Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A Walk to the Pinnacle Rock

Although I’d first visited the site with the Junior Société, I visited the Pinnacle by myself most recently in 2004, when looking for photos to illustrate my “Jersey Wonders”. Then I returned a few years later with Kris Hughes, an Anglesey Druid, when he was temporarily working in Jersey and wanted to see the Neolithic sites in Jersey. But I had not been back for around 8 years.

So this August, Katalin and I went for a walk to the Pinnacle rock. For her it was a first time, an adventure, and for me, it was a welcome return to one of the great sacred sites in Jersey’s prehistory.

There is a good car park at Les Landes, and in August, the headland is full of sweet smelling heather. The dry weather meant the scent was not quite as strong. It was a hot sunny day, but there was quite a good breeze blowing, so we didn’t get either too hot or cold.

Along the coastal paths are various gun emplacements, with guns mounted on them, a legacy of the German Occupation of Jersey in the Second World War. The one close to the car park and the nearby guard hut have both been painted in camouflage colours, which actually seemed rather bright and showy, although perhaps not to the air. They are rather a contrast to the usual dull black or gun metal colours, and come out very well in photographs.

It is a fairly good walk to the top of the Pinnacle rock, and the descent has to be taken slowly, as the track is at places a little steep, with small stones on the path easily giving way underfoot. As I understand it, the Pinnacle itself is a sea stack, an outcrop of rock which was originally cut off from the coast by the sea. Similar stacks can be seen around the headland at La Cotte de St Brelade.

But at the Pinnacle, a rubble of surface rock and ground has at sometime in the distant past filled in that gap, so that the stack became reconnected to the mainland. Wild grasses have grown on top, so that it looks as if it has always been connected, but the tide is eroding the rubble infill away, and there is a cave leading through beneath the site. It can be traversed at lowest tides, but any climb down is only for the experienced, or those with a sure guide.

In recent years, a tourist and their young child, looking over the edge, perhaps to see the cave mouth, tragically fell to their deaths, so it is certainly best not to go too near the edge of the site.

Once down there, the stones of a Neolithic and Bronze age settlement can be seen close up. The Pinnacle itself is a natural menhir, which is probably how it came to be settled, probably at a time when Jersey was cut off from France, but when there was still extensive land across much of St Ouen’s Bay.

There is a vein of dolerite, and archaeologist Mark Patton comments: “Recent research has demonstrated the existence of an axe production centre at Le Pinacle, Jersey, and ‘Type P’ dolerite axes produced at Le Pinacle have been identified in assemblages from Guernsey, Sark and Alderney as well as Jersey. Axes of Type P dolerite, however, seem not to be found on the Armorican mainland. “

The Romans came here too, and there was once a Gallo-Roman temple on this site. It seems to have been very much a sacred magnet, and Katalin and I certainly found it imposing when we had scrambled down the dust track to the very base of the Pinnacle Rock. Ahead, tall and imposing, is the rock itself, like a Menhir (Neolithic standing stone) set down by a giant or a god, and where we were was the ancient stones, some probably at least dating to around 4,500 BC. Look up and inwards, and the curve of the rocks has the effect of a natural amphitheatre.

There are some wild flowers, and I saw a blue butterfly flutter over the stones, perhaps like a spirit of the place, welcoming strangers to respect the fact that this is a sacred shrine.

We climbed up, and it is a steep climb, not for the unfit, until we reached the top, and then gazed back down, and caught our breath back. Nearby, there was a cluster of ragwort growing, blowing in the breeze.

And we made our way back along the coast, until we neared the car park, and could see the wonderful sweep of St Ouen’s Bay from the headland of L’Etacq to Corbière Lighthouse in the distance. It is a wonderful coastline, and I hope it never gets spoilt with developments.

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