96. Fort Grey and Lihou Island

October 2014

As I wrote about last week, a a couple of years prior to this walk, I had walked the coast of Guernsey over the course of 3 days. On the second day I walked from Torteval to Vazon Bay on the North coast and remember stopping for a late lunch at L’Eree headland, overlooking Lihou Island. However as you might have seen from my post last week, the tide was such that I could not get there for any of the days I had remaining.

Lihou Island is a tidal island which has a causeway connecting it to Guernsey at low tide. However the large tidal range of the Channel Islands means it is not accessible every day and there is typically a 10 day window or so each month when there is no safe crossing time. Unfortunately, my trip had coincided with this so I had to content myself with looking out over the island, rather than walking out to it.

A few years before that I had travelled over to Jersey and walked the coast of that lovely island, and we used a small airline called Blue Islands, who at the time flew from Bournemouth to Jersey, a route they no longer run (probably because Bournemouth Airport seems to have become rather passenger hostile). Of course these days if you ever buy anything from a company and give them your email address, you are guaranteed to get regular emails from then onwards. And so it proved with Blue Islands, but one caught my eye, that they were offering flights to Guernsey from £25, which seemed like a good deal.

For reasons I won’t go into here, during the period off this offer I had no weekend where I was free for both days. But the flight times worked out so well that I could make a day trip to the island for £50, which I thought was a good deal. So I booked flights to make a day tirp from Southampton Airport. This is a very convenient airport as I can take a train direct from my local station to Southampton Airport Parkway station which, is right opposite the airport terminal. I can also drive there in an hour. As time neared I started to plan what I might do when I got there and thought I might try and visit Lihou Island. I checked the times and found that the island was open for a few hours in the afternoon on the day of my visit, which was great news.

A couple of days before I checked the train times, only to find there was bad news. The tracks at Southampton Airport Parkway were closed for engineering work this weekend and there were no trains, only buses. I hate rail replacement buses, so decided to drive instead.

I had set the alarm for 6:00am, but it turned out not to be necessary, as a thunderstorm woke me up at 5am instead, something you don’t often get in October! After a few minutes of trying to sleep, I gave up and got up and had breakfast before setting off for the airport. I had a few problems with flooded roads as the storm that had just finished had caused some local flooding, but things were better once on the motorway.

I got to the airport fine and went to the car park where I was in for a shock. For 12 or more hours, which I needed, the cost was £25.80. That was more than half the cost of my return flight. I left and wondered about driving to Eastleigh station, less than a mile away and braving the rail replacement bus from there, as I had over an hour before my flight. But then I thought, there is Southampton Airport Parkway station here, which has it’s own seperate car park, so I checked that. £5 for the day, which was far more reasonable and there weren’t any signs saying rail users only, so I parked there. It was only a couple of minutes walk to the terminal.

I had already checked in online so didn’t need to bother with that security was quick. Other than expensive parking, I liked Southampton Airport. It is small, as I expected, but light and airy with no long walks to make for the gates, since they are all arranged in an open plan area around the couple of shops, which makes it all rather civilised. I saw my flight arrive and soon we were called to get on. When my boarding pass was scanned the computer beeped and I was told I had been moved to a different she didn’t offer any explanation. But since I had the row to myself I wasn’t going to complain! Oddly the aircraft carried the logos of both Danish airline DAT and Blue Islands, so I’m not sure if it is a joint operation.

I was impressed with the service. For my £25 that included, checked in luggage (not that I had any), no card fee and to my surprise there were even free (soft) drinks on board, impressive considering the flight is only 30 minutes!

I had views over Southampton Water and the New Forest, but soon storm clouds blocked the view until we were over the channel, where I got good views of Herm and Jethou and soon, St Peter Port, as we came in to land.

Herm Island

St Peter Port, Guernsey

And soon I had reached Guernsey.

Blue Islands ATR at Guernsey Airport

Once off at Guernsey I had no hold ups and straight out of the airport, which was good given the limited time I had, although it was only 9:30 by the time I arrived.

