CHANNEL ISLANDS WAY
Stage 9: Greve de Lecq to La Corbiere
Monday, August 14, 2017
When I returned to Le Greve de Lecq, the tourist hotspot was already beginning to fill up with visitors. That was probably at least partly to do with the weather, which was around ten degrees warmer than the previous day.
Before heading out on the Channel Islands Way, I backtracked up Le Chemin du Catel for the view over the bay (picture 1). The concrete structure in the foreground and its white-painted twin across the bay are German coastal defence bunkers similar to the pair I had passed a couple of days earlier by the Royal Bay of Grouville.
Halfway back down the hill is the Greve de Lecq Barracks (picture 2), built in 1810 to house the 150 men who garrisoned the Catel Fort on the east side of the bay, two batteries on the west side of the bay, and the loophole tower that is now marooned in the middle of a carpark about 100 metres behind the beach. The Barracks is now owned by the National Trust for Jersey and has a small museum in one of the buildings.
At the foot of the hill below the barracks, the St Mary's Millennium Cross stands by the sharp right turn back towards the beach (picture 3). Past a couple of houses on the left is the carpark containing the aforementioned Greve de Lecq Tower (picture 4), built in 1780 and now partly underground as the ground level was raised when the carpark was built.
Adjacent to the carpark, the Channel Islands Way heads up a lane to the left of the Prince of Wales Hotel (picture 5). Beyond a couple of houses the lane becomes a narrow footpath that climbs steadily onto the headland to the west of the bay. There is a good view back along the coast to Sorel Point (picture 6) before the path bends left and joins the Rue du Moulin, which heads up to a little hamlet where three houses surround a junction. Turning right on the Chemin de la Commune du Fief du Lecq leads to a fork with a flagpole (picture 7).
The Way takes the left fork between two houses, while the right fork runs into the Lecq Clay Target Shooting Club. A metal gate blocks the end of the lane, where a fingerpost points left on a footpath that descends into the sheltered valley of Les Coupes (picture 8).
Having followed a trickling stream down the valley, the path crosses it and climbs up to Le Grand Becquet (picture 9), running along the clifftop to Le Petit Becquet. Two more small valleys are crossed in quick succession to return to the clifftop at Plemont and, just beyond a National Trust for Jersey sign, the lower ground of Plemont Point comes into view (picture 10).
The path passes just below and a concrete WWII fortification and then at a second, which overlooks the ruin of Plemont Fort on the narrow neck of the headland, the path turns uphill to a carpark at the end of Rue de Petit Plemont. The road is followed to a carpark on the right, which is crossed to find a path that descends a gorse-covered slope to cross the Route de Plemont.
Before continuing on the Way, I walked down to the end of the road, where the Plemont Cafe overlooks Plemont Bay. A long flight of steps leads down the rocky cliff below the cafe to the Bay (picture 11), where there is a sandy beach at low tide, though when I arrived it was entirely covered (picture 12).
Back up the road, the coastal path climbs steps up to the clifftops above Plemont Bay (picture 13). The path snakes its way along the cliff to Groznez Point at the north-west corner of Jersey, reaching a carpark near the ruins of the medieval Groznez Castle. Built around 1330, the castle once fortified the headland, surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs and on the landward side by a deep ditch with a drawbridge. The castle had several strategic weaknesses, however, including the lack of its own water supply, and was in use for less than two centuries before it was demolished.
I wandered up through the remains of the gatehouse (picture 14) and across to the other side of the bailey, where a path leads down to a little lighthouse in a cage perched on the very end of the headland (picture 15). There seemed to be a swarm of midges hereabouts, so I hastily departed to rejoin the coastal path.
From the carpark, the path takes up a more southerly direction, passing a sign introducing the Les Landes Site of Special Interest before it skirts around the rim of a rocky little inlet. There is one last good view beyond the inlet to Guernsey, Jethou, Herm and Sark (picture 16) before the path turns away to head down the west coast of Jersey.
For the next little while the Les Landes Racecourse is a short distance over to the left of the path but is out of sight as the path heads for a naval observation tower built during the Occupation (picture 17). At a fork the higher of two alternative paths leads past the square concrete shell of a wartime building before the paths join up again closer to the tower. The path passes behind the tower but it's only a very short diversion for a closer look at the exterior of the six-level structure (picture 18).
The path continues southward from the tower, soon passing between a German bunker and a gun emplacement and then above the tall granite spire of Le Pinacle (picture 19). Further along the clifftop the path passes several German artillery positions, all part of Battery Moltke. The last one has a restored German artillery piece (picture 20), one of several that were retrieved after being tipped over the cliffs at the end of the Occupation.
The cliffs reach their end just south of the battery and there is a fine view across St Ouen's Bay (picture 21) as the path begins to descend, zig-zagging steeply down to meet the Route des Havres at the foot of the massive granite outcrop of L'Etacq (picture 22).
The Way turns right along the tarmac to circle around three sides of L'Etacq before the road straightens out and starts to bear away from the beach below rocky slopes (picture 23). After about 300 metres a right turn along the stone-walled La Charriere Cappelain leads down to the beach. For a while La Virte Rue runs parallel to the beach, but when it bears away the coastal path continues as a stony track beside the sea wall (picture 24) and then eventually on top of the seawall.
After crossing a slipway at the foot of Chemin de la Brecquette, the path continues along the narrow top of the seawall, passing a modern house that looks like it was built into a Napoleonic or Victorian fort, but was actually built entirely from scratch (picture 25).
