Durell's 1847 guidebook
- St Peter’s Valley and Marsh
- St Ouen’s Bay
- St Ouen’s Pond
- Grosnez Castle
- The setting sun
The last tour which the stranger may make in his exploration of the Island will be into the St Peter's Valley Road, and that part of the country to which it approximates. The whole of the districts to be visited have been so vividly described in Ouless' Scenic Beauties that we shall confine ourselves mostly to a selection from that work. After leaving St Helier by the Esplanade and travelling for about two miles, one comes to the entrance of St Peter's or rather St Lawrence's Valley, one of the richest, best cultivated, and most beautiful districts in the Island. At its opening, it expands into a considerable extent of meadows, some of which are rather low and marshy.
The numerous rivulets on the south coast of Jersey run from north to south, and intersect it till within a mile of the coast, where the waters takes a northerly direction. That is the reason that the largest streams in Jersey fall into St Aubin's Bay. That of St Peter's Valley is the largest, and during its course of four or five miles it turns several mills.
The shores of St Aubin's Bay are lined by narrow sandy downs, beyond which there is a strip, more or less wide, of rich and valuable land, which reaches to the foot of the hills. In several places, however, the hills separate and form different valleys, which penetrate into the country. The principal of these go by the name of St Peter's and St Lawrence's Valleys. There is an extensive marshy common, which is generally under water during the winter months. If it were private property instead of being a common, it might be easily drained. The eastern side of the valley consists of well irrigated and productive meadows, after which succeeds a finely wooded and picturesque country, full of orchards and cornfields. It seems to be one of the most densely inhabited, and most flourishing tracts in Jersey.
A little farther on, the valley contracts into a narrow glen, which winds between steep and elevated hills, covered with stunted furze, and so rugged that they seem to be incapable of any improvement, or cultivation. The windings of the glen are so considerable that one soon loses sight of everything but the circumscribed horizon between the enclosing hills, till the deception is so complete that one might suppose himself to be travelling through a continent, at several hundred miles from the sea, and among the picturesque scenes of some sterile Alpine region.
After having proceeded a little farther, the valley expands again, but the traveller leaves it to ascend the road, which now conducts him by a gradual ascent till he reaches the table land, near St Peter's Church, and joins the old military road which goes to St Ouen's Bay. It is during this ascent that the views are magnificent, and vary at almost every step; the bay, with the numerous shipping sailing in every direction, on its glassy expanse, Elizabeth Castle, the fortifications of Fort Regent, and the town of St Helier, with the adjacent country.
To visit this part of the island to advantage, one ought to enter by the vale road, and to return by the Beaumont or the old military one. This latter branches of from that to St Aubin, near the third martello tower, and after skirting the border of St Peter's Marsh, it climbs up the hill of Beaumont, one of the highest and steepest in the island. The inconvenience of that road had long been felt. People began at length to be convinced that the most practicable roads are always the shortest, without any reference to the actual measured distance, and that on mathematical principles, the space is as great to go over a hill, as to go round its circumference.
The scene of the exploits and of the murder of the Lord of Hambie was laid in St Lawrence's Marsh. The tradition is probably a fable, but it is so well imagined and has been told with so much simplicity, that if it is a fiction, it has a certain air of truth about it, which has rendered it the most beautiful, and the most popular of our Jersey stories of olden time.
St Ouen's Bay
From St Peter's Church the road leads to the Barracks, and afterwards to St Ouen's Bay, which is the largest in the island, for it extends from north to south for about five miles. Four miles of it are on a fair, flat and low sand; the sea in this bay is very boisterous, especially near the shore, for it lies open to the whole violence of the Atlantic Ocean, as it rushes up the British Channel. It has no good anchorage, or safe landing anywhere, but large vessels may come to an anchor off a rock, called La Rocco, which is always above water, and on which, a tower has been erected to command the anchorage. That rock is about half a mile below high-water mark, but is left dry when the tide is down. There are times when the bay is nearly inaccessible for several weeks, from the violent surf that breaks over the rough surface of low rocks, which run along the whole extent of this, too frequently, dangerous coast.
There is a tradition that the northern part of this extensive bay was once a fertile valley ,in which there grew a forest of oaks. As this vale had no natural barrier of rocks for its protection, it could offer no resistance to any sudden irruption of the sea. The date of that catastrophe is uncertain, though if a conjecture were to be hazarded from tradition, it could not have happened more than 500 years ago. A breach once effected, it soon became wider; by degrees the waves washed off the rich soil, and left it in its present state of a barren sand. This was doubtless in the first instance the effect of a tremendous storm from the westward, and afterwards a succession of wintry gales completed the devastation.
The former existence of a wood is sufficiently evident. After violent storms the flat rocks are frequently bare of their covering of sand. At those times many trunks of trees are discovered, chiefly near low water mark. Those stumps still cling to the rocks by their roots, that pierce the clefts. The length of one trunk, was, when found, 15 feet in the main stem, and it measured from nine to ten feet in girth. It then spread itself into two branches, each of nearly the same length and substance as the stem itself. The remains of stone buildings are also sometimes discovered. There is also a bed of peat in the bay; but, as the waves frequently deposit over it a covering of sand, it is but occasionally visible.
St Ouen's Bay is surrounded by a low line of coast, extending for some distance into the country. Beyond that the bay is commanded by the neighbouring heights. Considering, therefore, all the natural and artificial obstacles which this bay presents to an invader, it is one of the best fortified, and of the least accessible parts of Jersey.
