Treat Yourself To Guernsey – An exotic Island in the English Channel
When my mother first came up with the idea of a holiday to Guernsey, a small island in the English Channel, I was a bit skeptical – none of my friends had been there, and it wasn’t exactly at the top of any travel agency’s choice destinations. However, we eventually embarked on our adventure to this miniscule shred of land on the 22nd of August 2015.
DAY 1: The voyage out
At around 10:30 am on the 22nd August,2015, we left our home in Croydon, South London and began our journey to Guernsey. The route we chose (by car – not plane as it is nearly 3 times more expensive and although much quicker we were in no scramble to reach!) took us past Guildford on the A3, then down to Portsmouth and Southampton on the A/M27 road, then finally the A31 to a town called Poole, where we were to board a ferry named ‘Condor Liberation’. Although, we could have boarded a ferry at Portsmouth, this ferry would have been considerably slower, taking 6 to 7 hours, compared to the 3 hours from Poole. The road journey was brain-numbingly boring with most of the roads having long, stationary traffic jams. To add insult to injury, we even got a puncture in one of the tires when we were REALLY behind schedule. Fortunately we made it to the ferry terminal with a few minutes spare.
On-board the ‘Condor Liberation’, there were comfortable airline-style seats, with 3 classes, Ocean Traveler, Plus and Club, in ascending order of price, comfort and facilities. Our family was booked into Ocean Traveler. Shortly after departure, we ate food purchased from the bistro on board. The food was surprisingly tasty! After our meal, we went onto the top deck, where it was rather windy, but provided a great view of the slowly shrinking land as we sailed further and further away. In addition, I also spotted a stowaway pigeon who looked very puzzled! The journey took 3 hours and was pretty comfortable, although the seas were quite rough and I felt a little bit dizzy.
Eventually we arrived in St Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey, or officially, the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Guernsey is technically not part of the U.K and governs itself, has its own currency notes (although U.K mainland notes as well as notes from the other Channel Islands are accepted) and has its own style of car registration plates. The island itself is tiny, only some 25-30 square miles, and roads are not much more than small country lanes, except for the coastal roads around the perimeter of the island. The first sight that greeted us as we pulled into the port was the lighthouse and the magnificent Cornet Castle. We also saw a number of boats and yachts that were moored in the harbor. Upon disembarking in St Peter Port, the first thing was the magnificent Liberation monument, erected to celebrate the liberation of the Islands from the Germans in World War 2.
Ahead lay a half-hour drive to the other end of the island, nothing too exciting, but we eventually reached our apartment named Beau Vallon in the parish of St. Pierre du Bois at about 8 pm. After a short dinner, we fell into our beds concluding our first evening on the island of Guernsey.
DAY 2: The Isle of Sark
The sun rose over Guernsey and we woke up to our first full day on the island. The day’s plan called for a visit to an even smaller island, the Isle of Sark. Located west of Guernsey, this island is, much like Guernsey a self-governing state, but on a far, far smaller scale to Guernsey. It has a tiny population of 500 at most, and no motorized vehicles apart from tractors are permitted. There is only 1 doctor and 3 nurses on the whole of the island, and only 1 or 2 constable policemen. This was quite shocking to us, as in London, of course, police and doctors/hospitals are abundant, and to be suddenly cast into a world where there is such a limited amount of emergency help was truly alien to us.
The journey to the Island of Sark began quite shakily. We had booked a taxi, but it did not show up as planned and we lost all hope for making to the harbor in time. However, by some miracle, we reached with moments to spare. After just about making the boat, a small boat holding about 200 people named ‘Sark Belle’ took us to the island of Sark, a journey of about 55 minutes. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a magnificent view of the Sark light-house; orange-red cliffs topped with lush green woods. I also spotted some caves by the harbor! There was a winding road to the top of the island which we rode up in a tractor acting as a bus (as I mentioned no motorized vehicles other than tractors). The ride was bumpy, but enjoyable at the same time.
