Thursday, 27 October 2016

The Island and Coast of Guernsey – Part 3

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 3

Petit Port, Moulin Huet, and Saints' Bay, are small inlets of a large bay, with excellent anchorage, enclosed between Jerbourg promontory and an almost detached headland, called Icart Point, about a mile and a-half to the east. There is good shelter in this extremely picturesque bay from all northerly winds; and it might have been selected with advantage for a harbour of refuge, as the entrance, except near Jerbourg Point, is entirely free from rocks. The ground close to the shore is generally rocky, although at intervals there are small coves, with sands adapted for bathing.

Each of the small coves is worthy not only of a visit, but of prolonged study. Every visitor to Guernsey is taken to Moulin Huet, the central and most important of them; and few parts of the island are more crowded with exquisite morsels of rocky scenery. Petit Port, smaller, and not easily reached, is hardly inferior, and Saints' Bay is a charming little bathing-place.

From Saints' Bay we may scale the hill side through furze and brake to Icart Common, and thence proceed along the cliffs towards Icart Point. Passing a small farm-house now occupied, and a ruined house behind it, we come upon a steep slope of ground, thinly covered with coarse grass, and often very slippery. Down this slope, any one accustomed to clamber will walk securely enough, till he or she reaches a singular isthmus, almost corresponding to the Coupe of Sark. The sea on both sides has at this point eaten away a narrow passage, through a vein of softer rock than the granite beyond, leaving a natural causeway about five or six feet wide, and several yards in length, on either side of which is a precipice of some sixty or eighty feet.

There is much less action of the weather on the surface here than in the island opposite; but in other respects Icart Point and its isthmus strictly correspond with Little Sark and its Coupe. The sea and rock-views, both from the extremity of the point, and from the shore below, which can be reached at low water, are very fine.

From the higher point the whole of the two receding sweeps of coast, the one east to Jerbourg, and the other west to Moye Point, are within view. Both are picturesque and finely broken, and are characteristic of the island. That to the west has been already described. The other is as nearly as possible of the same width, and recedes to about the same distance, but is more regular.

To the west of the centre is a small cove, called Petit Bot, reached from St. Martin's by an extremely picturesque Welsh valley, watered by a small stream, which turns a mill at the bottom, where another valley, equally picturesque, comes in from the Por6t church. The little cove itself has a wide spit of fine sand at low water, and at its western end is a bold, rocky cavern, often visited, and celebrated as the abode of a somewhat rare fern, the Aaplenium marinum. Those, however, who would obtain specimens, must provide themselves with some means of reaching high up near the roof of the cavern, as plants growing near the ground have long since been carried away.

The headland that forms the western extremity of Icart Bay is Moye Point. It is bold and precipitous, rising at once from tolerably deep water, and is the last prominent point along the south coast.

[Moee, a mass of stoues, old French; Monceau is a word similarly used in ! iii-iii, Moye is used in Jersey and Sark as well as Guernsey. In all the islands it refers to a dangerous headland. Many of these ancient names are now inapplicable, owing to the destruction of the coast that has taken place.]

Beyond it to the west there is a succession of indentations of the coast, not amounting to bays, but producing very picturesque scenery, and at intervals interrupted by narrow gorges. The best of these is called La Corbiere [The haunt of the corb (cormorant, or sea-raven). This name occurs also in Jersey. It is about another mile to the west. 

The Gouffre is a fine intermediate point of view, often visited. The Corbiere exhibits much varied scenery, and several veins of dark greenish rock traversing the pinkish and grey cliff, give additional interest to the view. A very accurate representation of it. is given in the chapter on geology. A path down to the sea at the Corbiere, enables the pedestrian to obtain a noble view of the deep, rocky indentations of the coast at this point.

About a mile from the Corbiere is the Creux Mahie, the largest cavern in Guernsey. The approach is not difficult, but the mouth of the cavern is almost closed by large blocks of stone, either drifted up by the sea, or fallen in from above. A vein of decomposing rock entering the cliff nearly at right angles, is the origin of this, as of many of the caverns in the Channel Islands. When once entered, the space is found to be large for a granite cavern, opening out into a natural hall, 200 feet long, with a width of forty or fifty feet, and a height of from forty to sixty feet. Beyond this there are smaller crevices.

Among the most striking examples of the cliff scenery of Guernsey, are those near the south-westernmost angle in the neighbourhood of Pleinmont, commencing at the Gull Cliff, and passing several rocky headlands to Pezerie Battery. One may walk along the edge and side of the cliff for more than two miles, on a succession of jagged promontories, connected by narrow necks of rock with the main island. At each point a fresh view is opened. The coast is everywhere deeply indented, and there are some detached islets close in shore.

Besides these the group of rocks called the Hanois, already alluded to, come into sight, and add much to the picturesque effect. These rocks are an extension of the south-western extremity of the island, and are very easily recognised. At high water the waves dash angrily on the shore, between and among the half-detached rocks, and conceal the numerous ledges and reefs that render this coast so dangerous. Seated on one of these headlands of the south coast, and tracing the in-coming or out-going tide on its restless course of destruction and renovation, no one can fail to recognise the mode in which this part of the island of Guernsey —the loftiest part, and that rising out of deepest water—is continued by many ledges of rocks and rocky islands, far beyond the land; and also how the land itself is still being encroached upon, so that the present cliffs will be turned into similar rocks.

