There are many ways to arrive at Mont St Michel but by bike in the dark in a rain storm is one I would recommend highly. Why turn up in a chauffeur driven car, a taxi, a horse drawn carriage or even one of the free push me pull me buses (the driver can drive from either end) when you can power a Shetland pony of a Dutch bike towards a small faintly lit portal in a monumental granite wall of awe, the sea sirens luring you from either side to a wet sexually unfulfilling end. The world ends not with a bang but with salty panniers. Go on, add some reckless intensity to your day. The air calling out “hurry to safety before I get medieval on your saddle saw ass.”
Honestly I didn’t ask for it. It just happened that way. Explained the monk returning to the monastery, his moist habit damp with misadventure. It takes ten minutes to cycle from the shore but in that short window the metereology went through metamorphosis. So fragile is the space between luck and judgement.
Once I was off the expansive wooden cycle path I could have been arriving on the rock at any point in the last 500 years, yes even on a pony, although perhaps one more locally acquired.
And that is the magnificence of the place, sans or avec daylight. From the outside the glory remains undiminished, unspoilt and unbeatable, compared to anything very much that exists now, or then. The city spirals upwards like an enormous Walnut Whip, as far as it can reach in a stairwell of stone structures without symmetry, until the abbey rises out of all this slow architecture with a golden angel at its pinnacle, pointing upwards towards heaven. The nut on top of the whip, so to speak.
The horizontality of the landscape, which squelches out from a saturated misty fenland estuary, adds to the mystic gravity. As do the wade footed wildfowl which live forever in swirls between the sea and the sky, painting a moving cloud of glinting greys. The connection between man, someone’s god and nature supreme, the whole arrangement gives you an unquenchable and frankly unnerving thirst for a deeper connection with the forces of life.
You can fully imagine what it must have felt like to have left your hovel dwelling, built barely to resist the breath of wolves, and approached and entered this citadel of powerful religious architecture, Does Holy shit mean the same in any century?
The Mont represents everything that is symbolically detestable to a raised albeit lapsed Methodist like myself, brought up believing in a non adorned connection to Godliness..and yet..it is formidable and breathtaking and does all that any city could to give you a sense of the supreme god that rests inside all of us, which normally just ticks along, turned down by the dimmer switch of day to day mundernity – the modern mundane. Although I’m sure the medieval era had more than it’s fair share of mundanity too.
Coming through the portal in to the citadel, the ankle gap between my water proof trousers and shoes soaked with unwelcome water droplets, it really did feel like I had arrived at safe haven. The rain fell less bitterly. The wind dropped from roar to murmur.
And then the 20th century reappeared. A sign advertising a cash point. Another for a toilet, and 50 cents for the chance to use it. Ferme, at this time in the evening. The magic was lost. But taking a few more steps I found a prettiness that in itself was quite appealing.
Light poured out of small restaurants and cafes, each one filled with fine looking customers correctly attired who no doubt also arrived correctly. There are many ways to arrive here but only two ways to stay. As a pauper or a (non gender defined!) prince.
I am an unforgiving pauper to myself and after peeping through the windows like a Dickensian child looked onwards to find the dark mysteries. I found them deeper into the city, in a candle lit church, a shimmering flickering religiosity and amongst the ramparts, which I explored at will, as far and high as my legs would take me.
If only this were Denmark. But alas no ghosts, only darkness and fat roosting (no typos here) pigeons. No shortage of nooks or crannies too. And looking back to the shore I saw mists and eddies, the many pasts of my life and the possibilities of the future. I saw myself as tiny and almighty at the same time, conquered and conquering. A misty droplet of inconsequence and a great pool of possibilities.
And from here I could of course also see Europe, stretching on behind the fog, not really very clear at all. And of course I asked those questions that only come in the still of the night, when you have allowed the great claw of curiosity to open up the dusty corners of the mind.
Why was I here, what on earth was I doing? Alone, cold and literally overawed. An out of place pauper on a fools errand? A knight tilting at windmills with my Dutch bike pony illegally I suspected locked to some UNESCO approved railings outside. And if I was some tragic Don did I really bring along a PG Tips toy monkey as my Sancho Panza! The biggest mystery I found that night was me.