Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Island and Coast of Guernsey – Part 1

My post today is a selection from "The Channel Islands" by David Thomas Ansted and Robert Gordon Latham, published in 1865. Most travel guides look at the population, the sights to visit, something of the history, but this is an exception. It begins by looking at the geography of the Islands, and then considers how it his has shaped their subsequent history, so it is a bit different from the general guidebook.

The Island and Coast of Guernsey – Part 1

Guernsey is a wedge of granite, serving, like the Casquets, as one of the last remaining outworks of a tract of ancient land, at the entrance of the English Channel. It is the most westerly and exposed island of the Channel; covering and sheltering, by its position, several smaller islands. It is admirably adapted, in time of peace, to build ships and hold communication with the world; and it has been found equally well adapted, in time of war, to fit out and receive privateers, to destroy and harass the trade of an enemy.

The geographical position of Guernsey is as follows:—it lies between 49° 25' and 49° 31' north latitude, and between 2° 307 and 2° 41' west longitude. Its shape is triangular, two sides of the island making a right angle at the small south-eastern promontory of Jerbourg. The hypotenuse, or longer side of the triangle, bears nearly south-west and north-east, and measures about nine and a-half statute miles in length.

From south to north (on the east side) the length is about six and a-half miles, and from east to west (on the south side) about seven miles. These distances do not include the outlying rocks. The total area of land and rock, at low water, is rather more than twenty-four square miles, the measurement usually recognised giving 15,560 English acres. Of this area, about 10,000 acres are under cultivation.

The whole of the southern part of Guernsey consists of a plateau, with very few undulations, slightly broken at various places by narrow ravines; some towards the sea, and others landwards. The surface is almost entirely cultivated, and covered with farms.

By far the finest coast scenery of the island, is that produced where this plateau terminates abruptly towards the sea. Whether on the plateau itself, looking down the valleys which conduct to the various little bays and coves, some rocky and some sandy, we notice the wooded scenery of the island opening out to the sea; or, wandering round on the cliffs, follow the outline of the rocks, and notice the wild and picturesque beauties from point to point, to the westernmost extremity of the island; we shall be sure to find everywhere a combination of the beautiful with the grand, not easily matched in other parts of the British Islands, or indeed of Western Europe.

The highest part of the island is at Haut-nez, above Icart Point; and is 349 feet above mean tide. This elevation continues, with very little change, along the whole of the south coast. Towards the north, the land falls somewhat gradually; and at length dies away to the sea level, before the northern extremity of the island is reached.

Until within a comparatively recent period, the sea, at high water, could wash across the island from the Grande Havre to St. Sampson's Harbour, crossing the tract of land called the Braye du Val; a part of which, though now reclaimed and cultivated, still contains a brackish-water pond, from which the sea is kept out by embankments. 

It has been doubted, and with some reason, whether anything has been gained by reclaiming this land, without leaving a ship canal of salt water. Beyond the Braye to the north, there is a tract of low ground, much of it covered with sand; and ledges of rocks extend in every direction, far beyond the extreme low water mark. Still beyond this, to the north-east and west, are numerous outlying rocks, rising out of deep water, to a distance of more than two miles. The largest of these rocks is the Silleuse.

A singular fringe of rocks, rising from the sea-bottom to the surface from various depths up to twenty fathoms, entirely surrounds the whole island of Guernsey. Off the steep south coast, the depth increases most rapidly, and the rocks are there nearer the shore than to the east, north, and north-west. In these latter directions, the number of rocks, at all times of tide, is almost countless; but at dead low water, they present an appearance only to be matched where coral reefs rise out of a tropical sea, as mushrooms out of the ground on an August night—limited only by the space open to them.

The most important of the defined groups of outlying rocks, towards the Channel, are the Hanois (Hanways), the Sambule and the Grunes, which follow in succession parallel to the south-western side of Guernsey, at a distance of about two miles from the shore.

The islet of Lihou, connected by a reef with the land at low water, is nearer, and requires separate notice. They are all either granitic, or veins in granite. 

The principal rocks are the Hanois, on one of which is a light-house. It is built throughout, in the soundest manner, of Cornish granite, each stone dovetailed, and the whole solid to a considerable height.

Les Hanois Lighthouse was constructed between 1860 and 1862 to a new design by James Douglass, and was first lit on 8 December 1862. 

The middle of the eastern coast of Guernsey, from Vale Castle to beyond Castle Cornet, is called Belgrave Bay. It is a wide open bay with a shingle and sand beach, from which the land gradually into the interior, to a moderate height. The country behind is pretty, and the approach from the sea is picturesque.

On the northern side of this bay are the small town and natural harbour of St. Sampson's; and at the southern extremity is St. Peter's Port, the principal town of the island. North of St. Sampson's, are the rocks, covered with loose sands, of l'Ancresse; and south of St. Peter's Port, the cliffs rise almost immediately, and are crowned by Fort George. 

Castle Cornet, situated on a ledge of rocks, about a quarter of a mile from the shore, was formerly disconnected, except at very low water, but is now united to the main island by the south arm of the new harbour.

St. Peter's Port presents a straggling frontage of nearly a mile and a-half towards the sea. Along the whole of this distance and beyond, nearly to St. Sampson's, the sea is kept off by a permanent sea wall and esplanade. The buildings near the sea are irregular, and for the most part poor; but not unpicturesque from a distance. Behind them the rising ground is much broken and is covered with houses and other buildings, rising one behind another, and crowned by several constructions of greater pretensions, though scarcely in better taste.

Of these buildings, one of the most prominent and by no means the least pleasing, is the Victoria tower, commemorative of the Queen's visit in 1846. Another is the College, built in a style which it would be unfair to call Gothic, except in a sense now exploded. Castle Carey, built as a private habitation, but now the Government House, is another rather anomalous pile: these, with one or two churches, in a mongrel style, popular about half a century ago, but not at present in favour, form the more prominent objects: bad as they are, they cannot destroy the picturesque effect produced by the shape of the ground, and by the considerable variety of domestic architecture which still remains, and is characteristic of the island.

There is, however, fronting the sea, although in a position too low to command attention or attract notice from a distance, a really important ecclesiastical building, known as the Town Church. It is far superior in design and execution, as well as in historical interest, to any old building within the compass of the Channel Islands, and might well bear comparison with many in England or the Low Countries. 

It is, unfortunately, still crowded with galleries, which interfere greatly with the effect, but it well deserves examination, and reflects the highest credit on all concerned in restoring it from the state of neglect into which it had fallen during the last century. It contains much new work added to and replacing the old.

The style is Flamboyant Gothic, but with many marks of early work retained. The painted windows are modern, but very good. A new window has recently been presented by the Lieutenant-governor of Guernsey, General Slade.

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