Mes Bons Amis

19 May 2014 – Two lots of good friends to celebrate, one set of much longer standing than the other, but both contributing to my pleasure here on Guernsey.

Old Good Friends

First, Guernsey Chris and his wife Susan, dear friends of ours in Toronto, but Chris with ancient roots (and family) here on the island. It’s my great good luck that my stay here overlaps with their own. We spend Sunday together, and of course it features a walk.

Not any old walk. A section, perhaps the most celebrated section, of The Cliff Walk. I think of it like that, in capital letters, because everyone I’ve met here asks eagerly, “Have you walked the cliffs yet?”

stone marker, Cliff Walk between Mont Herault & Portelet Harbour

The Cliff Walk stretches from St. Peter Port on the south coast westward to hook north around the Pleinmont headland into Portelet Harbour on the south-west coast. We walk from the Mont Hérault Watch House to Portelet, gorging on the sunshine, surf-rumble, fields & cliffs & long views, and — given the location, and long centuries of European history — the inevitable fortifications, Napoleonic era on up.

“Elsewhere, people walk from pub to pub,” says Chris. “Here, it’s tower to tower.”

We leave the car at the Watch House. Chris is disappointed to learn it is now locked up. “I wanted to show you all the paintings inside.” Not by sentries in the late 18th c., but by bored German soldiers in World War II, endlessly watching for the attack that never came.

We set out, already eyeing a fortification purpose-built by those Germans (or their slave labour).

It’s the MP4 L’Angle Tower, a direction-finding tower that was part of the Batterie Dollmann complex here on the Pleinmont headland — guns, mortars, machine gun, searchlight positions, personnel shelters, ammunition bunkers, minefields, & concrete lined trenches.

MP4 L’Angle Tower

I find this tower quite surreal. From the safety of 70 years after the event, we can see it with other eyes. Chris quips that it is a Henry Moore sculpture; I insist it is Hercule Poirot’s art deco apartment building as we know it from the TV series. Any moment now, I say, the Little Grey Cells & the Moustache might emerge.

The other surreal element: what’s happening behind those red flags. Some gun enthusiasts are in the field, blasting clay pigeons out of the sky. All well & good, but it is a very strange feeling, to have explosions punctuate the air as we pick our way toward L’Angle Tower.

I look around, and immediately know why everyone pushed me to take this walk. It’s one stunning view after another. We get used to those clay pigeon pop-pop-pops, and give ourselves over to our surroundings.

a gorge on the Guernsey Cliff Walk

You can enter L’Angle Tower and, of course, we do. It is on 5 levels, 2 of them submerged. We climb to the accessible viewing slits, and peer eastward along the coast, just as military personnel used to do.

view east from L'Angle Tower

Fold on fold of coastline, another tower shimmering in the distance.

Nearby, a restored gun mount and section of trench. We thread our way under the camouflaged entrance, into one of the tunnels …

trench encircling Batterie Dollmann gun pit

… and then with joy take again to the open path, with air and sun and breeze and free-flying birds.

And families with picnic baskets, whose children and dogs tumble about on the fields.

seacoast coastline nearing La Table des Pions, Cliff Walk

We reach the point, the very western point of land. Our path is now at near-water level, we’re about to turn the corner to Portelet Harbour, and we stop to admire La Table des Pions. It dates probably from the late 18th c., one of the resting points for the pions (footmen) of the mounted officials taking part in the triannual Chevauchée, or inspection of roadways.

However, locally it has another name: the Fairy Ring.

La Table des Pions (Fairy Ring)

A young couple watch their little girl hop about the ring of stones. “Is she choosing her husband?” asks Susan, and yes, the parents know the legend. They nod, smiling. It is said that witches & fairies come out to dance here — and also that a young woman may attract her chosen husband by hopping over the stones with his face in mind.

We round the point, passing — of course! — another fort. This time the ruins of Fort Pézeries, another relic of the long French-English dance of suspicion and warfare.

But that’s not what Chris wants us to see. “Look,” he says, pointing into Portelet Harbour.

submerged 16th c breakwater (?), Portelet Harbour

See that submerged, white L-shaped structure, between the rocks and the boats? It is a breakwater, and it is always submerged, says Chris, who from boyhood knows this location well.

An underwater breakwater? How … interesting. Not to say… pointless.  Chris has a theory. “There was a mini-ice age in the 16th century,” he says. “Perhaps it was built then, when water levels were lower. When water levels rose again, new breakwaters had to be built.”

