Quiet bays and early flowers near the coast of France
Although Guernsey, Sark and Herm are no more than 8 miles one from another, each has its own traditions and way of life. Guernsey is a bustling commercial com munity with tourism its main industry, though flowers and tomatoes are nurtured in acres of greenhouses. Herm and Sark, while welcoming visitors, are content to farm the land and let the rest of the world go its own way. There are no private cars on either island, and no airports.
ST PETER PORT
Guernsey’s capital is a town of narrow, cobbled streets and solid grey-granite buildings clambering up a steep hillside above the harbour. French street names give it a Continental flavour, but the architecture is predominantly English, from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. In the 18th-century Royal Court sits Guernsey’s parliament, the States of Deliberation, for though the islands are Crown Possessions they are not part of the United Kingdom, and Guernsey’s laws of government date back to Norman times.
For all St Peter Port’s old-world charm, it is the harbour that dominates the town. Its 70 acres include two marinas, docks for car and passenger ferries and three piers from which launches and hydrofoils skim like water insects across to Herm and Sark. At the harbour entrance stands the 13th-century Castle Cornet, which contains three military museums and an art gallery within its massive walls. South of the harbour is the town beach, in Havelet Bay. The foreshore is shingle, with sand at low tide, and bathing there is safe. Havelet Bay is popular with water-skiers, and is also the occasional venue for powerboat racing.
The house in which the French novelist Victor Hugo lived from 1855 until 1870 is now a museum, open on weekdays in summer.
The easiest way to approach this small, sheltered bay is by motor launch from St Peter Port. The 15 minute journey ends with a superb view of one of Guernsey’s prettiest bays, with trees cloaking the steep cliffs and tumbling almost to the water’s edge. The beach has stretches of firm sand at low tide, and there is safe bathing. Alternative approaches to Fermain are by the cliff path from St Peter Port, joined at La Valette just south of the town, or by a narrow lane leading from the main road at St Martin’s.
MOULIN HUET BAY
There are three beaches within this bay in the south-east corner of Guernsey: Petit Port, Moulin Huet and Saint’s Bay. All three are sandy and sheltered.
Moulin Huet beach is approached by a lane, ending at a small car park. Rocks are exposed at low tide, and there are caves in the cliff face. Petit Port is harder to reach, the final approach being down a flight of 365 steps. Saint’s Bay is reached by a lane which runs through a wooded vale, then divides just above the beach – about 200 yds down a gentle path. The right fork leads to a slipway.
The whole of Guernsey’s south coast is punctuated by tiny coves – many inaccessible except from the sea – rugged bays and rocky headlands. Icart Point is one such headland, with perhaps the finest views in the island. Westward lie La Bette Bay, Le Jaonnet Bay, Petit Bot Bay and Portelet Bay, with La Moye Point a craggy finger on the skyline.
Petit Bot is one of the few bays on the south coast that can be reached by road, and is also served by the local bus. There is a car park and cafe close to the beach, which has a pebbly foreshore with sand and rocks at half tide.
A cliff path runs the entire length of the south coast, and it can be joined at several headland points-Icart Point is one, La Moye Point is another – where there are car parks and sometimes a cafe.
About 2 miles to the north, at Les Vauxbelets, stands the Little Chapel. This tiny church was built by a monk, Brother Deodat, who based it on the grotto at Lourdes in France. It is open daily.
Guernsey’s coastal scenery changes dramatically on the western coast, from the high cliffs on the south to wide, flat bays of rock, sand and shingle. The cliffs have their last fling at Pleininont Point, the south-westerly tip of the island. Below the point, Rocquaine Bay curves around a sandy beach -Guernsey’s largest – which is never more than an arm’s length from the coast road.
A small peninsula of rocks, Pezeries Point, juts into the bay at the southern end, with a view across to Hanois lighthouse about a mile offshore. Within the bay is the tiny fishing harbour of Portelet (one of two places so named on the island), and Fort Grey. The 18th-century fort, reached by a causeway, is a maritime museum devoted mainly to the remains and records of ships wrecked on this treacherous coast.
Cars can be parked at Pezeries Point and at Portelet along the coast road. There is a slipway at Portelet, which also has a small, sandy beach where bathing is safe except at low tide.
A German lookout tower of the Second World War dominates this small and rocky bay. There are many such fortifications in the Channel Islands, grim reminders that Nazi Germany gained a tiny toehold on British soil. Below the tower a causeway leads to Lihou Island, 18 acres of rock crowned by the ruined walls of a 12th-century priory. The island is accessible only at low tide.
Behind Perelle Bay is one of Guernsey’s many megalithic tombs. This one, Le Trep-ied, is linked with legends of witchcraft and devil worship. In a 17th-century witch trial it was said that the Devil sat on the capstone while witches and warlocks danced around him.
