The island of Jersey has an extraordinary number of Neolithic sites, including some of the oldest built structures in the world. In fact, there are far more of these sites than you could visit during a short trip to Jersey. But why are there so many, and what is there to see? And which are the best dolmens and other prehistoric places to visit if you are short of time?
Neolithic Sites In Jersey
Like the neighbouring island of Guernsey, Jersey has a large number of well preserved dolmens and passage graves, menhirs and other prehistoric sites. However, I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive answer to the question of exactly why there are so many within such a small area. My best guess is that the answer is twofold: geography and preservation.
Until around 8,000 years ago Jersey was a series of hills on a vast plain between England and France. The area was used as a hunting ground during the Old Stone Age. By the time the sea level had risen and Jersey became an island a permanent community had been established, probably attracted by the fertile landscape.
These settlers would have built tombs and other structures. It is possible that so many of them have survived merely because Jersey’s countryside is relatively unspoilt, and the monuments have not been destroyed by housing or industrialisation.
Passage Graves And Dolmens Of Jersey
The most important sites on Jersey are undoubtedly the dolmens and the passage graves. If you only have time to visit one site, make sure that it is La Hougue Bie, an impressive monument maintained by Jersey Heritage.
A note on terminology: a dolmen is a tomb consisting of two or more upright stones topped by a capstone, whereas a passage grave is a type of dolmen with one or more chambers covered with earth or stone. Some of the tombs on Jersey are known as “hougues”. This is a Jèrriais (Jersey French) word meaning “mound”.
La Hougue Bie
La Hougue Bie is considered to be one of the finest passage graves in Europe. And, at 6,000 years old, it is one of the oldest buildings in the world (older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge). Visitors can walk through the narrow entrance passage to the main chamber with its small side chambers (but be aware that the ceiling is low and you will need to stoop…)
The site has an informative visitor centre where you can learn about the grave and about prehistoric life in Jersey. You can also explore the medieval chapel that was built on top of the mound in the 12th century, and a replica of a Neolithic longhouse. A nearby German bunker has been converted into a memorial to wartime slave labour.
Buses run from St Helier to La Hougue Bie. It is also possible to walk from Five Oaks (which has more frequent bus services).
La Pouquelaye De Faldouet
Probably the next most important passage grave is La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, also around 6,000 years old. This consists of a passage leading to a double chamber, and would once have been covered by a mound and surrounded by walls and upright stones.
La Pouquelaye de Faldouet is a pleasant uphill walk from Gorey on the east coast. It is a peaceful spot: I met a local woman there who told me it was her “favourite place on the island”.
Other Jersey Dolmens
La Sergenté is perhaps the oldest tomb on the island, a passage grave built around 6,500 years ago. It is easy to get to with a mixture of bus and walking.
Other sites can be visited with varying degrees of difficulty. Les Monts Grantez, another ancient passage grave, is isolated and involves a bit of walking. I also visited the Dolmen de Mont Ubé. This one has been partially damaged and involves a steep uphill climb: only recommended if you are particularly keen!
Have a look at this map of the dolmens of Jersey for a complete list.
Other Prehistoric Sites In Jersey
Ville-ès-Nouaux is a stone circle and remains of a gallery grave in a park around 3 km to the west of St Helier (an easy walk along the coast road). And La Table des Marthes is a massive granite slab that was once part of a larger structure (no-one knows exactly what): it might not be worth going out of your way for, but have a look if you are at the nearby La Corbière Lighthouse.
La Motte (or Green Island) is a tidal island where prehistoric remains have been found. You won’t see much archaeology here today, but make a visit for its strange, otherworldly landscape. Just make sure you don’t get cut off by the tide…
Finally, there are several menhirs, or standing stones. I didn’t get to any of these myself, but you can find a list here.