Le Lavoir des Dames and other stories

On the Friday after Christmas, with friends from Jersey Canoe Club, my son, Jonny, and I descended the slope below Sorel, St John. Our destination was the square rock pool known as Le Lavoir des Dames. It appears around 2 hours either side of low water. Its regular shape means it was thought it might be man made, but is apparently a natural feature.

Its naming is itself something of a tale. It was originally called les Puits de la Tchuette, which (in Jersey French) means something like the Well Pool of the Vat. In the 19th Century it was renamed la Lavoir des Dames, probably to suit the romantic sensibilities of overseas visitors. A Lavoir in Jersey is a place for washing laundry, often provided with channels and dressed stone. Le Lavoir des Dames was supposedly where the fairies bathed. Men were turned blind if they saw the bathers.

If the Place Name change dates to 19th Century romanticism,was the fairytale of les Dames introduced at this time? I asked Giles Bois. He thought it possible that the story was “borrowed” at this time from Brittany. However it replaces a more complex and darker tale, set out in Giles’s “Jersey Folklore & Superstitions” ( 2010 Volume 1 pages 201-247). The link between tales and the Rock Pool, which appears as “if by magic” with the Falling Tide, providing a possible gateway to the underworld, is unsurprising.

The image shows something of the steepness on the way down. Le Lavoir is hidden below a break of slope where the walk becomes a scramble, Cliff erosion has made the route narrower & more exposed, so the pool is less visited than it was.

I leap into the pool. Jonny is on the rocks above. Le Lavoir’s location on the rocky Foreshore is clear with Ronez Quarry in the background
Kevin, editor of the www. seapaddler.co.uk website, jumps from the cliff.
Katy Amy in the air above the Pool, I look away.
The writer landing in the water; the shape of le Lavoir and surrounding rock faces are apparent here, as they are in the etching below.
Le Lavoir des Dames, etching by Giles Bois. Comparing photograph and etching, it is clear they were taken from similar viewpoints.

Club Members, friends & Dog in & beside the Pool. The poses are strikingly similar to those in the etching

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