At the beginning of May 2018 we took a week-long cruise aboard the Princess Cruises ship Sapphire Princess. This was the cruise ship’s inaugural UK-based sailing having made the transition from Asia where it was previously based. The itinerary for this short trip included one stop in France and two in Spain but the first port of call was to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. All the ports would be new for us and you can read an overview of what we liked and what we didn’t aboard the Sapphire Princess here.
We typically book excursions when we’re cruising because there are usually lots of interesting things (or one specific thing) to see which aren’t necessarily anywhere near where the cruise ship docks. The only time we won’t book cruise excursions are if we are familiar with the port and we know for certain we’ll be in walking distance or doing-it-ourselves distance from anything, or if there simply isn’t anything that grabs our attention (which doesn’t happen often). We didn’t book anything at Guernsey, though, not because of a lack of interest (there were castles and war-related attractions all over the place) but because Guernsey is a tender port for cruise ships; the ships are too large to dock so tender boats are required and because there is no sheltered area for the ships the use of tender boats is governed by the wind and sea conditions. In short, we couldn’t guarantee at the time of booking the cruise that we would even be allowed off the ship in Guernsey so we decided to play it by ear.
The morning after leaving Southampton the Sapphire Princess was anchored off Guernsey’s capital, St Peter Port. The sky was clear, there was a little bit of sea mist or haze, and the wind was light. A perfect day for getting up a little later than we normally would, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, then heading down to the tender boat ticket location near the photo gallery on deck seven. Our timing was perfect as we walked up, were asked if we wanted to leave immediately, replied that would be nice, were handed two tickets, then walked straight down to the tender departure area and into a queue of about three other people forming the last of those boarding a boat that would head off only a couple of minutes later.
The ride took about ten minutes and we were right at the front of the boat where the open windows allowed the pair of us – but mostly my wife – to get splashed with sea water as occasional waves were thumped into. We didn’t mind too much. At St Peter Port we got off and were directed one of two ways away from the pier depending on whether we had an arranged excursion or were doing our own thing. We were doing the latter, of course, and made our way along the marina area on the city before angling southwards.
Knowing that we wouldn’t be booking an excursion I’d done some research beforehand to see what was in the vicinity of St Peter Port and, specifically, where we could get to on our own. Fortifications and museums all looked very accessible to us and appeared to be the sorts of things that the excursions were offering anyway but, on the lookout for things we could do that other cruisers might not necessarily know about or attempt, I stumbled upon a list of walks that could be done and the one that appealed to me was this one: St Peter Port to Fermain Bay. I knew with the amount of time we would have in Guernsey that we could easily get part or all of the walking route done and hit a few historical sites and attractions on the way back too.
Following the main road along the coast to the south from St Peter Port took us past La Valette Underground Museum and the Victorian bathing pools then past the entrance to the Guernsey Aquarium. We knew the museum would be an option for visiting on our way back because it was also offered as cruise excursions but hadn’t been sure if the aquarium would be open as it wasn’t and this was a Sunday. As it turned out we could see welcoming signs and put that on our to visit list for the return as well.
Just past the aquarium was a flight of steps that led up to Clarence Battery, another location we intended to stop at on our way back. The Guernsey walk we were following carried on past the fortified lookout position on the clifftop and continued to hug the coastline as it wound its way southwards, occasionally quite steeply, and offering some fabulous views out across the sea, back the way we’d come, and looking out at the Sapphire Princess at anchor in the light haze in the distance.
Early May was just right for us to hit a known waypoint on our route, a suddenly serene spot known as the Bluebell Woods, which, like its many namesakes around the country at this time of year, was carpeted in the flowers. The closeness of the trees and set-back distance from the cliffs and any roads seemed to deaden most external noises and a number of benches were occupied with fellow walkers (almost all of whom appeared to be locals) having a rest to absorb the tranquility of the place.
We spent a couple of minutes in the wooded area enjoying the relative coolness of the place before carrying on down a steep part of the path in the direction of the Guernsey coastline once again.
A short distance on from the Bluebell Woods was a short decline off the main path leading to a brick wall. This was the top of the Ozanne Steps, a place I’d seen some photos of while researching our trip to the island and what we might see along the coastal walk and which I knew was somewhere I wanted to descend to take photos. The steps were built to allow a former governor of Guernsey and his wife a private way down to a secluded bay for bathing. The steps were not in great condition (they’re mostly used by local fishermen these days) but the views from the various landings down the zig-zagging steps were lovely and it’s well worth the short detour if you’re doing the walk from St Peter Port to Fermain Bay yourself.
It was easy to see why the governor and his wife had wanted these steps built once we reached the bottom. The flat, rocky outcrop provided a great spot for sunbathing and an easy way to clamber into and out of the water. The scenery all around the Ozanne Steps was gorgeous, helped by some fabulous weather during our visit.
It was at this point, however, that my wife aggravated an old injury in her foot – a hairline fracture – (enough, actually, to bring her to tears with the pain) and our plan to continue the walk was aborted. A very slow, very anxious, frequently pausing retracing of our steps back along the coastal path towards St Peter Port then commenced. So, something to consider should you be thinking about trying out this walk on Guernsey yourself is that the steep parts are really quite steep in places and you will need a reasonable level of fitness to do it; the seclusion of long areas of the walk too would make any accidents more troublesome than they would be anyway although we did see a fair number of walkers in both directions as we undertook the trek.
We eventually made it to more level ground (and less discomfort for my wife) in the area around Clarence Battery where the next post will pick up.