One of the most memorable things about my most recent trip to Jersey was a RIB trip to Les Ecrehous, a tiny archipelago of islets just off the Jersey coast (and very close to France).
Once the domain of smugglers, Les Ecrehous is now the wild, windswept, and hauntingly beautiful home to Britain’s largest breeding population of bottlenose dolphins. It’s Jersey’s best-kept secret and it should be on your bucket list!
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Where is Les Ecrehous Reef?
Les Ecrehous is situated just 6 nautical miles off the North-East coast of Jersey (in the British Channel Islands) and less than 10 miles from France’s Normandy coast.
The three largest islets are called Maîtr’Île (Master Island), La Marmotchiéthe and Lé Bliantch’Île (White Island). The first two have a few stone huts and houses used as weekend or holiday hideaways – the other islets are uninhabited.
Maître Ile is the biggest of the three; however, it has only two habitable huts. Visit to see the ruined fisherman’s cottages, plus the foundations of a 13th Century priory, with a small menhir (an ancient standing stone) inside it.
La Marmotchiéthe, where most RIB trips land, has a tiny cluster of huts dating to the 1880w, all clustered around a tiny courtyard.
A Brief History of Les Ecrehous
In the 17th century, smugglers used the islands to smuggle lead and gunpowder to nearby St Malo in France. The customs house which was built to quash this activity is still standing today.
Today the islands form part of the Island of Jersey, but sovereignty was hotly disputed for centuries, so France took the United Kingdom to the International Court Justice (ICJ) in 1950 to decide to which country the Ecrehous belonged. On 17 November 1953, the ICJ awarded the islands to Jersey.
The King of The Ecrehous
In 1961, Alphonse le Gastelois started a 14-year self-exile on the islet of La Marmotchiéthe, after false accusations that he was guilty of the horrific child sex crimes of the “Beast of Jersey”. A decade later, in 1971, Edward Paisnel was imprisoned for the crimes; however, Le Gastelois remained on the islands, proclaiming himself “The King of The Ecrehous”.
This is my home now! Jersey crucified me.Le Gastelois to Time magazine in 1971
A Marine Area of International Importance
Les Ecrehous is a small paradise of golden sand, crystal clear water, and rock, where fish and birds live in peace with the rhythm of some of the biggest tides in the world, largely undisturbed by man. In 2005 these islets became a RAMSAR site, protecting the habitat of bottlenose and common dolphins, Atlantic grey seals, and basking sharks.
Birds, including terns, oystercatchers, cormorants, shags, and herring gulls, are plentiful too. There’s a recommended code of conduct for visitors, which allows the birds’ breeding season to go on without disruption. If you love to fish, line-catching sea bass from one of the islands’ shores is a highlight!
How to Get to Les Ecrehous from Jersey
The Les Ecrehous reef is only accessible by boat. While you can charter a boat for the day (or longer), be aware that Jersey has an enormous tidal range.
Twice every day, 40 feet of water gushes in and out again, covering and uncovering all but the three largest islets of the Les Ecrehous Reef. Over the years, hundreds have drowned at the mercy of the vicious rocks around Jersey, and there have been many shipwrecks.
You’ll need a local skipper to navigate the treacherous tides, currents, and sandbanks!
On our trip, we saw a French yacht left high and dry on the beach. The skipper had moored up at high tide, unaware that the sea would go out as far as it did!
We picked the 3-hour Dolphin, Seal, and Reef Exploration RIB trip to Les Ecrehous from Jersey Seafaris, a fun, knowledgeable crew, who are very respectful of the wildlife, and the environment of the reef.
If you’re an experienced kayaker, you can also paddle (weather permitting!) to Les Ecrehous in about 2 ½ hours. Find out more at Jersey Kayak Adventures.
What To Do On Les Ecrehous
While the largest islet (Maîtr’ Île) is only 300 metres long by 150 metres wide, there is plenty to see and do on a short RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous!
Highlights of a RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous
- See Bottlenose Dolphins and Grey Seals
- Bird watching amid stunning scenery
- Explore unique sand, land and sea habitats
- Enjoy golden sandy beaches and swim in crystal-clear waters
- Potter around the weather-beaten stone huts and houses
- Try out paddle boarding or kayaking (you’ll need to pre-book this)
What to Expect on a RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous
Before boarding the RIB, trips begin with a safety briefing from the crew. You’ll also get kitted out with a warm, waterproof jacket and lifejacket. Even on a hot day, it’s pretty chilly offshore!
