Islands that William held before he conquered England
Lying some 14 miles off the French coast, the Channel Islands are much nearer to France than they are to Britain. Yet the islands were never owned by France. They once belonged to William, Duke of Normandy, and as it was he who conquered England the islanders claim that England is part of the Channel Islands, not the other way round. A mere 30 miles separates Jersey, to the south, from Alderney, to the north. Yet they seem poles apart.
The Royal Square of Jersey’s capital, lined with chestnut trees and paved with granite, could be in any small French town; in the adjoining streets there are pavement cafes, perfumeries and bars that stay open all day. But there are reminders that Jersey’s nearest mainland neighbour was not always friendly. Looming above the harbour is Fort Regent, built between 1806 and 1814 when Napoleonic France seemed poised to invade. It was a rather belated fortification, since the French had tried to capture the island in 1781, and were soundly defeated by the local militia in the Battle of Jersey. The fort now contains a leisure complex and its towering ramparts are topped by a modern domed and scalloped roof.
On a rocky islet in the bay stands an earlier fortress, the 16th-century Elizabeth Castle. It was named after Elizabeth I by Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor of Jersey from 1600 to 1603. The castle was held against Cromwell by Sir George Carteret until it was overwhelmed in 1651. After his restoration to the throne, Charles II remembered Carteret’s loyalty and gave him a province in America. Carteret called it New Jersey.
Elizabeth Castle can be visited by means of a causeway at low tide. It contains the Jersey Militia Museum and relics of the German occupation during the Second World War.
Linked to St Helier by a seafront road, lined with houses and hotels all the way, St Aubin was Jersey’s original port. It has a small harbour built in 1675, and in the narrow streets above are some of the houses built by merchants who used the port. The harbour faces east across the wide St Aubin’s Bay.
Noirmont Point is owned by the States of Jersey, and is preserved as a memorial of the Second World War. The German command bunker can be visited on certain days during the summer. Near by there is a gun platform with a German coastal artillery gun.
This is one of Jersey’s most popular beaches and has many of the usual seaside attractions. At low tide there is a mile of firm, golden sand, bathing is safe, and water sports include windsurfing and water-skiing. Boats can be hired. The beach is backed by an attractive promenade with palm-fringed gardens and fountains.
The jagged, needle-sharp rocks exposed at low tide are frighteningly impressive on this barren peninsula jutting out from Jersey’s western corner. On its tip stands Britain’s first concrete lighthouse, built in 1874; it can be reached by a causeway at low tide, but cannot be visited.
The tide comes in fast at Corbiere, and a siren is sounded when the causeway is about to be covered. A concrete track leads down from the coast road, and there is a car park at the head of the causeway.
ST OUEN’S BAY
Jersey’s finest beach, a shimmering plain of sand, stretches for almost the full length of the island’s western coast. When the tide is out the water’s edge almost disappears from view; when the tide is coming in it often does so in spectacular fashion, thundering across the beach in great curling arcs of green and white water.
Surf boards can be hired and surfing competitions are held during the summer. Bathing is safe only for strong swimmers, and the beach is patrolled by lifeguards. Behind the beach there are car parks, some of them among the sand-dunes that stretch inland for almost a mile. Also among the dunes are putting greens, a golf course and a golf driving range.
FIGS AND FERNS The Hottentot-fig, introduced from South Africa, grows in the Channel Islands but does not produce ripe seeds. Its flowers range from magenta to yellow. Jersey fern is the opy annual fern in Britain, and its golden-green fronds are seen only in Guernsey and Jersey on damp, southwest facing hedgebanks.
The beauty of this rocky little bay can best be appreciated from Noirmont Point, a bluff headland on the eastern side. Wooded hills rise steeply from the foreshore, where a sandy beach is exposed at low tide. Just off the shore is an islet, lie au Guerdain, crowned by an 18th-century Martello tower, one of manv in the Channel Islands built as defences during the Napoleonic Wars. This one is sometimes called Janvrin’s Tomb, after a Jersey sea captain who was buried there in 1721 when a plague on his ship killed all on board. Above the bay there is a car park, and steep steps lead down to the beach.
