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BY GRAHAM ORRISS, HERITAGE ACTION
Carnac, in Brittany, is world renowned for its’ fantastic array of megalithic monuments. Due to the sheer quantity of stones (of which there are reckoned to be over 3000!) it has been suggested that this is where the megalithic culture all began.
This is easy to believe, as everywhere you look there are seemingly never-ending examples of prehistoric structures in the form of standing stones, stone rows and circles, chambered tombs, dolmen, rectangular enclosures, cairns, cists, tumuli and a whole lot more!
The thing that struck me, when walking alongside these magnificent alignments, is how well looked after they are, and how unobtrusive the management is!
For starters, unlike the UK’s best-known and most visited megalithic site, Stonehenge, there is no high fence with barbed wire and patrolling security guards. There is no gaudy tat shop or burger outlet interfering with the enjoyment of the site. There is a visitor centre, which is set back from the stones, but most of all there is plenty of free parking, and there is no entrance fee to the stones!
A low wire fence, or a dry-stone wall, of about 4 foot in height, surrounds a large proportion of the stones in the main alignments. There are gates at various points, which are locked between March and October, but open to the public the rest of the year. In the (admittedly short) time I was there, nobody attempted to jump the fence to be among the stones. There was a respect for the conservation of the site. There are plenty of stones outside the fenced area for those wishing to be among them.
A couple of the sites we visited required an entrance fee. The Tumulus de Kercado was accessible via an unattended booth, with laminated information sheets in about 5 languages for you to take with you. As it was an honesty system, we happily paid our Euro each*. It was well worth it! (*At the time of writing, €1 was approximately equal to £1).
Another entrance fee well worth paying is for the three-in-one complex of the Table des Marchants, which also includes the lovingly reconstructed Er-Grah mound and the enormous Grand Menhir Brise. You can access all three monuments pretty well unhindered (although there is a low, trip-wire style fence about a foot tall all the way around Er-Grah and the menhir, to prevent people climbing on them!). The 5 Euro entrance fee is worth paying just to go into the Table des Marchants and marvel at the fabulous engraved stones within! Again, the visitor centre is well laid out and informative, and set sufficiently away from the monuments, and the ample car park is completely free.
The overall feeling was of a fantastically maintained complex. The freedom and trust engendered to the visitor was amply repaid with respect.