Local Blue Badge guide Arthur Lamy has forgotten more about Jersey than most locals know. He’s a walking encyclopaedia. So who better to accompany me on a walk along the island’s beautiful north coast? More to the point, who better to introduce me not just to Jersey but to the Channel Islands, thanks to his work in helping create the new Channel Islands Way which officially opens in Spring 2011.
As we walked he told me he’s spent the last five years putting together the 115-mile route that takes walkers around the coastlines of Jersey (48 miles), Guernsey (38 miles), Alderney (13½ miles), Sark (9½ miles) and Herm (6½ miles). We would have an outing to Sark later during my visit so that I could get a real feel for the whole Channel Islands Way concept.
The mathematically inclined will note that this all adds up to 115½ miles – 115 sounds much neater, don’t you think? – but it seemed to me that an extra half-mile was neither here nor there when exploring such lovely and varied coastlines. And as Arthur pointed out, ‘You don’t have to do the entire route to get a good feel for what it’s all about, but you do need to bear in mind that there’s a certain amount of extra planning involved since unlike most long-distance trails you have to organise various ferry crossings.’
In practice, it’s no hardship. The Channel Islands, with their good inter-island links, are sufficiently small and so close to each other that you can choose to do as much or as little of the Channel Islands Way as you want and still experience some amazing walking.
It gets even easier. Arthur went on to tell me that the routes have been divided into sections of two to four miles in length, with a car park, bus stop, toilet and café or pub at each end, ‘so you need be neither a strong walker nor a car driver to be able to enjoy at least some of the CI Way’.
Before setting off on our walk we’d fuelled up with a Jersey cream tea at the splendidly named Hungry Man café in Rozel Bay. Such teas are obliged by the laws of nature to come with ‘lashings’ of cream and those served by the Hungry Man certainly don’t disappoint – I could just about see Arthur over the top of the mountain of local dairy produce that covered my scone.
After ingesting so many calories we felt duty bound to tackle the three miles from Rozel Bay to Bouley Bay on Jersey’s north-east coast at a decent lick, Arthur having decided that the undulating footpath along this wild and craggy coastline would make a good start to my two-day stay.
It was an inspiring baptism. As we tramped along, a stiff sea breeze chopping up the aquamarine waters below and the coastline of France visible in the hazy distance, we were able to make good time along a verdant stretch of coastline that reminded me of my home in north Pembrokeshire.
From the headland we descended into Bouley Bay, one of the few safe havens along this rugged stretch of coast. Here we hopped into Arthur’s old Morris 1000 – a classic mode of transport perfectly suited to Jersey’s narrow lanes and 40mph speed limit – and headed diagonally across the island to La Corbière and its impressive lighthouse on the south-western tip of the island.
Arthur wanted to show me the difference between Jersey’s north and south coasts. Again, I couldn’t help thinking of Pembrokeshire when I discovered that, overall, southern Jersey is rather less wild and rather more populated than the north.
Not that there was anything remotely tame about La Corbière and its iconic lighthouse, erected in 1873 and the first in the British Isles to be built from reinforced concrete. It stands offshore – but accessible by a low-tide causeway – amongst a jumble of granite rocks, a sentinel that warns ships approaching from the south-west.
It made a dramatic start to a sun-kissed walk that took us 8½ miles along the south coast to St Aubin. Corbière can’t be infallible, for we passed the sites of many a shipwreck on the offshore reefs. We almost stepped on a sunbathing green lizard or two (which are at the northern limit of their distribution on Jersey’s Gulf Stream-warmed shores) before taking shelter inside St Brelade’s Church on the edge of the huge, golden arc of St Brelade’s Bay, Jersey’s most popular beach. Arthur revealed to me more island insider knowledge when he explained that Jersey has a vast tidal reach. Had we arrived at high tide very little of that golden arc would have been visible. A dramatic difference takes place twice a day on Jersey where vast tides – some of the biggest in the world – can rise and fall by up to 40ft, or 12m.
Like quite a few things in Jersey St Brelade’s has a classic English appearance, despite the fact that it’s not actually in England. The graveyard is overshadowed by a huge, centuries-old oak, the branches of which are the home of red squirrels, which still thrive on the island. Next door there’s a charming little Fisherman’s Chapel – even more ancient than the thousand-year-old church – decorated by medieval wall paintings, some amazingly complete, others ghostly and fragmented.
Here’s a task for you when following in my footsteps. Arthur had me counting petrified limpets attached to the stone walls of the church. Apparently there are over 360. The church was built in such a rush that the poor limpets clinging to building stones taken from the local shoreline were never removed by the medieval builders, thus proving that dodgy builders are not a modern phenomenon.