A holiday camp sprawls across this northern headland, but a track near the camp entrance leads down to a sandy beach with rocks and caves. The track, however, is very rough, with few passing places, and in the car park there is room for only a dozen or so cars.
GREVE DE LECQ
The B40 road to this attractive beach runs through the wooded Greve de Lecq valley, passing on its way Le Moulin de Lecq, a watermill which is now an inn, though the wheel is still in place and still turning. The sandy beach has expanses of flat rocks at low tide and is sheltered by grassy cliffs. There are car parks and several cafes.
THE DEVIL’S HOLE
Between Plemont Point and Sorel Point, rugged rock faces climb sheer from the water, in some places pierced by the waves to leave natural formations such as The Devil’s Hole. The CI03 road leads to the spot, which is signposted from the B33.
Alongside the footpath leading down from a car park stands a giant effigy of the Evil One, in the middle of a pond, as if to convince visitors they are about to see a work of the Devil. But the hole is a natural phenomenon, where the sea has cut through a huge rock and at high tide boils and booms in a rocky cauldron. At other times the stiff walk down and steep climb back to the car park are hardly worth the effort.
BONNE NUIT BAY
This is another of Jersey’s north-coast bays, small and sandy with a fishing harbour at the foot of high cliffs. Anglers may catch mullet or bream from the harbour jetty. Outside the bay is Cheval Rock, and an ancient superstition says that rowing round the rock will avert bad luck for the season.
Just around the headland of Fremont Point are Wolf Caves. A sign near the cliff edge warns that the footpath down should not be attempted by the taint-hearted – it is very steep and rough, and the caves cannot be entered at high tide.
The bay is mostly shingle, and bathing is not safe except for strong swimmers. There is a small pier from which lobster fishermen operate. Professional skin divers give lessons at the Underwater Centre, and equipment is available for hire. The road out from Bouley Bay, with its twisting hairpin bends, is a venue for the National Motor Hill-climbing Championship.
Sandier than Bouley Bay, this little fishing harbour is more popular with boat owners than with motorists, who find parking difficult. The eastward approach to the bay is along a wooded valley, and picturesque fishermen’s cottages line the street down to the harbour.
Jersey’s eastern side has three bays – Fliquet, St Catherine’s and the Royal Bay of Grouville which sweeps southwards from the town and harbour of Gorey. Above the harbour stands Mont Orgueil Castle, with its magnificent 13th-century keep, Elizabethan tower and rambling outworks, gates and sally ports. From its ramparts there are views all along the coast – northwards to the mile-long breakwater at St Catherine, southwards down to La Rocque Point.
Cars can be parked on the jetty at Gorey for a limited period, and near by there are restaurants, inns and cafes. The beach is bordered by gardens and a golf course.
ST CLEMENT’S BAY
This bay on Jersey’s south-eastern tip has a I1/: mile long sandy beach and is easily reached from St Helier, 2 miles to the west. A few hundred vards from the shore is Green Island, the southernmost point in the British Isles. It can be reached at low tide and has a small, sheltered beach.
Once upon a time, so the story goes, the fairies on Guernsey decided to tow Alderney away. They tied a rope to the cliffs, but succeeded only in bending the rock outwards. Hanging Rock is still there, jutting out like a giant hat peg, and Alderney is still there, only 8 miles from the French coast.
The island’s north and north-eastern coasts were fortified with a chain of 12 forts in the mid-19th century, with the intention of blockading Cherbourg. The forts now compete with German blockhouses as landmarks along Alderney’s rugged coast.
There are few roads on the island, but rough tracks lead to some magnificent headland views, such as those from Essex Hill, the Giffoine and Telegraph Bay. The best bathing beaches are at Corblets Bay and Arch Bav on the north-east coast, and Brave Bay and Save Bay on the north coast. There is also a harbour at Braye, the island’s only safe anchorage, which is close to St Anne.
Alderney’s only town, St Anne, has all the old-world charm of a Normandy village with tiny squares, pastel-shaded cottages and shops and granite-cobbled streets that hammer the remaining shreds of life out of the old cars that abound on the island. Cars can be hired, but a better way to explore the island is on foot or by bicycle. There are boat trips around the island from Brave Harbour.