Puffins, potato peel and echoes of the past in Guernsey
by Julie Baxter | 12 July 2018
Little did we worry, or even wonder, as the fog horn sounded and our Condor Ferries’ Poole to Guernsey service slowed slightly, as it sailed on through a patch of mid-Channel fog.
Well into the three-hour crossing, our fellow passengers, like us, were relaxed and untroubled in recliner chairs; browsing the onboard shop or sampling the culinary delights of the restaurants and bars. All in carefree holiday mood or perhaps on business in the Club Lounge.
But a day into our stay, our relaxed attitude onboard contrasted dramatically with the tales told in the on-island Fort Grey Shipwreck Museum which recalls over 50 vessels and numerous lives lost nearby. Since Roman times and as relatively recently as the 1970s reefs and rocks, tidal traumas and disorientation, have caught out captains and navigators passing by on worldwide trading missions.
The stunning scenery that makes the Channel Islands such a draw is in many ways best observed from the sea and island hopping to the likes of nearby Herm, Alderney, Sark or Jersey is popular, easy and rewarding. Less well known are Jethou and Brecqhou, also inhabited. But the very beauty of this region – created by the vast smattering of islands, islets and dramatic rocky outcrops has for centuries made it notorious to navigators.
In modern times, the charts and navigation systems mean this is no longer a risk, and the shipping lanes have been clearly defined away from danger but the museum is a reminder how past travellers here have been on the look out for much more than the gorgeous bays, quirky birdlife, dolphins and photogenic scenery we’ve come for.
The islands have had immense historic significance too as their location has given them a unique strategic position between British and French territories. They’ve pledged allegiance to the British since the days of William the Conquerer, and have been in the frontline of our defence through civil and religious wars, Napoleonic times and both World Wars. Key visitor attraction Castle Cornet in the capital St Peter Port tracks it all and across the island forts and look-out points dot the coast filled with echoes of past conflicts.
The island’s period of German occupation during WWII has been brought dramatically to life by the recent launch of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book and film which tells the story of how the locals survived this wartime period with guile and determination, despite the grueling conditions and a lack of food, and this cinematic spotlight has given a fresh impetus to tourism.
Opportunities to get under the skin of Guernsey’s history are everywhere but it is the area’s stunning good looks and natural attractions that really get the cameras working overtime. Guernsey itself is small so within a day you can drive right around it , even allowing for time to stop to admire numerous views, sample the local seafood and ice-cream, or to laze on its wide sandy west coast beaches along the way. (An island bus runs the route too so there is really no necessity for a car).
From St Peter Port boats run regularly to the neighbouring islands and a trip to one or another is a must. Some head out for bird watching – puffins and cormorants are popular spots, others want to walk the trails, cycle traffic free routes or kayak between the craggy out crops. I went to discover the unique lifestyle of Sark, where there are still no motorized vehicles, just bikes or a horse and carriage to ride and the ‘village’ is just a dusty collection of simple shacks. A trip here is like stepping back in time and the sea views are simply stunning.
But scratch below the surface and in the Channel Islands you soon realise there is much more to this region than its unbridled good looks.
Condor Ferries operates a year-round service to the Channel Islands from Poole, with the fast ferry Condor Liberation, alongside a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth. To book and check current prices, visit condorferries.com or call 0345 609 1024.
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