One of my favourite boating areas in north Brittany is the fantastically rocky corner off Lézardrieux, where jagged reefs straggle out for miles to the tall, slim lighthouse of Les Héaux. This glorious cruising ground can look unwelcoming from offshore, but as you gradually enter the Grand Chenal all sense of unease evaporates. The rocks that seemed so threatening from seaward now feel friendly and protecting as you meander into the wooded reaches of the river.
After a few seasons you get used to seeing rocks up close and can start exploring some of the local passages inside coastal dangers, which often save you distance in calmer water. The inner route between the Lézardrieux and Tréguier rivers is a good example, avoiding many nasty patches of overfalls and leading south of Les Héaux lighthouse to approach Tréguier by the side door.
Leaving Lézardrieux you stay in estuary shelter as far as a green beacon called La Vieille du Tréou. From here the short cut Moisie Passage heads NNW, skirting vast expanses of reefs to port. This was tricky before the days of GPS, when you had to keep a hazy transit in line astern for nearly three miles. The channel shaves next to a lonely east-cardinal tower where cormorants often gather for a chat. Soon afterwards you curve WSW inside Les Héaux, heading for a pair of spar beacons. This is the most interesting bit of the passage because you see the elegant stone tower very clearly from the landward side. Les Héaux lighthouse was designed in two sections and completed in 1840. The bottom third is massively strong, to withstand the powerful tides that surge around this corner and the chaotic breaking seas they can stir up. The top part is more lightly built, reducing structural stresses caused by winter gales. The pale granite looks gorgeous in warm sunshine, a stunning example of Breton lighthouse architecture. At the bottom a ladder leads to an access door, where the keepers climbed in until Les Héaux was automated in 1982.
Pressing on through Passe de la Gaîne, you follow more spindly spars towards a final gateway into the Tréguier River, narrower and shallower than Lézardrieux but an exquisite experience as you thread the peaceful winding fairway through one of Brittany’s most beautiful valleys. And somehow this arrival is all the more charming because you haven’t had to go to sea to get here.
Peter Cumberlidge: “Local passages inside reefs can save you time in calmer water along the rocky north coast of Brittany and enable you to appreciate the amazing granite seascape”