Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Visit to La Rocque

It was not the finest weather when Katalin and I stopped off at La Rocque, but the rain kept off, despite the dark thunder clouds above, and we were about to enjoy a walk at this small but delightful little bay. La Rocque is on at the south-east corner of the island, and has always been a location for fishing village, although the houses along the seafront are perhaps of a better quality than the poor Jersey fisherman could afford.

Inland, a Methodist Chapel, recently closed, was built for the fishermen. As the nearest church was some way off, fisherman tended to go to the close Methodist chapel, so not to be outdone, Abraham Le Sueur, Rector of Grouville Church in Victorian times, built an Anglican chapel.

There is a small jetty which leads out across the bay, and on the way there, we saw a bench with a memorial plaque on it, from 2009. Often you don't know the story behind these memorials, but in this case, the tragic tale is in the public record. The newspaper report tells us

"Alain Georges Pelletier (37) was catching a bus from north India down to Delhi to meet his girlfriend when the bus ran over his foot.He went to accident and emergency but staff said there was nothing they could do for him and sent him in an ambulance to another hospital. On the way there he suffered an embolism and, despite his friend trying to resuscitate him for over an hour, he died before he got to hospital."

It's such a sad story, that an accident could lead so quickly to loss of life, and a reminder to us all of the fragility of existence, and why each day is important.

The jetty curves out at an angle. Originally, there was a wooden structure, but the boat owners complained to the States about boats damaged by strong winds, and a stone structure began in 1827. Alas, it was poorly constructed, and suffered storm damage. It was not until 1843 that the present structure took form, and while the fishermen continued to complain, the harbour remained as it was, and as we see it today.

The 1986 Domesday project has this report on the harbour:

"You will generally see around 30 boats in La Rocque Harbour, varying in size and colour with names like Mimi, Daddy, Busy Bee, Nancy and Lizette. The harbour is of local granite and there are metal rings to tie your boat to. Many of the fishermen are around retirement age. There are not only less fishermen these days, but less fish than before."

Of course La Rocque is also famous for the "Battle of Jersey". In 1781, Baron de Rullecourt, on behalf of the France, but very much also a soldier of fortune, arrived with 2,000 soldiers. 800 landed and passed by the guard hut; this being 5 January, the guards had been celebrating Christmas with gusto and were very much the worse for wear, and still drinking (as the trial after revealed). The second division landed on the rocks, and was lost, the third was unable to land so only the fourth of 200 made landfall.

De Rullecourt made his way to St Helier with 1,000 men, and ambushed the Governor (then residing in the Royal Square) with a magnificent bluff. Here are my troops; I have more all over the Island. But thanks to the gallant Major Peirson, the militia refused to surrender, and after a pitched battle in the Royal square, when both Peirson and de Rullecourt lost their lives, the French surrendered.

A final battle took place at La Rocque, where the French rearguard faced more soldiers, plus the Rector of St Martin who brought along his own cannon! With no escape possible on the tide, they too surrendered.

At La Platte Rocque is a building affectionately named by the actors and film crew of "Bergerac" as the "Psycho House" - you can see why! There is an interesting tale told in the 1986 Domesday project:

"At La Platte Rocque there is a house which was to be turned into a restaurant. But a lady started a petition against it. She said it would disturb the beach and the fishing as well as spoil some historic buildings. They would have knocked down the round tower and German bunker which are there still. The tower is built out of granite and the bunker is made out of concrete. "

"The front of the nearby house would have been made more modern and the windows would have been made bigger. In front of the house are some plants, shrubs and turf. Those would have been dug up and the front would have become tarmac. There is also a wall which would have been knocked down for a large entrance. But luckily the petition succeeded. "

Katalin and I saw some sea birds, and this is very much a place to view them. On the Jersey Birds website, it says:

"La Rocque is located on the south east corner of Jersey. It is one of the best localities from which to view waders and seabirds as well as visible migration during spring and autunm"

"Waders roost on the rocks here, flying around into Grouville Bay as the tide falls. Impressive movements of seabirds such as Terns can be witnessed in late summer and a winter visit will be likely to produce Divers, Grebes and Red breasted Mergansers. Look for the Peregrines sitting on Seymour Tower, offshore to the south east."

As we went along the harbour, I took this picture of Katalin, against the backdrop of rocks and fishing boats. It was a grey, overcast day, as you can see, but it was still a delight to share this location and its history with her, as she'd never been here before.

Looking inland, you can see how the corner of the coast juts out, making it very like a peninsula. In this photo, you can see how comparatively small the bay is. It's not a long bay, which is part of its charm.

Out in the distance at sea, is Seymour tower. The tourist guide tells us this:

"Seymour Tower sits two miles offshore on one of the largest inter-tidal reefs in the world. Built as part of Jersey’s coastal defences, this square tower dates from the 18th century. The isolated location means access is dependent on tidal conditions and all guests must be accompanied by an accredited Seymour Tower guide. Seymour Tower is only available to rent when the tide allows safe and manageable access on foot."

"The accommodation in this coastal tower is spread over two floors. Solar panels on the roof generate enough power for lighting and a fridge. A gas stove for cooking, basic crockery and cutlery are provided. Bunk beds accommodate seven guests (sleeping bags not provided). Seymour Tower has no running water, but drinking water is provided along with logs for the wood burning stove. Seymour Tower is perfect for anyone wanting an adventure. Use it as a base for low water fishing, guided walks at low tide, bird watching and fishing."

I once walked to Seymour tower with an expedition led by Charles Green (affectionately nicknamed "Gloop", although I never found why), and it was a great walk, although I don't know if I'd be fit enough to do it now. You do need to be very careful with the tides, and scarcely a year or two goes by with someone needing rescue when they take refuge at the tower, or a rescue platform a bit further inland. Once, two horses got stuck out there, and I think had to wait for the tide to go down before they could be safely rescued. The very flat rocks mean that the rising tide can easily go down rocky channels ahead of the unwary walker.

The craggy rocks at low tide are often described as a "Lunar Landscape", and it is one of the most unusual coasts in Jersey in that respect. The 1986 Domesday project has this report:

"The fishermen fish for shrimps, lobster and low water fish which they sell to the market and their neighbours as well as keeping some for themselves. The fishermen have to be very skilled as there are lots of sharp rocks and many strong currents around La Rocque. My granddad has a certificate for rescuing three people who were marooned on a rock. The speed of the tide is very fast and you can easily be trapped."

The rocky coast is also popular for children, and I remember coming with my sister, with buckets and nets, and looking for marine life in the rocky pools - shrimps, small craps, and other tiny sea creatures. We would take them up to the beach, picnic and watch them swim in the bucket, and at the end of the day, return them to the sea. It was heartening to see that this still continues today, a simple pleasure far removed from the sophisticated toys of the 21st century.

1 comment:

katicajersey said...

Hi Mr.Tony, I liked your writing about the places which you visited. They are giving lots of historical background of Jersey and they are unique as they are own adventures, your views and memories.