Late afternoon sunshine was bouncing off the sea as we continued our walk past pretty Portelet Bay – surprisingly, not a soul to be seen on its sands despite such fine early summer weather – and on past the imposing World War Two German command bunkers at Noirmont Point, open to the public in summer.
At the end of our day in St Aubin’s Bay we chanced across yet more coastal defences. However, I have to say this particular castle couldn’t last long – it was built of sand. Simon Smith, a former winner of the World Masters Sandcastle Building Competition, sat beside a construction that was everyone’s idea of what a ‘proper’ castle should look like after having shovelled and moulded the sand into shape for some 40 hours.
The following day Arthur and the CI Way led me to yet more coastal beauty when we took a gentle amble around Sark. As the ferry bounced across choppy waters I experienced that frisson of excitement that’s unique to landing on ‘unknown’ shores. Seabirds wheeled and shrieked above as we approached the low, dark cliffs of Maseline Harbour, contrasting sharply with the glittering blue of the sea bouncing against their base. I couldn’t wait to disembark and start exploring what is surely one of Britain’s most esoteric and exotic islands.
The route here passes above Sark’s one concession to industry, or what remains of it – the remnants of a 180-year-old silver mine above Port Gorey. Now a tumbledown ruin perched above Aegean blue waters that are almost too alluring to resist on a sunny day, the silver mine never made a profit. But Sark holds its own treasures, particularly if you value solitude and quiet.
Quiet, hidden coves, golden sand, improbably blue seas and transport restricted to horse and cart, bicycle, foot or the occasional tractor – this really is the adventure islands of childhood fantasies and it made me wish I was 10 again with an entire school summer holiday of island exploration ahead of me…
Our intention was to make a full circumnavigation of the island, starting from Maseline Harbour, climbing up the steep hill towards Sark’s tiny main village (the island’s resident population is just 600) and then down the densely wooded Dixcart Valley to the eponymous bay, where – as with Port Gorey – it was all I could do to stop myself diving into the siren sea.
From here we crossed La Coupée, a narrow, vertiginous natural land bridge linking the main island to Little Sark (yes, the island gets smaller and smaller) and on to Port Gorey. We were then set on making our way along Sark’s northern shore and back to the harbour for our return trip to Jersey, but not before a quick pit stop at the tea gardens of La Sablonnerie, a cosy, luxurious hotel set within a 400-year-old farmhouse in the middle of Little Sark.
We bumped into the owner Elizabeth Perree, a whirlwind of a woman who treated us like long-lost friends despite the fact we’d never clapped eyes on her before, then plied us with Pimms, sloe gin and chocolate truffles. Resistance proved futile and our pleas that we had a walk to complete were met with the quite logical reply that we could always do that another day. So much for our planned circuit of the island…
I had run out of days, but I’d seen enough to convince me that the Channel Island Way is a worthy addition to all the great long-distance routes – with the added advantage of a brief boat or plane trip along the way as a bit of a breather.
Walk the Channel Island Way!
The Channel Island Way – the exciting new 110 mile walking route that brings together all the best coastal walks in Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm in stunning details is out now.
Published by Channel Island map specialists Coast Media, with words by Jersey-based Blue Badge Guide Arthur Lamy, the new guide covers all five islands in careful detail and is packed with useful information about points of interest and local history, public transport, toilet facilities and places where walkers can find food and refreshment. Each 'walk' comprises a Perry's map section, easy to follow instructions and imagery by renowned Channel Island photographer, Chris George.
The Channel Islands Way Guide unites all five Channel Islands and as a single fabulous walking destination.
With a bit of island hopping by boat and plane, walkers can use the guide as the key to exploring the entire range of walking environments the archipelago has to offer.
'Individually the islands are fantastic places for a walking holiday,' said Katie of Coast Media, the publishers of the guide, 'but when you take them all together they provide one of the most beautiful and diverse walking destinations in Europe if not the world.'
The Channel Islands Way is designed for walking enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. The routes around the bigger islands have been broken down into convenient sections that can be walked comfortably in the space of a morning or afternoon. However, this should not stop more ambitious walkers from linking several sections together or simply choosing their own start and finish points.
'The beauty of the Channel Island Way lies in its flexibility,' said Katie Blampied. 'Walking enthusiasts who come from outside the islands can do the whole lot in the space of a fortnight or they can keep their guides and come back time and time again to discover a new walk and a new island.'
The Channel Island Way is on sale now for only £9.95 from Jersey Tourism and retailers across the Channel Islands and will also be available via amazon.co.uk.