Once the passengers have boarded, the skipper fires up the RIB’s engines and casts off from the slipway. After puttering past St Catherine’s breakwater, the power is cranked up to around 30knts (38mph), for an exhilarating 15-minute blast across the waves northeast to Les Ecrehous.
If you want to take photographs on the RIB trip, forget your “best” camera! Use a GoPro, as it’s a very “bouncy” ride with a lot of sea spray.
On the way, you may see a pod of dolphins swimming and jumping from the sea alongside the RIB. Shout out to the crew if you do, as the skipper will slow down to let you take photographs!
As the islands start to appear, you’ll approach the Les Ecrehous sandbank which is only revealed twice a day, at low tide, for about 20 minutes.
“We jumped off the RIB and walked along the sandbank, freshly revealed by the tide as we arrived. It was surreal to walk on the seabed, in the middle of the ocean! Minutes later, the sea reclaimed the sandbank, and it disappeared beneath the waves.”
Before stopping at the main island, the skipper will pilot the RIB around the reef, giving you fantastic photo opportunities. You’ll probably also get to see grey seals basking in the sun on the rocks.
Drop-off points vary depending on the height of the tide – the sea goes out a long way and the reef triples in size at low tide. The skipper will tell you where and when to meet up for your return trip, then you’re free to explore the whole island independently.
Where To Eat and Drink in Les Ecrehous
There are no food outlets on the islands, and nowhere to refill a water bottle, so most visitors take a picnic to enjoy. No picnic? Buy refreshments at the little café at St Catherine’s before you go.
While you can use a BBQ on the islands, there are strict conditions. You MUST avoid areas where birds are nesting, and ensure that any hot spots are doused with seawater when you leave.
Realistically, with a maximum of 2 hours ashore, you’ll barely have time on your RIB trip for a BBQ to get hot, cook your food, and cool down enough to carry back home!
Whatever you do, you must carry every single scrap of rubbish away with you!
Need To Know Information
There are toilets at St Catherine’s, but none on the boat or Les Ecrehous. Check out the Les Ecrehous code of conduct for what to do if nature calls.
This trip isn’t suitable if you have accessibility needs, a back problem, or for expectant women. Here’s why:
- There’s quite a step down to the RIB from the slipway at St Catherine’s. The crew will help you, but you’ll be stepping down onto the side of an inflatable boat!
- Depending on the tide, you may need to jump into shallow water, climb up a short ladder, or step aboard from an uneven stone jetty (where there are no railings).
- The islands are remote and beautiful, but there’s nowhere to sit (except on your own backside/picnic blanket), and there are no paths. You’ll be walking across shingle, sand and rocks.
- The RIB trip is fast and exciting – it’s also very bouncy!
Is a RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous Dog Friendly?
No. Dogs are not allowed on the islands, to protect the indigenous wildlife.
How Much Does A RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous Cost?
2-hour trips cost from £40.00 per adult and 3-hour trips from £50 per adult. Concession fares are available.
How Long Will I Get to Spend Ashore?
On a 2-hour trip, time ashore is about 30 to 45 minutes. You’ll get up to 2 hours ashore on a 3-hour trip.
How to Get To The Departure Point
The starting point for the RIB trip is the slipway at St. Catherine’s Breakwater, on Jersey’s northeast coast.
Take the N2 or N2A from Liberation Station in St Helier
By Car or Taxi
Location: St Catherine’s Breakwater/Slip, La Route De St. Catherine, Saint Martin, JE3 6DD. Parking is free and plentiful.
What to Take on Your Trip
- A camera to capture your trip highlights
- Water in a reusable bottle
- Swimwear and snorkelling kit
- Binoculars for bird watching
Where To Stay For Your Trip To Les Ecrehous
The few properties on Les Ecrehous are privately owned, so you won’t be able to stay on the islands. The best idea is to stay in Jersey for a few days to make the most of your trip.
Longueville Manor Hotel is Jersey’s only five-star hotel and a member of the exclusive Relais & Châteaux worldwide collection of luxury hotels and restaurants. The hospitality and service here are exceptional and you’ll feel like you’ve escaped from the world for a while after a relaxing stay here.
How to Get to Jersey
By Air: Flights operate from major UK airports
By Sea: Car ferries operate from Portsmouth and Poole, also from St Malo in France.
So this is our complete guide to enjoying a RIB Trip to Les Ecrehous. For such a tiny place, it has plenty to offer visitors, making it a perfect addition to your itinerary while you’re visiting Jersey. Have you been to Les Ecrehous? What was your favourite thing to do? Did you get to see dolphins?