Game on in a feisty Guernsey

The island may have a sleepy reputation, but a football derby tells the real story, says Chris Leadbeater

There is tension on the air – a tautness to the morning that speaks of big-match nerves. Sipping a coffee over breakfast in the Duke of Richmond Hotel, I dissect the pre-game analysis in the local paper. It is a picture of worry. One columnist frets that the hosts have not beaten their opponents on home turf in 12 years. Another says that the visiting coach is indulging in "mind games" with his claim to underdog status. Statistics are produced, prior fixtures digested. Outside, St Peter Port slips down to the Channel, all anticipation.

The Guernsey Press is not obsessing about a far-off Premier League tussle. This is the final of the Muratti Vase – a football tournament that has been contested by the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney since 1905. And today will see the two largest Channel Islands face each other on Guernsey soil in a derby that will mimic the fire and feistiness of any played in Manchester or Liverpool.

Of course, feistiness is not an attribute that one normally associates with Guernsey. Here is a sea-swaddled enclave that is usually considered in a more sleepy light, all waterfront teashops and sliced cake, gentle B&Bs and autumnal holidaymakers dozing on benches.

Yet a visit to this island of 65,000 people reveals an independence of spirit; a sparkiness that is born of location. Guernsey stands guard 75 miles below the English south coast, 31 miles west of Normandy and 28 miles north-west of Jersey – a relative isolation that has long given it the liberty to cherry-pick its allegiances.

As a British Crown Dependency it is loosely tied to London, but is part of neither the UK nor the EU. It has its own parliament and has enjoyed the right to self-government for more than 800 years. In 1204 France seized the Normandy lands that had pertained to the English throne since 1066 – except Guernsey (and the other Channel Islands), which, espying an opportunity, vowed fidelity to the flailing King John – rather than his French foe Philip II – in exchange for greater control of its own destiny.

It has remained fiercely individual ever since, supporting the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War when Jersey flew the Royalist pennant. It adopted its own flag in 1985, adding the gold cross of William the Conqueror to the red cross of St George, forging a banner that flutters readily in gardens. This jumbled identity is further blurred by word of mouth. Older residents speak a Norman-French patois, impenetrable to non-islanders – and street names are often inscribed in both French and English. Even now, Guernsey likes to keep an even-handed distance from both the big Channel nations.

Its independence was most notoriously put to the test between June 1940 and May 1945, when Guernsey bridled under the yolk of Nazi Germany. Exploring the south-western corner of the island, I am surprised at the lingering visibility of this era, gun placements and watch towers still appraising the sky for Spitfires. Pleinmont Tower adds grim concrete to the yellow and green gorse of the headland, while Fort Saumarez offers five-storey brutality as it rises over Rocquaine Bay, overlooking the smaller Fort Grey. The German Occupation Museum at Les Houards, in the south of the island does an excellent job of acknowledging a dark half-decade. The devil, though, is in the little details. On one wall, a copy of the Guernsey Evening Press "celebrates" the second anniversary of invasion in 1942, choking on its propaganda as it declares that "... the soldiers, in their dealings with locals, have conducted themselves immaculately. They are friendly and honest, generous and understanding".

The editor, Frank Falla, would later be deported to Germany as a punishment for placing real news of the war in the Press's sister paper, The Guernsey Star.

Other elements of the island are rather less hidden. Hauteville House, the epic four-floor mansion that was the home of the French novelist Victor Hugo between 1856 and 1870, is the main landmark in the capital St Peter Port. Now owned and operated from Paris, it is accessible via tours where French guides eulogise its ornate décor in awed tones. Candie Gardens, meanwhile, stretch out above the harbour, clinging to that quaint, unflustered idea of Guernsey in their flowery prettiness. At the top of the slope, a statue of Queen Victoria glowers in the direction of the water.

But there are also dashes of the modern. On the port-side street of North Quay, Tapenade is a stylish delicatessen that revels in local produce, including golden bricks of Guernsey butter. Restaurant Le Nautique serves gourmet seafood (a half-dozen Herm oysters costing £8.50). And, on the north shore of the island, Vistas proffers roasted pavé of salmon (for £14.75) in sight of the surfers on the grand arc of Vazon Bay.

The Duke of Richmond Hotel fits into the 21st-century version of Guernsey. It was bought by Red Carnation in 2011 and upgraded from traditional three-star to boutique four-star. From my balcony, the view takes in the neighbouring isle of Herm, three miles away, a vista that also encompasses the Old Government House Hotel, another Red Carnation property, refitted in 2008. A more conventional five-star, it has a flamboyant "secret". A framed panel on the wall of the Centenary Bar recalls the night in the early Eighties when an inebriated Oliver Reed took a running dive from the window of his top-floor room, landing with a mighty splash (and, remarkably, safely), in the courtyard swimming pool.

I have a chance to emulate the hell-raising thespian – not in drunken derring-do, but in leaping from unlikely heights. The south coast (especially in the parishes of Forest and St Martin) throws out towering cliffs and granite ridges that are ideal for "coasteering" – the curious pastime where you follow the line of the shore, clambering up rocky nuggets and jumping from others, plunging into the blue-green depths beneath. In my case, the contrast between wan May sunshine and the sudden cold of Petit Bot Bay is exhilarating, my wetsuit only vaguely dispelling the chilliness of the Channel's embrace.

This intriguing afternoon activity means that I do not hear the roar of the crowd – but it is impossible to miss the result. Guernsey wins the Muratti Vase 2-1, to evident jubilation.

Arriving at the airport that evening for the 45-minute hop to Gatwick, I find myself checking in behind the Jersey team. There are glum expressions above the tracksuits and the mood is not aided when the defeated players receive a mild ribbing from two young women in the air-side café.

"Would you like a glass of champagne?" one asks in genial fashion, but with a knowing grin, holding forth a small bottle of sparkling wine. "No thanks," replies the Jersey coach – in good humour. "It would have a rather sour taste."

Precious little else about this island of splendid self-determination has the same effect.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Flights to Guernsey are operated by Aurigny (01481 822 886; aurigny.com), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) and by Blue Islands (08456 20 21 22; blueislands.com) from a wide range of UK airports. Condor Ferries (01202 207 216; condorferries.co.uk) also sails to the island from Portsmouth, Weymouth and Poole.

Staying there

Duke of Richmond Hotel, Cambridge Park, St Peter Port (01481 726 221; dukeofrichmond .com). Double rooms from £135, including breakfast.

The Old Government House Hotel, St Ann's Place, St Peter Port (01481 724 921; theoghhotel.com). Double rooms from £170, with breakfast.

More information

Visit Guernsey (visitguernsey.com).

Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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
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

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Recruitment Genius: HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver / CPC and HIAB Training Provider

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A HGV Class 2 Lorry Driver is required t...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum