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.