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Islanders: Île Callot through the eyes of three generations

Many people would love the idea of being born on a tiny island in Brittany, but for some it can be a cause for anxiety. The insular nature of island life can be seen as isolation or a blissful retreat, a land of escape and adventure.

In Brittany, sitting off the shores of Carantec in the westernmost county called Finistère, Île Callot stretches into the horizon. Made of granite and sand, this little patch of land no longer than 2km rises out of the water in the beautiful setting of Morlaix Bay. Even thinking about it fires up the imagination. Is it an island like any other? Hardly. In fact, the split-personality Callot is only an island when the tide is high, and at low tide the sea pulls back to reveal a passageway linking it once more to the mainland.

la chaussée submersible de l'ile Callot à Carantec, Finistère, Bretagne

The scene is set: now it’s time to meet the longstanding guardians of Callot, the L’Hour family, who have lived here since 1905.

"It’s a harsh life for a fisherman-farmer"

Ernest L’Hour was born in the very house where his own other was born in 1893 and where his grandmother was born 1858. Sheltered at the foot of the stunning Chapel Notre Dame de Callot, he still lives in this house, now with his wife Yvonne. They keep alive the memory of the area as well as recalling how life used to be on the island: before the arrival of electricity and running water in the 1950s, before the submersible road was built in the 1960s, and back when there used to be 14 families living here all year round.

la famille L'Hour, habitants de l'ile Callot à Carantec, Finistère, Bretagne

In those days, the islanders used to live off an unsuspected wealth, the black gold that is le goémon, or seaweed. Life was harsh for those who had to live off the sea’s resources whilst also tending to the land.
Fishing for sea urchins from October to April and harvesting seaweed from the spring, Ernest L’Hour also had to keep working the fields, helped by his father-in-law. Each house had a farm so that it could sell on part of its yield in Carantec whilst keeping some back to feed their large families.

There used to be plenty of children on the island. To prove this, the school built in 1936 at the heart of the island had up to 25 pupils at a time, from the infant classes to school-leaving age. The one and only class was taught by a teacher who came over from the mainland. The youngest of the L’Hour family saw the school close in 1975, when there remained only four pupils.

This is partly because from the 1950s onwards, seaweed was no longer a viable source of income. A few oyster-farmers set up on Callot after the war when they returned from England, but the economy on Callot was at its lowest point and inevitably, people began to leave. Nowadays, less than ten houses are genuinely occupied during the winter months.

Now in their eighties, Ernest and Yvonne make the most of the slower pace of life and stay on Callot as much as possible. Rightly nicknamed the "Guardians of the Island", Yvonne takes charge of opening and closing the chapel every day so that visitors can explore as they walk around. They also keep an eye on other houses while their owners are away.

"Magical childhood memories"

Having been on the island since he was three months old, you can say that Bertrand L’Hour has been here all his life. For him, Callot always evokes happy childhood memories. Times when he helped his father and grandfather in the fields, assisted by the horse that he was allowed to ride at such times. He also recalls going off to an equivalent of Sunday School and days when a whole troop of children would meet up at one house or another and head off to Carantec in groups… with a stop at Mme Autret’s house, where there was the only television on the island, where we’d stay long enough to catch a quick cartoon!

Nowadays, after 18 years in the Navy and several trips around the world, Callot is still Bertrand’s idea of heaven on earth. When he thinks of living here "it’s something that has to remain a happy dream, as the world of work isn’t really compatible".

"Make the most of your time on the island without being cut off from the world"

Vincent L’Hour, aged 26, knows Callot like the back of his hand. Whether it’s for family gatherings at his grandparents’ house, or spontaneous picnics on a boat with friends, he’s never far from the island. He’s even been lucky enough to come back to live on Callot recently.

What he loves most is the split-personality of Callot. "Thanks to the tides, you can bump into walkers, families, tourists and locals from Carantec, but as soon as the sea rises again, the island belongs to the islanders again!"

ile Callot à Carantec, Finistère, Bretagne