I had so enjoyed the walk around the south coast of the island back in 2012, I decided to spend much of the morning going for a walk along the same route, which I could start a short walk away from the airport. So I took the road outside the airport heading west, forked left along La Rue Du Manor  and turned left on the green lane which took me round to the coast path. I turn turned left and followed the stunning coast path on the south of Guernsey to the western most point at Pleinmont.

I won’t repeat all that I wrote last week, so here are a few photos I took on the day.

Le Creu Mahie

Le Long Cavaleux

Les Hanois Lighthouse

Rocquaine Bay

I continued around the coast, which became less rugged as the path descended down to Rocquaine Bay. I followed the road initially, but soon dropped down onto the beach.
As I neared Fort Grey I decided to have a look in there, as it houses a shipwreck museum and was also another island I had not been too.

It didn’t look very big but at the same time it only cost £4. Like Lihou, it was also on a tidal island, although I think the causeway is rarely covered. Ticketing was a bit odd, since you had to go and buy a ticket from Guernsey Pearl over the road. I went in the shop and queued patiently behind someone buying expensive jewellery, but when it was my turn to be served I was told I needed to go into the café! I did that and went to the counter but there was no one there. I looked over at the waitress who ignored me, but on seeing me at the counter, the chef came out to ask the waitress to serve me. She did, but took several attempts to get the right price on her till and was not exactly oozing charm – not the best advert for Guernsey Pearl! Ticket obtained I headed back in.

Fort Grey

The museum was on two floors and had the history of the many ship wrecks that have occurred on the rocky west coast of the island, the most recent of which goes back only 20 years or so. It was an enjoyable museum and alongside the story of the boats were various recovered materials, such as cutlery and fragments of plates, to port holes, ships bells, lettering of the name etc. The top of the museum also offered a nice view of the coast.

Fort Grey

Fort Grey

All in all I though it a good museum.

Fort Grey

Fort Grey

By now the causeway to Lihou was open so I walked along the beach, taking around half an hour to reach L’Eree. I was surprised quite how many other people were making the crossing. I headed out onto the causeway which started as brick, but soon became rougher and flooded in places. As I neared the island, it was covered in lots of deep sea weed, so I headed up onto the beach.

Lihou Island causeway

On reaching the island there is a single house. The island came into the ownership of the islands Government, the States of Guernsey back in 1996 and the house is now available for use, but mostly by school and youth groups. There is a path around the island, so I decided to turn right.

This soon took me to a low rocky headland with nice views.

Lihou Island

I then followed the north coast, with rocky outcrops and soon a pebble beach to my right. As I neared the west of the island it became hilly, with rocky outcrops and as I went up to the top, good views over the whole island.

Lihou Island

There was the remains of an old field system, with a dry stone wall running down the spine of the island, in varying states of repair.

Lihou Island

Lihou Island

Below were rocks including a deep rock pool I understand you can swim in, but it being October, I decided against that!

Lihou Island

The rocks went on some way to another little rocky island, Lihoumel but with the only access to it to climb over the rough rocks I didn’t bother, since there was just a tiny bit of grass on the top, so you could really see all there was to see from here.

View out to sea from Lihou Island

Rounding the corner, I was now heading east and soon came across the remains of some walls. As I got closer these turned out to be more extensive than I first though and turned out to be the remains of Lihou Priory, which dated from the 12th Century. An interesting piece of history.

Lihou Priory

Lihou Priory

Soon I was back at the house near the south east corner of the island.

Lihou Island

There is a narrow strip of land beyond this, which was roped off from the beach, but I noticed a sign which said not to enter the area between March and early August. Since it was October I assumed therefore access was permitted now. So I headed over the rough ground past a little pond and finally to the rocks at the end. This gave me a good view back to L’Eree and the World War II tower and fort on the headland, and back over the causeway.

