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Published: January 18th 2020
Greetings once more. This is my third and final blog entry for my pre-Christmas mini trip to the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It was a lovely end to my lovely little trip exploring more of these British Isles, coming to realise that Great Britain, although the largest, is certainly not the only island in this beautiful corner of the world. I feel I would like to explore more of this island nation I call home, there are plenty more islands to choose from in the future – the Isle of Man, Orkney and Shetland are all calling, at some point hopefully in the not-too-distant future. For now I was content to complete my explorations of Guernsey, and on my second full day on the island, I was planning to explore the northern and eastern parts.
After a wonderful night’s sleep in my upgraded room 14, without any footsteps on neighbouring staircases to interrupt my sleep, I enjoyed another full English cooked breakfast, fuelling myself for the day ahead. Once more, I donned my mini daypack, headed down the hill again towards the Town Terminus Bus Station, and this time took a bus heading north. The bus fares were
World War II Memorabilia, Guernsey Occupation Museum
"Les Anes", or "The Donkeys", is a Channel Islands nickname for residents of Guernsey. This poster show them kicking out the Germans at the end of World War II
incredibly cheap, at only £1 for a single passage heading at any distance in any direction. I boarded a bus which took me through the northern suburbs of St Peter Port, through Guernsey’s second town of St Sampson, and alighting at a point about three miles north of town.
My first visit this day was to the island’s best preserved neolithic dolmen, Le Dehus. Guernsey’s landscape is dotted with numerous Stone Age remains, including menhirs and dolmens. Le Dehus is an ancient burial tomb, almost perfectly intact in its reconstructed state, with its grassed-over domed roof and a small wooden door heading inside the chamber. The visitor switches on and off the interior light themselves, and heading within the structure was really quite spooky, the only sound in the dark chamber coming from the constant drips of water seeping through the ceiling. The dolmen is around 4000 years old, and was discovered and excavated at various times during the 19th
and early 20th
centuries. It is most famous for its amazing image of a bearded neolithic man, carved into one of the capstones on the inner ceiling, only noticed in 1917, called “Le Gardien du Tombeau”, or “The Guardian
The Guardian of the Tomb
Le Dehus Dolmen, Guernsey
of the Tomb”, eerily lit up and presented by an additional light switch found within. It was really quite an impressive sight.
Blinking as I set foot out into the daylight again, I continued my journey by heading south along the northeast coast of Guernsey, past pretty little Bordeaux Harbour, and stopping off for a lovely latte along the way at a local Guernseyan (?) roadside café called “Woody’s”. The walk was picturesque, but a real battle due to the gale-force winds approaching directly over the sea from the south. It was an even windier day than my Sunday crossing to Sark, and as a result I learnt that the Sark ferry was actually cancelled for that day. I was heading towards a hilltop fort in the distance called Vale Castle, a very well-preserved medieval castle dating back to the 10th
century, and militarily strengthened during England’s constant wars with France from medieval times to the Napoleonic era. Now it is empty, and one can visit freely without the need to buy a ticket or anything. I explored the castle excitedly, although a number of times felt that walking along the walls and turrets I was going to be
blown off by the strong wind. After this, it was a relief to head inland slightly to escape the wind coming directly off the sea and into the tiny harbour town of St Sampson, exploring its fascinating collection of charity shops and warming up again. St Sampson is not only a quaint little village tucked away inland at the head of St Sampson Bay, it also sits along the line of a filled-in channel, called the Braye du Valle, which once separated the mainland of Guernsey from its northeastern corner, which over two hundred years ago was a tidal island called Le Clos De Valle until the channel was filled in during the early 19th
century by the then Lieutenant General of Guernsey John Doyle, in order to make the island more defensible against potential French invasion. My visit to St Sampson also included a stop-off at its internationally famous diamond and jewellers shop called Ray and Scott, where the owner very kindly showed me the store’s tiny diamond museum.
From St Sampson, I planned a walk inland, pretty much following the route of the old Braye du Valle channel, towards a small cluster of commercial outlets and tourist
St Peter Port, Guernsey
attractions: the crafts centre Oatlands Village, the Guernsey Freesia Centre, and Guernsey Candles. My visit coincided with a deluge from the heavens above, so I was most pleased to have arrived at some places with shelter. I didn’t find the crafts and souvenirs on offer at the Oatlands Village too appealing, although I enjoyed walking through the greenhouses at the Freesia Centre. Freesias and cut flowers are one of Guernsey’s main exports, as the island takes advantage of its increased amount of sunshine compared with mainland UK. The place did seem in a sorry state, though, with empty souvenir shelves and not a soul to be seen, although I understood that this was probably due it being the off-season, but it was a welcome respite from the heavy rain pounding on the rooves of the greenhouses. I finally stopped off at the Guernsey Candles store, host to candlemakers and more Guernsey crafts, where I spent the best part of an hour on a conveniently positioned comfy sofa keeping dry while waiting for my next bus, a tiny inter-parish bus plying the back lanes of the island, to take me to my next destination: Saumarez Park.
