Stage 6: Alderney

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

After getting the ferry from Sark back to Guernsey, I headed over to Guernsey's airport for the short flight to Alderney, the most northerly of the Channel Islands and the closest to France. Alderney lies thirty kilometres north-east of Guernsey and just fifteen kilometres west of the Cherbourg Peninsula at the north-west tip of Normandy.

This is the shortest flight I've ever taken, with it taking longer to get the sixteen passengers strapped into the little cabin and run through the safety briefing than the twelve-minute scheduled length of the flight. As it turned out, the flight was slightly longer than scheduled, as we had to fly an extra circle around the island while the airport staff chased a flock of seagulls off the runway. Nobody was complaining at this development, however, as it gave us all an extra chance to soak in the marvellous aerial views of the island.

Alderney is slightly larger than Sark, covering eight square kilometres, but there aren't many other similarities between them. Alderney is more heavily populated, with most of its 2,000 residents living in the town of St Anne, slightly to the west of the centre of the island. There are a handful of other hamlets to the north and east of St Anne, while the area to the west is mostly empty aside from the small airport, which is about ten minutes walk from the centre of town. Unlike Sark, Alderney has embraced the automobile and the railway (well sort of; more about that later).

Alderney was heavily fortified during the 1850s, when there were plans to base a British naval fleet here in response to the building of a French naval base at Cherbourg. Thirteen Victorian forts and batteries encircled most of the coast, with only the high cliffs of the south-west left relatively undefended. These defences were soon made obsolete by the development of ironclad warships and rifled artillery in the 1860s. By the early 20th century only one fort was still operational.

There was more upheaval during World War II. On 23 June 1940, almost the entire population of Alderney (then about 1,500 people) were evacuated to mainland Britain. The Germans arrived on 2 July to find only nineteen people left on the island and promptly deported them to Guernsey, leaving no islanders to witness what took place on Alderney over the next five years. In 1942, around 6,000 prisoners, mainly Russian and Polish prisoners of war and Jewish slave workers, were shipped in and held in four internment camps. They were forced to work on building German fortifications and treated very harshly by their captors. More than 700 of these prisoners would never leave Alderney alive.

Dozens of German bunkers, bomb shelters, searchlight positions and artillery batteries are still dotted around the coast and hilltops of Alderney, some of them entirely untouched since the end of the war. Indeed, on my last day on Alderney I came across a small group of archaeologists and volunteers who were clearing dense foliage from a bunker that they were about to open up for the first time in more than seventy years.

When the first islanders finally returned to Alderney in December 1945, seven months after the German surrender, they found the island in a very poor state. The island's traditional system of farming, which had been in place since Anglo-Saxon times had collapsed in their absence and their homes were in ruins. The occupiers had stripped most of the buildings down as they became more and more desperate for firewood and other resources after the Channel Islands were cut off from German supply lines by the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The massive task of rebuilding the islanders' homes and economy stretched on well into the 1050s.

My four-night stay in on Alderney turned out to be in the middle of Alderney Week, a carnival that swells the population by several thousand for nine days. As well as nightly concerts on the cricket ground overlooking the harbour, Alderney Week's calendar of events also included a "quarry party" and a small beer festival in one of the German bunkers.

The Adventurer's Rest

(1) The Adventurer's Rest

Town Church

(2) Town Church

View towards Sark, Herm and Guernsey near Vau du Fret

(3) View towards Sark, Herm and Guernsey near Vau du Fret

Wildlife Bunker

(4) Wildlife Bunker

Unusually for a coastal walk, this 20-kilometre circuit of Alderney starts near the centre of the island, outside the Alderney Tourist Information Centre on Victoria Street, the main shopping street in St Anne. I was staying a few doors down the street in the Adventurer's Rest (picture 1), in a room overlooking the Victorian-era Parish Church of St Anne (picture 2), which is usually referred to simply as the Town Church.

After a fabulous breakfast I wandered down to the tourist office then reversed direction to walk southward up Victoria Street, named after Queen Victoria, who visited Alderney in 1854. At the end of the street I turned left for a few metres on the High Street (which is almost purely residential) and then right on Venelle Sauchet. The short lane leads to a left turn along Le Bourgage and then a right turn onto La Brecque Philippe.

