The slit opening in the cliff face above La Val de Rock lay half hidden behind a curtain of creepers.
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Inside, a chilly tunnel led into blackness – just one of hundreds of half-forgotten bunkers and towers that bear witness to the occupation of Guernsey by the German military during the Second World War. Hitler intended the Channel Islands to be an impregnable bastion against Allied invasion, and the concrete fortifications of his Atlantic Wall still stand stark and massive round the island’s coastline.
We followed the undulating path along the south-western cliffs where a line of German observation towers stood looking out over a jade-green sea. Bedded on dark gold Guernsey granite among pink drifts of thrift, their flat-topped and futuristic profiles stared out blankly, Easter Island heads re-imagined by a Bauhaus architect.
A path through neatly drilled potato fields and a tangle of narrow flowery lanes brought us down to the broad stretch of Rocquaine Bay, where dark bars of rock and pebbles intersected the pale sands. Halfway up the beach we ducked into the Shipwreck Museum in the Martello tower of Fort Grey – tableaux, memorabilia, wreck salvage and stories heroic, tragic and hilarious from dozens of Guernsey shipwrecks down the centuries.
Out on L’Erée Headland, guide Gill Gerard was waiting for the tide to ebb far enough to usher a score of clients across the causeway onto Lihou Island. This tiny green strip of islet is the westernmost point of the Channel Islands, a beautiful but rugged world apart. Fishermen in rubber boots, ormering hooks at the ready, were searching the receding tide-line for the large, elusive shellfish called ormers that are a proper Guernsey delicacy.
We splashed and skidded across the weed-strewn causeway and made a circuit of Lihou under Gill’s expert guidance – the ancient ruin of St Mary’s Priory, sea beet and samphire, murders and wrecks, herring gulls on their nests and tales of seaweed-munching sheep. And at the westerly tip of the Lihou, a view to sum up the reality of island life – harsh shores, bare grazing, a lonely lighthouse warning off shipping, and a hungry sea eating inexorably into the granite rocks.
Start: Imperial Hotel, Rocquaine Bay, Torteval GY8 0PS (Perry’s Guernsey map guide – widely available locally – p.32, D2)
Getting there: Aurigny (aurigny.com), Flybe (flybe.com) or Blue Islands (blueislands.com) to Guernsey. Bus service 11, 91, 92, 93 (buses.gg) to Portelet Bay.
Road – follow ‘Pleinmont’ signs from Rue des Landes, adjacent to Guernsey airport. Park near Imperial Hotel.
Walk (8½ miles, moderate; Perry’s Guernsey map guide pp.32, 26, 20, 12. NB: Online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): Pass public WC; follow road to Fort Pezeries (B1). Follow coast path, climbing between outcrops. At top, right to German tower (B2). Cross grass to coast path; follow it to pass another German tower (C4). Halfway between this tower and Watch House seen ahead, turn left off coast path (D5) along wide gravel field track to reach Rue de la Trigale (D4). Right to Route du Crolier; left; in 200m, fork right past Rocque à l’Or house (C3). Pass La Seigneurie; fork right downhill (D3) to Imperial Hotel. North along beach past Fort Grey shipwreck museum (P26, A1) to turn left off Les Sablons (‘Lihou Island’; P20, B1) along La Rue du Brave to parking place opposite Lihou Island (P12, A5). Explore L’Erée Headland, then cross causeway (see below) to explore Lihou Island. Return to bus stop on Les Sablons (P20, B1); Bus 11, 91, 92, 93 to Imperial Hotel car park.
Conditions: Lihou causeway is only open at LOW TIDE for variable lengths of time. Please check first! – tel 01481-717200; gov.gg; local radio, press; notices at causeway.
Lunch: Guernsey Pearl Café opposite Fort Grey (01481-266404)
Accommodation: Bella Luce Hotel, La Fosse, St Martin’s GY4 6EB (01481-238764, bellalucehotel.com) – really comfortable, friendly and stylish.
Guide: Gill Girard (07781-104094; gillgirardtourguide.com)
Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum (01481-265036): Mon-Fri, April-Oct, 10-4.30
Pleinmont Observation Tower (01481-238205): Wed and Sun, April-Oct, 2-5
Walk: Follow roadway past public WC, west to Fort Pezeries, then cliff path (marked) for 1½ miles past two German observation towers. Midway between second tower and Watch House ahead, left on gravel field track to Rue de la Trigale. Follow lanes down to Imperial Hotel. North up beach for 1½ miles to L’Erée Headland. Cross causeway to Lihou Island; back to main road; bus to Imperial Hotel car park.