Last Steps in Guernsey

22 May 2014 — There have been quite a few steps, since my first post from this island (First Steps in Guernsey)! A last wonderful walk yesterday and now I am virtually all packed, I have checked in electronically for my flights, and it is raining. Time to go home.

With such gratitude and delight, for my time here.

A “last wonderful walk” I just said, and here’s the route.

N/E tip, Guernsey

This is the northern tip of Guernsey, north-eastern really, and I walked the curve clockwise from Baie des Pêqueries (far left on that red major road where it touches the coastline) to Bordeaux Harbour on the right.

The bus driver drops me at the closest stop, La Passée, points to the spot where I can cut in to join the coastal path, wishes me happy walking, and goes on his way. So do I, with a backward glance at the homes lining the curve of the bay…

along Baie de Pequeries

… and a smile for man and dogs, out among the rocks.

man, dogs, rocks on Baie des Pequeries

How happy dogs are, racing around with tongues and ears both flapping! How happy they can make us. (But, mind, so does the sleek grey cat I meet on a path later on, who stands very tall on his paws to accept my stroking hand and then glides on his way.)

I have my self-guiding walk map with me, it tells me to pay attention to Poulias Pond as I pass by. Charming, but… special?

Poulias Pond

Yes, is the answer.

A common enough sight at home, but here it is “one of Guernsey’s rare and valuable wetland habitats,” I read. So I give the duck an extra moment’s attention before walking on, and looking out over the next scallop in the shoreline, Baie de Port Grat.

view toward Rousse Tower from Baie de Port Grat

The beached boats first catch my attention, but then I look to the headland beyond — Rousse Headland, with its tower. Heaven knows there are plenty of them on the island, but I chose to make that tower the focal point of this walk, the reason to walk this part of the island, rather than another stretch.

So I keep watching Rousse Tower grow larger, as I follow the path north & east.

Rousse Tower from west

This is a loop-hole tower, I learn, pre-Martello in era — number 11 of the 15 erected around the coast in the late 18th c. to defend Guernsey against potential French attack. (France sided with those pesky American colonists, remember, and then there were the Napoleonic Wars…) Unlike its fellow towers, many of which still dot the landscape, Rousse combines tower with a battery of guns, which radiate in a comprehensive arc from their strategic position on the headland.

Rousse Tower & Battery

It’s locked. I climb up to circle the tower, view the battery, then rejoin the coastal path and scoop my way around Le Grand Havre.

Le Grand Havre & Vale Church

Another walk target in the background, this time the spire of Vale Church.  I find I respond to very old churches the way I do to dolmens and menhirs — not for their specific religious intent, but for the calm strength that radiates from the ancient stones housing that intent.

I’m also curious about Vale Pond, and I will pass the pond just before arriving at the church. It is the western remnant of La Braye du Valle — the saltwater channel that divided Guernsey into two islands at high tide until 1808, when it was filled in. I’ve seen the eastern remnant at St. Sampson (and shown it to you in my Mes Bons Amis post); now I will connect the dots, coast to coast.

Vale Pond is extremely pretty! I take a few pictures by clambering down one side of an overgrown slope, and am properly thankful to discover that I can view it better — and in much greater comfort — from the blinds in the adjacent Colin McCathie Nature Reserve.

Which I do.

Vale Pond & Vale Church tower, from Colin McCathie Nature Reserve

Now across a pretty busy road — with my usual North-American paranoia about which way to look — and into the church yard. To my disappointment, and unlike sister churches with their electronically-protected open-doors policy, Vale Church is locked.

c. 8th c. Vale Parish Church

Built in the 8th or 9th c., I read. The earlier the structure, the simpler it is, the more I respond to it. For me, this is magnificent.

And on!

Small confession: having walked much of L’Ancresse Common during my tour of megalithic/neolithic sites (see Time Travel), I decide to leave the coast path and instead cut behind Vale Church to head north on Route de l’Ancresse across the Common, and on up to Pembroke Bay.

It takes me into the heart of the mix on that extraordinary Common: horses & dogs & toddlers & adults & golfers & loop-hole towers. There is a whole line of homes on the east side of the road, facing the Common across the way. As elsewhere on the island, almost all have names, and almost all those names are in French, with traditional references.

Then there’s the bungalow with its neat signboard: ” Vue du Neuvième.” Yessir. The ninth hole is dead opposite.

The road turns sharply east, I continue north, now with the Common on both sides. And golfers. Who play ’round the usual designed golf-course obstacles, and a few others as well.

loop-hole tower, Pembroke Bay

If you slice your ball into one of those loop-holes, what happens? Do you take a penalty stroke and put down another ball? I’m still new enough at these juxtapositions to find this hilarious. Good grief, the changes wrought by history. Once Frenchmen were the threat, then Germans … and now golfers.

pre-Martello loophole tower No. 6, with pigeon

And pigeons.

