One of many reasons to visit Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, is its countryside, and particularly the coastal scenery. Walking the Guernsey Coastal Path is a way to enjoy much of what the island has to offer, including spectacular views, peaceful paths, and history ancient and modern.
What Is the Guernsey Coastal Path?
The Guernsey Coastal Path is part of the Channel Islands Way. This is a 177 km multi-island hiking trail following the coastlines of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark. Of course, following the whole of the trail would involve a certain amount of boat travel as well as walking, and many walkers choose to concentrate on one island at a time.
The Guernsey section of the walk is 64 km (39 miles). Like the rest of the Channel Islands Way, it is an unofficial trail. This means that it is made up of different footpaths around the island, with roads through the urban areas. However, although a map is recommended, the direction of the path is easy to follow in most places.
Why Walk the Guernsey Coastal Path?
Guernsey has some magnificent coastal scenery, some of which can only really be appreciated by walking. There is a wide variety of coastal landscape, including cliffs, sandy bays and level paths. In the north you pass through nature reserves and there are yachting harbours to the east. Then there is the tiny island of Lihou, connected to the mainland by a causeway.
Occasionally the path comes inland, following quiet country lanes. Some of these are designated as “ruettes tranquilles”, with speed limits for cars, and priority given to walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Elsewhere you walk through sleepy villages and towns before returning to the relative bustle of St Peter Port, the main town.
Another pleasure of the Guernsey Coastal Path is the many historic sites you encounter along the way. Some of these, like the Dehus Dolmen, are thousands of years old (read more about The Megalithic Sites of Guernsey). Vale Castle, on the outskirts of St Sampson, was once an Iron Age fort, but what you see now is the remains of a medieval castle. Another medieval castle is the magnificent Castle Cornet, which stands on a small island outside St Peter Port (now connected by road).
Around the north and the east, you will find the remains of several forts and Martello towers, built as defences against the French, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. Moving forward to the 20th century, the final group of historic monuments is the German coastal defences built during World War II, including towers, bunkers and sea walls.
Along the Coastal Path
You could easily walk the whole trail in three days, or four if you want for time to explore along the way. I didn’t manage to walk the entire path and, in retrospect, I could have chosen the bits I did more carefully. If you are not going to follow the entire route I would recommend skipping the section north of St Peter Port to St Sampson: this is mostly built up, and includes an industrial zone.
Elsewhere the path is pleasantly rural, although if you don’t have a head for heights note that the area around Portelet, in the southwest of the island, involves cliff paths. Apart from one occasion, when a party of schoolchildren had arrived at L’Ancresse Common in the north, I saw few other people. For the most part it was a peaceful and enjoyable country walk with great views and places to explore along the way.
Walking the Guernsey Coastal Path: Some Practicalities
- If you are walking the whole path you will probably start and finish at St Peter Port. Most walkers seem to go in a clockwise direction, beginning with the more challenging southern cliff paths.
- If you don’t want to carry a backpack there are companies that will book your accommodation and arrange baggage transfer each day. I have used Celtic Trails for similar walks in the past.
- There is a good bus network that will take you to and from St Peter Port if you choose to walk selected parts of the path.
- If you want to walk across the causeway to Lihou check the tide times in advance (it was closed the whole time I was there).
- There are shops and cafés along the way but you may find it easier to carry a picnic.
- There doesn’t seem to be an official guidebook, but Cicerone have published Walking on Guernsey, which covers the coastal path as well as many shorter walks.