Thursday, 8 December 2016

Sark – 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.

Sark – Part 2

Boutique caves by Sue Daly

The Boutiques Caverns

The Greve de la Ville is a wide sweep of pebble and rocky beach, with a noble group of caverns at its southern extremity, connected with a large arched rock,—the "Chapelle Mauve."

These caverns are only accessible at low water, and are not easily visited. The shingles here do not afford a landing-place, but the bay can be entered from above, and there is good anchorage. Boats are moored at a point called the Banquet, and a rough road leads to the top. Beyond this is the Epercherie, in some states of the weather a more convenient harbour than the Creux; and it is seriously contemplated to make this once more the principal landing-place of Sark.

We now approach the northern extremity of the island, which, like all the rest of the rocky coast, is penetrated by noble caverns and cut into shreds by the mixed action of weather and the sea. The principal caves arc the "Boutiques," a group eminently characteristic of the island, and highly interesting and instructive. They are best entered from above, at a point where an island is nearly formed, by the action of the sea upon a vein of soft, clayey mineral. At the foot of this narrow cleft are piled gigantic boulders of granite; but about half way down is a transverse cleft of considerable length; the roof not yet fallen in, and the floor composed of rocks, whose edges and corners arc still sharp and angular.

At the end of this is an opening to the sea, to the left, and a continuance of this opening into the solid rock by caverns to the right. Beyond, is a continuation of the main cleft to the extreme point of the island. Not possessing the rich lining of zoophytes seen in the Gouliots, this series of caverns is less interesting to the zoologist; but as illustrating the mode in which Sark is being destroyed, there can be imagined nothing more striking or more instructive to the geologist.

Round the Bee du Nez,* as the little island north of Sark is called, and past the entrance to the Boutiques, we come to a confused pile of rocks, extending to a pretty bay (Seignie Bay), whence are seen the detached islets called the Autelets, one of the most picturesque groups of rocky masses around Sark.

[Judging from old maps, as well as from the probabilities of the case, not only has the Bee du Nez become recently detached, but the land formerly stretched out to some distance towards the north, with a greater breadth than at present. The appearance of the fallen and still angular blocks, contrasted with the perfect roundness of those that have been longer exposed, testifies to the fact of enormous destruction in a short period.]

A footpath has been constructed down the face of the cliff, chiefly in a vein containing much iron and manganese ore, so that the little bay can be reached. The view, shut in by the steep face of rock, the picturesque 'Autelets' on one side and the pile of angular masses of granite on the shore, is extremely fine.

At low water there is a walk quite round to the Port du Moulin, beyond which again is a noble, detached rocky mass, the Tintageux [One of the very few Celtic words remaining in the Channel Islands. The Huet, in Moulin Huet (Guernsey), is also Celtic] and then another bay, the Grand Pegane, and the Port la Jument.

Beyond the latter is the Moie de Mouton, a nearly detached rock, forming a sort of promontory, approachable only by a boat. Like the Point du Derrible on the opposite side of the island, and other rocks of its kind, of which we have already mentioned so many, it is strikingly bold, angular, and apparently capable of resisting almost indefinitely the grinding action of the tidal and storm wave. But like the rest, it is on the road to destruction; and some other mass, now a part of Sark, will succeed it in due time.
There is no access to the shore beyond the Moie de Mouton till the celebrated Gouliot caves arc reached. They are approached by a rather troublesome descent from the table land, the path leading past the Havre Gosselin, which may be conveniently visited on the same excursion. They consist of noble, vaulted caverns, piercing a promontory which extends towards, and has originally been connected with, the Gouliot rock and the island of Brechou (He des Marchands).

The whole of the rock at and near the water level, beneath the promontory called the Sault de San Jehan (St. John's Leap), is honeycombed in a singular manner, forming a succession of caverns constantly altered by the action of the waves. A very fine view of the Gouliot rock and passage, with the caverns just visible, and the island of Brechou to the left, is obtained from the Havre Gosselin. It is represented in the annexed engraving.
Gouliot caves by Sue Daly

The Gouliot caves, which may at all times he reached from above, can only be thoroughly explored at extremely low tides; and even then, the visitor must be prepared to wade through some depth of water.

The descent is not a very easy task to any one not accustomed to cliffing, and not endowed by nature with a steady head. In this case, however, as in many others, there is little danger when there is no fear. A path has been made on the rocky face of a small inlet, and terminates on some large rocks, covered with black slippery sea-weed and little barnacles, the rocks having been thrown by the sea in its angry moments above the reach of ordinary tides. Over these one has to pick one's way into the first great cave, which is a long natural tunnel, something like the Boutiques, penetrating completely through a small promontory that stretches out beyond the middle of the west coast of Sark, and separated from the island of Brechou and the Gouliot rock by a tunnel, passable at all times.

