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Paimpont forest, sometimes said to be the Arthurian Brocéliande, is in the French commune of Paimpont, near the city of Rennes in Brittany. As Brocéliande it had a reputation in the Medieval imagination as a place of magic and mystery. It is the setting of a number of adventures in Arthurian legend, notably Chrétien de Troyes's Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, and locals claim the tree in which the Lady of the Lake supposedly imprisoned Merlin can still be seen today. Other recent legendary (from the 19th century) places said to lie within the forest include the Val sans Retour, the tomb of Merlin, the Fountain of Youth, and Hotié de Vivianne (castle of the Lady of the Lake). The medieval chronicler Wace visited the forest of Brocéliande (but is it really Paimpont) but left disappointed:
I went there in search of marvels; I saw the forest and the land and looked for marvels, but found none. I came back as a fool and went as a fool. I went as a fool and came back as a fool. I sought foolishness and considered myself a fool.
Paimpont is a forest of broadleaf trees, oaks and beeches mainly, with areas of conifers either inside after clear-felling or on the periphery as transition with the moor, for example towards the west in the sector of Tréhorenteuc and the Val-sans-Retour (= Valley of no Return) which was devastated by several fires in particular in 1976, a year of great drought. It occupies mainly the territory of the commune of Paimpont, but extends to bordering communes, mainly Guer and Beignon in the south, Saint-Péran in the northeast, and Concoret in north. The forest of Paimpont is the largest remnant of an ancient forest occupying Argoat, the interior region of Brittany. It was more often called the forest of Brécélien, but its ancient character and other qualities underlined by many authors decided on its name of "forest of Brocéliande", tallying of the adventures of the legend of the Round Table. This flattering designation was reinforced by the birth of the Pays de Brocéliande at the end of the 20th century, an institution intended to facilitate the development of the communes of the west of the département.
The relative altitude of the forested massif contributes to give it a climate close to the oceanic climate of the coasts of Finistère. This mode, where west and south-west winds carry of clouds and regular rain supports the vegetation, dominates. The surplus of water feeds the many brooks occupying the bottoms of small valleys before flowing into the river Aff, then the Vilaine, to the area around Redon in the south of the department. The highest point is at 256 m in the western part called Haute forêt. Altitude decreases regularly while offering viewpoints towards the department of Morbihan; viewpoints which one finds the equivalents in the north on the commune of Mauron, port of the Côtes-d'Armor. It is not far from there that the Paimpont Biological Station of the University of Rennes 1, built in 1966 and 1967, dominates the lake of Chatenay. The varied forest and its surroundings constitute a framework favorable to many training courses in which the Rennes 1 biology students as well as foreign researchers take part. These buildings can accommodate approximately 70 people, and researchers work all the year on subjects generally very far away from the local biotope such as behavior of primates, represented by Cercopithecus, whose cries are familiar for the area but surprising to the walker little accustomed to this exotic fauna. The first researchers lengthily studied the ecology of the Armorican moors, the grounds, and the hydrology.
The forest belongs mainly to owners who maintain it and exploit it for timber and hunting; only in the north-eastern part, a small part (10%) is "domanial" and is managed by the National Forests Office. This situation prevents freedom of movement in the forest even with the access to the borough and its pond. The owners, however, signed a convention authorizing, from April 1 to the end of September, the use of some hiking trails in the forest. Among the responsibilities of the forest guards are watching for behaviors that threaten the forest, its flora, and its fauna. For example, behaviors that pose the risk of fire, and those that endanger the game, like dogs running loose. The gathering of mushrooms is not absolutely prohibited, but it is only tolerated near the approved trails. Because of its importance before the French Revolution, the forest was the responsibility of a royal jurisdiction called the National Forestry Commission, as the traditional jurisdictions of the seigneurs, it did not occupy itself with forest management. The wood was excessively exploited for the power supply of the charcoal blast furnaces for the nearby industry, at least in the 17th and 18th centuries; the assignment of the trees of first choice to the navy was a marginal role.
An extract of the files of the correctional court of Montfort:
Having left the forging mills of Paimpont on Monday morning, he passed by the workshop of the carpenter who was far away from the forging mills but in the middle of the forest, he drank there with Julien Auffray his cousin and foreman of the carpenters.—Auffray interrogation, 1826.
- Roman de Rou, Part III, lines 6329-98
- Michel Denis, Grandeur et décadence d'une forêt : Paimpont du XVIe au XIXe siècle, Annales de Bretagne, n° 64, 3, 1957, pp 257–273.
- L. Pouessel, Modifications de la structure agraire dans la forêt de Paimpont, Annales de Bretagne, n° 52, 1945, pp 101–107. Voir aussi le texte d'une conférence sur les forges et la forêt ; cote 52 J 162 Fonds Henri Fréville, Archives départementales d'Ille-et-Vilaine I and V.
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- www.paimpont.org (French)