The ruins of Grosnez Castle are situated in the parish of Saint Ouen, on the top of a windy rugged headland in the stunning coastal area of Les Landes at the northwestern point of the Channel Island of Jersey.
The site provides spectacular views. When the weather is clear nearly all of the other Channel Islands, as well the French coast, can be seen from here. Because of its great strategic position parts of the coastline were used in the past as positions for defending the island from enemy attacks.
Not only the medieval Grosnez Castle, but several WWII military remnants can be found in the area. Most prominent are the gun batteries and bunkers at Battery Moltke to the southwest of the castle ruins, a silent reminder of the turbulent events that happened in the wider region.
There are not many known historical facts about this roughly built fortification. It is a generally accepted that it’s name originates from the old Norse words grar (grey) and nes (headland). Probably throughout the years it evolved in the modern day Jersey-French patois to “Grosnez,” which means “big nose.”
It is believed that the construction may have been ordered by Sir John des Roches, Warden of the Isles in the 14th century (probably somewhere between 1328 and 1330), several years before the start of the Hundred Years War.
Its main purpose was to protect the islanders, mainly the local farmers of Saint Ouen, from the constant French raids on the island. When the church bells rang to warn that the French were approaching, the farmers hurried with their families and cattle into the well fortified shelter.
But it is obvious that the fort wasn’t planned to withstand a siege because it had no well — the water had to be brought from the nearest spring, located approximately 600 feet away. The walls were constructed from granite. Those facing the land were the thickest, because on the other three sides the natural protection of steep cliffs, approximately 197 feet high, allowed thinner walls.
The complex was 820 feet long and the outer walls encircled an area of nearly an acre. But its builders did not construct additional walls within the castle. If the outer wall was breached, the further advancement towards its definite capture was more than certain.
The gatehouse was its strongest part, specially designed to be very difficult to capture. It was surrounded by a big ditch and protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. Archaeological excavations revealed that the drawbridge rested on 12 carved corbels.
The castle was captured twice by the French, in 1373 and 1381. It was probably used for military purposes for the last time during the French occupation of the east parts of Jersey, from 1461 to 1468.
Some historians think that it’s demolition was begun during this period, and by 1540 it was diminished almost to its foundations.
Archaeological investigation shows that it was deliberately demolished rather than slowly crumbling through the years. It is believed that much of the stone that was used for renovating St. Ouen’s Manor was taken from the castle.
Phillipe De Carteret (the Seigneur of Saint Ouan) finally got permission from Governor Harliston to crenelate his manor in 1483, after several formal requests sent to King Edward IV.
He was lacking finances for his project, which besides crenelation included renovation of the dilapidated manor. Some historians believe that, to obtain cheap building materials, he also got permission to dismantle the towers, fortified walls and the gatehouse of Grosnez Castle and that he used those stones on the manor.
Throughout the years some locals also used some of the stones for building houses and other structures, mainly in the parish of Saint John, situated on the north coast of the island.
It is interesting that Mont Mado is located near to this rural community, an area where some of the finest Jersey granite has been quarried since prehistoric days. It has a characteristic color that varies from pink to bright red. The stones of the castle originate from Mond Mado quarry.
Today there is not much left from its former glory. In fact only the archway that was an integral part of a gatehouse now still stands proudly. Parts of the wall can also can be seen.
Despite its ruinous state, the site still radiates a mystical beauty that cannot be explained just with words. It is open to the public and visited by many. The surroundings composed from marvelous cliffs and beautiful bays provide great enjoyment.
The divine solitude, the romantic emptiness and the crumbling ruins touch the heart of every wandering soul who visits this magnificent scene. Every sunset here is a unique and epic story in itself.
In 1806, a naval signal station was constructed at Grosnez for sending messages to Guernsey. Today there is a small automated lighthouse that can be reached by concrete steps. To the south of the ruins is a 200-foot-high rock known as Le Pinnacle that for thousand of years was a ceremonial site and an object of worship.