Travel Eye: Guernsey and Herm

[As written for the Travel Eye blog hosted by Huffington Post UK, October 2013]

Travel Eye: Visit the beautiful Islands of Guernsey and Herm

Leaving London on a cloudy September morning, I wasn’t sure how excited I was about visiting Guernsey. The weather was looking bleak (mostly cloudy), temperatures were on the turn (goodbye summer) and islands are usually colder and more blustery, aren’t they? Especially in the English Channel.

Well, I was wrong. My early flight out of grey Gatwick, was greeted in Guernsey one hour later with sublime sunshine pouring through the propeller plane windows. Out on the tarmac, the sun was scorching and the skies were clear. This looked promising…

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At just 30.1 square miles and located in the English Channel, Guernsey is 31 miles west of Normandy. A part of Duchy of Normandy from 933, the islands were passed to the English Crown in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King. In 1204, England lost Normandy to France but the islands remained loyal to the Crown, with Guernsey and Jersey becoming two separate bailiwicks.

Today, Guernsey is a self-governing nation with its own parliament, and not a member of the European Union, although it has a special trade relationship. The surrounding islets of Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, and Lihou are a part of its bailiwick.

Fast forward to the Second World War, Guernsey was occupied by German troops. Many children were evacuated to England and sadly, some remaining families were sent to German camps.

Guernsey’s citizens happily teach those curious to learn about its complex history – and the best places to start are at the German Occupation Museum, or the incredibly unique Guernsey Tapestry, which tells a historical tale in ten embroided panels.

Over on the south coast (a short drive from the airport), I find the crystal blue waters of Le Portelet beach and Petit Bot bay. As I take in the gorgeous turquoise expanse, several passers-by offer a friendly ‘hello’. It’s warm and welcoming.

I notice a real sense of community here – not least because of the famous ‘Hedge Veg’ system, which sees locals putting their home-grown veggies in a little box by the side of the road for others to pick up. There’s also a little ‘honesty box’, so residents can pay their way. How wonderful.

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Later I go for a walk, starting at the cliffs above Saint’s Bay. As the path winds around the coast, a few late bluebells and daisies poke their heads out of the grassy bank, glistening under the setting sun. There are benches along the way; some empty, others filled with couples silently watching the world go by. The calm sea goes on for miles and miles, waves idly splashing against the rocks. It’s a scene of raw beauty and romance; the air feels fresh and light.

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Being such a small island, Guernsey is easy to navigate by car – although getting used to the narrow lanes can be tough at first. I take in various points, from the popular Cobo Bay on the west coast to Fort Grey (a real-life fort transformed into a Shipwreck Museum), the Little Chapel (the littlest Chapel in the world, made out of broken china) and L’eree Bay which is the gateway to the mysterious Lihou Island (accessible only during low tide and part of the Marine Nature Reserve).

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The speed limit here is 35mph and the only traffic seems to be during rush hour in the capital, Saint Peter Port. It’s here I stop for dinner at Mora – a restaurant overlooking the harbour, to enjoy a superbly prepared fillet of sole filled with prawns, buttered spinach, grape and pistachio sauce. It’s every bit as mouth-watering as it sounds.

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Day two is spent with Ant Ford Parker from Outdoor Guernsey as we explore by kayak. Meeting at Petit Bot (the lush beach I could see from my cliff walk), we navigate between the rusty-red rocks, exploring coves and nooks. With the water so clear, it’s easy to see right to the sea-bed and Ant explains how quickly the heavy granite sand sinks, which is why the water is like crystal.

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My final venture is to take the Travel Trident ferry from Saint Peter Port to the island of Herm, three miles away. At just a mile long and a mile-and-a-half wide, there are no cars allowed here – just the occasional tractor and plenty of horses and cows. My favourite spot is Belvoir Bay, where I stop for a sandwich and bury my feet in the silky white sand. In land, the village school and Church stand proud.

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The walk around the island takes a leisurely two-and-a-half hours, with a few steep ascents and descents along the way. But it’s absolutely stunning and well worth investing in hiking boots.
Back on Guernsey, I settle for a night at La Barbarie hotel, where I’ve pre-ordered the house-speciality seafood platter. The plate I receive is amazing – lobster, oysters, king prawns and crab, along with salad and new potatoes – and all for £38. Impressive? Yes – the perfect end to a refreshingly adventurous trip.

The details
For more information on Guernsey, visit visitguernsey.com
Aurigny flies from London Gatwick to Guernsey from £77 return. aurigny.com
Rooms at La Barbarie Hotel start from £118 per night including breakfast. labarbariehotel.com
Kayaking with Outdoor Guernsey is £30 per person (under 16s, £15) for 2.5 hours outdoorguernsey.co.uk

PICTURE CREDIT: KAREN EDWARDS

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