Beyond the fort the path hops off the seawall and meanders through the grassy dunes behind it, crossing a lane and passing the landward side of the Lewis Tower (picture 26). Rather than another Jersey loophole tower, this is a Martello tower, built in 1835 on the site of an earlier battery. Next door to the tower, a large German bunker beneath a grassy mound now houses the fascinating Channel Islands Military Museum (picture 27), which I visited a few days after this walk.
The path runs closer to the seawall after leaving the museum, passing the Barge Aground, a nautically-themed 1930's holiday house (picture 28), before the low seawall abruptly becomes a much taller concrete anti-tank wall.
The path runs behind the wall, temporarily losing sight of the beach before crossing two carparks and getting back on top of the seawall to squeeze past another large bunker next to the Kempt Tower (picture 29), the twin of the Lewis Tower, completed in the same year.
At the next beachside carpark a wide promenade path begins, passing the diminutive Square Fort, painted with a prominent stripe (picture 30). Nearby, another very large bunker emphasises the importance the Germans placed on defending St Ouen's Bay, which they saw a likely landing point for any attempt by the Allies to retake the island by force.
Next to a slipway, the path passes the Discovery Bay Hotel, where I stopped for a late lunch at Big Vern's Diner. Suitably re-energised, I trotted down the next stretch of the promenade and past La Caumine a Marie Best (picture 31). I initially mistook this little whitewashed building for a small chapel, but it is in fact a guardhouse and powder magazine dating from 1765. It is named after a mother who took her children there in 1815 seeking sanctuary during an outbreak of smallpox.
The remaining kilometre of the promenade holds comparatively little interest for the walker, with a couple of restaurants and a few smaller kiosks spaced out along it. At the end of the promenade I paused to look back across the bay to L'Etacq (picture 32).
Approaching the slipway at Le Braye, the end of the bay was getting quite near (picture 33). About 500 metres offshore, the Le Rocco Tower stands in the middle of a circular gun platform on a small islet (picture 34), reachable on foot at low tide. Completed in 1796, it is the only survivor of five loophole towers built around St Ouen's Bay.
From steps beside the slipway, a sandy path meanders along the edge of Les Blanches Banques, a large area of sand dunes that stretches more than a kilometre inland and a similar distance along the coast to the hamlet of La Pulente at the southern end of St Ouen's Bay (picture 35).
At a small beachside carpark, the coastal path ignores a road going down to a slipway and instead climbs steps to walk along a precarious path beside the Route de la Pulente as it climbs onto the next headland, L'Oeillere. When the road turns sharply left away from the coast, the Way turns right to follow a broad track out to a large German bunker built into the tip of the headland. This vantage point gives one last splendid view across St Ouen's Bay (picture 36).
The track turns away from the bunker to continue around the headland to the little cove of Le Petit Port, where the receding tide had left the beach marooned behind a lunar landscape of dark volcanic rocks (picture 37). At a fork the coastal route leaves the main track to take a narrower path down towards the beach, where the short Chemin du Petit Port is followed out to a right turn along the Rue du Grouet.
There is nowhere to walk here but on the road itself as it runs along the edge of the bay below houses. The road turns left by a rocky outcrop above the Le Grouet Slipway (picture 38) and climbs up onto the headland of La Corbiere, the south-western corner of Jersey.
Ignoring a lane that goes down to the tip of the headland, I followed the road around a left-hand bend before bearing off to the right towards the German Naval Observation Tower that stands on the southern edge of the headland (picture 39) — the end of the day's walk on the Channel Islands Way. My GPS showed only 17.7 kilometres walked for the day, though it felt like more than that, perhaps due to the unusually warm weather and my late finish the previous evening.
From beside the tower, there was a good view down to the La Corbiere Lighthouse, which stands on rocks at the end of a tidal causeway just off the end of headland (picture 40).
After a quick check of the bus timetable at the bus stop just up the road from the tower, I established that I had just under an hour before the next bus back to St Helier. I walked back to the lane I had ignored earlier, following it down onto the headland, which was heavily fortified during the Occupation.
Near the top of the lane is a sculpture of clasped hands (picture 41). This is a memorial for a shipwreck on 17 April 1995, when the French ferry Saint Malo ran onto rocks near La Corbiere. Thanks to the emergency services and nearby ships, the 307 people aboard were all rescued safely.
Further down the headland are several German bunkers, one of them repainted in camouflage colours (picture 42). Some of these structures were interconnected by tunnels.
Beyond a couple of houses on the tip of the headland, originally the lighthouse-keepers' cottages, the causeway leads out across rocks to the lighthouse (picture 43). The lighthouse was completed in 1873 and was the world's first to be built primarily of concrete.
A stone tablet embedded in the wall of one of the houses provides a sobering reminder for visitors to be careful about checking the tides before crossing the causeway. In 1946 an assistant lighthouse keeper was drowned while attempting to rescue a visitor who had been cut off by the tide. No such selfless assistance is available today, as the lighthouse was automated in 1974 and the keepers were withdrawn.
Fortunately, I had arrived very close to low tide, so it was safe to cross. Less fortunately, the lighthouse was covered in scaffolds and plastic for renovations, which spoiled the view a little. The view back up to the tower on the top of the headland was an excellent consolation prize, however, and I had a little time to peer into the rock pools beside the causeway before climbing back up to the road to catch the bus.