Come with us on a virtual tour of Jersey's coast, as we visit the most important locations on the shores of an adventurous, seafaring Island community
We start in the Royal Square, the hub of St Helier and the centre of Island life for many hundreds of years. With our backs to the statue of King George II we set off, with the granite building housing the island's States Chamber and Royal Court on our left, before we pass out of the square, across Library Place and through the churchyard of St Helier's Parish Church, or the Town Church. Now we are on the seashore, or at least we would have been before land was reclaimed when the harbour was built, pushing the shoreline several hundred metres out from the wall which still has rings where boats were moored in the past. On our way to the harbour we cross the open expanse which used to be the island's bus station and also housed the statue of Queen Victoria until she was controversially moved to West Park more than 30 years ago with a promise, now seemingly broken, that she would one day return. Looking back over our left shoulder we see the headquarters of La Société Jersiaise, Jersey's main museum.
Jersey had no real harbour until a jetty was built at St Aubin's Fort in 1670 and it was not until 30 years later that a small harbour was started at St Helier, some way distant from the town, requiring carts to cross the sand at low tide to unload vessels. Boatss could only enter the limited protection given by the new jetties at high tide, because St Helier Harbour was essentially built on dry land. It was not until well into the 19th century that the South Pier, which had been built to protect the moorings inside the small Havre des Anglais and Havre des Francais was extended, and a new northern pier, known to this day as the New North Quay, was built towards it.
This created a substantial harbour for the times, the other side of which was Quai des Marchands, built at their own expense by merchants and today known as Commercial Buildings. Today there is a long row of these buildings stretching the length of the harbour and rising level with Pier Road. They can rise no higher because included in their deeds is a height restriction in order that the field of fire for the cannons at Fort Regent on any enemy approaching the Harbour should not be obstructed.
La Collette and land reclamation
From these small beginnings St Helier has come to have a large, modern harbour, with ferry terminals accessible at just about all states of the tide. This has been achieved by reclaiming more and more land from the sea, starting at La Collette and then to the west of the Albert Pier, pushing the main berths further out, well beyond where the original jetties were built, and creating acres of new land for harbour facilities, commercial activities and new homes. The process started in the early 19th century, and has continued ever since, but not all projects have been successful.
Havre des Pas
As we pass Commercial Buildings and the two original harbours we see acres or newly reclaimed land on our right, the power station, which is rarely used now that power is supplied from France via an undersea cable, and a new incinerator to take care of all the island's refuse. With the Harvey Memorial on one side of the road and the Westaway Memorial on the other we climb up to Mount Bingham and South Hill, where old barracks below Fort Regent were refurbished to provide a home for the Territorial Army unit which perpetuates the memory of the Jersey Militia.
Descending the other side of the hill we reach Havre des Pas, which once provided a sheltered anchorage for ships and was then one of the key centres of Jersey's shipbuilding industry. There was nothing here until the early 18th century, when four shipyards occupied the shore, but they were to be replaced by hotels and fine houses as Havre des Pas became an important centre of Jersey's burgeoning tourism industry and the bathing pool was opened at the end of the 19th century to meet its needs.
Green Island and Le Hocq
We pass briefly along St Saviour's short coastline and then reach St Clement at The Dicq, where a dyke was once constructed to keep the sea from flooding St Clement's coastal plain, which is mostly below sea level at high tide. Indeed, the land used to stretch some distance further than it does today and there are stumps of trees under the sand and what is believed to be a fallen dolmen lies some 200 metres away from the sea wall.
At the end of a lovely expanse of sandy beach heading south east at La Mare the coast turns a corner and we encounter a grassy island; Green Island as it is popularly known or La Motte to give it its proper name. Only an island since the 17th century when the sandy soil which used to link it to the coast even at high tide was washed away, La Motte is still being eroded and ancient graves which were excavated in the early 19th century have been removed to La Hougue Bie.
We have to move away from the coast to follow the road because some very expensive properties stand on the shoreline between Green Island and Rocqueberg, a 40-foot high rock at the point known as Le Nez, now enclosed in a private garden. In the 16th and 17th century this is was a desolate spot where witches reputedly gathered. Further along the coast at Le Hocq stands a Martello tower which was built about 1778 when a French invasion was feared. Three years later the French did invade and The Battle of Jersey was fought, but their landing place was a little further along the coastline at La Rocque,
Offshore, in the distance, we can see Icho, an islet 40 metres by 20, two kilometres from the shore, on which stands a tower built as part of the island's defences in Napoleonic times. Archaeologists have found flints, pottery and human bones on the islet, suggesting that it was inhabited in Neolithic times, although it may not then have been an island, depending on where the sea level was. Icho has variously been known as Le Hyge Hoge (1563 map), Ickhoe (1685) and Croix de Fer (1645, 1737 and 1825). This is a reference to an iron cross which once stood there, but had long disappeared.
