explanation on the traditions that subsist on the island including the ‘tro an aod’, a turn of the shore that many people in Ouessant undertake early in the morning to inspect the coast and see what the sea has brought them. Whenever the islanders find an object or a piece of wood, they place a stone on it to mark their possession. This tradition is called the ‘pinsé’. Ouessant is an uncommon island, with tales and legends that Ondine Morin recounts in the manner of ancient storytellers for the enjoyment of children and adults alike. Among these are stories of ‘morganezed’, beautiful mermaids that live in a castle in the middle of the bay.
A fervid supporter of sustainable development
Beyond the discovery of the traditions and landscapes of Ouessant, Ondine Morin lays emphasis on sustainable tourism and supplements her commentaries with messages on the vulnerability of the habitat and the richness of the heritage. The young woman hence explains how the Nividic lighthouse, which was previously operated with gas, is equipped with solar panels that provide glittering lighting since 1995. She also explains that construction works on the farthest rock of the embankment of Leurvas lasted 24 years.
Anecdotes and recipes of Ouessant
When strolling on the moor, it is not unusual to see low walls called ‘gwaskeds’. Built in the form of three-branched stars, these typical constructions of Ouessant allowed animals to choose the side on which to take shelter depending on the wind. After walking along the ragged coasts that are washed by the waves, visitors can wander about the moor covered with heath and gorse, with the silence broken only by the bleating of sheep. Soon, visitors come across an impressive block of rocks that seems to have been carved into all sorts of imaginary shapes. The misty lights of the place cast shadows that take you into a ghostly atmosphere where it seems that korrigans (dwarf-like spirits) could appear at any time. The walk continues, leading to the point of Pern and the Nividic lighthouse. In olden times, the mist was so thick that the lights of the lighthouses, two of them on land and three others at sea, could still not be seen, says Ondine Morin. Acoustic signals such as foghorns activated by horses or the underwater bells were used to warn sailors of dangers along the coasts.
The people of Ouessant cherish their traditional dishes, namely the ’farz oaled’, a solid meal prepared with grated potatoes, flour, unsalted bacon, Agen prunes and Malaga grape or currants. The cooking pot is covered with clods that slowly burn for four hours, giving that smoked taste typical of Ouessant clod cooking. The ‘silzig’ (Ouessant sausage), another speciality of the island, is also smoked in clods.
The nocturnal enchantment of lighthouses
Ondine Morin offers various 2 to 3-hour outings. These lively visits are very well documented and varied. Between visits of archaeological sites, wellbeing outings, the discovery of marine traditions, of the positioning and history of shipwrecks, of culinary specialities or outings in the fields, there is something for everyone!
But the discovery of the lighthouses remains the highlight. Under the Stiff, the oldest lookout post built by the 17th-century French architect, Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, visitors can witness a real fireworks display while Ondine Morin recalls, one by one, the origins of the 19 lights that help navigators find their way in the dangerous waters of the Iroise Sea.
The outing ends at the foot of the Creac’h lighthouse (meaning headland in Britton language), where the atmosphere is even more enchanting with two white beams of light flash every 10 seconds on the rocks battered by the raging sea. Exhilaration guaranteed!