Leaving aside the thorny question of whether Arthur existed or ever visited Brittany if he did, and whether the forest of Brocéliande in Arthurian literature should really be sited further east near Dol-de-Bretagne, let’s concentrate on the walking opportunities in the Forêt de Paimpont, the place in Brittany most associated today with Arthurian legends. This large area of woodland and lakes is about 30km west of Rennes and easily accessible from the N124.
Paimpont itself with its old abbey and beautiful lake provides a short introduction with an easy circuit of 3km including a waterside path, a grotto modelled on that of Lourdes and a taste of the forest terrain. A longer route of up to 10kms here could include the Etang du Pas du Houx and varied woodland trails. The tourist office by the abbey church has information.
The most popular route for walking in the whole area must be the Valley of No Return. This atmospheric site, near the village of Tréhorenteuc, is said to be where Morgane la Fée imprisoned false lovers in revenge for her own beloved’s infidelity. The location of this fabled valley was actually changed in the 19th century when a factory was built in the previous place given this name, but the valley of Gurwan offers great walking today. A short circuit for about 3km from the car-parks will take you to the lake called Fairies’ Mirror, the Golden Tree, a modern sculpture symbolising regeneration (after forest fires) and the rocky perch where Morgane surveyed her domain. Make a longer excursion by deviating up to the Hotié de Viviane, a dolmen fancifully called Vivane’s house, for spectacular views over the roof of the forest.
If you want a full day’s walk showing the variety of landscape and lakes and including Merlin’s tomb on the way, a 20km circuit, signed with yellow/red waymarks, starts from the parking for the camping by the Etang de la Marette, 2km south of Saint-Malon-sur-Mel (on the D31). This could be combined with a visit to the Arthurian Centre at the Chateau de Comper, set on the lake where Viviane brought up Lancelot in a crystal palace beneath the waters.
Other pleasant walks can be found in the valley of the Aff river (near Beignon on the D724) and an interesting historical route (13kms, short cut possible) from Plélan-le-Grand which takes in a motte associated with Salomon, one of Brittany’s few kings, from the 9th century, and an old forges site. Generally walks in this area are well-signed and easy to follow. There are also plenty of opportunities for the adventurous to negotiate their own routes on smaller paths.
Above all, don’t miss the twenty-minute walk from the hamlet of Mad Thoughts (Folle Pensée) up to the Fontaine de Barenton where Merlin fell in love with Viviane and the Black Knight appeared to challenge any passer-by.