These geological remarks, it is true, belong rather to another chapter than to the description to which we are here limited; but as they greatly help to explain the physical features of the whole group of islands and rocks, and as these can only be rightly considered in their mutual relations, such incidental allusions are not altogether out of place.

The dangers incurred, if the Hanois rocks are approached too closely, are so great, and the chances of destruction in foggy weather so terrible, if a ship should miss the lights on the English coast, by making too southerly a course, that there has always been great need of a warning here. The question of its erection has frequently been discussed between the Corporation of the Trinity House and the States of Guernsey, and it is only very recently that the decision has been made to place a Trinity light in this important locality.

Past Pleinmont Point and the Pezerie Battery, the coast scenery of Guernsey changes entirely. The continuous rocky and precipitous cliffs drop down to the sea level, or recede into the interior, but bare jagged rocks and rocky ledges are continued out to sea in numerous reefs and islets. A vast floor of rocks is laid bare at low water, and covered at high tide, in the open bay of Rocquaine, the first of the flat bays on the southwest coast, but large sweeps of sand partly conceal them.

Rocquaine Bay is well named, as it presents a bristling array of rocks, stretching out seawards more than two miles, and terminating on the south with the Hanois rocks, and to the north by a reef some distance beyond Lihou. The Bissets are detached rocks, opposite the middle of the bay, rising out of deep water. It would be very difficult to mark and number the rocks jutting out of the water at all times of tide in this bay, and the effect seen from the cliff above Pezerie is very picturesque.

Lihou is a singular and interesting spot. It is a detached extremity of the northern arm of Rocquaine Bay, and is two miles in a direct line from Pezerie, from which it bears nearly north. It may be regarded as the extreme north-westerly extremity, jutting out into the sea, of the belt of high land in the south of Guernsey, the corresponding point on the eastern side of the island being Castle Cornet. Castle Cornet on the east side, and Lihou on the west, occupy, indeed, corresponding positions; but Lihou is very much the larger, being about 600 yards long by 150 wide, including, therefore, about eighteen acres, while Castle Cornet is only large enough for a small group of buildings. Lihou is nearly rectangular in form, and its greatest length is from east to west. It is connected with Guernsey at Le Rae Barracks by a rough causeway, about 700 yards long, covered during at least half of every tide.

Lihou is one of the few places in the Channel Islands where there are ruins of monastic buildings which have some architectural pretensions, although without much decoration. At the beginning of the present century they included interesting remains of a chapel, dating so far back as the commencement of the twelfth century, some fragments of which may still be traced. These belonged to a priory, which was surrounded by cultivated land and gardens. There is a good deal of fine rocky scenery about the island, and some capital rock pools contain much to interest the zoologist.

Beyond Lihou there are four sandy and rocky bays (Le Ree, Perelle, Vazon, and Cobo), terminated by the headland called Grande Rocque, a picturesque, but not lofty mass of granite, about three and a-half miles to the north-cast. This part of the coast has a very different character from the southern part; and, although in its way highly picturesque, especially at the season of gathering sea-weed, there are no cliffs, and the land near the sea is low and marshy. Beyond Grande Rocque something of the same character of coast prevails as far as Grande Havre, where the sea formerly entered. Between this and St. Sampson's there was formerly a salt marsh, separating the northern part from the main island.

The inroads of the sea all along this coast have been checked, wherever necessary, by a sea wall, which also interferes with and prevents the advance of drifting sands. The sea breaks heavily on the rocky floor of the bays, and there can be little doubt that the condition of this part of the island has been considerably improved since the road and sea wall were constructed, and the land was reclaimed.

Mention has been made of the coast scenery from Pezerie Battery to the Grande Havre, as full of interest and beauty, though neither bold nor backed by any amount of rich cultivation in the interior.

The multitude of rocks, all covered by sea-weed, afford points of view, and varieties and contrasts of colour, an accurate representation of which, by first startling and then convincing a somewhat unwilling public, have established the reputation of the admirable island artist, Mr. Paul Naftel, who being determined to render them conscientiously, without regard to conventional rules in such matters, has succeeded in creating a sound natural taste for, and admiration of, them.

Few scenes, indeed, are more striking than these bays when the peasants, anxious to secure their harvest of weed, are busied either removing it from the rock, turning it over to dry, or stacking it for winter use. The seasons selected for this are spring and autumn; spring, when the intense orange yellow of the gorse is dazzling in its intensity on the hill side; autumn, when the fern is acquiring that rich burnt brown that forms so fine a contrast with the yellow and colder browns of the rocks, and their living coats of lichen. Rare and difficult studies are here afforded for the genuine artist; studies by which lovers of art for its own sake, and artists who prefer grappling with a difficulty to rendering familiar scenes in a stereotyped manner, will learn much, and may perhaps unlearn yet more.

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