This first cavern is of noble proportions, and the floor is roughly piled with immense boulders, giving many a varied view of the small but picturesque "Havre Gosselin," seen through the opening at the farther extremity. But this cavern, though fine, is, as it were, a mere outer court, preparing us for the glories to be revealed within. Its walls are partly covered with those singular currant-jelly-like animals one sees expanded like living flowers in marine aquaria; deep blood-red is the prevailing colour, but dark olive-green varieties are also common, and numerous yellow and brick-red patches are seen at intervals. A few muscles, and tens of thousands of limpets and barnacles, cover the boulders. Abundance of life is seen, and some of the specimens are as rare as they are beautiful. A branch of the first cavern, in which is a deep pool of water, conducts to the sea; hut it is better to wait till low water and creep round outside.

[ Gouliot.—Goulot or Goulet, a narrow inlet, like the neck of a bottle.]

We then enter a gloomy series of vaults, lighted from the sea, and communicating with each other by natural passages.

Every square inch of surface is covered with living corallines; and, in some parts, an infinite number of Tubularie are seen occupying the walls. As it is only at rare intervals that these animals are deprived of water, and the caverns are always damp and gloomy, the conditions are particularly favourable for their development, and their dimensions and vigour sufficiently prove the healthiness and suitableness of the locality.

The Havre Gosselin succeeds the Gouliots; and in it also are caverns of considerable magnitude. They afford fresh examples of vertical cliffs, connecting with and originating small bays. More caverns and small coves succeed; another little harbour, the Port-es-Sees, is passed, and we then come to the expanse of sand and shingle from which the western and more sloping side of the Coupee commences to rise.

There is a path down to this bay from the Coupee. It is a steep zigzag, not pleasant to descend, although not very difficult of ascent.

The rest of the coast is that of Little Sark. The rocks are somewhat lower here than on the larger division of the island, and there is nothing calling for special remark till we reach the little harbour of Gouray, where, in former times, vessels were moored, bringing stores from Cornwall for the mines adjacent. A large group of rocks and small islands forms a temporary barricade to this part of the island, and keeps off some of the heavy seas that sweep round during the equinoctial gales, and at other seasons.

We have thus completed our survey of the coast line of Sark, as it may be seen by walking round it on the cliffs, or sailing along the shores, according as circumstances permit; but the detached islands and rocks arc not often safely to he reached, although the many stout boats seen moored at all the little landing-places, show that the Sark fishermen are not afraid of braving rough seas and dangerous shores. About twenty small nooks and coves may be counted along the shore, but access to the land from some of them is so difficult, that nothing but necessity would induce any ordinary tourist to undertake the trip.

Between Sark and Brechou is the detached rock called the Gouliot Rock, the celebrated Gouliot caverns, already alluded to, opening under the cliffs that face this rock. The water passage between the Gouliot Rock and Brechou is deep, dark, and dangerous. The current is swift, and varies with the tide, so that at times it would be impossible to row against it. There is, however, depth of water sufficient to float a frigate, and daring sailors, in time of need, have ventured to sail through it.

There is only one landing-place at Brechou, worthy of the name, and that is not accessible at all times of tide, even in a rowing-boat. The cliffs all round the island are high and exceedingly steep, but their height is inferior to that of the Sark cliffs. The top of the island is partly cultivated, and there are two farms; the population of the place, at the last census, being seven human beings, a cow, a horse, and a dog, besides several sheep.

Like the larger island adjacent, Brechou is almost intersected by caverns and surrounded by picturesque rocks. Seen from the sea—their jagged and varied forms resembling pinnacles and castles, with cormorants standing sentinel on the flat edges, and gulls perched on the commanding heights—these rocks contrast finely with the black overhanging precipices of the island. But the overfalls and the white foam, also visible in the sea near them, give notice of the hidden dangers that lurk beneath, and remind the boatman of the caution that is needed in threading his way through the narrow channels that alone are safe.

From the highest point of Brechou, where a small cairn has been placed, there is a fine view of Sark in its whole length, with all the detached and pierced rocks, and the entrances to the dark caverns that penetrate its western face. The distance is so short, the position so nearly central, and the level so nearly that which is best adapted for a good coup d'wil, that the view is quite panoramic. At a greater distance, the surface of Sark looks comparatively flat, but here all the principal undulations are seen, and the most striking peculiarities of structure are readily made out. Besides the little harbours and rocky cliffs, which one can ascend after landing from a boat, there are some small bays that may be reached from above, but which it would not be easy for boats to enter. More than five-and-twenty points of the Sark coast can be visited in this way, and three or four in the island of Brechou; and as each one will take time and trouble to descend, and many of them require good climbing powers and a steady head, few persons would be inclined to attempt a thorough investigation of the rocky coast adjacent, more than half-a-dozen times in one day.

It will be evident, then, that there is plenty of work in Sark for several days, even for the most energetic tourist. Many of the points of view can only be seen to advantage, at certain times of tide; whilst some of the descents to the beach include wanderings for one or more hours in romantic caverns. In the Channel Islands, moreover—across which Atlantic gales sweep with fierce violence, and which, by their elevation, attract no small quantity of rain,—it is not possible to continue one's investigations for many days, without being stopped by unfavourable weather. All these considerations show that Sark, small as it is, cannot be appreciated without a prolonged visit; and indeed, it requires not only time, but a good guide to enable a stranger to reach the most interesting points.

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