This long lane heads south between close-packed houses to leave the town, becoming a grassy track that heads out between fields. Beyond a concrete-walled enclosure housing a tall radio mast is a junction of paths about a hundred metres back from the cliffs of Alderney's south coast. A small white plaque in the grass indicates that the Coast Path goes both left and right from the junction and, since the Channel Islands Way includes a clockwise walk around Alderney, I turned right.

The grassy path heads slightly downhill through bracken to cross the small valley of Vau du Fret before climbing up to skirt to the seaward side of a large house called Les Quatre Vents (picture 3). On the horizon, from left to right, are Sark, Herm and Guernsey.

Just past the house, the path reaches an underground German bunker (picture 4) that has been restored by the Alderney Wildlife Trust and is filled with informative displays on the island's history, birds, plants and landscape.

Standing Stone

(5) Standing Stone


(6) Fourquie

Lager Sylt Concentration Camp

(7) Lager Sylt Concentration Camp

Telegraph Tower

(8) Telegraph Tower

Leaving the Wildlife Bunker, the path crosses another shallow valley, Val du Saou, to reach a standing stone (picture 5) by a bend in a dusty track. Rather than following the track, the Coast Path turns left to take a grassy path out to the clifftops.

The path snakes its way along the clifftop with a few minor ups and downs before it comes up above the little cove of Fourquie (picture 6). Rather than circling around the cove, the path turns inland, heading a short distance up Val L'Emauve to join the track encountered earlier. The track is followed past a little guard post from the Occupation that resembles a stubby concrete rocket and onward until a footpath turns off to the left.

Before I took that turn I walked on a few metres further and took a track that turns sharp right up to the gates of the Lager Sylt Concentration Camp (picture 7). Opened in early 1942, the camp became the most notorious of the four camps on Alderney once the SS took over running it in March 1943 and used it to house Jewish slave workers and political opponents of the Nazis. Around 400 prisoners died here over the following fifteen months. Only one of the camp's buildings still exists as most of the site is now occupied by Alderney's airport.

I made one more short diversion before rejoining the Coast Path, walking a little further along the track to visit the Telegraph Tower (picture 8). The tower was built on Alderney's highest point in 1811 to allow semaphore signals to be seen on Sark, where they could then be relayed to Guernsey.

Lookout above Telegraph Bay

(9) Lookout above Telegraph Bay

Telegraph Bay

(10) Telegraph Bay

Arcus Air flight

(11) Arcus Air flight

Les Etacs and Casquets

(12) Les Etacs and Casquets

Back on the Coast Path, I followed a grassy path through the gorse of the Vallee des Gaudulons to a small lookout post on the headland between Fourquie and Telegraph Bay (picture 9). The path runs along the clifftop above Telegraph Bay (picture 10), briefly heading inland to circle around the top of a small coombe before reaching a clifftop viewpoint with a handy bench. While I rested there a small plane took off from the nearby airport (picture 11).

The coastal path cuts off the headland of Tete de Judemarre on the south-west corner of Alderney, instead turning inland by the bench above Telegraph Bay to head down the valley behind it. The headland does merit a visit though as there are remains of a former gun battery and a good view over the rocks of Les Etacs, a bird colony that was teeming with thousands of gannets (picture 12).

On the horizon beyond Les Etacs is the Casquets, the exposed peak of an underwater ridge that lies thirteen kilometres north-west of Alderney. Three towers were built on the rocks in 1724 to provide a light to warn ships away. In 1877 one of the towers was raised to provide the current Casquets Lighthouse, which I got a closer view of a few weeks earlier from the ferry between Poole and Guernsey.

Vallee des Trois Vaux

(13) Vallee des Trois Vaux

Les Etacs

(14) Les Etacs

Batterie Annes

(15) Batterie Annes

Hannaine Bay and Burhou

(16) Hannaine Bay and Burhou

Back at the viewpoint above Telegraph Bay, the Coast Path heads gently downhill into the Vallee des Trois Vaux (picture 13), descending to a low clifftop above Trois Vaux Bay with another view of Les Etacs (picture 14). The path turns right to climb steeply up the grassy side of the valley to Batterie Annes, where the circular foundations of a WWII artillery emplacement stand next to a sharp bend in a dusty track (picture 15).

