Alderney, Channel Islands
In the 1840s it was thought that the advent of steam would make the Channel
Islands more important as an advanced naval base, and also more liable to
capture by the French. Accordingly the great harbour works of Alderney were
begun in 1847. Fort Clonque, the most remarkable of them, occupies a group of
large rocks off the steep south-west tip of the island, commanding the passage
between it and Burhou. It is reached by a causeway and was originally designed
for ten 64-pounder guns in four open batteries, manned by two officers and 50
Very soon, however, the further development of steam brought the Channel Islands within easy reach of mainland bases, and made another in Alderney unnecessary. In 1886 the Defence Committee recommended that Clonque, and all the other works, except Fort Albert, should be disarmed but left standing.
It was thus that Hitler found them in 1940 and, imagining again that the Channel Islands had strategic value, vigorously refortified them. At Fort Clonque part of the Victorian soldiers’ quarters was replaced by an enormous casemate, housing a gun so large that its emplacement now makes a handsome bedroom looking towards Guernsey.
Most forts are of necessity large and grim, but Clonque, because it has had
to be fitted to the great rocks round which it is built, is small, open and
picturesque, ingeniously contrived on many levels, with stretches of grass,
samphire and mesembryanthemum here and there. Any cold or damp, characteristic
of such a fort, will be more than compensated for by the delight of its
spectacular setting. (The clean air allows all sorts of lichen to grow on the
granite walls.) On calm days the sea can be heard all round, restlessly
searching the rocks; and on rough days it is comforting to reflect that the wall
of the East Flank Battery is 19 feet thick. At high tide the fort is cut off and
the sea runs between it and the mainland.
The marine views are second to none: of the other islands, rocks and stacks;
of two great colonies of gannets, which fish round the fort; of the lighthouses
on the Casquets; and of the formidable race or current called the Swinge, which
runs between Clonque and Burhou.
On all counts Fort Clonque is a most worthwhile place to have tackled, not
least because when we embarked on it in 1966 military works such as this were
disregarded everywhere. The rest of Alderney is also extremely pleasant; the
island is just small enough to be explored entirely on foot or, very easily, by
bicycle; all the Victorian and German defence works are interesting; the beaches
at the north end are exceptional; and in the centre is St Anne, a very pretty
little town, English with a hint of France.
There are six more beds in other parts of the fort, as shown in the
above site map.
From the logbook
Rarely have I felt so relaxed or comfortable and been somewhere so
Our attempts to sound Reveille and ‘Come to the Cookhouse Door’ on the thoughtfully provided bugle gave hours of harmless fun.
Acoustics in the kitchen are ideal for singing and lute music.
The cycling in Alderney is fabulous.
I found a bread and butter sea slug; it looked positively revolting.