CHANNEL ISLANDS WAY
Stage 4: Herm
Monday, July 31, 2017
After a week on Guernsey, I finally got a sunny morning for my day-trip out to the island of Herm, the smallest of the five islands covered by the Channel Islands Way. At half past eight I caught the first ferry of the day from St Julian's Pier in St Peter Port for the twenty minute trip across the Little Roussel, a six kilometre wide stretch of water separating Guernsey on the west side from Herm on the east side.
As the ferry left St Peter Port Harbour, there was an excellent view of the town (picture 1) and of Castle Cornet and the lighthouse at the end of Castle Pier (picture 2).
About halfway across the Little Roussel, the ferry passes to the right of Fort Brehon (picture 3). The artillery fort, built on a small islet and completed in 1856, is rather unusual in being oval rather than round as the earlier Martello towers were. By the turn of the 20th century the fort was obsolete, but during the occupation, the German military added a coastal defence gun and two anti-aircraft guns.
Nearing Herm, the Ferry also passes Jethou (picture 4), a wooded eighteen-hectare island that lies about 700 metres south-west of Herm. Jethou is privately leased from the Crown and has been closed to the public since 1970, which seems a bit of a shame as aerial pictures show that it does have a circular path around it.
Herm itself covers a little under two square kilometres and is roughly 2.2 kilometres long from north to south and 900 metres across at its widest point. The southern end of the island is a plateau, topped with farmers fields and patches of woodland, and bounded by steep hillsides and granite cliffs. In contrast, the northern end, known as The Common, is a flat area of treeless moorland and dunes, with the exception of one small hillock on the western side, and is surrounded on three sides by white, sandy beaches. The coastal path around Herm is just 6.5 kilometres long — by far the shortest walk on the Channel Islands Way.
The island was first populated during the Mesolithic period (possibly as early as 8,000 BC) and there are a number of Stone-Age and Bronze-Age tombs on the northern half of the island. Humans returned to Herm around the 6th century and there was a thriving quarrying industry in the 19th century. During the German Occupation, the island was not militarised or subjected to the kind of fortification that happened on Guernsey.
Today, Herm has a permanent population of around sixty, which can easily swell by more than a thousand visitors on a sunny summer day. Walking is the primary mode of transport for visitors to Herm. There is only one short road on the island and motor vehicles and bicycles are banned except for a handful of quad-bikes and tractors used by residents.
As it was just after low tide, the ferry landed at the Rosaire Steps (picture 5), near the southern tip of Herm, rather than the small harbour a bit further north which is only usable on the high half of the tidal range, which cam vary by as much as ten metres. At the top of the steps a stone archway leads onto a broad track, part of the coastal path, which I followed north toward the harbour. From the low cliff there was a good view over the Rosaire Steps to Jethou and the nearby rocky islets (picture 6).
Just before the track reaches the harbour, a harbour crane stands in front of the White House Hotel (picture 7). Nearby, the small walled harbour was devoid of water due to the low state of the tide (picture 8).
The recently-restored crane was originally mounted on metal tracks on the harbour arm and was used to load pink granite quarried on the island onto ships bound for London, where the stone was used in the construction of Blackfriars Bridge and the Thames Embankment.
While the rest of the thirty-or-so passengers from the ferry milled about the harbour or headed for the nearby café or gift shops, I decided to head straight out on the coastal path while I would have it almost entirely to myself.
The coastal path, still a broad unsealed track, heads past the Mermaid Tavern (picture 9) — which I made a mental note to return to later — and along the back of Fishermans Beach (picture 10). Inland, there was a view across Long Meadow to the solitary Fisherman's Cottage and up to the spine of the island (picture 11). Attached to the gate of the meadow was a funny sign (picture 12) and while no bulls were visible, I opted to decline the implied challenge.
The coastal path goes through a shady patch of woodland (picture 13) above the end of Fishermans Beach then skirts the north-western edge of the island's plateau above Bears Beach (picture 14). In a small clearing in the bracken to the left of the path is a tiny cemetery. The two people buried there are believed to have been victims of an 1873 shipwreck.