Saumarez Park, not to
St Peter Port, Guernsey
be confused with Sauzmarez Manor to the south, is Guernsey’s largest public park, and another one of the few tourist attractions open at this time of year. I first headed to the Folk and Costume Museum, which although closed for the winter, was re-opened during my visit as a Christmas craft shop, where I whiled away a few happy browsing moments. My main intention in the park, however, was to follow a path called the Saumarez Nature Trail, taking visitors from the park to the island’s north-west coast at spectacular Cobo Bay. Whilst the park was interesting and attractive, my arrival in the bay reminded me of the real beauty and splendour of Guernsey – its sweeping bays, stunningly vast at low tide given the Channel Islands' famously high tidal ranges. Cobo Bay is also the site of the famous, annual Guernsey Boxing Day Swim, in which hundreds of plucky locals brave the cold water winters the day after Christmas Day every year. This year’s dip was to be the 20th
annual occasion, raising money for the local disabled persons’ charity the Guernsey Cheshire Home. Sadly I missed the occasion by just a few days, but there were signs along
the coast relating to it – not that I would actually take part in it, it would merely have been quite a spectacle to witness. My day ended with a lovely sunset walk along the vast Cobo Bay, towards another dark bus stop in the distance, and another very homely local pub awaiting my arrival with a cold beer and half-an-hour to spend contemplating the day’s explorations before the next bus was due. After enjoying my drink, my time in Cobo Bay also involved an additional half-an-hour waiting at the bus stop in the cold dark evening as the bus was late, but this did add to the experience of feeling like one was at one of the ends of the earth, looking forward to arriving in my cosy hotel room once more later that evening.
And that I did - I enjoyed a final meal at the hotel’s onsite restaurant, another Spaghetti Bolognese as I’d enjoyed the previous one so much, before getting another good night’s sleep and packing my backpack for the final time as I headed off to the airport once more the following morning.
My flight wasn’t until 2.50pm that afternoon, so I had
time to do one final touristy thing before flying home. Fortunately, the truly fascinating German Occupation Museum was a mere ten minute walk south of the airport, so after my bus dropped me off and I explored the museum, I do believe it was the first time ever in my life that I actually walked to an airport (I regularly take trains, buses and taxis to airports, but I don’t think I’ve ever travelled to one on foot before!).
The German Occupation Museum was another of the few attractions open during the winter season, and I very much took advantage of it by spending a really interesting couple of hours in the place, also drying off as during the ten minute walk there from the bus stop the heavens opened once more. During my time there, I learned so much about this particularly unfortunate time period during Guernsey’s history, in which the Channel Islands were evacuated by the British in 1940 after France was invaded by the Germans – 17,000 islanders were evacuated to England, whilst 25,000 remained behind. Life was apparently tough for those who remained, as German soldiers took complete control over the island, and as mentioned
St Peter Port, Guernsey
made it into one of the most heavily militarised areas of Europe during World War Two. Resistance continued throughout the Nazi occupation though, with locals secretly making v-signs with their fingers and writing such signs as graffiti. Apparently anyone caught making such signals was to be executed, and rewards were given to anyone with information leading to the arrest of such people. Amongst the exhibitions were sad notices, presumably posted in public places, announcing the execution of an islander, one of whom was sentenced to death for releasing a pigeon with a message for England. Food and supplies became rationed during the occupation, with numerous photographs showing queues of local people outside food stores collecting their supplies. People survived on basic staples, particularly potatoes and home-grown vegetables. The situation became dire, however, following the successful Allied D-Day landings on the Normandy coast in June 1944. From this time, until the liberation of the Channel Islands on 9th
May 1945, celebrated today as the Channel Islands’ Liberation Day, and their national day, throughout both Guernsey and Jersey, supplies to the islands were completely cut off. It was only the arrival of the Swedish International Red Cross ship, the SS Vega, in
Guernsey on 27th
December and Jersey 31st
December 1944, that saved the islands and the islanders from starvation. The museum’s huge collection of exhibits, memorabilia and artefacts were dedicated to this dark time during Guernsey’s history, and really was a fascination to explore. After a couple of hours there, I collected my backpack again from the reception, and walked the ten minute journey to the airport to the north – fortunately the rain was a mere drizzle by this time.
My flight back to Gatwick was due to leave that afternoon, although we were delayed by about 20 minutes as a “significant weather system”, as the pilot referred to it, was passing over the area – the heaviest rain I had seen during my time there blanketed down in sheets. I was most happy that we hadn’t taken off during such a squall. It also appeared that the pilot altered slightly the flight path back to Gatwick, seemingly to avoid the storm, although I did catch a glimpse of its monstrous rain cloud as we skirted it during our return journey. The flight was bumpy all the way, particularly as it came in to land at Gatwick, which was
St Peter Port, Guernsey
also experiencing heavy rain and wind at the time. In fact, I was really quite fortunate at Gatwick, as a signalling error had caused train cancellations for hours the day before, whilst the day after my return, flooding had disrupted both road and rail transport to the airport. What a relief I landed in between those two days…! Within an hour of leaving the Aurigny Airlines aeroplane, I was walking through my door to arrive home again once more, looking forward to the contemplation time ahead of such a short but cute mini-trip to the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Sark. I was also looking forward to putting the heat on and drying off somewhat…!
So it is with a fond farewell that I leave my travel blog entry writing for this time around. I do have a few trips in the pipeline for the rest of this academic year though, so until the next time, thank you for reading, and all the best to all 😊
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