Les Dirouilles – strange rocks

A few members of the Jersey Canoe Club have been visiting Les Dirouilles more frequently over the last few years. Partly because of the popularity of the Ecrehous and subsequent overcrowding and partly because it is an easier paddle. One thing, which has provided interest over the last few weeks is something we have referred to as Les Dirouilles Strange Rocks.

Furthest east
This is the rock which is the furthest east. The rope is from a line of lobster pots which had been exposed due to the very low tide.

The main rock at the Les Dirouilles and the Ecrehous seems to be a form of gneiss. Reddish in colour with a range of crystals of different sizes. Our interest was first raised when we noticed a rock of a much darker colour, which looked as if it could have been quarried. We returned last week to look for other rocks, which are much darker and easily indentifiable as not from the immediate area. I hadn’t heard of any mention of these rocks from other people or in the limited literature available. This was possibly because landing in this area would be difficult from most types of boats.

Les Dirouilles probably marked the western end of a headland stretching from the Cotentin Peninsula, on the French mainland. It was part of a much larger landmass, including the Ecrehous. This would have been in existence until about 5,000 BC, when sea level change broke the reefs up into smaller entities.

On the Ecrehous there have been a number of archaeological finds which indicate that there was human activity. Pieces of pottery, animal bones from domesticated animals such as sheep and pigs, a menhir etc. The present areas of the Ecrehous is significantly larger than Les Dirouilles. The reef is also higher above sea level so the evidence of Neolithic man is better preserved. If there were people on the area, which is now the Ecrehous it is likely that they were also in the area occupied by Les Dirouilles. It is just that the evidence hasn’t survived.

Standing in line at Les Dirouilles
Jim and Eric standing on two of the rocks. These were part of the line of 7.

So what were these strange stones? The first time it had registered as something different we only saw one. Last Friday though we visited the reef with intention of seeing if there were any more. In total we found 12. There were 7 in a line running 138 to 318 degrees, stretching about 40 metres. Next time we must take a tape measure to make sure! There were 4 stones running from 25 to 205 degrees covering a distance of about 15 metres. They crossed the other line of stones, virtually at right angles, towards the western end of the section.

This rock was harder to identify as there was a reasonable amount of sea weed growing on it but as can be seen one face of the rock was still mainly free of sea weed.

That accounts for 11 of the 12 stones we identified, the other one was slightly to one side of one of the others. Perhaps it had been moved by the sea. The location of the stones was slightly to the east of one of the largest rocks in the reef. This probably offers significant protection from the largest waves, which would approach from a westerly direction. In addition the fact that they are only exposed at low water springs means that when the largest waves are breaking in this area they are probably under 7 or 8 metres of water.

Les Dirouilles.  Strange Rocks
Preparing to depart the reef, the strange rocks we had come to visit are to the right of the main rock.

So what are these stones and why are they there? The short answer is that we have no idea but they are in a location which has possibly seen human activity but is now under water most of the time. It is also a place which sees very little modern day human activity. Therefore it is likely that very few people will have had the opportunity to see them and subsequently ponder their origins.
In no way do we claim to be archaeologists. We are just a few sea kayakers who have encountered something unusual. We can’t explain it and have been unable to find any further information. Any suggestions, ideas, comments etc will be greatly received.

Les Dirouilles
Nicky and Janet heading through one of the narrow channels to the west of the reef, as we prepared to start the crossing back to Jersey.

Les Dirouilles – Standing Stones?

Jersey has a rich and diverse archaeological history, with a number of important sites. Standing Stones, Dolmen’s etc are dotted around the Island, providing enjoyment and intrigue for local and visitors alike. A few weeks ago we visited Les Dirouilles, on a low water spring and noticed a rock, which appeared to be different to the bedrock. We took and picture and paddled back to Jersey before the reef was covered by the rising tide.

Les Dirouilles Standing Stones
This is the rock which attracted our attention several weeks ago. It is clearly different to the bedrock in the area, so how did it get here? The simple answer is that we had no idea

A couple of a days later we were on a guided walk to La Cotte de St Brelade, possibly one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Europe. I showed the picture of our rock to Dr Matt Pope, who is co-ordinating the excavations. As a active archaeologist he immediately asked further questions, rather than providing a simple answer. Unfortunately we were unable to provide the answers and would have to wait for the next suitable Spring Tide and weather window to further our careers as amateur kayaking archaeologists.

Last Friday it all came together, a large Spring Tide and a wind forecast of Beaufort force 1-2. The journey out to Les Dirouilles, by kayak is so much easier than the nearby and far more popular, Ecrehous. Paddling out to Les Ecrehous is always across the tide, so you have to identify the small tidal window, which will allow you to cross the swift tidal streams with the least amount of effort. In effect there is never any positive tidal assistance.

Les Dirouilles arrival
Alex approaching the rocks to the south of Les Dirouilles

Move a couple of miles to the west towards Les Dirouilles and suddenly the tidal streams are your friend. As we came around the end of St Catherine’s Breakwater our speed increased and with the tide underneath us we covered just over 5 nautical miles in an hour. We weren’t even paddling that fast, spending the whole of the crossing chatting with each other. It is best to aim to arrive about an hour before low water, otherwise the landing options are fairly limited. We were greeted by the resident Grey Seals, perhaps in common with us they are finding the Ecrehous too crowded and have left in search of quieter waters.

Alex, Janet and Jim entering the main body of the reef about 1 hour before low water, the tidal range was 10.3 metres, not the largest of the Spring tides but certainly enough to create significant movement.

A beautiful sandy beach is exposed, a perfect lunch spot and the starting point for our sea bed archaeology. The rock of our first visit was easily identified, so it was time to survey the scene. So with the questions posed by Matt Pope, ringing in my ears I stood on a prominent rock and looked for the answers. This was not isolated rock, in fact we were able to identify 12 individual rocks. Not being geologists the accuracy of our identification is open to question but to us it was clear that they were a completely different rock type.

Les Dirouilles beach
The low tide beach with rocks stretching into the distance. The complete lack of wind resulted in memorable conditions.

We spent some time photographing and measuring the angles of the rocks, which we referred to as Les Dirouilles – Standing Stones? Time wasn’t on our side though. We needed to make sure that we had our lunch! Always important on a sea kayaking day trip. Just after low water it was time to be on our way back to Jersey.

John adjusting his GPS, prior to the crossing back to St Catherine’s. It is always interesting when you see the reading on the GPS reach 8 or 9 knots.

After our last visit we pondered the origin of the name Les Dirouilles, referring to the go to location for people interested in such things “Jersey Place Names I” by Charles Stevens, Jean Arthur and Joan Stevens, which was published in 1986. They suggest “mischievous dwarfs” but added that the meaning is very uncertain. In fact there is a lot of uncertainty about this rarely visited reef.
We did leave with more questions than answers but some extra data and some interesting thoughts as to the origins of these unusual rocks on Les Dirouilles. These thoughts will be on the next post.

Les Dirouilles gully
Heading through the western end of the reef. This is a potential landing spot and a great swimming place.