Trail of the Unexpected: Slow delights in Guernsey

With a speed limit of just 35mph, this island reveals its charms gently says Ben West

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.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled with Condor Ferries (0845 609 1030; www.condorferries.com) which sails from Weymouth or Poole to Guernsey.

Staying there

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.

Kayaking there

Island Adventures (01481 729719; islandadventures.gg) has two-hour training sessions from £25.

More information

visitguernsey.com

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'