The 50 Greatest Walks of the World - Barry Stone (2016)
32. CHANNEL ISLAND WAY
Channel Islands, England
Distance: 185 km
Grade: Easy to Moderate
Time: 14 days
Internally self-governing territories of the British crown and known collectively as the ‘Channel Islands’, the five largest islands in this charming archipelago - Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm - are now linked by the Channel Islands Way which opened in the spring of 2011 after five years spent piecing together its 185-km segmented route on Jersey (77 km), Guernsey (61 km), Alderney (22 km), Sark (15 km), and Herm (10.5 km). The ferry connections required to complete the trail are straightforward enough, thanks to efficient and long-established inter-island links, and the larger islands’ segments have been limited to between 3 and 6.5 km in length and include bus stops, pubs, cafes and restaurants - infrastructure that should ease any logistical, or island-hopping, concerns. Jersey and Guernsey are less than an hour’s ferry ride apart, there are several hour-long services a week to Sark from Jersey and Guernsey from April to September, and Alderney and Herm are a short hop from Guernsey.
This almost seamless series of island trails, a five-course feast if you like, of sandy beaches, rocky promontories and secluded bays, ranges from walks through large urban centres such as St Helier on Jersey to quiet strolls on tiny Herm, the smallest and least-populated island with only a scattering of buildings at its centre and a few kilometres of sandy roads. Alderney’s coastal path passes over dramatic clifftops and encircles almost the entire island, which has a lovely community feel to it, while Sark, which lies just 13 km off the Normandy Coast, has its own unique blend of French cultural influences.
The walk brings together the Channel Islands’ very best coastal and inland trails. On Jersey you can walk from Rozel Bay to Bouley Bay on its wild and less populated northeast coast, and take a 13.5-km south coast trail around St Aubin and the beautiful arc of St Brelade’s Bay that will include some Second World War German bunkers if you continue walking to nearby Noirmont Point. On Guernsey a path above the island’s capital of St Peter Port takes you into Bluebell Woods which every April transform into a gorgeous carpet of blue, and no matter where you walk on Guernsey you are never far away from one of the island’s fifteen loophole towers, built by the British from 1778 to 1779 to defend Guernsey against French incursions. Made of Guernsey granite the towers are of a common design - all are circular with three floors - and provide an ideal series of well-placed markers as you make your way around the island.
CHANNEL ISLAND WAY
Photo: G. Mannaerts
Alderney has over 80 km of laneways and walking paths on an island that measures just 5 km by 3 km at its widest point. Continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years, the island’s west coast and the area out to the northern gannet colony on Burhou Island are a designated Ramsarsite (wetlands of international importance), but it is Alderney’s beaches that are its star attractions - Saye Beach and Braye Bay, rockpool-encrusted Longis Bay, and the sheltered northern beach of Arch Bay. Just don’t leave the island without visiting the Nunnery, Britain’s best-preserved small Roman fort, and if you have the time you can head ‘inland’ and walk the 5-km-long Les Rochers Trail, a path that begins at the Visitor’s Centre in St Anne and goes along its quaint Main Street and on to a grass track then past an Abreuvoir Publique, old cattle troughs still common to the island. In its less-visited interior there are stands of sycamore and ash, entrances to Second World War German tunnel networks, and the 43 acres of Les Rochers’ native woodlands.
The walking starts the moment you get off the boat on Sark, where a trail leads to Les Laches and superb views over Creux Harbour. The trail continues past the Dew Pond, a man-made depression used for watering the island’s animals, and in the few minutes it takes to get there you’ve already adjusted to this most esoteric of islands where the only transport permitted are horse-drawn vehicles, and bicycles (including electric bicycles for the elderly among its 600-strong population). Sark was uninhabited as recently as the 16th century, when it was used as a place of refuge for pirates, and that same sense of solitude can still be felt today.
On the smallest island of Herm the walking can get a little crowded with over 100,000 people arriving via ferry during a typical summer season, so try for a non-seasonal visit if you can, a maxim that could be applied to all of these temperate islands.
You’d probably need two weeks to walk all the trails that exist on these five outposts of Britishness off the French coast, but the beauty of the Channel Islands Way lies in its flexibility - to be able to tackle its hidden coves, craggy cliffs and sea caves one island at a time, while fulmars, cormorants and oystercatchers circle in the air above, and there are sand martins, green lizards, butterflies (over 50 species on Jersey alone - the island also supports a population of red squirrels) and orchids aplenty in the grasslands and dunes that surround you.