At the top was a small village called ‘’The Village’’ (it actually is!) where some beautiful horses with carriages strapped to them stood in regal elegance. These horse carriages are used to take tourists around the island if they desired. One of the curious sights here is the 40 scarecrows placed in a small garden representing the original 40 settlers on Sark. All are armed to defend their home. While it does show the islanders have a great sense of humor it also given us an insight on how they felt (and continue to feel) about their wonderful island.
After walking around The Village for a while and eating lunch, we made our way back to the horses and got on a carriage drawn by a beautiful brown and white horse called Tchito. The horse started trotting along and we saw the wonderful island in great style and comfort. Highlights included a chocolate factory using Sark-farmed cream and milk as well as large corn and wheat fields, vineyards, a beautiful village church and amazing scenery. It was a peaceful and tranquil feeling – a place where time marches to a slower beat allowing you to soak into nature. In addition, we saw the Brecqhou Island, owned by the Barclay Brothers. Our guide said they paid £3.5million for the island and £62 million for their castle which they built. Contrary to popular belief, the Barclay Brothers do not own Barclay’s Bank. They do, however own companies like Littlewoods, Yodel and the Telegraph newspaper among others.
Personally, my favourite location was La Coupee, a bridge built in WW2 by prisoners which gives an incredible, exotic, mesmerizing view of the sea and the tall, majestic cliffs that surround the island. On a clear day, which it was when we visited, we could see Jersey, Guernsey and even France! It was wonderful.
At around 4 pm, we left Sark to go back to Guernsey, having had a truly great day. We had experienced a totally different culture to back home. I really wish we had more time to spend on Sark and I do hope to come back especially to see the night sky. Sark has been officially classified as having ‘Dark Night’ by a astronomical body as it has no light pollution (there are no streetlights) and hence offers some of the best views of the night sky on a clear night. Eventually, we returned to Guernsey, and to our apartment, to conclude our second day in Guernsey.
DAY 3: Castle Cornet and The Little Chapel
Monday dawned and we arose sleepily to the chirping of birds and a cockrell! Today we were to visit Castle Cornet in St Peter Port, followed by a visit to a place called Little Chapel later on. After breakfast, we began driving to St Peter Port, and after about 30 minutes, we arrived. The castle itself provided a view of the city, the harbor and we could see the picturesque islands of Sark, Herm, Jethou, Alderney and Brecqhou.
Castle Cornet was built in the early 13th century AD and was used until the 19th century. It was, until 1672 the home of the Governor of Guernsey, and served as a garrison for German soldiers during the Occupation in WW2. It has been partially restored and is now a popular tourist attraction. We rounded another fantastic day with a cone of Guernsey ice-cream, which was delicious. It was light, sweet and creamy and melted at first taste.Finally, to round off the day, we went to the north-western edge of Guernsey to see the sunset. It was relatively clear that evening and we went with time to spare. The sun was as yellow as a spring daffodil and reflected as deep ochre off the water. As it sank further and further behind the horizon, it turned a brilliant orange, and finally a crimson red in its last moments before disappearing. It was truly magnificent and with the seagulls cawing in the background and the waves crashing onto the rocks, made for a brilliant, relaxing evening to the day.
Thus, we finished another day in Guernsey.
Day 4: A Museum and the Cliffs
Tuesday was a dull, dismal morning with a thick blanket of grey cloud. Nevertheless, we began by driving to the German Occupation Museum, in Forest – a place near the Airport. It was quite small, just a one-floor building, but inside were some really special things, from large machine guns and torpedoes, to smaller, more personal things like an exquisite collection of medals, badges and insignia that would have been donned by the soldiers at the time. We also learnt about life during the Occupation, and how the island nearly starved to death, but for the Red Cross’s parcels of food and clothes. All the artifacts kept there were either found on a beach or in a house or something like that, or donated by the locals. It was a really wonderful place, which really allowed people to visualize and think about the occupation, the war and for some of this dates to a period before we were even born.
