Ushant and the Iroise Islands
The island of Ushant (Ouessant in French), 18 miles (30km) off the coast of Le Conquet, is where you’ll find France’s most westerly point, Pointe de Pern. The island is well known for its lighthouses and treacherous seafaring heritage but especially for its indigenous sheep.
The Pointe de Pern is mainland France’s most westerly site and because of its significance in maritime history, even the rocks enjoy a protected status; one of them is painted white and was used as a marker for sailors to get their bearings. On the tip is a ruin, known as the Villa des Tempêtes, which housed a steam-powered foghorn from 1885-1900.
To the lighthouse
Ushant is regarded as the entrance to the English Channel – more than 50,000 ships a year pass this way – so it’s no surprise to discover that there are six lighthouses around the island. The best known is Créac’h, which has one of the most powerful beams in the world with a reach of 80 miles; the Musée des Phares et Balises (museum of lighthouses and buoys) sits at its base. The amusingly named Stiff lighthouse in the east was designed by military engineer Vauban in 1695 and can be visited in season.
What a wreck
The waters around Ushant have wrecked many a ship. Its most famous wreck was the Drummond Castle in 1896, when all on board were lost en route from South Africa to England. In 1978 the oil tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground near Ushant causing one of the world’s worst oil spills and polluting the Breton coast.
Lost at sea
Lampaul is the island’s main village with about 900 inhabitants and its cemetery is well worth a visit: the graves of unknown sailors and lists of lost ships bring home the reality of life on the ocean wave. Here you’ll also encounter the Proella tradition – small wax crosses that represented someone lost at sea. Lampaul is where you’ll find the island’s best beaches.
As well as welcoming around 400 species of bird, Ushant’s most famous residents are the small black sheep, one of the world’s smallest breeds; there are about 600 on the island.
Did you know?
Visitors can take a tour around the coast of Ushant in the island’s former lifeboat during the summer months.