In April 2002 I wrote an article for the then Motoring & Leisure magazine which was published monthly by the UK’s Civil Service Motoring Association.
Channel Your Energy!
Mention the Channel Islands to anyone and they’ll say immediately say “oh yes! Jersey is lovely, isn’t it?” but hold on a moment aren’t there other islands? Of course and recently I spent a few days investigating them – without the thought of going to Jersey.
Guernsey, the other well-known island near the French coast, has always played on its relationship with Jersey as being the more cultured, well-heeled, even exclusive of the pair. It does seem much quieter and reserved than Jersey, but I hadn’t come purely to make comparisons.
Arriving via air from London Gatwick (a swift 50 minutes) we headed for our hotel – The Duke Of Richmond in the capital, St Peter Port (https://dukeofrichmond.com/). Situated above the town and harbour it provided the ideal launch pad for our weekend away from the hustle and bustle. St Peter Port offers the visitor a chance to sample a snippet of continental life without actually stepping onto foreign soil – the islands even have their own versions of the pound. There are of course the influences throughout the Channel Islands, place and family names, but then again with a slight accent similar to that from the West Country.
So, our weekend began with a great seafood lunch at Vina’s we then walked along the harbour walls to Castle Cornet and visited the museum. As I was soon to realise, the islands were occupied, of course, by the Germans during World War Two and there are many museums and fortifications detailing their presence. We then spent the afternoon lazing on St Fermain beach, a beautiful quiet, sandy cove with a blue, crystal clear sea just a walk from St Peter Port. A perfect place to wind down, with just the sounds of waves gently lapping up the beach as we dozed – this was exactly what we had come for on our trip.
This peace was only broken by a mobile telephone call from an old friend of mine who once lived in the Channel Islands and had heard we were coming here. She enthusiastically told me that she had booked us a flight to the island of Alderney where some friends of hers had arranged a day’s cycling for us on the island. Great!
So early the next morning, after sampling a little of Guernsey’s friendly nightlife, and a chance meeting with the legendary punk group The Stranglers who were playing at the Beau Sejour Leisure Centre that evening (unfortunately I’d left my camera in our room) we took the Aurigny Airline’s 12-seater prop plane to the island. Alderney is only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles across, so we thought that cycling would be perfect. We were met at the airport by a guide who told us of the day’s adventure. We were to be joining another small group who had come for a Mystery Island Adventure. Sounded intriguing. Seems we were all encharged to foil a plot to destroy the island (cast by the evil Mr Nightshade) by solving several cryptic clues planted around the island. Our guides gave our group a single map and directions to the first destination, and from then on, we were on our own! We all quickly introduced ourselves and then sped off down the lane, in true Famous Five spirit!
Our first stop was the island’s library where our cryptic clue, lead us to a hollowed-out book containing even more mysterious directions and riddles. We had been told that we had to use place names as our main clues and so everyone took turns scouring the map for the next destination. We soon got the hang of it and began to enjoy the sites and sounds of the island trying to find the alleged bomb, which was ticking away. From one end of Alderney to the other we cycled, from Telegraph Bay via many little coves, cliff tops and historical landmarks to the lighthouse at Cat’s Bay, of course, stopping off for “lashings of lemonade and ginger beer!” It was here that we took a London Underground train – (yes that’s correct) – it was brought here after the Second World War intact and is probably the only such train working above ground, to wide sandy Braye Bay. Here we tackled our nemesis (the evil Mr Nightshade) Did we save the island? Well, that would be telling! A thoroughly good day’s outing was enjoyed by all.
The following day the two of us decided to spend our last day on the islands on one of the smallest, Herm. So small is it that there are no cars, only a handful of houses and as far as I could see only one tractor, what a beautiful place! We took the ferry from St Peter Port (only 20 minutes) and took a leisurely stroll around. The beaches are almost tropical, yellow sands scattered with shells and the water is crystal blue. We both agreed that this was one of the prettiest places we had ever been in the British Isles.
Alas, we could only stay for a couple of hours before returning to Guernsey and taking the flight back to the mainland. We had enjoyed a perfect relaxing weekend away whilst reliving some childhood adventures and memories… and the final clue to the riddle, did we save the island, well you have to visit for yourself!
Photographs by Martin Mayhew and Alderney Tourism
Aurigny Air Services
Guernsey Travel Website: https://www.visitguernsey.com/