La Rocque, at the south-east corner of the island, was once one of only two centres of population on the east of Jersey, the other being Gorey. In between lay only farmsteads. Today the whole coastline from St Helier to Gorey is developed, with very few open spaces. At least at La Rocque the road meets the coast, overlooking the small harbour. This was a refuge for fishing vessels from the Middle Ages, although no jetty was built until the 19th century, and even then it was constructed piecemeal, following a number of petitions to the States by fishermen who wanted better protection for their vessels. It is interesting to note that before a pier was built at St Aubin's Fort in the late 17th century, La Rocque, unprotected as it was, must have been the island's safest anchorage because boats from there would carry messages to Guernsey.
Nobody is quite sure how La Rocque got its name. It would suggest a reference to a single rock, but there are none in the area, which is very flat and low-lying. Certainly there is an extensive offshore reef, but if the area was named after that it would surely have been Les Roches. There are other placenames in the area which refer to a rock and it is believed that there was probably a large outcrop the size of a modern house in a field in the vicinity, similar to Rocqueberg which we encountered earlier on this tour, which was demolished for building stone and to allow the field to be more easily cultivated.
It was at La Rocque, one of the few strategic locations along the east coast lacking a defensive tower, that the French landed on the eve of The Battle of Jersey in 1781.
Royal Bay of Grouville
As we turn north we see the long sweep of Grouville Bay, which so impressed Queen Victoria on her first visit to the island that in 1859 the Home Secretary wrote to the Bailiff to annouce that she desired that it should be known as the Royal Bay of Grouville.
The Bay is very built-up at the southern end, but at the other end, approaching Gorey the large expanse of Grouville Common remains open although those taking more than a virtual walk do run the risk of being hit by golf balls on the section used by the Royal Jersey Golf Club.
The common has had many uses over the centuries, most notably for training and reviews by the militia and for sixty years from 1843 it was the venue for horse racing, which had previously taken place on the beach at St Aubin's Bay and then at Grève d'Azette. The Grouville Common event was Jersey biggest annual carnival and was captured in oils by island painter Philip Ouless in 1849.
The bay offers nearly 5 miles of sandy beach, with marshland behind the common, which has diminished in size over the years, although what remains is unspoilt by development and should remain so thanks to modern planning legislation. During the Occupation the Germans took over a million tons of sand off the beach to make the concrete needed for their bunkers, gun emplacements and other concrete fortifications. They built a railway from Gorey to St Helier to move the sand to where it was needed.
In the 18th century Grouville Common was a favourite location for duels, often involving military men. Then in 1878 many officers of the Militia were instrumental in the establishment of the golf course which has been the predominant feature of the common ever since. It remained virtually unchanged until World War Two, when the links were covered with mines and tank traps, but today there is no sign of these times save for the sea wall which the Germans built.
Legendary 20th century golfers Harry Vardon and Ted Ray were both born in Grouville and learned their skills on the course. Vardon went on to win the Open Championship a record six times and Ray also won the Open and US Open and was the first Ryder Cup captain in 1927.
We now leave Grouville Common at its northern end and head along the shore to Gorey, a bustling centre for tourism today and a township and port with a very varied past. Standing proudly on the hill above the harbour is Mont Orgueil Castle, which appropriately translates as Mount Pride. The castle was started after Jersey split from Normandy in 1204 in the reign of King John and although it was very remote from the capital St Helier in the days when it served not only as the island's main defence against French invasion, but also as the residence of Wardens and Governors, the main garrison and the island's prison. There may have been a few homes on the coast below and in the Extente of 1274 it was already being referred to as the Port of Gorey - Portus Gorryk - but Gorey did not develop into a small but busy town until early in the 19th century, on the back of a thriving oyster industry.
In 1593 a report said that Gorey had neither a road nor a harbour; in 1617 Royal Commissioners dismissed the harbour as "not good"; in 1685 it was described as Jersey's oldest harbour with a "decaying jetty". The jetty decayed so badly it had disappeared by 1815 and it was another 11 years before a proper pier was built.
This coincided with the dramatic growth in Gorey's oyster trade, which by 1830 employed 250 boats, each with a crew of six, from Kent alone, and more from other south coast ports. It is estimated that 2,000 men were employed, as well as hundreds of women and girls who graded and packed the oysters on shore. By 1864 over-dredging had reduced the fleet to 23 but a new industry sprang up as seven ship-building yards were established on the shore. One can just be made out with a ship under construction above the trees in the picture of Grouville Bay above.
The Germans left their mark on Gorey with the construction of a massive bunker in the port area and it was to remain there for some time until it was demolished with great difficulty to make way for a coach park.