With a wary eye out for golfers, I have walked close to Tower No. 6. Three pigeons flutter wildly out of various loop-holes at my approach; this guy stands guard in the doorway. Yes?? State your business.

I back off, take to the costal path again, segue out of Pembroke Bay into L’Ancresse Bay, heading for the Le Marchant Headland.

Which of course is marked by another fort — and are you surprised? Records show fortifications on this point since 1680, considerably expanded and strengthened to confront the French threat, commandeered by the Germans … and now a military target practice site.

No, no, not the fort itself. (My eyebrows waggled a bit, when I considered that possibility.) The firing range is to the east of the fort,  flanking Fontenelle Bay — but it does mean that, when the fort flies its special Red Flag, you follow the detour signs that take you well inland.

No red flag today, so I get to pass the firing range close up, and safely.

Fort Le Merchant firing range

The final stretch of the walk takes me to small rural roadways south of Beaucette Marina, on the east-facing coast. (Story is, the owner of an exhausted quarry invited the army to use it for target practice. They did, and in the process created a marina for him …)

Right. Enough cliffs & crags & ancient churches & dolmens & military adornment.

Let us pay tribute to to that great Guernsey institution…

the Guernsey Breed

the Guernsey breed of dairy cattle, which first became popular in the late 1700s.

Let us also acknowledge another Guernsey institution, which took root rather later. It is to be found throughout the island, not just on the residential streets of Bordeaux Harbour.

I refer, my friends, to the “Compton Mackenzie.”

“Compton McKenzies” (Giant Echium)

Pshaw! you say. Or words to that effect. He’s a writer, not a great spikey plant.

So he is. But Sir Compton Mackenzie, OBE (1883-1972), author of Whisky Galore and many other books, one-time tenant of  the islands of Herm & Jethou, is probably best known here for — it is alleged — introducing the plant Echium pininana to the islands. And creating a local nickname for the plant, in the process.

We never learn, do we? What fits its native eco-system peacefully may well go on a rampage elsewhere.

“Compton Mackenzies” last only three years: a small, tidy rosette of leaves in year 1, a rather taller rosette of leaves in year 2, and a gi-normous spike (up to 12 feet) of tiny blue flowers in year 3. Having flowered, and scattered all those seeds to the wind, the plant dies. Leaving its babies to carry on. One online author calls this Echium “a giant cottage garden nightmare,” but gardeners here live with it, and find ways to make the most of it.

As they have done — come to think of it — with all sorts of invaders over the millennia.

More Maps

Why have I been so remiss? A few maps along the way might have put my walks into better context.

The Mes Bons Amis post featured my cliff walk with Guernseyman Chris and his wife Susan; here is our route around the south-west tip of the island. Just follow my scribbles clockwise, from “Mont Hérault (start)” inked into the map’s bottom centre, to the “(finish)” written in Rocquaine Bay, with a line down to the circled Imperial Hotel where we had that post-walk lunch.

south-west tip of Guernsey, famous for its cliff walks

One more map, which by sheer geography explains everything from Guernsey’s linguistic evolution to its layers of fortifications.

The Channel Islands, France & England

Look where England is. Look where France is. Look where the Channel Islands are.

Aha.

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10 Comments

  1. I have enjoyed your trip very much!

    Reply
    • Thanks Rio — it was a magic trip, I’m glad I managed to coney a bit of it. (I’m just home, and still buzzing…)

      Reply
  2. What wonderful adventures Penny…..have a safe flight home 🙂

    Reply
  3. Enjoyed your tour – many thanks! Guernsey through your eyes was really interesting and I’d love to visit one day.

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed it — yes, I think Guernsey is worth putting on the list. As ytou can see, It’s pretty low in night clubs & jet-set life, but very high in a great many other categories.

      Reply
  4. Another fantastic ramble – I don’t walk so far now so really enjoy yours and your descriptions carry the reader along the route with pictures to extend the visual interpretation

    Reply
    • I really appreciate your comment that my descriptions extend the photos, since I am well aware that my photos are serviceable, but not exceptional. I am a pure amateur photographer, come out of a writing, not visual, background, and it’s always my hope that such strength as my blog has lies in the combination of words & images. Thanks too for your comment about islands. You perfectly understand my fascination, then!

      Reply
  5. Lovely post, and a really interesting taster of Guernsey for someone who has never been. Thank you!

    Reply

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