This wide beach of sand and shingle is popular with surfers; they are, however, restricted to the centre of the bay, which is unsuitable for bathing at certain states of the tide. Flags mark the area when surfing is in progress. Beach anglers may catch bass in the turbulent waters.
Rust-coloured rocks are exposed at low tide on this sand-and-shingle beach. Signs indicate where bathing is dangerous. Neighbouring Port Soif is almost a lagoon, with high rocks pincering a sandy cove. The tide hurtles in fast and furious, but longboard surfing is prohibited.
The Guernsey Folk Museum is about half a mile south-east of Cobo Bay, on Cobo Road, or the Route de Cobo.
Still clinging to the seashore, the coast road heads north from Cobo, skirts the sand-and-pebble beaches of Portinfer and Pequeries and then turns eastward to Grand Havre. This fishing harbour is set in a wide, irregular bay, where there are boat moorings and three slipways.
A sandy beach stretches for about a quarter of a mile in Les Amarreurs and Ladies Bay on the northern shore.
WHEN THE NAZIS RULED
On June 28, 1940, the streets of the Channel Islands echoed to the chilling sound of steel-shod jackboots as the German Army occupied the islands. During the next four years the islands were turned into fortresses, bristling with towers and burrowed with underground bunkers and hospitals. Many still remain, sombre reminders of the days when part of Britain was under Nazi rule. A German Occupation Museum at Forest is open daily in summer.
On Guernsey’s northern coast, L’Ancresse Bay takes a deep bite into the land and leaves a broad horseshoe of jagged rocks and shimmering golden sands. There is a windsurfing school near by, and golf on L’Ancresse Common. L’Ancresse Bay has one of Guernsey’s best bathing beaches, with safe swimming at any state of the tide. Haifa mile east of the bay is Beaucette Marina, a tiny haven surrounded by high rocks.
Tali cranes nod and bow at the dockside of this small commercial port, and near the harbour is a central depot for grading and packing tomatoes. By contrast, 1 mile north of the docks, the fishing village of Bordeaux sits prettily by its harbour. The road south from St Sampson is lined with warehouses and oil storage tanks, but soon the road borders the wide beaches of Belle Greve Bay and the harbour walls of St Peter Port come into view.
The island of Herm is l1/: miles long, half a mile wide and covers 600 acres. Within that compact space lie towering cliffs, wooded valleys, sandy beaches and enough pasture-land to support 100 Guernsey cows. Tht island is leased from Guernsey by the
Tenant, Major Peter Wood, who lives in the 15th-century granite-built Manor House.
By the small harbour are a few pastel-coloured cottages, a hotel, a pub and a Mediterranean-style shopping piazza. There are no cars, or roads to drive them on, and visitors arriving after a 20 minute boat trip from Guernsey are greeted by a signpost which points the way to the bays and beaches and also states the times it takes to walk to them.
A 12 minute walk northwards skirts Fishermans Beach and The Bears Beach, then the path cuts across heathland to the island’s showpiece – Shell Beach. On a golden strand, millions of tiny shells have been washed up, some from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico. About 10 minutes’ walk away is Belvoir Bay, small and secluded, and then the going gets tough as the path climbs and dips along the cliffs and valleys of Herm’s southern half.
Another walk, from Belvoir or from the harbour, leads to the tiny St Tugual Chapel which dates from Norman times. The
In AD 700 a great storm divided Jethou from Herm, and now it stands desolate and sea washed, a rocky cone about half a mile off Herm’s southern tip. Jethou is privatelv occupied and cannot be visited.
The island of Sark is Europe’s last feudal country, governed by the seigneur whose feudal rights date back to 1565, when they were granted by Elizabeth I. The present seigneur, J. M. Beaumont, inherited the title in 1974 on the death of his grandmother -Dame Sibyl Hathaway, the famous Dame of Sark. The gardens of his residence, La Seigneurie, are open to the public on some days in summer.
There are only three forms of transport on the island. Tractor-drawn carriages take visitors up the steep hill from the harbour; horse-drawn carriages can be hired for a eisurely drive around the island; and bicycles can be hired. But to explore the island thoroughly it is best to go on foot -there are places where the carriages cannot go, and a bicycle can be an encumbrance on the steep paths down to bays and beaches.
The island is about 3 miles long and l1/: miles across, and at the southern end is almost cut in two. The southern section, called Little Sark, is reached by a natural causeway of rock, called La Coupee, which rises 250 ft above the sea.
Though some of Sark’s bays can be reached without too much effort – Dixcart Bay and Greve de la Ville, for example – the island’s glory is in its views from the headlands. From Havre Gosselin the view extends across to the lonely, privately owned Brechou Island. Below the cliffs the sea licks hungrily around jagged rocks and probes the dark caverns of the Gouliot caves. At Banquette almost half of Sark’s eastern side can be seen, with the lighthouse at Point Robert away to the south. On a clear day the distant coast of France may appear, a pale grey thread on the horizon. -f>