Rock Climbing in Guernsey

By Bill Exley

Our Rock-Climbing days during the 1950's, was mainly done, around the South coast of Guernseys' high Granite Cliffs of differing 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' , across Gullies or up and bypass them. Our term between us was '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. 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 to the top, but they did use climbing tackle. Another Sunday afternoon, a small boat came into the 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 I have been told.

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 ultra low spring tides, so your time to get across to it , climb it and return being 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' , 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. ( Photo courtesy of Bill Hill )

It was a truly memorable part of my life with Swimming , some long distance, starting off and returning back to La Vallette Gents Pool. This is one of four tidal pools built in Victoian times c1865 using the local Guernsey Granite. We were in groups swimmong 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 remember.

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. 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.

In the years 1947' 57 it was Scouting and Athletics, this progressed to representing the Royal Corps of Signals and the Northern Command Army teams during my National Service time in 1958 / 60. Only now I fully realise with age and hindsight, we were all very foolhardy and dangerous with our days out and totally oblivious that we might even fall off. We always knew when to avoid suspect crumbly, loose shaley rock.

My climbing mates were Billy Hill, David Kreckeler (Cousin) , Tony Le Gallez and John Lihou (Lou). He later became a Diving Instructor with Nigel Froome at a Luxury hotel in the Bahamas. Visit my link at the end to ' Theo's Wreck' for more of this story with Nigel and Lou .

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 of Hardwwod or stone..

Femain Bay is in the news most Summer seasons, amongst other spots, for 'Cliff Face Rescues', for stranded climbers (visitors) who take on dangerous climbs , then become trapped, freeze and unable to move up or down . There is a fully trained team of people who have to do a cliff top descent to do a rescue, being made up of competent Police, Fire Brigadr or the St Johns' Ambulance employees. ( I surmise ) or even, a 'call out' including highly skilled Rock Climbers from the local clubs.

For our wall climb there was a nice beach of shingle pebbles to land on, many feet deep if we ran out of a hold. 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.

Addendum.. 24-12-2019 - for Bill Hill. I am glad you got the photo of fbe Dog Rock, I have plenty of other photos of the cliffs from ny days out in the early 2000s, coasteering with the late Ted Banks and Tony Howe, We did pretty well all the cliffs between low and high tide levels over a period of about three years.

Climbing the Dog Rock stood me in good stead on my first trip out with the Soton Uni. Mountaineering Club.  We stayed at Wasdale Head and walked up to Napes Needle on the side of Great Gable.  You can easily find it on Google and compare it with the Dog Rock.  Our leader couldn’t manage the lower part, the crack running diagonally up from left to right.  It looked pretty easy to me so I lead up into the platform half way up on the right.  I probably brought up a second to belay me from there, then tackled  the upper part which was a bit hairy.

 Hand hold a bit less comfortable than on the Dog Rock, and a scary drop below.  Anyway, I made it to the top, then had the problem of getting down again.  Problem solved by taking a loop of rope around the top so my second could belay me from his ledge below.  I don’t remember any one else getting to the top, so it was pretty good for my street cred. in the SUMC.  I hadn’t realised how well the Guernsey cliffs had prepared me for the the mountains, I suppose some of our members had never been on rock before. (SOTON/SUMC, Southampton-Uni)

Last revision - 14th May 2021 - by Bill Exley

For Billy Hill, David Kreckeler, John Lihou (Lou), and Friends of Nigel. - see my Links to -

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