Monday, 14 April 2014

Islands at war: Castle Cornet

Guernsey's Castle Cornet is a beautiful mismatched structure with a great history. For eight hundred years it's stood proudly at the entrance to Saint Peter Port, protecting the island from would-be invaders, and even defending itself from the rest of Guernsey during the civil war.

Wife and friends enjoying some Easter sunshine in the castle grounds
When the Duchy of Normandy split in the early 1200s, King John of England (of Norman line) had to secure his Channel Island holdings against the French - the castle and many other fortifications around the Channel Island were built for this reason.

It was briefly taken by the French in the 1300s as part of the hundred years war (we don't like short wars), and they held onto it for seven years, despite the rest of Guernsey remaining firmly English.

In the Tudor period the castle was extended, and the characteristic star and triangular defensive walls of the period were constructed.

The castle became enemies of Guernsey again during the Civil War, when the castle remained loyal to the Crown, and the island declared themselves for Parliament. In this time the castle garrison and the Saint Peter Port militia regularly fought each other, and used to send cannonballs and gun shot frequently in each others direction. Supplies to the castle in this time came from Jersey, which remained conversely Royalist!

After the civil war, in 1672, the keep was struck by lightening, not only causing the huge structure to explode, but also killing many of the occupants - including the Governor of Guernsey's family.

In more recent times, the Nazis occupied the castle in WWII, building numerous concrete gun emplacements into the native granite structures.

The castle was still a military listening station as late as the 1960s. Now though, it is a state-owned museum, used often by the yacht club for race signalling, as a venue for concerts in the summer, and has one little tiny cottage available to rent in its midst.

It's expensive to visit - unless you work for Education and have a free pass - and perhaps not as impressive as the many fantastic castles of the mainland, but it's rather charming and packed to brim with history.

Here are some pictures:
Castle Cornet by Isaac Sailmaker - 1650. Note the central keep still standing tall and proud.



The Tudor expansions, with the Guernsey flag flying above.

Castle Cornet used to be an island, but is now connected to the rest of Guernsey by a long pier. You can see the original barbican from the 1200s beneath the clock tower.

A few anchors and other nautical tidbits. As I had a matching tshirt, I couldn't resist...

Building on the left is the barracks built in the 1700s

The noon gun. Fired daily at... well... noon. Hell of a fright if you're not expecting it!

The original barbican from the 1200s, complete with murder holes.

The powder magazine. Brick-lined interior, 4ft+ granite thick walls! Memorials to soldiers around the interior.


Huge 36 pound cannon. And superman.
36 pounder from above.

One of the Nazi bunkers. 'lovingly' named Emma. A sweetheart back home?

Interior of the Nazi fortification.

Beautiful brigantine, from Holland I think.

View from the castle to the end of the pier. Currently closed due to storm damage this winter. The boat in the distance is five+ decked private yacht. It stopped to refuel...

Some sort of mortar shot perhaps? Bloody big, and hollow.