CHANNEL ISLANDS WAY
Stage 1: St Peter Port to La Prevote
Thursday, July 27, 2017
I arrived in Guernsey on the fast ferry from Poole Harbour in Dorset three days before this walk. The day of the ferry trip was warm and sunny, but the next two days had been cold, wet and very windy, so I decided to cool my heels in several of Guernsey's museums and pubs while I waited for the worst of the weather to pass. The morning of the walk was still cool and overcast, but the forecast suggested the weather would improve, so after a hearty breakfast I headed down to St Peter Port's waterfront to begin the first of the five circular walks that make up the Channel Islands Way.
I chose to begin my circuit of Guernsey in Liberation Place (picture 1) at the landward end of St Julian's Pier, which separates the two halves of St Peter Port's busy harbour. The Channel Islands Way heads off southwards along the harbourside beside North Esplanade, soon passing a smaller inner marina (picture 2) that is enclosed by the Victoria and Albert Piers.
The road kinks to the left at the landward end of the Albert Pier to skirt a roundabout with a statue of Prince Albert in the middle (picture 3). Now on South Esplanade, the Way passes between another marina and St Peter Port's outdoor bus terminus to reach Castle Pier. The long pier marks the southern extent of the harbour, stretching out around 900 metres from the shore, past a rocky islet that is occupied by Castle Cornet to a small lighthouse that guides boats past the end of the pier.
South of Castle Pier, the Way follows the road around the edge of Havelet Bay (picture 4). When the road forks, one must cross the road to join the pavement between the two roads and after twenty metres a footpath, the La Valette Promenade, descends to run above the right side of La Valette, which was packed with parked cars despite being quite a narrow road.
The promenade passes a pleasant little garden (picture 5) but soon ends as the road squeezes through a rocky cutting to reach the entrance of the La Valette Underground Military Museum (picture 6).
The museum, which I visited the previous morning, is housed in a complex of German World War II tunnels carved out of the hillside by prisoners of war to provide a fuel depot for U-boats. It houses a large collection of objects related to the war and the occupation of the islands, from military vehicles to uniforms, medals and newspapers from both sides. For me, as a software engineer, the highlight of the collection was an Enigma Machine, used by the Germans to send and receive encoded messages.
Just beyond the museum entrance, La Valette reaches a dead end in front of the Guernsey Aquarium (which occupies an older tunnel dug in 1864 as part of an aborted road development scheme) and the Way climbs a long flight of steps up onto Les Terres Point (picture 7). From the top of the steps there is a good view back across Havelet Bay to Castle Cornet (picture 8).
Construction of Castle Cornet began in 1206 to defend Guernsey and the waters between Guernsey, Herm and Sark from the French after King John lost control of mainland Normandy. Various improvements to the defences were made over the next eight centuries, right up to the German Occupation, though those defences were not always adequate. The castle was captured by French forces three times in the 14th century but held out for more than eight years during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and 1650s. Today, the castle is home to four museums, which I explored on the afternoon before this walk.
On the top of Les Terres Point, the path goes through an arch in a high stone wall. To the left, the headland is occupied by the Clarence Battery (picture 9), built in 1780 to improve the harbour's defences. The battery has good views southward across Soldiers' Bay to the south-eastern corner of the island at St Martin's Point (picture 10), about an hour's walk away.
Leaving the battery, the path runs through trees beside a tall stone retaining wall to emerge after a few minutes at a hairpin bend in a quiet lane. A stone waymarker indicates that the coastal path follows the lower, left-hand branch, where a narrow pavement follows a low stone wall along the clifftop opposite houses. At the end of the lane, the coastal path joins a narrow, shady footpath running beside another retaining wall (picture 11), this time below a military cemetery. A gap in the trees here gives a good view across the water to the island of Herm and its smaller neighbour, Jethou (picture 12).
The path climbs briefly before descending again to enter the attractive Bluebell Wood (picture 13), though I was a couple of months too late to see any bluebells.
An obvious path leads through the wood, eventually turning right up a flight of concrete steps to gain a view over Fermain Bay (picture 14). The path zig-zags down through trees to a picnic area and cafe above the shingle beach. Beside the picnic tables stands the first of fifteen round loophole towers (picture 15) built around the Guernsey coast in 1778/9 to defend the island from a potential invasion from France, after the French had allied with the Americans in their War of Independence. Twelve of those towers are still standing.
A small metal footbridge crosses a stream behind the beach and the path starts to climb up through scrub and tall ferns onto the next point (picture 16).
At a fork in the path, a marker stone points left to Bec du Nez and Marble Bay. The path emerges from the trees just before reaching Bec du Nez, a rocky little cove with a tiny quay (picture 17), then climbs over the point that separates it from the even smaller Marble Bay. After crossing the steep-sided valley behind Marble Bay, a stand of tall pines frame the view back towards Castle Cornet and St Peter Port (picture 18).
The path climbs again to get around the next little bite out of the coast before descending onto the fern-covered St Martin's Point. The coastal path doesn't go all the way out to the tip of this promontory, but instead turns around by a rocky outcrop and climbs steeply up above Telegraph Bay to a clifftop carpark in the village of Jerbourg, from which there was a fine view over St Martin's Point towards the isle of Sark (picture 19).
I took a small diversion from the coastal path here, walking about 400 metres up Rue de Jerbourg to the Doyle Monument (picture 20). The monument is a granite column, built in 1953 to replace a taller column built in 1825 that had been demolished by the Germans during the Occupation. Both monuments were built to commemorate Sir John Doyle, a former Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey who was still alive when the original monument was built.