About the centre of the bay, and close to the shore, there is a fine piece of fresh water, generally known by the name of St Ouen's Pond. This small lake is interesting, as being the only thing of the kind in Jersey. It is shallow, and is formed by the drainage of several small streams, which overflow the lower part of a large extent of surrounding meadows. Formerly this lake contained some very large carp, which are supposed to be extinct, but it still abounds in tench. The upper part of the lake, being full of reeds, affords in the winter season shelter to wild ducks and other aquatic birds.
There are some important historical recollections connected with this bay. During the civil wars of England the celebrated Admiral Blake was sent by Cromwell, in 1651, with a large fleet to reduce the island. He first attempted to land here, but having been repulsed after an attack of four hours, the fleet bore off, and entered St Brelade's Bay, where he hoped to carry his design into effect with little or no opposition. But there also, after having made several efforts to land, he was disappointed. In consequence Blake weighed anchor and returned to St Ouen's Bay, where the next day he finally succeeded in landing his troops.
The talent and energy of Sir George De Carteret, who commanded the Royalists, was conspicuous on that occasion. He charged the enemy with great gallantry at the head of his small body of horse. The attack on the Cromwellians was bloody and desperate, as might have been expected from men who fought for their Prince on their own native soil, and who, if they had no hopes of victory, were resolved not to fall ingloriously. Many of the invaders perished in the engagement, bat as fresh troops were continually pouring in from the fleet, the insignificant number of troops under Sir George were obliged to retreat. As to Sir George, he retired with 300 of his best men to Elizabeth Castle, besides several individuals, who having formerly distinguished themselves for their attachment to the King, were now afraid of the consequences.
There is another historical recollection attached to this bay, but which had not so fatal a result as that of the invasion in 1651. A French expedition, under the command of the prince of Nassau, appeared off this Bay on 1 May 1779. After a faint attempt at landing, the hostile fleet stood off for St Brelade's Bay, but it was lost sight off during the night, and was not seen again on the coast.
At the extremity of St Ouen's Bay, the tourist will reach the village and small fishing creek of L'Etac. Some additional fortifications to defend the bay were erected there by the late Sir William Thornton. From L'Etac the road ascends, and continues to do so till it reaches the last village in Jersey, and the nearest to the ruins on Grosnez Point. The coast from L'Etac to this village is but a succession of nearly vertical precipices, rugged, and inaccessible masses of rock, and of huge impending crags, which, though grand and sublime, lose much of their attractions, by the frequency and the repetition of description.
Grosnez constitutes the north western boundary of Jersey, forming a high and bluff promontory, the first land that the voyager sees emerging above the waves on his coming over from England. It is perfectly inaccessible from the sea, or has only a few of those airy, wandering paths, up and down which a few stunted sheep in quest of a scanty herbage, where no human being, in his senses, would ever venture.
Grosnez, from its situation as a commanding point among cliffs and breakers, has acquired a distinguished name among the traditions of the country. It has been called a castle, and of an antiquity so remote that even the name of its founder has been forgotten. It has also been said to have been repaired and garrisoned by the then Lord of St Ouen, during the partial occupation of Jersey by the Count of Maulevrier, in the 15th century. There is no ground for the former supposition that it ever was a castle, and still less probability that it ever was a defensive post during Maulevrier's occupation. The whole of this pretended Grosnez Castle consists now, but in some trifling ruins, which are still to be seen at the extremity of the promontory. A small gateway, and two projecting angles form the remains of a portal. The walls of this place enclosed a very circumscribed area, and they are now so nearly effaced that scarcely a vestige of them marks their former existence. The ruins of a place generally ascertain its former extent, unless they have been purposely removed, which was not likely to have been the case here.
The primitive destination of the building appears, therefore, to be uncertain; for it seems to have been of too limited an extent, either for a monastic institution, or for a defensive post. Even the masonry is altogether that of a rude and unpolished people, whose skill was small, and whose resources were still more scanty. It was, probably, no more than some solitary hermitage, like that of St Helier, to which his martyrdom has given an imperishable name. The seclusion of the spot, the awful magnificence of the surrounding scenes, and its aptitude for heavenly contemplations favour this supposition.
Grosnez Castle, and the adjoining Common, still make a part of the Lordship of St Ouen. Their is evidence that some of the Seigneurs have held their Feudal Court under the portal, in the open air, in token of possession. Would it be wrong to conjecture that the author of the old Jersey Chroniques, who was also a retainer of the St Ouen family, might not partly from a love of fiction, and partly from a desire to please his patrons, have transformed the ruins of Grosnez into a defensive castle, when that character, in fact, belonged to their castellated manor.
A signal post is erected on a conspicuous part in this quarter, and an uninterrupted view of all the neighbouring islands skirts the horizon. It was now late in the evening, the travellers were weary, and in want of some substantial refreshments; besides, they were at the distance of rather more than eight miles from St Helier. The tide was flowing in, and that alone would render it that day impossible to visit the neighbouring Caves of Plemont. They agreed, therefore, to put it off, and to explore them at the earliest opportunity with a few other objects in a concluding tour. They, therefore, tarried a little longer on the cliffs of Grosnez, to enjoy the glorious spectacle of seeing the sun set in the western deep, and then departed.
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