Just past the cemetery a grassy path forks off from the dusty track and aims for the foot of the small peak of Le Petit Monceau (picture 15) before veering left to pass a rocky outcrop at the end of Bears Beach and continue onto Oyster Point (picture 16), where the bracken gives way to marram grass as the path approaches the north-western corner of Herm.
From Oyster Point there was a good view across the group of nearby rocky islets to Guernsey (picture 17).
Turning across the northern end of the island, there is no obvious path to follow. One can either walk along the pristine Mouisonniere Beach or along the grassy edge of The Common (picture 18). About halfway across The Common, a strange stone obelisk, Pierre aux Rats, stands in the dunes (picture 19). This was built by quarrymen as a navigation aid for local fishermen.
At Alderney Point, the northernmost point on Herm, one can see another string of low, rocky islets stretching out for almost five kilometres to the northeast (picture 20).
At Alderney Point the coast route turns south along the edge of The Common above the straight stretch of Shell Beach, with views across the Great Roussel to the island of Sark (picture 21), which would remain visible all the way down the east side of Herm. This corner of The Common was carpeted in the distinctive sea holly (picture 22).
Near the end of Shell Beach, the coastal path climbs behind the beach kiosk, which had just opened for the first handful of people who had walked across the island from the harbour. There is a good view back along the beach (picture 23) before the path winds its way along the low cliff amongst head-high ferns on Frenchman's Point to reach Belvoir Bay, where a dozen eager beachgoers were getting off a crowded little boat as I followed the path around the sheltered bay (picture 24). Standing off the next point a little further along the path is the prominent granite islet of Caquorobert.
The path continues along the hillside above the cliffs, gradually gaining height and rounding the point nearest to Caquorobert to pass above Puffin Bay, which has its own little islet of Putrainez (picture 25). A short stretch of the path is shaded by trees as it circles around the top of a small coombe before returning to the fern-covered clifftop to work its way around Threepenny Hill (picture 27) to reach Pointe de Sauzebourge at the south-west corner of Herm, and the closest point to Jethou (picture 28). It was here that I passed the first people I had seen walking on the coastal path.
From the viewpoint it was a short walk back to the Rosaire Steps to complete my circuit of Herm. The second ferry of the day was unloading as I arrived and was carrying many more passengers than the first, making me rather glad that I hadn't wasted any time in starting my walk.
It had only taken me until just after eleven o'clock to finish my walk, so I still had plenty of time on my hands to explore Herm further. After an early lunch in the Mermaid Tavern, I climbed Herm's only road through woodland and up to the small Manor Village, which includes the St Tuguals Chapel (picture 29), named after a 6th century monk. Parts of the chapel could be as old as the 10th century, but the bulk of the current building is 13th century.
From Manor Village I headed north on a track along the spine of the island (picture 30). From the end of the plateau at Le Grande Monceau, there are good views over The Common (picture 31) and the harbour (picture 32).
On the hillside overlooking The Common is Robert's Cross (picture 33), a small chambered tomb constructed sometime between 2,500 BC and 1,200 BC. Aside from the earth on top of the tomb having eroded away, the structure is mostly intact, unlike several other prehistoric tombs on Herm that were destroyed for their stone during Herm's granite-quarrying heyday. From Robert's Cross, a narrow path leads across The Common and up to Le Petit Monceau and the remains of one of the broken up tombs (picture 34).
Heading south from Manor Village, the path along the spine of the island passes above the scenic Seagull Campsite (picture 35) and on between fields to join the coastal path above Puffin Bay.
After heading back over to Shell Beach for some afternoon tea at the kiosk and a walk along the (now rather crowded) beach, I returned to the Rosaire Steps (picture 36) in time to catch the second-last ferry of the day back to Guernsey, where there was still enough daylight for an evening walk around the fringes of St Peter Port.