The track is followed past two more emplacements on the left and a couple of underground bunkers on the right. At a junction the Coast Path turns left past one more emplacement and then right to run along the hillside above Hannaine Bay, where there are views to the barren and uninhabited little island of Burhou to the north-west (picture 16).

Fort Clonque

(17) Fort Clonque

Clonque Bay

(18) Clonque Bay

Fort Tourgis

(19) Fort Tourgis

Cambridge Battery

(20) Cambridge Battery

Eventually the path starts to zigzag down the point that separates Hannaine Bay from the neighbouring Clonque Bay, passing a small underground bomb shelter part of the way down. Offshore on a rocky islet at the end of a tidal causeway is Fort Clonque (picture 17), the first of the chain of Victorian fortresses around Alderney's coastline. This one is owned by the Landmark Trust and can be rented as holiday accommodation.

The Coast Path follows a vehicle track around Clonque Bay close to sea-level (picture 18). On the far side of the bay the track runs below Fort Tourgis (picture 19) and past the adjoining Cambridge Battery (picture 20).


(21) Burhou

Platte Saline

(22) Platte Saline

Fort Doyle

(23) Fort Doyle

Crabby Bay

(24) Crabby Bay

There is a good view towards Burhou (picture 21) as the track becomes tarmacked and rounds the north-west corner of Alderney below the fort. Now heading east, the Coast Path soon bears left off the tarmac to follow an unsealed track behind the sandy crescent of Platte Saline (picture 22).

Halfway around the bay, the track passes the shell of Fort Platte Saline, now used as a gravel depot. On the rocky promontory at the far end of the beach is Fort Doyle (picture 23). A cutting on the landward side of the fort takes the path through to the smaller Crabby Bay (picture 24), where Fort Groznez stands on the next headland.

Alderney Power Station

(25) Alderney Power Station

Braye Harbour

(26) Braye Harbour

The Affray Submarine Memorial

(27) The Affray Submarine Memorial

Braye Road

(28) Braye Road

The path joins the coastal road around Crabby Bay, passing Alderney's ambulance and fire stations then the island's power station (picture 25) before crossing a disused railway track to reach a small green overlooking the inner section of Braye Harbour (picture 26).

The harbour was established in 1736, although the 910 metre breakwater wasn't started until 1847 and took 17 years to complete. A second planned breakwater on the eastern side was never built.

The Coast Path goes a little further along the road before turning right across a carpark to the Affray Submarine Memorial (picture 27) by the outer harbour. The Affray was sunk on 16 April 1951 with the loss of 75 crew.

The route follows Braye Road between rows of warehouses (picture 28). Those on the left have been converted into restaurants and the Braye Beach Hotel.

Braye Road Station

(29) Braye Road Station

Braye Common

(30) Braye Common

Braye Beach

(31) Braye Beach

Approaching Mount Hale Battery

(32) Approaching Mount Hale Battery

At a crossroads beyond the last warehouse, the coastal route turns left onto Braye Common, a large grassy area behind the sandy Braye Beach, which is sheltered by the long breakwater. Across the road is the tiny Braye Road Station (picture 29), the terminus of the Alderney Railway.

The Alderney Railway was opened in 1847, primarily to carry stone from quarries on the eastern end of the island to build the breakwater. The track along the breakwater is now disused, but the three kilometres of track from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry is still open and on a few days each month a diesel locomotive plies the line with two ex-London Underground carriages in tow. The Alderney Railway is the last remaining working railway in the Channel Islands.

The Coast Path runs along the wide, grassy strip of Braye Common (picture 30) to the far end of Braye Beach (picture 31) where the path is forced to join the coastal road. On the headland ahead (picture 32) is Fort Albert, while to its right, nearer the road, is the Mount Hale Battery.

Fort Albert

(33) Fort Albert

Mount Hale Battery and Barracks

(34) Mount Hale Battery and Barracks

Roselle Point

(35) Roselle Point

Braye Harbour

(36) Braye Harbour

The road is followed past the battery and the Alderney Football Club to a five-way intersection by a bus shelter. The coastal path turns left on a track that climbs past the walls of Fort Albert (picture 33), gaining a good view over the battery and its neighbouring barracks (picture 34).

At the top of the track is a viewpoint looking out over Roselle Point, where there are several German fortifications (picture 35) and also over Braye Harbour and the breakwater (picture 36).

