Six lights in three hours
I woke early to heavy rain and a gale that rattled the French windows in the drawing room below me. The forecast showed it clearing by mid-morning, so I took the opportunity to soak in a deep, very hot bath. There were plenty of signs that Gil and Christine were not yet seasoned guest house proprietors. On a shelf next to the bath was a dish containing dozens of miniature bars of soap, shampoo sachets, conditioners, bubble baths and hand cream. In the kitchen was a similar dish brimming with teabags and coffee sachets of every description, alongside hot chocolate power, Horlicks, cocoa, milk and sugar packets. A schoolboy error. If Emily had been with me, these would all have been squirrelled away into her suitcase for the kitchen cupboard at home.
I mentioned to Gil that perhaps he should limit the complimentary drinks and bathroom products a little, for fear that many guests would simply take home what they hadn’t used. He seemed highly amused by the idea, admitting that this was exactly how Christine had acquired them all in the first place.
The rain cleared by eleven, and Gil and I set off to the Jersey Press, where he had arranged for me to be interviewed by Shannon, a newly recruited reporter from Liverpool. Shannon did her best to sound interested in my story, but I think she was more than a little bemused. I don’t blame her. But she heard me out, booked a photographer to meet me by the harbour later in the day, and said that the feature would run the next day.
From the Jersey Press offices, the plan was to cycle anti-clockwise around the south and east coasts of the island, taking in the lights at Demie de Pas, La Greve D’Azette, Mount Ube, Gorey and St Catherine’s. With the exception of the original St Catherine’s Breakwater light, now sited outside the Maritime Museum in St Helier, I can’t claim that any of these are either beautiful structures, or of great architectural merit.
The light at Demie de Pas, for example, is a forty-four-foot-tall, black and orange painted concrete cone-shaped tower with a light, fog signal and radar beacon on top. A little way offshore, it guides shipping away from one of a series of dangerous rocks south of St Helier harbour. Its principal white light has a range of fourteen miles, but the area inland of the light is especially hazardous, so it also casts a red light back towards the shore.
I was happy enough to photograph it and mark it as ‘done’, but this was not a light to pause or marvel at. And neither were the next two. Barely a mile along the coastal cycle route is the light at Greve D’Azette, one of a pair of range lights guiding shipping through a channel between the light at Noirmont Point and Dog’s Nest beacon, where it must change course again to reach St Helier harbour.
Greve D’Azette is the front range, and sits on top of a solid concrete base built into the promenade wall. The tower is a lattice steel structure, sixty-four feet high, with a gallery and lantern at the top. On the side facing out to sea it has a broad red-striped daymark. It shows a white occulting light every five seconds, which is visible for fourteen miles. There is nothing pretty about this lighthouse, and as I approached I wondered why crowds of people had gathered around its base. Was this really one of Jersey’s main tourist attractions? Surely the beautiful lighthouse at La Corbière made a wilder and more romantic destination? The answer was somewhat mundane. The tower’s concrete base, a part of the promenade wall, also serves as a bus stop on the main route into town!
A mile or so inland, on the hill in St Clements, is Mount Ube lighthouse, the rear range of this pair of lights. When lined up at night they guide shipping through the safe channel towards St Helier harbour. Broadly similar in size and construction, Mount Ube’s lantern shows a red occulting light every five seconds, which is visible for twelve miles.
At Jersey’s easternmost tip lies Gorey, once Jersey’s principal harbour. A thirty-foot-tall hexagonal stone lighthouse was erected on the pier at Gorey in 1849, where it remained until destroyed in a storm in March 1965. The current light, built a year later, comprises a 30ft square, white-painted metal tower with a small red lantern, displaying red and green lights.
By the time Gil and I left Gorey it was past lunchtime. Gil guided us towards a cafe he knew on the seafront renowned for its wonderfully fresh crab sandwiches. Over these, and several mugs of tea, we discussed Gil’s transition from his forty year career as a respected psychiatrist, to genial bed and breakfast host. I suggested that his future might profitably lie in offering guided cycling tours around Jersey’s lighthouses. After the four modern metal structures we had seen this morning, he didn’t seem especially keen.
We had just St Catherine’s to conquer before taking the ferry to Guernsey that evening. The harbour at St Catherine’s dates from the 1840s, part of a plan to establish a port on Jersey’s east coast to serve large naval bases on Jersey and Alderney. The first lighthouse on the breakwater was an octagonal, white-painted metal tower, thirty feet tall, built in 1857. It was replaced in 1950 by – you’ve guessed it – a twenty-five-foot-tall square, metal lattice tower with lantern on top. Its small white-flashing light is visible for eight miles.
The original still stands, although it has been re-sited outside the Maritime Museum in St Helier. This elegant tower felt like the first ‘proper’ lighthouse since La Corbière, and made a fitting end to the day’s cycling, as well as a suitable point to thank Gil and part company with him.
Back in St Helier, I caught the slow overnight ferry back to Portsmouth, stopping en route at St Peter Port in Guernsey. Arriving at the harbour in St Peter Port for the second time in a week, I had the name of a hotel in my pocket which had kindly agreed to accommodate me. Although it claimed to be ‘just minutes from the quayside’, I discovered that these ‘minutes’ must have been by car, and were also uphill. However, when I arrived at the hotel’s entrance about half an hour later, I realised just how extraordinarily generous the offer to accommodate me had been.