He is the first to say it’s only a theory, but I’ve yet to find an online source that even mentions this structure let alone accounts for it — so there you are. It’s a working hypothesis, open to more data and better ideas.

One last Portelet Harbour shot, just for the charm of it.

Portelet Harbour

And then into the Imperial Hotel, for a slap-up lunch (roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, the works) with Chris’ sister and her family. We’ve earned it!

New Good Friends

Literally “Good Friends,” in fact Le Club des Bons Amis, an Island institution whose members organize twice-weekly walks, along with lunches, speakers and other get-togethers. Thanks to Guernsey Chris, who spotted the ad for their Monday walk in the local paper — and the fact it welcomes non-members — I turn up at the Beau Séjour Leisure Centre at 10 a.m. to join the outing.

It is such a good idea, and such fun. There were at least 20 of us in today’s group, weaving up & down St. Peter Port streets for an hour of chatter and deceptively serious exercise. Just walking at an easy pace… but up, and down, and up again, and down again, and up

I am made very welcome, and when we round it off with coffee in the Guernsey Museum café, I ask if I may take a photo of the members clustered around our couple of tables. So here they are, my homage to a great group.

members of Le Club des Bons Amis

They were also, at my request, my travel advisers.

My idea was to take a bus as far as The Bridge, poke about and start walking south again along the coast toward St. Peter Port. “Go beyond that to Bordeaux Harbour, and then walk,” they suggest. “It’s very pretty, and you can see Vale Castle from there.”

So I do.

I remember that the first dolmen I visited on Thursday, Le Déhus, was near Bordeaux Harbour (see my post, Time Travel in Guernsey) and sure enough, the bus passes a pointer for the site as we loop our way to the harbour.

Bordeaux Harbour is very pretty. Various people are walking nearby or resting on the benches, taking in the view of the islands of Herm and Jethou and the Channel beyond.

Bordeaux Harbour

I admire the view myself, but cock an eye at the sky. We’d been warned the glorious weather would start breaking down as of today, with rising winds and rain expected by evening. I’m in short sleeves. Silly me! Never mind. There are short-sleeved islanders all around me, including toddlers. I will not be a wimp. I will be tough.

The oceanfront path leads me past Castle Vale, high on its hilltop, a silhouette against the darkening sky. It only (only!) dates from the late 14th c., but there is archaeological evidence to suggest the hill was first fortified in the Iron Age, around about 500 BC.

Castle Vale

On to The Bridge. In fact, to the town of St. Sampson, on St. Sampson Harbour, but generally referred to as “The Bridge” (including on bus schedules) because of La Braye du Valle. This was the tidal channel that bisected the island at this level and, at high tide, separated it into two. In 1806 the channel was filled in, and the bridge that used to link the two sections disappeared — but lives on in name and memory.

I approach from the north side, looking into the harbour, toward the one-time Braye.

St. Sampson Harbour

My plan to walk on, walk on, is foiled. The evening rain decides to be afternoon rain instead. I tuck my camera into its waterproof sac, pull my Tilley hat more firmly over my ears… and head for the bus shelter, where I am soon scooped up and brought back to town.

Oh dear. It seems I am a wimp after all.

Follow-up: those contrasting white walls

In my War & Wildflowers post, I showed you, and praised, what seems to be a local custom: highlight the handsome granite stone walls of your home by painting one (or two) of the walls a blinding white. Guernsey Chris sets me straight. It may be aesthetically pleasing, but practicality is the point, not beauty. “People used the high-grade Guernsey granite for the main walls — and then saved money by using any old rubble for the other walls, and hiding them behind white paint.” I crow with delight. How canny! Hats off…


Leave a comment


  1. nigel pleasants

     /  19 May 2014

    Wonderful legend of Fairy Ring. Might be worth a song!

  2. Thanks for the tour and look forward to an update on that sunken break-water – maybe the local walking group would know? Wonderful photos.

  3. Just beautiful, and I love the fairy ring (and story!). ~SueBee

  4. Stacy L

     /  20 May 2014

    What a beautiful walk! I hope to visit “The Cliffs” myself one day. Also, your picture of the fairy ring is my favorite!

  5. stunning………. and the Fairy ring gave me an idea as well.

  1. Last Steps in Guernsey | WALKING WOMAN

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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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