Later that day, we headed off to the south-west edge of the island to the Parish of Torteval for a walk. This walk led us past Portelet harbour (with its batteries, viewing towers, bunkers). The sun had decided to make a welcome appearance and the path was alive with people. The path bordered the sea and we could hear nothing but the occasional bird, and the ever-present crash of the sea on the sharp, jagged rocks. We ended up climbing about 50 metres and had an incredible view of the island. We could see small villages surrounded by huge fields, the sea washing up onto the coast, and the cliffs on the south coast, standing proud and mighty. We climbed back down on these old stone steps, probably laid down by Germans in WW2, or even before that when the islanders would want a quick route up to the high vantage point on top of the cliffs.
DAY 5 – St. Martin parish:
Wednesday was another wet day, but we still headed to St Martin, a parish on the south-east part of the island. Here, we went for another hike, to the famous Jerbourg Point, where several raids and missions took place in WW2. The walk down the cliff had steps, but it was very steep and slippery, and at the bottom, we could see the islands of Alderney, Sark, Jethou, Brecqhou and Jersey. There was also a small building/bunker which was fenced off, sadly. It was quite windy, but it was still great fun to walk on a historic site such as this. The trek back up was tiring, especially since it was some 220 steps, slippery and very windy. At the top, we were quite spent, but we’d got to the top in the nick of time, because as soon as we sat inside the car, the heavens opened up and it was like God was pouring buckets and buckets of water straight onto us.
Thankfully, the rain did not last very long, and the skies turned a lovely pastel blue. After lunch made with organic, freshly grown vegetables we headed off to the beach in Cobo Bay.
Before I go on, one thing that was fascinating was the presence of small stalls filled with home-grown fruits, vegetables and flowers, unmanned, placed by the side of the road all over the island. These were set up by the locals, and all you had to do was take whatever you wanted and leave the appropriate amount of money in the stall. This was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and showed how much the islanders trusted one another. It really was extraordinary to us, since in London, this sort of thing would not work at all!!
Arriving at Cobo Bay, we walked into the sea, which froze us to the bone! It really wasn’t too comfortable, but I soon got used to it, unlike my mother who wouldn’t go more than two feet in to the sea, where the water barely went up to her ankle!!! I couldn’t swim because the waves were really big, but it was very enjoyable to have the sea crashing against my back, and jumping over the waves. Finally, we walked along the seafront, collecting beautiful sea shells, ranging all sorts of shapes and sizes.
To finish off another great day, we jumped into the pool behind the apartment. Big mistake – the pool was FREEZING!!!!!! It was as cold if not colder than the sea, but we soon got used to it and had fun splashing around as the sun set over Guernsey once more. Climbing into my bed at night, I felt a slight tinge of disappointment. I really liked Guernsey and it was a shame to be going as quickly as we were. However, not all things last forever, so we finished our final night in Guernsey by the light of the moon…
DAY 6: Homeward Bound
The next morning we went to a garden centre near St Peter Port. Nothing too exciting, but if you like gardening, it’s worth a visit. The garden centre was called Le Friquet and was really big.
At about 3pm we left our apartment for St Peter Port. at 3.30pm we arrived and as soon as we were on the ferry, went to the top deck to get one last glimpse at this fantastic island. As we left, we passed the islands of Alderney, Sark, Jethou and Brecqhou and were soon in the English Channel. The boat journey back was uneventful, but at about 7pm we reached Poole. Upon disembarking, we headed out of Poole and onto the highway. Nothing much really occurred during the journey back home, and we eventually reached (far, far quicker than the outbound journey) Croydon, our home, sweet home at about 11.30pm that day. I was pretty exhausted and quickly went to rest.
When my mother first mentioned Guernsey, as I said before, I was skeptical. However, everything we saw and did was incredible. I truly look to visit this great little island in the future – it had definitely been a great time out.
About the Author : Aditya Vishwanathan