Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Island and Coast of Guernsey – Part 2

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 2
The most prominent near objects, on approaching St. Peter's Port from the sea, are Castle Cornet and the new harbour works. The former will be referred to presently. A portion of the latter, consisting of a magnificent sea wall, now connects and passes beyond the rock on which the castle stands, commencing at the southern extremity of the town; so that the castle and the works appear to form part of one great plan. This sea wall forms the south arm of the new harbour.

The old harbour of Guernsey, ordered to be built  AD 1275, by King Edward the First, and in course of construction for two centuries, from 1580 to 1780, was only four and a-half acres in extent, and the quay-room was extremely narrow and restricted. Plans for its enlargement, still retaining the character of a tidal harbour, were submitted to the states in 1836, by Mr. James Walker, and subsequently, others by Mr. Rendell.

The latter, though not very different from the former, were accepted; and their execution entrusted to Mr. G. Fosberry Lyster, on the recommendation of Mr. Rendell. Soon after the commencement of the works, important alterations were proposed; and it was decided that, instead of a mere tidal harbour, the natural features of the locality should be taken advantage of, the old harbour being entirely closed. It has also since been greatly improved. The whole of the alterations have been planned and carried out by Mr. Lyster.

An idea of the present harbour will be at once obtained by looking at the annexed plan. Two noble esplanades have been constructed, one on each side of the old harbour, running parallel with the sea front of the town, their total length being 2500 feet, with a breadth of 150 feet. From the two extremities of this, spring breakwaters: one at the south extremity, reaching beyond Castle Cornet, and now nearly 2000 feet in length, connects the -castle with the main land; the other, at the northern end, is incomplete. It is intended to run this out 1300 feet in an easterly direction, and then bend round 750 feet towards the north-east angle of Castle Cornet. 

Within this space will be enclosed, not only a large and excellent anchorage-ground of fiftyseven acres, the whole covered at low water neaps, but the small old harbour, now an inner harbour, a space intended to form a floating dock of ten acres extent, building yards, a careening hard, and other conveniences for shipping. The space enclosed will amount to as much as seventy-three acres at low water, and is being dredged to nine feet, low water spring tides.

Landing-places for steamers, accessible at all times of tide,— slip-ways and berthing for vessels, offering every convenience for trade,—form part of the plan in prosecution; and a great length of quays, eighty-four feet wide, has been already constructed, in addition to the level roadway and footpath on the breakwaters. All these latter are carried to a height of from ten to fifteen feet above the highest tides; arid two enormous massifs, or square emplacements, covering rocks, have been constructed,—one intended as a ladies' bathing-place, with bathing houses and hot water baths—and the other, at present left unemployed. On this it has been suggested that a first class hotel might with advantage be built.

The masonry of the work executed for the harbour is of granite, and does the greatest credit to all concerned. Much of it is Cyclopean, doing away with the formality of level courses, and this without any sacrifice of strength, although with a great economy in labour.

Castle Cornet was a far more picturesque object when a detached island fort, in the time of Charles the Second, than it has since been. It could then well compare, in this respect, with Elizabeth Castle, in Jersey. Although much dismantled, it still contains many architectural gems.  For a long time, and till the year 1811, it was the island prison; but this use is now superseded by a building near St. James' church, immediately behind the Court House, in the centre of the town.

The new gaol is, however, too small, and is ill adapted for its purpose. It is a singular fact, that all the modern buildings in the island are, without exception, singularly wanting in good taste; but whether this arises from want of cultivation, from the remains of Puritanical feeling, still very marked, or from absence of natural power of appreciating what is beautiful, is not easy to say.

St. Sampson's, the only other town, is much smaller than St. Peter's Port, and is now almost connected with it by houses and rows of buildings along the shore. It is a place of some business in connection with the stone trade, which is centred there, to take advantage both of the adjacent quarries and of the little harbour. Many improvements have been made in the harbour, and it is continually increasing in importance. There is little to attract or interest a stranger in the town; all the buildings, except the church, being small and of modern construction.

The harbour is entirely dry at low water, and was originally part of a small arm of the sea, which severed the northern portion of the island from the main land. It is only sixty years since this strait was permanently embanked at each end, and the intervening land reclaimed. The space forming the harbour is about 2000 feet in length by 500 feet wide, and encloses twentytwo acres of water, at high spring tides. A breakwater now extends 650 feet in a southerly direction from the north shore, and terminates 120 feet from the south pier-head; and this work, recently completed, has greatly improved and sheltered the harbour.

