Castle Cornet is one of the most striking buildings on Guernsey, being build on an island where it dominates the harbour in St Peter Port. It’s one of the first things that visitors will see when disembarking from a ferry.
The castle ramparts are one of the best places from which to watch the annual Guernsey Air Show as they give an unobstructed view across Little Russell, where the action takes place. You’ll need to get there early to secure your place, though.
Castle Cornet has been an important defensive structure since at least the 13th century. It was built during the first decade of the 1200s when King John (of England) wanted a castle that could be maintained from the sea. It proved itself capable of withstanding attack, having captured by the French in 1338, during the Hundred Years War, and defended by them for seven years.
Above: Castle Cornet from St Peter Port, to the right of the picture
Later, during the English Civil War, Guernsey took the side of parliament, but the forces in Castle Cornet stayed loyal to he Crown (as did the island of Jersey), and the castle managed to stand up against the parliamentarians for nine years. When the siege came to an end it was only because Sir Peter Osborne, the deputy governor, surrendered on favourable terms.
The castle looks quite different to the way it did when it was first built, as it previously had a large round tower at its centre, which was used for storing munitions, and was destroyed when it was struck by lightning in 1672.
As the island’s defensive needs changed, the castle started to show its age and became too small, and Fort George (see, also, Clarence Battery) was established just south of Castle Cornet, in 1780.
Despite this, the noonday gun is still fired from Castle Cornet at 12 o’clock every day. Castle Cornet is open for visits daily between March and October, but closed over the winter. There are several museums inside, including one about the castle itself, and another about the island’s maritime history. A further marine-base museum, covering shipwrecks, is housed in Fort Grey.
There are also four formal gardens within the castle walls.
It was subverted for propaganda purposes during the German occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War. In his book The Silent War, Frank Falla, who worked for the local newspapers, wrote:
…their propaganda … really amused us. They would insist on showing us copies of Die Wehrmacht, which in picture and report told of their capture of the ‘British Channel Islands’. The magazine devoted several pages to pictures of Guernsey. One caption under a shot of Castle Cornet from the air said ‘the vacated residence of the King of England’s representative, the Lieut-Governor’. That he had never visited the place, let alone lived there, mattered not.