Lihou Island

It was a nice spot and felt quite remote, as few visitors to the island venture off the paths out here. Soon I headed back to the house and then made my way over the causeway again, enjoying the wonderful reflections in the water of the concrete tower on the mainland and over all the rocks.

Lihou Island and L'Eree

Soon I was back at L’Eree, after a lovely visit. I was very glad to have made it back, rather on a whim, and managed to visit Lihou Island. There was more to see than I expected, with the remains of the priory a particular highlight.

Having finished walking around the I realised I had to get the bus in just over an hours time, but decided it was safer to get the bus in about 10 mintues since if the following bus did not come, I would miss my flight. The bus timetable I had printed out showed the bus went south past Fort Grey, so I stood on the east side of the road. The allotted time the bus was due came and went but no sign of any bus. A little over 5 minutes after it was due, a bus came the other way, but it said L’Eree on the front, where I was. However it pulled up so I crossed to ask the driver if this bus went to the airport. He confirmed it did and I realised the bus ended it’s journey here and turned round, so it was the bus I meant to catch just running a bit late.

The bus driver seemed keen to make up time, as we headed back to the airport, but was not the most helpful. He already told me I was “lucky” he stopped there, as I was on the wrong side of the road. At Portelet, the bus stopped for some passengers who asked where the bus went. “Straight to town” was the reply. They asked if there was another bus round the corner, to which “Yes” was the rather curt reply. They asked when it was due “No idea”, was the reply followed by “so are you getting on or not”? The reply was no, so the driver swore and carried on. The next set of passengers got on near the Airport and had an argument with the driver who tried to charge them all full fare (£3) and the man had to point out one was 71 and the other under 16, so should not pay full fare. All in all with the rather argumentative driver, I was glad to reach the airport in time.

I popped in to check my flight was on time (it was) and then since I had around 90 minutes before it was due to depart I decided to head down on the footpath to Petit Bot Bay.

This is one of those beaches that is beautiful at low tide, but with no sand at high tide. Thankfully, it was low tide, so I was able to head down onto the beach for a little paddle and some photos.

Petit Bot Bay

Petit Bot Bay

Petit Bot Bay

Sadly, it was soon time to return to the airport. I arrived at the airport about 30 minutes before my flight (which at some airports might be unwise), but at a small airport like Guernsey it’s fine and I was “airside” within 1 minute of walking through the door!

I was more impressed to note that at Guernsey the airline, Blue Islands, had a private lounge to which all passengers had access, with the code printed on my boarding pass. So I headed in there to help myself to free drinks, watch the TV and make use of the Wifi. All very welcome.

Soon we were called to get on board and left a few minutes early.

It was a nice flight and we were treated to fine views of the Dorset and Hampshire coast, as my first glimpse of the coast was Portland and I could follow the coast round to Swanage, Poole Harbour, Bournemouth and to Christchurch Harbour and the New Forest.

IMG_5225

We passed over Yarmouth with fine views of the town and Lymington on the mainland, as the sun set.

IMG_5229

As dusk fell we passed over the Beualieu River and soon down to Southampton Airport, taking around 30 minutes.

IMG_5235

I was off the plane, through the terminal and walking to the car park within 5 minutes of touching down, which was impressive.

All in, it was a wonderful day and I thought good value for my £50. And it meant I got a chance to visit another island on the coast, one which I did not think I would be able to do at the time I stayed on Guernsey. In fact, I don’t think I’ve missed any islands I’ve (vaguely) passed on my coast walk so far!

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2 Responses to 96. Fort Grey and Lihou Island

  1. What a fantastic day’s outing! And you had perfect weather. Photographs are lovely.

  2. snowgood says:

    Fascinating trip.

    Observations….car parking at Gatwick ( I use Gatwick Station frequently) works out at between £18-£24 for around about half a day.

    Bus drivers! Bad attitude! They seem to go hand in hand.

    The last time I came across a polite bus driver he was dealing with some who was spilling beer all over the floor of the bus, and i marvelled at how calm he remained! Oh, and you guseed it – that was on one of my coast path walks in Cornwall.

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