L'Erée Ramsar Walk
Description -This is a circular walk of 4.3 km around the land portion of Guernsey's first Ramsar site (Ramsar is an international convention which seeks to protect important wetland habitats. Guernsey designated this area, together with Lihou Island and the adjoining shore and sea to 6m below low water, as a Ramsar site in 2006). The walk could be done in an hour but there is an amazing amount of interest to see on the route: archaeology, geology, natural history, fortifications and other historical sites, landscapes, cottages and their gardens as well as beautiful spots for a picnic, bathing beaches, restaurants and tea rooms. It could take all day.
Wheelchair users can follow the route omitting the sections off the public roads around L'Erée Point and Le Catioroc.
Starting places - Possible starting places are the car park (1 on map) or the bus stop (2) at L'Erée, or the car parks at Lihou Headland (3), under Fort Saumarez (4), by the slipway leading to La Chapelle Island (5) or at Le Catioroc (6). However, we will describe the walk starting at car park (1) at L'Erée (Perry's p20 B1, UTM map reference WV253781).
Precautions- A short length of this walk, between 5 and 6 on the map, is along a stretch of the main road where there is poor visibility and no pavement. Parents should be cautious with their children at this point. The main roads have also to be crossed at three other points, but the majority of this walk is along quiet lanes and footpaths. Normal precautions should be taken on a beach against slippery and rough rocks and the incoming tide.
L'Erée car park to Creux ès Faies Dolmen.
Walk along the path behind the sea wall towards the German bunker by the bus stop. This area was dunes where sea weed was burnt to produce fertiliser until the 1960s. Some remnants of the sand dune plants can still be seen. Look particularly for Sea Holly which has prickly blue-green leaves and blue flowers. This plant is not a relative of the true holly but is in the carrot family.
Among the other interesting plants found here in spring and summer are Portland Spurge, Yellow Vetch, and Hare's Tail Grass.
Go on round the bunker, turn left past the slipway and climb the hill along the road. Follow the road round the bend to the right. 60m along there is a Guernsey National Trust path to the right leading to a seat with good views over the Rousse and Claire Mares (the low lying land between the coast and the hills beyond) which we will walk round later.
On the wall on the left hand side of the road notice the parsley plants. These are not the crisped domestic variety but are the wild plants from which the domestic variety is derived. These plants have the delicious smell and taste of the herb.
The Creux ès Faies dolmen is on the right near the end of this road and is well signposted. This is a prehistoric passage grave about 5000 years old covered by a soil mound. There are many other dolmen in the island and we will pass another on this walk. This dolmen was used for many years as a stable and in local folklore was one of the entrances to fairyland.
Creux ès Faies dolmen round L'Erée Headland to the shingle bank
From the dolmen walk on and then turn left down the hill to the car park (3) near the end of the point. In summer look at the side of the road for Small-flowered Catchfly, a pretty little flower that comes in three varieties, white, pink, or pink with red marks on the petals.
Walk to the end of the car park by the Prosperity Memorial. This commemorates the loss with all hands of the M.V. Prosperity in 1974 on the Conchée Reef 2km NNE from here off Perelle Bay. The Prosperity was a ship with a full cargo of timber which was washed up all along the west coast.
The headland to the south west can be explored from here. Beyond the memorial is an 18th century battery (gun platform) used to mount cannon to prevent ships entering Rocquaine Bay.
Alternatively, turn left at the memorial and walk down to the small sandy beach below which is good for swimming at high tide. There is a path from here all around the headland just above the rocks. To the S.W. can be seen the Hanois Lighthouse completed in 1862 after several shipwrecks at this end of the island. This lighthouse was significant in lighthouse design as being the first one where the courses of stone were dovetailed together as well as each stone in each course, thus the whole structure became one solid mass of stone.
In spring one can often find some very active green beetles here. These are tiger beetles whose larvae live in holes in the soft cliffs. In autumn large numbers of yellow and black striped ivy bees nest in holes in the cliffs.
If it is low tide and you cross to Lihou, please note the causeway closing times on the noticeboard at the top of the slip and ensure you are back across the causeway by then so that you are not cut off by the tide. Closing times are publishes by the States online - do a Google search on "Lihou causeway"
Go back up the slip and about 15m from the beach take the track to your left. One can often see or hear Stonechats along here, and again along the shingle bank further into the walk. The male Stonechat is particularly brightly coloured and often sits on the highest point of a gorse bush or bramble stem to sing.
When you reach the fence at the end of this track take the path to your right that climbs up towards Fort Saumarez, named after the famous Guernseyman James de Saumarez, a Napoleonic War Admiral who saved Sweden from the French. At the top of the hill the path descends into a German trench, dug during the WWII occupation, that leads one to the Fort. It is interesting in the trench to look at the flowers on either side which are now at eye level. The Fort is private and cannot now be accessed. It was built in the early 1800s during the Napoleonic Wars and extensively altered by the Germans who added the concrete observation tower on top of the martello tower.
