A group of Breton sailors will attempt to sail a 10th Century boat to Scotland and back this summer, guided only by the sun and the wind.

Gward an Aod have embarked on the restoration of a replica Breton sailing craft, first built in 1999, and have already returned her to sea.

In the summer they aim to take Brioc on a Celtic tour, departing from Kerlouan in northern Brittany, crossing the channel, visiting Cornwall, Wales and Ireland before a stop at the holy Isle of Iona and a journey up the Caledonian Canal, through Loch Ness, and out to the North Sea.

Kentigwern Jaouen, one of the members of the group tells The Herald: "The project is to sail from Brittany to Iona Abbey for the first part, after that we’ll go through the Caledonian Canal from Loch Ness to the North Sea.

“After that we’ll go to Lindisfarne then either to Norway or return to Brittany.

“We want to make a really immersive experience of sailing during the 10th Century so all of the crew on the boat will be using historical reinterpretations of artefacts which archaeologists have found.

“The boat, Brioc, is a currach like one from the 10th Century.


“During the 10th Century in Brittany we had a lot of links with Britain, and with all the countries around the Celtic Sea.

“We are very interested in the development of sailing during that period. When people speak about sailing during the time it’s always about the Vikings and for us it’s very important to show how the Breton and Celtic people stayed at sea during that time, they were against the Vikings but they still managed to be on the sea.

“The 10th Century was a very bad time for the Celtic people because clearly the Vikings were very hard on a lot of matters.

“We want to make a new start in the link between all the Celtic communities because for about 10 or 20 years we have not seen a group project around the Celtic Sea – we have a lot of individual projects in Ireland, Scotland and Wales but all of these projects are not linked with the other and we hope with Brioc we can form a link."

Gward an Aod are committed to doing things the way their ancestors would have sailed in the 10th Century.

Designed based on texts from the time, Brioc is constructed of wood, linen sails, hemp ropes and animal hides and may be the last of its kind still sailing.

As Jaouen explains, that authenticity will extend to navigation for the trip: "The project is to use everything from the 10th Century so, for example, to cross the channel or go from Wales to the Isle of Man we only want to use a sun dial.

“To comply with the laws and regulations we’ll have security staff in the boat with radio, GPS and everything like that but it’s not used during the trip – it’s only for emergencies. We don’t want to die or be destroyed by a massive cargo ship in the channel!

“We need that to cross, but everything in the normal navigation period will be like the 10th Century.”


The group plan to set sail in July, moving clockwise on their journey back to Kerlouan, but even in the summer the Scottish waters can be treacherous.

Jaouen says: "Clearly we’re looking forward to a lot of things about the sea in Scotland, because for us Scotland is the holy land for sailing because it’s very beautiful and you have such a strong community of sailors and a tradition of sailing.

“It’s the end of the trip and that’s good because we’ll have a lot of training between going from Brittany to Scotland but clearly there is some danger.

“Last year we did a journey from the Isle of Ouessant and suddenly we had a storm, which can happen in summer.

“There were 3m waves, strong winds but the boat was very stable and efficient. The only problem we had was the crew, a lot of people weren’t really used to or trained for that kind of weather so a lot of them were afraid but before going to Scotland we’ll have exercises before the crews start and the weather is the reason we’re aiming to do the trip in the middle of July."

While the sailors have a rough route in mind, they'll be at the mercy of the winds in terms of locations they visit.

Iona is a certainty, as Gward an Oad hope to recreate a 14th Century Scottish ship back in Brittany, and will study one when the visit the Holy Isle.

Jaouen says: "Iona is one of the most important abbeys of the Celtic world and it’s very important for us because on Iona there is a very beautiful boat from the 14th Century.

“We want to rebuild a 14th Century Scottish galley because here in Brittany we have one of the most beautiful shipwrecks of the 15th Century, and the only Viking grave with boats outside of Scandinavia, on the island of Groix.

"We have nothing between the boat of the 10th Century and the cargo boat of the 15th Century so we’re thinking that the Scottish galley is like the missing link between the Viking type of construction and the Dutch type of construction we find in the 15th Century.


"It’s hard to say specifically where else we’re going, because it’s always down to the wind to decide. I hope to go to Glasgow because my name is Kentigwern and Saint Kentigwern (Saint Mungo in English) is the patron saint of Glasgow.

“But Glasgow is really far inland, so it might be too long to go – it depends on the wind.

“I can’t say what harbours we’ll be going to, only Iona because of the boat.

"We really want to make links and maybe start a new project together with Scottish communities, so if anyone wants to take part in the trip with us it would be our pleasure.

“We want to try to have some events during the trip so if any harbours or museums were interested in it we will be very happy to do that.

“Making links with other Celtic communities will be very important, and I think in this political climate we need to make links between Brittany, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.”

The group have financed the project without large backers, sourcing online donations to continue their work.

Jaouen explains: "The boat is ready, all things being equal we’d have departed last summer but a lot of things we didn’t plan for happened and we were only ready in the end of July and it was too late to go to Scotland.

“The boat is ready now but we don’t have any big support from the community or the French government. We’ve done well in online funding, but it’s hard for us financially.

“One of the most important problems is the captain of the ship. He’s a sailor and he works on Swedish ships, and if we had enough money to pay him to be captain of Brioc full-time it would be more efficient because there would be a bigger summer window to sail, maybe in late May or in June.

“But with no other financial aid we’re blocked by his personal period of work on the Swedish ships, so July is the only time for crossing.

“So it’s hard to say that it’s done from a financial point of view, but the boat is ready, everything is paid for us to go. We just need help to make the trip more easily, and we need to start the funding for the Scottish galley because we have no funding for that at the moment."

You can contribute to the online fundraising here