The wide shingle bay, having at intervals large spits of sand, that extends between St. Sampson's and St. Peter's Port, has already been mentioned as presenting few features of interest. About half way between, however, there is a curious ivycovered fragment of antiquity, called the ' Chateau des Marais,' better known as the Ivy Castle. It is surrounded by a fosse and by an outer wall, enclosing a
space of about four acres.

To form an idea of Guernsey, it must be visited in two ways; for the interior gives but little idea of the coast, and the fine scenery of the coast seldom opens at all into the island. As a whole, there are few parts of the Atlantic coast of Europe where the cliffs communicate so little, by picturesque open valleys, with the interior of the country; but this arises chiefly from the fact, that the rock is everywhere granite, sloping with some degree of regularity in one direction. The natural fractures, produced by the elevation of the mass, have been already deeply penetrated by the sea, and have produced a multitude of detached islands and rocks, so that what remains consist of hard, rocky masses of table land, often high, but nowhere hilly.

It will be advisable to describe, first, the coast scenery, and afterwards, that of the interior; and, as the most convenient order, we may, with advantage, commence in the vicinity of the town, and notice the chief points of interest as we follow the line of cliff immediately to the south.

From the harbour, the sea wall continues for a short distance to a part of the coast called Les Terres, at which point the cliffs are precipitous, and a strip of public walks and gardens between them and the sea is now in course of arrangement. The ground thus utilised was laid bare during the construction of the harbour; and the mode in which an operation, which might have been unsightly, has been rendered decorative, is worthy of every praise. Two or three small bays beyond, included within the enceinte of the fort, and not accessible to the public, terminate at a small projecting headland, marked with a very unsightly white turret, serving as a sea mark.

Fermain Bay, at the foot of the cliff at this point, is a pretty sandy cove, behind which is one of the few narrow glens opening into the interior. A road runs up to the right from the sands of Fermain Bay to the St. Martin's road, passing two cottage residences placed on the steep slope of the gorge; and a blind path, choked with furze and brambles, may be found to the left, and followed between thick hedges up another branch of the glen, also to the St. Martin's road.

Perched on a tongue of high land between these, is the park-like and well-wooded little estate of Bon Air, built by a former bailiff of the island. There is a private way through the gorse-covered sides and ferny bottom of the glen, from the house to the sea; and the annexed wood cut will give some notion of the exquisite beauty of the broken ground, and the mixture of cultivation and wildness in this part of the island.

From the narrow path just alluded to, a branch will be found close to the edge of the cliff, and an extremely picturesque path conducts to a small fisherman's landing-place, called the Bee du Nez, near which are two open, rocky caverns. Still further on, the same path enters a grassy and ferny hollow, below the Doyle column at Jerbourg. It is quite possible to reach this point at all seasons, at the risk of tearing clothes with brambles and wetting feet in the damp, boggy earth.

From the hollow, which is always rather wet, the shore may easily be reached, and it is well worthy of the effort. To the left there is a cavern, superior to any in Guernsey, except the Creux Mahie, and remarkable for its noble and simple proportions, and magnificent entry through and amongst huge, broken rocks. Turning to the left, as you enter, several fine fragments of rock and grand arched rocks conduct to an imperfect representation of a cavern and funnel well known in Sark, and called there, the Pot. The chimney, or opening above, is here much less lofty than in Sark, and the top is concealed by a thick growth of brambles. In this respect it agrees better with the Creux at Herm.

In all these cases the hole has been originally produced in a soft vein, by rain water. The vein is a very dark green decomposing rock, and contrasts finely with the pink granite. It is continued across to a corresponding bay on the other side of Jerbourg promontory, called 'Petit Port.' Besides this vein, there is one of quartz, and several very interesting minerals are found near. The chief source of interest is, however, derived from the noble forms of broken rock, and the thick vegetation that comes down almost to the water's edge. Considering its wild beauty, it is singular that this little bay, so near the town, is not more frequently visited and better known.

Mounting the cliff at this point, we reach Jerbourg Point, where a column has been erected in honour of Sir John Doyle, a former governor, to whom the island was indebted for its roads, and for numerous improvements.

The views from hence, and also from the rocks about a quarter of a mile beyond, are very fine. The promontory on which the column is placed, forms the south-eastern extremity of Guernsey. It is the nearest point in the island to Jersey, being somewhat less than eighteen miles north-east of Cape Grosnez, in that island. The height of the cliff at the base of the column is about 300 feet. Beyond the foot of the cliff there are several detached rocks, rising out of deep water. The depth of water almost immediately outside Jerbourg Point, and close to these rocks, is at least twenty fathoms.

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