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Published: December 31st 2019
Greetings! I am currently in my lovely home in London, but have just recently completed a mini pre-Christmas break to the Channel Islands, once more. Once more, as this time last year, I spent a few days on the lovely little Channel Island of Jersey – this year I decided to spend some time on Jersey’s sister island, just 27 miles away, and booked five nights to explore the Bailiwick of Guernsey just before Christmas. I had a lovely little time there, Guernsey being an even smaller, cuter version of Jersey, and I aim to write up about my time there over the course of three blogs, starting with this one.
So on the Saturday following the end of term, I flew Guernsey’s very own tiny airline company, Aurigny (pronounced oh-reeny) from nearby Gatwick Airport to Guernsey’s tiny airport in the west of the island, just a short hop over the English Channel. It was a flight which went up, and then which came down again – a nice short one! We landed in rather windy weather, which pretty much summarised my whole time on the island, with a smattering of rain in between. Perfect! I had
just arrived in a tourist destination out-of-season, pretty much the only tourist on the island it seemed, with moody weather to boot – my idea of travel heaven really!
Just outside the airport terminal, I caught a local bus heading eastwards the distance of four miles to Guernsey’s main town, St Peter Port, where I was booked into a hotel for just one night – the Grange Lodge Hotel. The bus wound its way along the narrow, curvy lanes of the island, past tiny houses which compared to England looked like gnomes dwelt there, up and off the pavement a number of times as we passed by other cars coming in the other direction, and down a steep incline to the Town Terminus Bus Station, right next to the main harbour area of town. I had arrived in my second Channel Island, and immediately noticed how similar yet how different the place was to my beloved England, with a yellow telephone box right in front of me – pretty much exactly the same as our own red telephone boxes, but yellow. The post boxes were also similar yet different, being in the same British style, but painted blue instead
of red. Place names, as with Jersey, were also in the local French-related dialect, called Jersiaise in Jersey, and Guernesiaise in Guernsey.
As with Jersey, Guernsey has Viking history, when the Vikings first started raiding in the 9th
century, and subsequently when the Normans arrived to settle more civilly in the 10th
century. After the Normans invaded England during the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Channel Islands, Norman France and England all came within the control of the medieval Duchy of Normandy. When England lost Normandy to France in 1204, the Channel Islands were given the choice of either remaining with England or reverting to France, they chose the former (go Channel Islanders!). As a result of their amazing choice, they have been given English royal respect ever since. Currently they are a “peculiar of the crown” – the two Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey owe allegiance to the English monarchy but not the UK parliament, and thus have their own separate political structures. They are also remarkably not members of the European Union.
So as with my arrival in Jersey last year, my arrival in Guernsey was one of meeting with the familiar yet different
– an English territory with French-related quirks. Upon disembarking from the bus, I strolled northwards along first the Albert Marina and then the Victoria Marina, each playing host to numerous, beautiful white yachts and sailing boats moored in the town’s harbours. I was heading towards the Sark Shipping Company offices to check my boat to Sark the next day was still running, given the windy weather and rough sea conditions – more on that below. After checking that my crossing was fortuitously brought forward from 2pm to 9am, giving me much more time to explore the island, and giving thanks for this remarkable turn of course, I headed inland and uphill towards the Candie Gardens and Guernsey Museum, one of only a handful of tourist attractions open during the dark and bleak off-tourist winter season. It was a smashing visit, exploring the museum’s fascinating history exhibitions on the island, its people and culture over the years, and intriguingly noting the island’s relations with Japan as one of its former seigneurs, or heads of state of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, also served as British ambassador to Japan during the 19th
century, and hence built up quite a collection of Japanese memorabilia
My Guernsey Guidebook
No Lonely Planet guides available for the Channel Islands!
on display there. There was also a fascinating display on Japanese manga, with some amazing anime drawings showing scenes from famous Guernsey resident Victor Hugo’s novel set on the island, “Toilers of the Sea”, with a Japanese twist. I loved the Japanese-Guernsey connections, particularly as I’m still blissfully contemplating my amazing trip to Japan the summer before last. Following my museum visit, I enjoyed a dusk walk around the lovely gardens with wonderful views over the town below and beyond to the smaller Channel Islands of Herm, Jethou, and mysterious Sark in the far distance. This was to be my destination the following morning, so as the sun was setting and the day was getting darker, I thought it would be about time to head further inland and check into my hotel for the night, to ready myself for the following day’s adventures.
