Rock Climbing in Guernsey

By Bill Exley

. Our Rock-Climbing days during the 1950's, was mainly done around the rugged South coast of Guernseys' high Granite Cliffs with all grades of difficulty this was safe, solid climbing. I use the term 'Rock Climbing' casually, as it was more like Coast Line 'Traversing' or Rock 'Scrambling' , ( but todays' term - 09/10/2022 - now Coasteering ) , across Gullies or up and bypass them. Our term between us, as teenagers was the Guernsey term, 'Mooching', to take a stroll.

We never said at any point, standing at the base of a sheer cliff 'we will climb this one today' that would have been lunacy without training and correct safety climbing aids. (common sense). Guernsey climbing clubs will follow all safety procedures, with strict adherence at all times.

One day at La Jaonnet Bay we did see two men scale the high sheer cliff face to the top, but they did use climbing tackle. - Another Sunday afternoon, a small boat came into the rocky bay, with about a dozen soldiers and they scaled the same cliff in a controlled manner, probably a Commando or S.A.S training exercise ? , or even the Elizabeth College cadets under supervision was suggested to me later. - (though I think age group, plus experience would would rule this out, as it is a Sheer, High cliff face)

Our Climbing, or premeditated Scrambling jaunts did include the 'Dog and Lion' rocks, the Dog Rock of the pair at Moulin Huet Bay, a common view to locals, is only accessible at Low Spring tides, so your time to get across to it , climb it and return being very limited .

It was no easy climb as I had done it a few times, the ascent of this 60 to 80ft mini 'Old Man of Hoy' in Scotland , was taken in a Lt to Rt Corkscrew route , and up around the back. The second time we did it we left our names in a Tobaco Tin , in a plastic bag, on the summit of only a few square feet.

The Dog & Lion rocks at Moulin Huet Bay, Isle de Guernsey, C.I.

Photo : courtesy of Bill Hill

It was a truly memorable part of my life with swiming , some long distance, starting off and returning back to La Vallette Gents' Pool. This is one of four tidal- pools built within an eventual Cul-de- Sac area during Victorian times c1865, using the local Guernsey Granite. In order of approach, the Gentlemens' pool, Horseshoe pool small and open ended, Ladies' pool , larger with diving boards , then a smaller Childrens' pool, with a Sandy - fine Gravel beach to play in, going out to a depth of only 5 to 6 feet deep. - So here we see the strict Victorian modesty rules being applied.

We were in groups swimming along the coast line and back, but always within 100yds of the rocks as a 'safety- net', or a breather, but this was never used as I recall. We often undertook a double Castle Cornet swim of apprx. one mile, on a whim, we were so at home in the sea from an early age. I did the Annual 'Castle Swim' in the Sept. of 1953, '54 and 1955, the icy sea is one degree or so 'warmer' in the Autumn. (?) . - I had a potential 'Herm Swim' at the back of my mind, see more refs to the Herm Swim in the 'Ghost of Theo's Wreck' link below. - I was ready to do the Herm Swim in the Sept of 1955 and even puchased a Pot of Lanolin Grease from Boots to use for the hours in the cold sea. The family left in the August, (another Nomadic Trip) - returning back to Barnsley in S.Yorkshire, so I was very peeved at being so close and not being able to do my swim.

We used to all charge up 5 to 6 flights of steps, near the last pool at La Vallette, in a Cul de Sac, to a local headland site called ' Fort George', a left over from the 2nd World War and German Occupation. It is now the edge of a prestigious site for luxury houses with sea views. We worked our way around the coast regardless of tides, quickly navigating the gullies and rocks, up as far as Fermain Bay.

Here the last Challenge we did was a quick climb of Fermain Bay beach wall, about 20ft high built in Victoian times , using huge blocks of the local Guernsey Granite in different sizes . A unique Fire Place can be hand crafted to your specifications, using the many shades of Granite, Greys, Deep Blues and different shades of Greens in a linear or Jigsaw fashion, so the finished product is very pleasing to the eye, with a nice mantlepiece in Hardwood or Stone.

