Friday, 19 September 2014

Afternoon at Ouaisne

It was a warm summer afternoon in August, and rather than go home for the afternoon, Katalin and I decided to go down to Ouaisne bay to enjoy the fine weather, and have a snack to eat.

Ouaisné (pronounced "Way Nay") is the name given to the bay to the east of St Brelade's Bay. According to Dr Frank Le Maistre, the word means an anchorage, perhaps because the bay was sheltered by the La Cotte headland affording a safe anchorage for small ships.

Early forms of the name are Hoisnet, Hoinet (in a map of 1810), and Houéné (in a map of 1844). Stone was taken by boat from the quarries at Ouaisné in the 18th century for the building of St Aubin's Chapel. Ouaisne Common is one of the Island's richest and most diverse nature reserves and designated a Site of Special Interest (SSI).

There is a beach stall which sells hot food, drinks, and ice creams. It will probably be closing soon, and I always think these little beach concessions are a sign of the seasons. They close up in Winter, just as the plants are dying back, and the leaves grow brown and fall from the trees. And then, usually around the Easter holidays, they open again, ready for the spring and summer once more.

The nearby Smuggler's Inn does excellent food, but what we wanted on a hot summer's day was something to eat outside, so we could sit on the ledge by the sea wall, and enjoy the view. In the end, we opted for a very tasty hot dog, with onions. I'm becoming quite a connoisseur of the beach cafe. Some have the bare essentials - just a roll and sausages. But the best give you the full works - a roll, a generous helping of cooked onions (delicious if bad for my heartburn!), and really tasty sausages, real sausages, not just the ones out of a jar.

The nearby headland, of course, is quite famous as it has a granite case - La Cotte de St Brelade, which was the site of the earliest habitation in Jersey. Neanderthal man lived here around 250,000 years ago - the earliest record we have of the occupation of the Channel Islands by an intelligent species. The Neanderthals are named after their discovery in the Neander Valley in Germany.

They died out only around 30,000 years ago, and were close enough cousins to human beings to interbreed. They were like us, only shorter, more heavily built and much stronger, particularly in the arms and hands, and with a thick bony brow ridge. No one knows for certain the reason why they died out.

The cave at La Cotte was inhabited by these hunter-gatherer tribes in between Ice Ages, spanning a period of over a quarter of a million years, adapting to the climate changes. They lived in a bleak land on the edge of the snows and glaciers that were even then receding northward.

Later on the cave was re-used by Homo Sapiens (that's us), again hunter gatherers, and they left behind their artifacts - animal bones, limpet shells, and stone tools.

You can't get into the cave now, unless you go on an authorised tour, because it is dangerous. Unlike limestone, granite caves like this tend to fracture, with large lumps of rock descending on the unwary tourist.

On top is a small cottage, where an old lady used to live alone, and she kept a goat which was tethered and grazed the headland. It must have been a strange, rather isolated existence, especially when there were strong winds and rain in Winter. The property now belongs to the National Trust, and it is rather nice to see a modest cottage there, rather than some massive development like that at Portelet.

It was a sunny day, so we decided to have an ice cream - the soft Jersey ice cream ones in a cone, with a chocolate flake, and never mind the diets, it was the summer. I sneaked off to the beach stall, and got two to surprise Katalin. She was very pleased!

And there were no wasps around to swoop. I hate wasps, having been stung enough times to be wary of them. 

Then it was time for the traditional sea-side pastime - paddling. Both Katalin and I braved the sea, which seemed very cold at first, and then was rather pleasant. The photo above is Katalin.

And here am I, looking to all the world like someone in the 1950s, but missing the handkerchief on the head.

Now the word "paddle" in this context means to dabble in water. The dictionary tells me this:

The sense 'to dabble in water' is in Palsgrave, who has: 'I paddyl in the myre;' and is perhaps due to O. F.patouiller, 'to slabber, to paddle or dable in with the feet, to stirre up and down and trouble.'

Despite the sea-weed, it was enjoyable paddling, and it was a very relaxed, pleasant afternoon. Ouaisne always seems like a poorer relation of its neighbour, St Brelade's bay, but it has its own distinct beauty.

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