I did just that, and half-a-mile further uphill, I checked into room number 11 at the Grange Lodge Hotel – stunning hotel, but not a particularly stunning room. It was a small single room, with its bed along the wall adjacent to a staircase leading up to the staff accommodation upstairs. I wasn’t particularly happy with
The Isle of Wight
Flying to Guernsey from London Gatwick
the prospect of sleeping alongside somewhere where footsteps could be heard at any time of day or night, and after buying a few things at a nearby Waitrose supermarket and enjoying a delicious, spicy curry meal at the onsite hotel restaurant, I settled into a rather unsettled first night on my trip.
After not such a great night, I did wake up feeling rather refreshed fortunately, and having enjoyed my first of many cooked, full English breakfasts on this trip in the hotel restaurant, I packed my backpack once more and headed downhill again, back towards the harbour area, through the blustery morning of gale-force winds, and towards the little ferry which would cross me the 50-minute journey to the stark island of Sark on the distant horizon. I was really quite excited about this part of my journey.
The tiny island of Sark is a fascination. It is a mere two miles long by about 1 mile wide at its longest and widest points, thus being about 2 square miles in size, and surrounded on all sides by high, dramatic and imposing cliffs with waves crashing at the headlands, arches, stacks and stumps below. The island has
been inhabited in modern times since the 16th
century, when Elizabeth I granted its occupation to 40 men and their families in return for keeping the island and region free from pirates who were common in those days. Many of the current 600 residents of the island trace their ancestry back to these original 40 men, and the island remained Europe’s last medieval feudal state presided over by a Lord, or “Seigneur”, until “democracy” was reluctantly installed in 2008 at the behest of the billionaire Barclay twins who own the Daily Telegraph and neighbouring Brecqhou island. Many residents have opposed such a new form of political structure and the influence of the brothers, although the islanders can still wield power by means of election to the Chief Pleas, or parliament of Sark, consisting of eighteen members each holding office for a four-year term. Sark is also famous for having been designated as a Dark Sky Community, and becoming the first Dark Sky Island in the world. That is, there are no street lights on the island, no tarmac roads, and all cars are banned – only tractors and bicycles are used to get around. Thus, at night, the starry sky
in all its glory can be observed. I first heard about this having bought Enya’s amazing album “Dark Sky Island” a few years ago, apparently inspired by Enya's own visit to the island, and ever since have been intrigued at the idea of visiting. I was thus planning to spend two days and one night on this fascinating, stark and beautiful island – I was excited!
I arrived at the Sark Shipping Office in Guernsey at 8.30am, having stocked up on food to sustain me for my time on the island at the local Co-Op supermarket in St Peter Port – there was apparently only one place open for meals on Sark during my time there, an expensive hotel-restaurant about a mile away from my accommodation. I thus thought it better to self-cater during my time there. The boat pulled up, and about 18 passengers in total boarded the ferry to take us across the rough Channel crossing to the island, 10 miles away over the choppy waves. The 50 minute journey was a rough one, probably the roughest I’ve experienced. After about 20 minutes of up and down, we were about to skirt the southern tip of the
tiny island of Jethou, surrounded by rocks jutting out from under the sea floor all around us, when one of the ferry attendants came round to tell us it was “going to get a bit bumpy” – if it wasn’t bumpy already, it certainly became so! The wind gathered pace, the waves became choppier, and we lurched up, down, left and right, towards the mystical chunk of rock in the distance. We apparently skirted a notorious area known as the “Witch’s Cauldron” for its bubbling sea swells, and I was most glad 50 minutes later to spot the tiny Maseline Harbour in the distance on the far side of the island. Upon disembarking, passengers climb into what the locals call the “toaster rack” – a row of padded benches on a wagon pulled up the steep hill into the “village” by a tractor – and pay the £1.20 passage for the privilege. What an amazing experience, it was like stepping back in time. Upon disembarking at the top of the hill, I walked through the small village, with all shops boarded up and seemingly closed for the winter, following my quaint instructions to my BnB for the night – instructions
such as go straight over the crossroads, turn right at the golden post box, follow the track past the church and look out for the sign for the BnB on a hedge trellis. As I was walking the route, it became clear that I was (and later came to verify from a local or two) the only tourist on the island during my time there – perfect! On the way I bumped into the local vicar, who invited me to the church’s Christmas Carol Service later that morning, it being a Sunday. I also met, unbeknownst to me at the time, until I met him again later that day, the Headmaster of the island’s tiny school, Sark School, attended by the grand total of 24 students from Year 1 to Year 8, who was on the ferry with me from Guernsey, having just acquired a new puppy and bringing it back to live on the island with him and his wife. I quickly gathered that it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone – an idyllic retreat from the stresses of modern life on the one hand, but the lack of anonymity on the other hand would feel
Yellow Telephone Boxes
St Peter Port, Guernsey
rather claustrophobic for me I think.
