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Our visit to Ile Illiec by Geoffrey Batten

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Ile Illiec, the island off the north Brittany coast of France

Having read in Charles's 'Wartime Journals' and in Anne's fourth volume of diaries and letters 'The Flower and the Nettle' about Ile Illiec, the island off the north Brittany coast of France which was owned by the Lindberghs during their stay in Europe between 1936 and 1939, I was keen to see it . A visit to friends who have retired to Quimper gave my wife and I the opportunity to go to Illiec as well. A Scott Berg in 'Lindbergh' (1998) describes its situation thus: a tiny archipeligo of miniature islands.......... . Most of the time, these rock formations sit as islands dotting the coast line; but twice a day the tide recedes, pulling so much water out........that the islands stand as weird, craggy hills among tidal pools- a wet desert, dead-quiet except for the birds and the the constant winds. The Lindberghs had first become aware of this area through Charles's friend, collaborator and mentor, Dr Alex Carrel, who had won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1912. He and his wife had settled on Isle Saint-Gildas, the largest member of the archipeligo, facing the small seaside resort of Port-Blanc and with the village of Bugueles a little to the east. A few kilometres inland is the market town of Penvenan while on the coast to the west is the bigger and smarter resort of Perros-Guirec and the beautiful rose red cliffs of the Cote de Granit Rose.

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Charles and Anne had first visited the Carrels at Saint-Gildas in August 1936 and returned the following summer.

They were both profoundly affected by the atmosphere. A few islands away, and at low tide connected to both Saint-Gildas and the mainland, was Illiec (sometimes spelled 'Iliec' and given the Breton name of Enez Ziliec on the IGN TOP 25 map 0714OT), barely four acres but big enough for a three storey, slate roofed stone house with a dozen rooms including a chapel and a conical tower. It had been built in 1876 by the musician Ambrose Thomas, composer of the opera 'Mignon'. In March 1938 they were able to purchase it for $16 000. Charles wrote "I have never seen a place where I wanted to live so much." The Lindberghs lived on Illiec from early June to early December 1938 but the worsening situation in Europe, leading to their decision to return to the US in April 1939, meant that they never lived there again.

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The island is now owned by the Heidsieck champagne family

We camped at the small but well equipped municipal campsite at Bugueles, right down by the water when the tide is in. Luckily, low tide was during the morning and so we were able to set out for Illiec after breakfast. The causeway between Bugueles and Ile Banalec was almost 'dry' and we were soon on the heavily wooded island which has a few houses on it. It is separated by a tidal pool from the much smaller Ile aux-Oies. The water from the pool powers a mill (moulin a maree) which stand at its landward end. We scrambled across the little dam at the north end of Banalec to gain the high natural bank of stones (le sillon) which leads to Illiec. As we tramped along, I half expected to meet Charles or Anne heading towards Burgueles where their car was garaged. The island is now owned by the Heidsieck champagne family and as we reached the end of le sillon there were large 'Private- Keep Out' notices, so we were unable to go further onto the island. Everything seemed very familiar from the photographs in 'The Flower and the Nettle' and there was the house with its conical tower at one end and little chapel at the other. The three attached photographs show the island and the house. The Lindberghs planted five hundred cypress and five hundred pine trees on Illiec so its present wooded appearance is due to them.

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Instead of walking back to Bugueles we walked, again almost 'dry', from Illiec across to Port-Blanc. Saint-Gildas, with its white conical navigation marker, was clearly visible on our right hand. This island is also still privately owned but is open to visitors once a year for the Whitsun weekend when a service is held at the chapel (where Alex Carrel is buried). The IGN map referred to above marks a "Mont. Lindbergh" on Saint-Gildas but when we enquired about this at the tourist office in Penvenan, the young lady there said that she thought this would be the Carrel house. She had visited the island and had not been aware of any monument to Charles Lindbergh there.

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