British Isles: Secret of the Stones ; the Independent's Astronomy Writer Heather Couper on Jersey's Answer to Stonehenge
Couper, Heather, The Independent (London, England)
Some years ago, I remember shivering in the early dawn as the sun rose over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge on Midsummer's Day. It wasn't the most romantic experience I've ever had. Hundreds of travellers clambered over the stones, and the druid procession was led by someone whom I happened to know was the advertising manager for a Somerset newspaper. But I've now found my very own Stonehenge - and one that everybody can visit during the summer. La Hougue Bie on the island of Jersey was described in the 19th century as "the wonder of the island's wonders". And it is the most amazing collection of stones I've ever seen.
We were staying in the Nicolle Tower which is the Landmark Trust's only property on the island. Wherever we go in Britain, we check to see if there's a Landmark Trust property. These wonderfully restored buildings include such glorious houses as "The Pigsty" in Yorkshire, and "The Pineapple" near Stirling.
The Nicolle Tower is an octagonal folly, largely built in 1821 by Philippe Nicolle. We discovered that it was erected over a recumbent standing stone - a bit spooky, but it didn't worry us at the time. We were too excited about having Jersey to explore.
St Brelade's Bay, in the south-west, became a favourite place: a vast curve of white sand where dogs raced against each other. There's a lovely medieval church, and the exquisite, 11th-century Fishermen's Chapel with beautifully restored wall paintings over the chancel. And as you'd imagine, there are good pubs and restaurants everywhere.
We're not great zoo freaks - we like to see our animals in the wild - but we had to go to Jersey Zoo. Set up by Gerald Durrell as a conservation centre for animals, it's excellent: landscaped grounds with water flowing everywhere. The most amusing demonstration of animal behaviour that day was from the human species. At least half a dozen keepers were trying to net a wallaby, which kept giving them the slip. A crowd gathered to watch the antics and we all became increasingly giggly - until we were sternly told to go away.
The next day was our first expedition to the stones at La Hougue Bie. Nothing had prepared me for this. In front of me was a huge mound like Silbury Hill or Glastonbury Tor, with two ancient stone- built chapels on top. Baffled as to where my "Stonehenge" was, I asked my companion, Nigel (who conveniently has lectured on archaeo- astronomy) - and he pointed out that it was inside the mound.
It was officially closed - but knowing of our professional interest, a kindly curator let us in to both the chapels and the stones. These turned out to comprise one of the largest and best- preserved passage graves in Europe, discovered only in 1924, yet which has been in existence for 6,000 years. A long granite-lined passage leads to a large oval chamber, made of huge stones. How the builders got them in situ beggars belief. The closest I had ever come to this was exploring the tombs at Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland.
La Hougue Bie had also been occupied during the Second World War by the Germans, who built a command bunker in the grounds (also open to the public). And during the site's heyday in the 19th century, the then-ruined chapels were crowned with a viewing tower which subsequently was turned …
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Publication information: Article title: British Isles: Secret of the Stones ; the Independent's Astronomy Writer Heather Couper on Jersey's Answer to Stonehenge. Contributors: Couper, Heather - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 19, 2004. Page number: 20,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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