AMAZING seascapes, leafy lanes, granite buildings, peculiar names and a deep and fascinating history make it unrealistic to be tied to just one favourite walk. I do, however, have a very special vantage point; the hilltop facing Mont Orgueil Castle, formally known as Mont St Nicolas. I declare some bias, as my family had lived in the St Catherine’s area since 1729.
St Nicolas is best known today as Santa Claus, the children’s saint. The chapel on this mount to which his name is dedicated links him with leprosy, as in 1234 a royal grant was made to Leprosi Sancti Nichilai de Grauntport for subsistence and light, from the revenues of Ruaval Watermill, the site of which is now in Queen’s Valley Reservoir.
Walk down to the memorial seat on the Gorey side of the hill, from where you have a wonderful view of the bay. In 1859, as a result of a recent visit, Queen Victoria requested that the bay should in future be called the Royal Bay of Grouville.
Skirting the shoreline of the bay are Gorey Common and the Royal Golf Club – from where both Harry Vardon and Ted Ray developed their skills as the first two British golfers to win the American Open. What with the bay and the golf links this is a very royal view.
Puffing alongside Rue à Don from 1873 to 1928 on a narrow-gauge track and under a plume of their own smoke ran the trains of the Jersey Eastern Railway. They also carried the post between St Helier and Gorey Village, when for a half-penny you could post a letter in St Helier before 11 am informing your wife you would be late home for dinner.
On a clear day on the largest spring tides of the year, Mont St Nicolas is probably the only place in Jersey where you can stand and view both Les Minquiers and Les Ecréhous. Les Minquiers is administered and policed by Grouville Parish, and with La Rocque it would make this parish, geographically and administratively, the largest in Jersey.
From here you also have a good view of Gorey Castle, which was built during the ‘bow and arrow’ age by King John to defend Jersey against French attacks. Loopholes are still visible in the two round towers on the Gorey side of the castle wall. Only twice was the castle taken while a bow-and-arrow fort; once by a French attack and the second occasion because of treachery, resulting in a French occupation from 1461 to1468. It was during these seven years that cannon was deployed in Jersey by the French.
For about 70 years Jersey remained at peace and during this period the castle’s defences were not enhanced in step with the new developments in cannon warfare. This was to change late in the reign of Henry VIII when the peace of the Channel Islands was again at risk.
Gorey Castle had now to be reconstructed to withstand an attack from enemy canon positioned on Mont St Nicolas and work started during the 1540s to convert this bow-and-arrow castle into one that could withstand an attack by cannon.
Essentially, the castle’s walls facing the sea required no enhancements but from the landside, however, the castle and Mont Nicolas faced each other across a gap which technology in cannon design was rapidly reducing. To address this threat all the curtain walls of the bow-and-arrow age facing the hill were reduced and replaced with superior, cannon-proof stone walls.
To further increase the castle’s defensive capabilities, a new keep was added, in the form of the Somerset Tower and mount battery.
Notwithstanding over 50 years of converting Gorey Castle from bow and arrow, Queen Elizabeth’s premier castle architect, Paul Ivy, declared; ‘The Castle lieth subject to a mighty hill but 400 feet distant, and so overtopt by it that no man can possibly show his face in defence this side next the hill.’ Work stopped on the castle and a site for its successor was identified on St Helier’s islet near the town.
Mont St Nicolas is best accessed by car. Drive up Gorey Hill and turn right at the crossroads at the top along Rue de la Pouclée et Quatres Chemins. Passing Haut de la Garenne, the former children’s home, on the right you arrive at a road junction with the house called Harbour View facing you. Take the straight but narrow road behind Harbour View and drive carefully along its length, passing spectacular views of Mont Orgueil castle and Gorey Harbour on the right. The lane terminates at the apex of Mont St Nicolas at a small public car park by Victoria Tower.
Local historian and former army officer Frank Falle is a past chairman of the local history section of the Société Jersiaise, taught local history at Hautlieu and is a member of the children’s charity Variety Jersey. He is known for leading and organising a number of fundraising walks, recounting historic stories along the way, including the annual Three Bells Walk at Christmas, commemorative walks relating to the Battle of Jersey and the Governor’s Walk.Download/print a PDF of the walking map