From the carpark at Jerbourg, the coastal path heads down La Moye Lane and past a group of clifftop houses to a bend where a well-worn footpath heads downhill onto the gorse-covered Jerbourg Point (picture 21). At the next path junction, a standing stone bears a plaque commemorating the gift of the land to the Bailiwick of Guernsey by the family of Osmond Priaulx. A few steps to the left is a German clifftop lookout post but the coastal path turns right to continue on its way around Jerbourg Point, ignoring the first path on the right and taking the second one.
The path now climbs up to a viewpoint where a large block of granite is carved with an inscription remembering Sir Victor Gosselin Carey, whose eleven year term as Bailiff of Guernsey included the period of the German Occupation. This vantage point offers a fine panorama across the large Moulin Huet Bay (picture 22) to Icart Point, still about two hour's walk away.
The path now meanders through the through the gorse, dipping down to pass below a clifftop house then climbing up again to briefly join a lane. There is a good view over the sandy little beach of Petit Port before the coastal path leaves the lane and follows another narrow footpath high above the little cove. The path passes near to some houses before a longer stretch of windswept clifftop path eventually reaches a wooded valley, where some steps over a stone wall lead to a tarmac path and soon to a sharp left-hand turn down a quiet, shady lane that runs beside a stone wall. At the end of the lane, the coastal path continues ahead beside the wall (picture 24), eventually reach some benches at a clifftop viewpoint, where the wall turns right.
The coastal path follows the stone wall as far as a small carpark, where a left turn takes the route most of the way down a lane towards Moulin Huet Bay. At a viewpoint just above the rocky bay (picture 25), a granite marker stone indicates a right turn and a steep climb, assisted by steps, to regain the clifftop path, which passes above a small cove and onto the next point, overlooking Saints Bay (picture 26), where a dozen boats were tied up below a slipway on the far side.
The coastal path eschews a path that zigzags down to the beach, instead heading halfway up the valley behind it to find a sharp left-hand turn onto Saints Bay Road. The road descends past the second of Guernsey's loophole towers, ignoring a flight of steps where I almost made a wrong turn. Just before the end of the road, above the slipway seen earlier, the coastal path ascends steps on the right. The path climbs up past the small Saints Bay Battery and after at least another hundred steps reaches a path junction where a handy bench allows one to recover from the strenuous climb while admiring the view back across the bay to Jerbourg Point (picture 27).
The coastal path takes the left-hand fork from the junction to head around Icart Point. On the other side of the point, above La Bette Bay, is a granite memorial placed in 2010 to commemorate Lieutenant Hubert F. Nicolle (picture 28).
Nicolle was a Guernsey native who landed by canoe on the beach in nearby Le Jaonnet Bay on the night of 7/8 July 1940 on a dangerous solo reconnaissance mission to gather intelligence about the German forces who had invaded the island just nine days earlier. After two more nights he was picked up by a British submarine and delivered his information, which included the exact number of German soldiers on the island (469). On a second mission later that year he was captured after six weeks on Guernsey and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Poland under sentence of death by firing squad. He tunneled out of the camp but was recaptured. After almost five years as a prisoner of war he was eventually freed by American forces in 1945 and lived on Guernsey until his death in 1998, aged 78. For his heroics during the war he was awarded the Military Cross and is recognised by many as "the first Commando".
From the memorial stone, the coastal path continues along the clifftops, skirting around La Bette Bay before crossing a shallow valley (picture 29) where a path leads down to the beach at Le Jaonnet Bay. The coastal path ignores that turning and instead climbs back up to the clifftops, where a second, somewhat deeper, valley (picture 30) is crossed about halfway to Petit Bot Bay.
The path eventually meets a lane, turning left to descend to Petit Bot Bay, which I reached just in time to visit the beach cafe for a late-afternoon snack before taking a look at the loophole tower and wandering across the beach (picture 31) to dip a toe in the English Channel.
The correct turn for the coastal path is about fifty metres back up the road from the tower, where some steps are signposted for Portelet and Le Gouffre. The path climbs steeply, allowing one to see the circular platform on the top of the tower (picture 32), designed to give a small cannon a 360 degree field of fire.
The coastal path continues to climb, tunneling through dense scrub as it skirts around Portelet Bay, eventually joining a gravel lane. After a couple of minutes the lane bends away from the coast above a valley until a "cliff path" marker stone shows the way down steps and across the valley to follow a path back down the other side, around the top of the next cove, and onto Pointe de la Moye (picture 33).
After rounding the point, the path is soon forced to turn away from the coast once more, heading up the next valley past a couple of houses to the Le Gouffre Cafe. A flight of steps to the left of the cafe, signposted to Pleinmont, climb to the next stretch of the clifftop path, which joins the driveway of a lone house after about 500 metres. The long driveway leads inland to Le Bigard, where a couple of left turns are required to find a narrow footpath by some wooden gates.
The next stretch of the path belongs to the National Trust of Guernsey and the path soon passes one of their marker stones (picture 34) in the grass by the path on the way back to the clifftops. After 500 metres, the coastal path turns left down an unsealed lane to reach a clifftop carpark on the small headland of La Corbiere. This was a fortified site in the Iron-Age and again in the late medieval period, but little evidence of that remains among the gorse today as most of the medieval stonework was taken to be reused elsewhere.
Ahead, the next headland is topped by the La Prevote Observation Tower (picture 35), another relic of the German Occupation. The path snakes its way along the clifftops, crossing a couple of shallow valleys to come up just behind the tower (picture 36) at the end of Rue de la Prevote.
I left the coastal path here, with my GPS showing that I had walked 18.4 kilometres, though all the ups and downs had made it feel quite a bit longer than that. Following the lane inland for 500 metres took me up to the Route de la Palloterie, the main road through the south of the island, where I had a wait of about twenty minutes for the next bus back to St Peter Port.