A few minutes later I arrived at my BnB – a small room attached to the house of a lovely local lady whose family have lived on the island since the 16th
century. I downed my backpack, rested up a bit, appreciating the steady non-moving nature of land once more, before beginning my first day’s explorations of the island.
On my first day, I called in at the carol service to which I was invited, at the local St Peter’s Church, saying hello and being greeted very warmly by a number of lovely locals and meeting the vicar again once more. I then began my walk southwards towards the southern tip of the island, called Little Sark, looking out mainly for the island’s star natural attraction, La Coupee – more on that below. My walk took me through the village again, along the island’s famed dirt tracks, being passed by a local on a bicycle or tractor every once in a while. I walked past the tiny Assembly Room where the Chief Pleas’ meetings take place and where evidently the island’s business was discussed and decided, the Post Office, with its golden
St Peter Port, Guernsey
post box, painted in such fashion after local Sark resident Carl Hester won a gold medal for Dressage in the 2012 London Olympics, the Visitor Centre, this time with a green telephone box, and its adjacent two-celled prison, the world’s smallest and still in use to this day since 1856, onto a Windmill which you could still go into and climb to the top of, and stopping eventually at the stunning La Coupee. This is a natural land bridge connecting the larger chunk of land called Big Sark in the north to its smaller adjoining chunk to the south, Little Sark, but which was made much safer to cross just after World War II when German prisoners of war were made to fortify and strengthen the crossing. Prior to this, people often had to crawl across it in high winds, as to either side is a drop of 80 metres to two distant bays and crashing waves below. It really was a spectacular place to be and to pause for a while, contemplating the sheer beauty and tranquillity of the place. I was just wondering how I could take a photo of myself there without it being a selfie on
my phone, when a rather dodgy-looking bloke from East Europe seemed to appear out of nowhere, smoking a cigarette, with a beer in one hand and a tinny transistor radio in the other. This must be one of the “quarry workers” I’d read about in an article on the island’s recent “crime wave” I thought, and whilst wondering how and why on earth this man would be here, I reluctantly asked him to take a picture of me, which actually turned out to be quite a good one – I got my camera back at the end of it too, added bonus…! Having crossed La Coupee, deciding against walking down the treacherous steep path to one of the bays below, La Grande Greve, on account of not being too keen on walking back up 80 metres in height again, I continued my journey southwards across Little Sark to end up at two stone chimneys referred to as the Silver Mines, created during an ill-fated silver mining mini-boom in the early 19th
century which ended in flooding and the drowning of ten miners. I then turned back again, crossed La Coupee once more, and headed this time eastwards across a field
St Peter Port, Guernsey
where there was a dead horse, along with a few live ones, and down towards one of the island’s most beautiful bays, Dixcart Bay. The trail took me through some lush vegetation and forest, and down to the beach, where I met and chatted with a dreadlocked local for a while who was walking his dogs. I then headed up another trail back into the village, bumped into the school Headmaster again in town with his wife and their new frivolous puppy, before heading towards the western tip of the island to watch the sun set over the Channel from an imposingly positioned statue called the Pilcher Monument. I might add that this was the only day during my trip to Guernsey in which the sun was out in full force, so the light was beautiful. Unfortunately the wind was also out in full force, but this made my day’s walk around the south of the island all the more blustery and adventurous. I walked back to my BnB just after the sun had set, and after dinner there, made my way out again in the pitch black (you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face without a
St Peter Port, Guernsey
torch!) to see how much of the Dark Sky Island I could experience. Again, I was really fortunate! As mentioned, this was the only day where there was no cloud, and the stars indeed filled the sky. Apparently, that night’s star-viewing wasn’t as dramatic as it can be, as the locals told me you can sometimes see the Milky Way – I had seen a sky like this a couple of times during a visit to Africa in 2004, where there was actually more star than sky. This wasn’t quite the same, but it was still quite stunning, and I could just make out the slight wispy streak of the Milky Way up there somewhere. I returned back to my BnB for a blissful, tranquil night’s sleep on one of the remotest islands that make up these British Isles – wonderful!