Bibette Headland

(37) Bibette Headland

Saye Bay

(38) Saye Bay

Tunnel to Arch Bay

(39) Tunnel to Arch Bay

Arch Bay and Chateau a L'Etocs

(40) Arch Bay and Chateau a L'Etocs

A worn footpath continues from Roselle Point, below the walls of Fort Albert before heading downhill to meet a track by Saye Bay. The Coast Path turns right along the track, but it is worth first turning the other way to explore Bibette Point (picture 37), where there are fifteen separate German strictures.

The track runs part of the way around Saye Beach (picture 38) — apparently pronounced "soy" — and when the track bears inland the Coast Path runs along the edge of the Saye Beach Campsite, where the Campsite Cafe proved to be a good spot to stop for afternoon tea.

On the far side of the campsite a tunnel (picture 39) goes under a road leading to the fortress of Chateau a L'Etoc. On the other side, the path turns right beside Arch Bay, while to the left is a good view of the large fortress (picture 40), now a private residence.

Corblets Bay

(41) Corblets Bay

Corblets Quarry

(42) Corblets Quarry

Corblets Fort

(43) Corblets Fort

The Odeon

(44) The Odeon

The road is followed around Corblets Beach (picture 41), while across the road the Corblets Quarry (picture 42) has become a reservoir for fresh water, like several other former quarries on the island.

On the next headland, the coastal path circles around the seaward side of Fort Corblets (picture 43). The view inland is dominated by a German observation tower, dubbed The Odeon, which perches on the edge of the cliff above the Mannez Quarry at the eastern end of the Alderney Railway.

Veaux Trembliers Bay

(45) Veaux Trembliers Bay

Mannez Lighthouse

(46) Mannez Lighthouse

Fort Les Hommeaux Florians

(47) Fort Les Hommeaux Florians

Fort Quesnard

(48) Fort Quesnard

The path goes around the back of Veaux Trembliers Bay (picture 45) and briefly joins a road before bearing off again to pass to the left of the Mannez Lighthouse (picture 46), which was built in 1912. On some flat rocks just offshore, Fort Les Hommeaux Florians (picture 47) is in a very poor state, having been abandoned to the sea after the causeway connecting it to Alderney was washed away in a storm.

The path has another brief encounter with the road, following it past the landward side of Fort Quesnard (picture 48), another Victorian fortress that has been converted to private use.

Fort Houmet Herbe

(49) Fort Houmet Herbe

Fort Raz

(50) Fort Raz

Longis Bay

(51) Longis Bay

Bunker 22

(52) Bunker 22

Behind the fort, a signpost for Longis Bay indicates a path that rounds the eastern tip of Alderney, soon passing by Fort Houmet Herbe (picture 49), which stands on a flat offshore platform of granite.

The path now turns south-westward, passing a few scattered homes and then crossing a Victorian rifle range where a long stone wall was a backstop protecting now-vanished cottages. A track to the left of the wall leads behind a German anti-tank wall that runs most of the way around Longis Bay, built to prevent British tanks coming ashore here had there been any attempt to oust the occupiers by force. A gap in the wall reveals a causeway leading to Fort Raz (picture 50), the last of the Victorian forts passed on the Coast Path.

The rising tide was soon to cover the causeway, so I had to leave a visit to the fort for another day and instead pressed on around Longis Bay (picture 51). The path around the bay is partly on the coast road, the Route des Carrieres, and partly in the grass on the inland side of the road. On the western side of the bay, a large German bunker is built into the anti-tank wall next to the road (picture 52).

The Nunnery

(53) The Nunnery

Essex Castle

(54) Essex Castle

Essex Hill

(55) Essex Hill

Normandy Coast

(56) Normandy Coast

Just past the bunker is the stone-walled enclosure of The Nunnery (picture 53), a fortified home thought to have originally been a Roman fortress dating from around 350 AD. The coastal route stays with the road for a few more minutes until it reaches a left turn onto Essex Hill, which climbs up to the hilltop Essex Castle (picture 54), named for the Earl of Essex who purchased the position of Governor of Alderney in 1591 but was executed for treason just a decade later. Looking back over Longis Bay from this vantage point I could see that most of the causeway to Fort Raz was already underwater.