From the Fort walk south to the road, turn left, and descend the hill to the car park (4), then follow the path along the road side of the shingle bank.
The shingle bank to the Catioroc
Shingle banks are common in Guernsey round most of the low-lying coast, though they are often hidden by sea walls or roads. They are mostly fossil features, that is new stones are not being added. The banks were formed when the sea rose after the last ice age pushing the stones from the bed of the English Channel in front of itself. This shingle bank was mined for stones during the German Occupation for use in fortifications.
In spring and summer the seaward side of the shingle bank is used by breeding sea-birds such as Ringed Plovers and Oystercatchers. Please keep to the path from January to the the middle of July to avoid disturbing them.
Vegetated shingle banks are an internationally rare habitat and this one has many interesting plants. Two to note particularly are Yellow Horned Poppy with its amazingly long seed pods and Sea Kale with its white flowers smelling of honey. Both are adapted to this habitat by having long roots that can reach down through the shingle to find soil beneath.Among the birds to spot along here are stonechats and linnets with their reddish breasts, which often flock to feed on seeds.
As you walk along the shingle bank look to your right over the low-lying Rousse Mare. This was the island's first aerodrome and is now managed as the Colin Best Nature Reserve by La Société Guernesiaise. Together with the adjoining Claire Mare area this is very important for its bird life. It also has an area of salt-marsh, a very rare habitat in Guernsey. The red colour in summer around the brackish pools just beyond the coast road is caused by the growth of salt-marsh plants such as Sea-blite and Glasswort. Glasswort is so called because it was used as a source of the potash needed for making glass.
Looking to your left, when the shingle bank is low enough to see over, there is an extensive area of reef exposed at low tide. This is a good spot to see Curlews, Oystercatchers and other waders, Herons and Little Egrets. Egrets are small white herons with black legs and yellow feet. Egrets are now common birds in the Channel Islands and have bred in Jersey and an islet off Herm, though not yet in Guernsey.
Near the corner just before the slipway cross the road and go down the drive between the two houses 'Waterside Lodge' and 'Vue des Vagues'. This leads to La Société Guernesiaise's bird hide looking over a scrape dug in the reed-beds of the Claire Mare Reserve. Many interesting birds can be seen here, indeed it is one of the best 'birding' sites in the island. A book inside the hide gives details of what has been seen lately and you can add your own observations. Good photographs of interesting birds seen locally and reports about them can be found at Guernsey Bird News
Just south of the slipway a bed of peat is sometimes exposed at the foot of the pebble bank. This was formed when the sea level was lower than now just after the ice age, but at a particularly warm period as it contains the remains of grape vines and other warmth-loving plants.
Cross the road at this point and walk along the track that runs close to the main coast road. At the end of this track at some greenhouses rejoin the coast road and walk about 100m to where a path on the right leads to the Mont Chinchon Battery and the Trépied Dolmen at Le Catioroc.
The Trépied dolmen was so called because of the three capstones. In local folklore it was the place where the witches met on Friday nights, danced round the devil who was in the shape of a black goat sitting on the centre capstone, and shouted defiance to the Priory on Lihou Island.
Le Catioroc back to L'Erée
Turn back from the abreuvoir and walk around the Mare. The fields on your right are part of La Société Guernesiaise's Claire Mare nature reserve and are a very important wet land. Such wet fields are becoming very rare in Guernsey due to land drainage, agricultural improvement and development.
These low lying fields are marshy because the shingle bank between them and the sea dams the streams that flow from the high land behind. The traditional management for such wet fields is to take a hay crop when the ground is dry enough in late July to August, and then to graze the fields in the autumn. The Claire Mare fields are particularly wet and are usually not cut till mid August. This late cutting allows many early plants to flower and set seed and the fields are therefore full of early flowering plants. In late May and June this is one of the best orchid fields in the island and La Société cuts a path around the edge so that the flowers can be admired. You are welcome to walk around this path, but please do not stray off the path into the field. It may be very wet underfoot against the edge of the reed-bed on the far side of the field so you may not get all the way round.
There are four species of orchids found here. The most interesting is the Loose-flowered Orchid which does not occur in Britain. The others are Southern Marsh Orchid and two species of Spotted Orchid.
From here it is an easy walk of just over 1/2 km back to the car park. Just keep turning right. On the main road notice the number VII milestone on the right hand side. This shows that it is seven miles to the Town Church along the military road built by Sir John Doyle in the early 1800s.
If you find any errors in this description or have any other comments please email La Société Guernesiaise.
Photos © C. David, M. Lawlor, B. Wells
Copyright © La Société Guernesiaise 2009. All rights
Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 1UG, Channel Islands.