Trail of the Unexpected: Slow delights in Guernsey
With a speed limit of just 35mph, this island reveals its charms gently says Ben West
Friday 27 July 2012
On the approach by ferry to Guernsey's endearing capital, St Peter Port, with its pretty Georgian and Regency houses, it didn't occur to me that soon I'd be encouraging my sons, Jethro, 13, and Josh, 21, to eat raw stinging nettles. This would later take place during a wild foraging workshop, part of our mission to uncover the surprising diversity of the second-largest Channel Island. Our accommodation, too, was varied: the island's premier hotel, followed by a campsite.
The Old Government House hotel, perched high over the harbour, was impeccable: huge bed, fine antique-style furniture at every turn, an outdoor pool heated to toasty temperatures.
Guernsey's speed limit is 35mph – just as well as many roads are narrow and twisting. You can drive the whole coastal road within an hour, enjoying its seemingly endless beautiful vistas such as Pembroke Bay in the north of the island, where Alderney can faintly be seen.
Road signs are surprisingly scarce, resulting in us ending up at a putrid landfill site when we went in search of the Underground Military Hospital, constructed during the German military occupation in the Second World War. By contrast, we found the German Occupation Museum far more easily. Its provided a fascinating glimpse of living through occupation.
But while history is particularly resonant on this small island, the call of the wild is equally as powerful. Since last year, Wild Guernsey's campsite at Fort Grey, six miles west of St Peter Port, has been promoting simple, low-impact, sustainable living and offers wild foraging courses.
On the face of it, the contrast with our previous night of luxury could scarcely have been more intense. Wild Guernsey's owners, Tara and D'Arcy, aim to keep the site vehicle-free, so our baggage was thrown on to a wheelbarrow and carted up a muddy lane, past a field of donkeys. However, our tepee was comfortable and spacious, and with there being just three tents I felt that we almost had the place to ourselves. The campsite is a paradise for young children, with a pond and ducks to feed. Beyond, there were plenty of country and coastal walks to choose from.
Tara and D'Arcy have constructed a barn with a kitchen and bathrooms for campers that uses recycled materials gleaned from house clearances and reclamation yards. The solar- and wind-powered lighting, refurbished bicycles, and collection of recycling bins instantly put me into a nature-friendly state of mind.
Wild Guernsey is situated by pretty Bay, peppered with little wooden boats. At low tide it merges with L'Erée Bay, creating a continuous stretch of sand and the island's biggest beach. It's safe for swimmers, and small shipwreck museum and rock pools make it a delight.
We appreciated this coast still more after a couple of hours kayaking with new outdoor activities provider Island Adventures. Despite our novice status, within minutes we were fearlessly paddling out to sea, navigating past the rocks.
Later, D'Arcy guided us along the hedgerows and bay, to see what edible plant life and sea life we could harvest. "There are so many edible foods here," he said. "The hedgerows are like a larder." All I could see was overgrown weeds, but D'Arcy handed us sheep's sorrel, which had a lemony taste. We sampled horse parsley's peppery, aniseed-like seeds while the yellow flowers on gorse tasted of coconut. Then D'Arcy showed us how to grab stinging nettles and scrunch them up so that they do not sting when eaten.
On the beach we collected winkles, whelks, sea beet, rock samphire and kelp, and afterwards D'Arcy baked delicious pizzas in his homemade pizza oven, using the ingredients we'd found.
Our last night was spent at Cobo Bay on the west coast, for a helping of fish and chips eaten on the sea wall, watching the sunset. Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best.
The writer travelled with Condor Ferries (0845 609 1030; www.condorferries.com) which sails from Weymouth or Poole to Guernsey.
The Old Government House Hotel (01481 724921; the oghhotel.com) has B&B doubles from £125. Wild Guernsey (01481 263153; wildguernsey.wordpress.com) has two-night breaks in a tipi sleeping four for £192.
Island Adventures (01481 729719; islandadventures.gg) has two-hour training sessions from £25.
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