Finding Me:

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

As I write this on the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth, watching the coastline that I have become as intimate with than any woman…

I often wonder why I ended up here in Brittany, (apart from the well-documented obvious). Having given this some considerable thought, I recalled exactly where and when it began.

Twelve years ago, I was rummaging through the map box in Barter Books in Alnwick. Those of you who know it will understand, but for the uninitiated, it is a huge second hand bookstore and cafe in the town’s former railway station.

Sadly, like many before it, the railway is no more. If one wants to travel to Alnwick on the train, the nearest station is Alnmouth, a village near the coast on the East Coast Mainline from London to Edinburgh.

The box was full of the usual tatty, dog-eared Ordnance Survey maps. However, what stood out to me were a collection of Michelin maps of France regions. The distinctive yellow and blue covers, depending on the scale, caught my eye immediately. I had several of the current versions at home, following many holidays in the country.

A blue larger scale version of Brittany was of particular interest, being the only part of France we had never visited. The reliance on ferry travel and an extremely long drive from Calais had prohibited holidays there. I folded the pretty little thing with its strange sounding place names and placed it back in the box.

My next foray was to the travel section of the shop’s massive second hand book collection. Under the section France, something jumped out at me. To say it jumped rather exaggerates its appearance, for this drab, faded blue book, absent from its dust cover, was indeed a wallflower. It was the name, in equally faded gold lettering, which caught my eye. Brittany Roundabout, by Garry Hogg.

The pages were similarly lacklustre, with a brown tinge to the edges , including the washed-out monochrome plates that punctuated the text. I read the first paragraph, as one does, and something pulled me into this plain Jane of a book. Studying the contents, the place names seemed familiar. Then, I recalled the map with its weird Celtic sounding towns and villages.

If ever a work justified the saying, Never Judge a Book by its Cover, this was it. I checked the price, six pounds, a bit steep for my usual purchases but adding the thirty bob for the little map, seemed to be seven pounds fifty well spent. Which turned out to be an understatement! With my two strange acquisitions in my hand, Miriam and I left the shop and headed home in time to pick Kenzie up from school.

They were placed in the back bedroom, where they remained untouched for several weeks. On a personal note, it was around that time that I moved into the small bedroom, enough said.

Sitting on the single bed which used to belong to our eldest daughter Sarah, I stumbled upon the little volume and its accompanying map one night. An hour later, I was half way through the book, and had the map unfolded on my bed. The long finger-like peninsula of Brittany, which would become so familiar, had seduced me. I was hooked by Mr Hogg and his wife Elizabeth, who had decided to walk/hitch/bus around Brittany, in the years shortly following the second world war. I later discovered that he was an accomplished writer and broadcaster. He captured the essence of place and time, perfectly. For example, his description of the port of St Malo, which had been decimated, brought a lump to my throat.

Every night, I relived the couple’s journey, following it on the map which was, by then, blu-tacked to the wall above the bed. Unfortunately I was unable to live my dream of walking in their footsteps as Miriam still wasn’t keen on the ferry or subsequent drive. However, to be fair, she repeatedly encouraged me to go it alone.

Fast forward several years and the loss of Miriam to cancer and a liaison with a young Arab woman, both well-documented. In December 2022, I finally got to travel to Brittany, following the completion of our Masters and while Lina was in Jordan. I immediately fell in love with the place, just as another love was beginning to wane. To cut a long story short, it then took me another eighteen months to return to this special place.

It’s difficult to find somewhere to which you have an affinity that surpasses the one for your home. For a start, there are friends and family to consider. They are the main reasons why we don’t just pack up and head off to our ‘Island in the Sun’.  Even those of us who can afford it.

Nevertheless, I have tried to analyse the reasons why I never want to leave Brittany. Is it an age thing? I know I was prompted to leave familiar things and places behind because of a broken heart. My late wife and I dedicated our lives to our children during a marriage that was by no means perfect. I love my children, grandchildren, brother and friends but to be honest, they know where I am.

Far from coming here to run away from something, I did it to find something. Something I originally found in that fall of 2022 in the autumn of my life. That tarnished little book rescued me and continues to shine as memories of a life that was not meant to be, fade.

As I write this on the ferry from Roscoff to Plymouth, watching the coastline that I have become as intimate with than any woman, I have a bittersweet feeling.  Rather than the empty phrases. “Let’s retire here.” Or, “looking forward to next year,” this is reality for me.

You see, there are no regrets, no qualms and no guilt about returning permanently. You all know where I’ll be.

What’s that about Mohammad and the Mountain? Let’s not go there. Love.


  1. Kenneth Childs

    Written from the Heart Brian. Hopefully see you in Whitley later.

    • brian

      Thank you Ken. You certainly will. I’ll be down around Book Club time.


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