The next morning I enjoyed another full English cooked breakfast, whipped up by the delightful BnB owner, and watched over by her gorgeous, long-haired cat called “Arwen”. My plan for the second day was to explore the northern part of this rugged island, before heading back to the harbour again for the 4pm ferry back to Guernsey. I
St Peter Port, Guernsey
first headed north and explored La Seigneurie Gardens, attached to La Seigneurie, a lovely manor house home to the island’s “Seigneur”, or Lord, or head of the island, since the 17th
century, and since just 2018 has been open to the public. Needless to say I was the only visitor, and I enjoyed in particular exploring the gardens’ very own hedge-maze, like a child again! After this I headed a little north and then westwards, to a locally famous viewpoint called the Window in the Rock – a large square hole cut into the vertiginous cliff face initially intended to facilitate goods being loaded and unloaded onto boats moored in the bay below, but now acting as quite a special viewpoint over the island’s tumbling cliffs and crashing waves. After this, I walked to the northern tip of the island, to L’Eperquerie Common, through quite a different landscape of open heathland and gorse bushes. Finally, I headed back south again and towards the eastern tip of the island just above the working Point Robert Lighthouse which guides boats safely into the Maseline Harbour below. By this point I felt I had come full circle in my explorations of the tiny
island, having explored its southern, western, northern and now eastern extremities. I had just enough time left for a short walk back through the village, hoping in vain that some of the shops may be open for a souvenir or two, but only finding the village store and post office open, back to my BnB for some lunch and a bit of downtime before it was time to head back to the harbour and take my afternoon ferry again back to Guernsey.
The boat set off at 4pm, with about the same number of passengers as coming, and I was thankfully told by the gentleman on duty at the Sark Shipping Office on the island, housed in a shipping container, that the crossing would be “like a millpond”. Admittedly it was still a bit rough, but I’d come to learn that rough passages to Sark are the norm, and that actually the Wednesday before my visit the crossing was even rougher than my own the day before. Gosh! The sun was just setting as we set off, and I wondered, as we skirted once more the southern, jagged and rocky coast of Jethou, how on earth the captain knew
View towards Herm, Jethou and Sark
Candie Gardens, St Peter Port, Guernsey
where to go for a safe passage through the jagged rocks all around, particularly as it was pretty dark by then. Nevertheless, we made it safely once more back to Guernsey, and stepping off the boat after two days in rural heaven, it felt a bit odd returning to “civilisation” once more, surrounded by buildings, shops, roads and cars, even though this was still the relatively off-the-grid tiny island of Guernsey. I hiked up the hill once more to my hotel, to sign into once more the claustrophobic little room number 11 next to the staff staircase (I had planned to do something about my sleeping arrangement the next day, more on this in my next one). With a delicious steak and chips for dinner, I cosied up for my third night on this trip, eager and looking forward to exploring more of the island of Guernsey over the coming days.
So, I will write about my first full day of adventures on Guernsey in my next one. Until then, thank you for reading, and all the best to everyone!
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