WITH the gradual lengthening of each day and the Island visibly indicating that the seasons are now firmly in the grip of a stark changeover, it’s time to take full advantage of Jersey’s undeniably beautiful coast and countryside.
The Jersey National Park naturally comes high on the list of ‘must go to’ places to explore, not only because its extensive landscapes offer the perfect mix of both rural idyll and weather-beaten coastline, but that it also has so many intriguing tales to tell.
A beautiful area of ‘parkland’ which ticks scores of story-telling boxes is the designated east coast area of St Catherine’s Bay.
Although now a busy and popular spot for keen walkers, strollers and anglers, it’s doubtful whether most visitors to the breakwater know of its amazing history.
Named on many of the old maps as Verclut, it was once regarded as a place of peace and solitude because no accessible road existed – until around the mid 1800s that is!
In 1847, we’re told, Verclut’s peace and tranquillity was noisily shattered when, as a show of strength to the nearby French Navy on the Normandy coast, the British Government decided to build a deep-water harbour for their own well-armed warships. The first arm of this ‘safe harbour’ is the half-mile long breakwater that is so enjoyed by walkers today.
It was obviously a time of tumultuous upheaval for an area not prepared for years of epic construction and the consequent heavy influx of overseas naval engineers, general workmen and quarrymen. And yet, by 1860, because of the lessening of tense issues with France , the entire project had been abandoned. Evidence of this can be seen at Archirondel where a small remaining portion of the second granite arm is still very visible.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves that the main road into St Catherine was built in the mid-1800s at a cost of half-million pounds, a princely sum at the time.
Before leaving the breakwater, take a look at the large granite boulder opposite the cafe. This was once proudly ‘owned’ by the one-time Verclut lighthouse keeper but was unceremoniously removed by the German Occupying forces during the Second World War. True to Jersey form, it was returned to its rightful place following the Island’s Liberation in 1945.
Another piece of the bay’s fascinating history is the modest little building that is currently home to the St Catherine’s Sailing Club. During the long-gone busy days of building the breakwater it was the carpenter’s workshop.
Having digested the past history of this sheltered little bay and, perhaps, even taken a well recommended stroll along the breakwater, it’s a question now of following the well-marked footpath skirting the pretty shoreline.
Bel Val is the first modest shingle bay reached which then eventually leads to an old Jersey Round Tower aptly named St Catherine’s Tower. Built during the days of Napoleon, these sturdy defensive structures appear all over the island’s coastline, and especially here on the eastern seaboard.
Just before this tower is reached, look for a small residence with the house name of L’Hôpital (Hospital) – again a piece of past history relating to the building of the breakwater.
The shoreline footpath continues alongside potato fields and, in early spring and summer, scattered patches of edible maritime plants such as sea spinach, rock samphire, sea kale and fennel.
This short and easy walk ends at another impressive old structure called Archirondel Tower. It was built in 1793 and is painted on the seaward side with red and white stripes which act as an essential maritime navigational aid.
The past history of this attractively peaceful little bay confirms why this part of our coastline has become such an integral part of the Jersey National Park.
With such an inspiring back story, its beautiful and peaceful ambience and the views across the waters to the coast of France, this particular ‘walk in the park’ will satisfy everyone who visits this magical little east coast gem.