I didn’t get time to write about it a couple of weeks ago, but as the high tides fell back, it turned out they had left behind a surprise at L’Etacq: the stumps of ancient trees now buried beneath the sand, along with the peat beds in which they lie.
This is what’s often called the “fossil forest”, although the trees aren’t actually fossilised – what we see today is the real wood that has been preserved in the peat.
Carbon dating puts the trees at around 4000 years old. This was around the time when rising sea levels were cutting the island off from the mainland. As the sea advanced a beach would have formed, and sand blown from the beach would have covered the inland areas, just as it does today.
A combination of rising sea levels and storms surges would have moved the beach ever closer to our modern coastline, until the dunes would have engulfed the woods of St Ouen. Finally, the sea would have arrived, and the remains of the trees would have been submerged beneath the encroaching beach.
Reports from the 18th century suggest that at least occasionally, vast areas of forest are revealed beneath St Ouen’s bay.
It is haunting to think that Stone Age people might have wandered in-between the trees that are today just stumps, covered in sand and sea, and only rarely exposed. There are scatters of worked flint fragments and the odd jadeite axe has been discovered in these deposits. Stone age people were definitely here.
During the last war the peat was partially cut for fuel during the German Occupation. And since then it has also been sampled by scientists looking to date the trees.