Femain Bay is in the news most Summer seasons, amongst others , for 'Cliff Face Rescues' for stranded climbers / visitors , who take on dangerous climbs , then become trapped, freeze and unable to move up or down - (a fall could be fatal) . There is a fully trained 'Standby - Team' of people who are called out and have to do a Cliff Top 'descent' for a rescue, being made up of competent Police, Fire Brigadr or the St Johns' Ambulance employees. ( I surmise, I never asked them ) - Or even some highly skilled Rock Climbers from the local clubs. ? ( so Retained ) .

I would imagine it being a Very Scary experience to go through for that person, you do not just get up and walk away from a fall of 20 feet or more onto bolders, you Will have serious injuries, (a broken back, neck etc or Killed) - I saw this scene more than once and Always with a concerned audience of relatives and visitors. It was always the Left Hand side (looking out to sea) , being easy access from the beach, so tempting to take on as a challenge . . - (Sea too cold, a Non Swimmer or Boredom ? - Mr Blex) - Food for thought : I have always known that Femain Bay offers the Coldest Swim on Guernsey, as the all shingle, steep beach makes for an Ice Cold swim, one is out of your depth very quickly, so not inviting and can be daunting to a Visitor. .

For our wall climb there was a nice beach of small shingle pebbles to land on, many feet deep if we ran out of a hold, the pebbles get larger and larger to the waters edge. This took us about 15 mins and I remember that David Kreckeler was the most adept at this type of 'finger tip' climbing. We usually had a bemused audience of Visitors watching us.

To finalise my memories on the Scouting subject , at this time between 1949 - mid 50's , Billy Hill and my cousin David Kreckeler both achieved the highest award in the Scouting World after much hard work and dedication, to gain the Queen's Scouting Certificate and a large oval badge to show what you had passed. I was only 2 phases/ Badges away from my Queen's Award, as Bill and David were older than me and so began earlier. - We had many camping days around Guernsey and a 3 week camp on tke isle of Sark, where we joined up at a Jamboree at a large camp site of French and Canadian Scouts, we were well looked after.

. In the day time it was swimming and Snorkelling off the many deep water spots. Sark is another quiet world, tucked away 9 miles off Guernsey behind Herm Island. On Sark at Low Tide that is, try and find the Adonis and Venus Pools, large natural Rock Pools big enough to dive and swim in, with care that is. Sark has no cars,vans or Buses but has Bikes or Tractors for transport and conveyance to a few very good Hotels. Walk across La Coupée an ancient rocky link path (Isthmus) - to Little Sark an unusual experience !

: * This small link path is well worth the visit, I will not spoil the suprise / scene, just ask for directions it is all so small and quiet, in walking distances etc. *.

It was a nice part of my life as we had no time to get into trouble, petty crime or drugs etc . You used your imagination to join in with Swimming, (club or leisure) ,Table Tennis, Badmington, Footbal, Cricket, Athletics, Art Classes and the many 'free' local Youth Clubs everywhere .

. I had a Jam-jar 'collecting' round' every Sat. morning for 3 to 4 hours, then deliver them down to the local Jam Making factory in St Peter Port. I got so much / per dozen for the small or large jars. They were Re Cycled and I had 10 to 15 shillings 'Old Money (50 to75p) equiv to 3/4 of my weeks' wage late in life , of 25/- (or £1-25p) - per Wk. of 40 hrs. c1952/53 .

Then a G.P.O. 'Telegram Delivery - boy with an arm band of authority, a large wide leather belt with a Clip - Pouch and astride a heavy Post Office cycle., delivering anywhere , over the Easter and Christmas periods. If it was raining a huge cape was provided. - There were no Computers or E Mails at this time. (that I was aware of) . * Enjoy the swims. ! (14th Aug 2022 ) - Mr Blex

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Last revision made by Bill Exley on -11th May- 2023

For : Hazel and Billy Hill, David Kreckeler, John Lihou (Lou) - his wife Pat who still lives in Freeport, Grand Bahama - ( Dec 2021 )

and Friends of Nigel Froome, see my Link to Theo's Wreck

1st. Guernsey Sea Scouts by Bill Hill - * - The Ghost of Theo's Wreck, or Back to Index Page