|15 September 2007
...through the valley in the shadow of Vincent...
We drove non-stop in 8 hours from Arles in Provence to Auvers-sur-Oise, a village just north of Paris, a distance of more than 550 miles. It was in Auvers, that Vincent van Gogh lived the last 70 days of his life before he killed himself and where his legend was born.
We checked into our B&B, whizzed up to the graveyard to see Vincent and his brother Theo's graves and then drove east from Auvers to look for dolmens in L'Oise valley. Vincent would have to wait until later for our attention!
The first we came across was La Pierre Plate near Presles.
You can drive quite close on a dirt track on the edge of the woodland and take a path in. It's quite near a 'Poney-Club'. I don't remember a signpost but this grid ref is correct.
It lies in the thick woodland of the Foret Domenial L'Isle Adam, and is a sunken length of megalithic drystone walling between orthostats, still bearing the weight of four capstones. At the portal end, a carved stone has a kennel hole in it which presumably once had a blocking stone. All round the allee couverte, which is fenced for protection, wild strawberry plants formed a carpet underfoot. A very nice monument.
Just a few fields away from La Pierre Plate
is the allee couverte de Blanc Val, which has lost all its capstones and now lies in a scrubby patch of thyme and weeds at the edge of a field near Presles.
Blanc Val has a complete set of internal orthostats lining what is essentially a stone box. At one end, the bottom half of the portal stone is still visible, with the semicircle of what was once a porthole entrance. Blanc Val is not a thrilling monument to see, but the fact that it's still here and that traces of cement on it shows that someone recently gave a toss about it is good enough for me.
Oh la la, c'est La Pierre Turquaise!
La Pierre Turquaise is a big league A-list 'Hollywood' megalithic site! Nestled into mature oak forest, and with acorns raining down all around us, we sat drinking tea from our flasks and smoking a small cigar to help us relax and admire this lovely place. In 1842 it was nearly broken up to help pave Paris, would you believe and in 1985 it suffered a horrific explosive attack which badly damaged it. One of the stones was sheared off and the top piece lies near the allee couverte.
It's 10.6 ms long and nearly 2 ms wide and despite the 1985 attack still has 2 mighty capstones. Its calm woodland setting reminded us of some of the hunebedden in NL. Hard hats required though, to protect yourself from all those falling acorns. That, or bring a piglet!
16 September 2007
Before we could visit any of the van Gogh sites round here, we had to see this:
We set out early to find the allee couverte du Bois-Couturier near Guiry-en-Vexin. They have maps to show you how to find it at the prehistory museum in Guiry. You have to walk about 20 minutes through a forest, on reasonably good clearly marked paths, to find it. But when you have you'll love it!
It was rediscovered in 1915 and excavated until 1919: 200 skeletons found as well as polished stone axes, tools and ceramic shards. It's 8 ms long and 2 ms wide – I thought the proportions seemed quite odd compared with many allee couvertes we'd seen. Essentially it's a sunken box entirely lined with drystone walling and covered with 4 capstones.
The most astonishing thing about it is the round and lovely porthole in the portal stone – quite perfect! I crawled through it and into the tomb. I sat inside to consider that that the round blocking stone 'door' was discovered during excavation, and in superb condition. It now lives in the nearby prehistory museum. It looks like a great saucepan lid, complete with handle.
This is a 'Hollywood' site by any standards.
Our final stone of this trip is the weirdy christianised menhir called La Croisette.
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you're faced with it! We'd seen a picture of it printed on the label of a bottle of beer the night before and been mightily amused. The reality of it is that it's quite small – about 5'3". Though how much the silly christians removed from its original size to fashion it into this bizarre cross is impossible to tell.