Beyond the castle, where the road turns sharp right to head into the castle grounds, a footpath on the left heads out across Essex Hill (picture 55) to the southern cliffs of Alderney, now on the home stretch of the Coast Path. To the east there was a good view of the Normandy coast (picture 56), about seventeen kilometres away — close enough to pick out houses and a few moving cars with my binoculars.

L'Etac de la Quoire

(57) L'Etac de la Quoire


(58) Cachaliere

Vau du Fret

(59) Vau du Fret

Path back to St Anne

(60) Path back to St Anne

The path meanders through the gorse before leaving Essex Hill behind and circling around the inlet of La Tchue and passing above the former coastal quarry that now houses the island's waste centre before briefly following its access road uphill to find the next footpath on the left. Now running just outside fields, the clifftop path rounds the small inlet of Les Becquets and then passes above the inaccessible Blue Stone Beach, where the rocks of L'Etac de la Quoire lie just offshore (picture 57).

The last stretch of the path runs a little back from the clifftop of Cachaliere (picture 58) to reach the junction of paths above Vau du Fret, where I had set off along the cliffs in the morning (picture 59). It was then a simple matter to retrace my steps across the fields in the golden evening sunshine (picture 60) to return to the tourist office St Anne.

The official distance for this walk is twenty kilometres, but with the various little side-trips I had made along the way my GPS was showing almost 23 kilometres when I reached the end of the walk.

View over Braye Harbour from The Butes

(61) View over Braye Harbour from The Butes

Alderney Railway

(62) Alderney Railway

Puffin Statue

(63) Puffin Statue

Longis Bay

(64) Longis Bay

Back in town, the high ground of the Butes playing field, home of the Alderney Cricket Club, had been taken over by a variety of marquees as part of the Alderney Week festival. From the edge of the cricket ground there was a good view over Braye Harbour as the twilight set in (picture 61), though I did wonder how many cricket balls have never been seen again after being hit over the boundary.

The following morning I went for a walk to the end of the breakwater, which still has the rusty rails of the Alderney Railway embedded in it. In the afternoon the weather deteriorated but I was fortunate enough to discover that the railway was running an unscheduled service for the festival, so after lunch in the Divers Inn I trotted over to Braye Road Station to board an old Northern Line carriage (picture 62) for the leisurely fifteen minute journey over to Mannez Quarry.

The sunny weather returned for my last full day on Alderney and I headed for the eastern end of the island. On the way to Longis Bay I passed a large statue of a puffin, imaginatively carved out of a tree stump (picture 63).

The bay itself was popular with visitors and I walked around the sandy beach beside the long anti-tank wall to cross the causeway over to Fort Raz, though at the time of my visit the fort was partly closed for renovation.

The Odeon

(65) The Odeon

Hammond Memorial

(66) Hammond Memorial

Walking on the Alderney Railway

(67) Walking on the Alderney Railway

Fort Tourgis

(68) Fort Tourgis

Heading east along the road from Longis Bay, I found a track leading uphill to The Odeon (picture 65). With a fine view over the eastern end of Alderney, the five-storey tower was built as part of a large battery that included five 88-millimetre flak guns. More than a dozen related structures cover the plateau behind the tower and it was here that I met the team of archaeologists clearing dense gorse from the entrance of a bunker that was sealed after the German surrender.

A footpath winds its way westward across the plateau to meet a road above the Corblets Quarry. At a junction further west the road passes the Hammond Memorial (picture 66), which remembers the foreign labourers who died in Alderney's prison camps.

After wandering eastward to the Mannez Lighthouse, I walked back to St Anne along the track of the Alderney Railway (picture 67), which the locals seem to use as a convenient footpath when the train isn't running. The previous evening I had even seen a large group of people in formal attire walking along the track to an event associated with the festival.

I still had some time up my sleeve in the afternoon, so I headed over to the north-west corner of the island to explore Fort Tourgis (picture 68). The fort was completed in 1855, when it had a total of 33 heavy cannon in its five batteries and a garrison of almost 350 men. It was the largest of Alderney's Victorian forts before Fort Albert was built a few years later. Fort Tourgis is open to the public and there's a lot to explore, though much of it is in a poor state of repair and the main barracks building on the eastern side of the citadel is unsafe to enter.