The Channel Islands sit off the Normandy Coast and form a group of islands administered as Jersey or Guernsey, with their strange statuses as Crown Dependencies of the UK. Yet a few miles south of Jersey is a small archipelago of islands that are French. The Îles de Chausey are a scattering of tiny islands and rocky reefs with the largest, Grande Île, at the heart. The tidal range here is huge and as such many islands link together at low water with sandy beaches and bays only to separate out again as the tide rises. In summer, at least, there appear to be as many small boats as there are tiny islands and these too cluster around the largest landmass with its cluster of stone houses tucked onto the leeward side.
The Grande Île is reached by boat from Granville with regular summer services, albeit governed by the tides. The sea was choppy as we left the shelter of the huge harbour walls at Granville heading for a low-lying blur on the horizon. The islands slowly emerged from this blur to become tiny individual islets and Grande Île itself became apparent by its distinctive lighthouse and tiny white and grey houses along the shore. The landing was onto a small wooden jetty which soon was lost under the incoming tide.
A walk around the island takes in houses linked by narrow paths, handcarts being the main form of transporting items to these sometimes tiny dwellings, the large lighthouse and the Napoleonic fort. From there is turns to the southwestern shore almost devoid of habitation except for a large imposing fortress dating to the 16th century. Otherwise the path tracks through rocky cliff edges where lizards scurried away over the warm rocks then through areas of scrub and grassland leading down to small sandy coves. The free draining sandy or stoney soils were parched dry and this, coupled with the salt, makes for some harsh conditions for a variety of unusual plants such as the distinctive harestail grass, Lagurus ovatus, on the cliffs or Jersey sea-lavender, Limonium auriculae-ursifolium, on the sea edge.
After the boats have departed and the day visitors have gone the islands must take on a peace that comes with isolation but we were amongst that crowd of tourists to drop in for a mere glimpse of these islands. So we embarked on the boat to Granville, a calmer and warmer return journey back to mainland France.