Guernsey: Speed up to take it slow

A new jet service from Gatwick to Guernsey means it’s even easier to enjoy the delights of this Channel Island on a short break. Sarah Baxter hops across the water for a long weekend of relaxed activity and gourmet delights

Guernsey is fond of speed. In a 2013 survey of UK regions, the Channel Island ranked second-highest for ownership of fast cars. And this month, regional carrier Aurigny has started using Embraer E195 jets on its Gatwick-Guernsey route, shaving five minutes off the flying time and increasing the number of available seats.

You may get there faster – but be prepared to take it slow when you arrive. The speed limit is just 35mph and no one seems in much of a rush. “The people are just more laidback,” Paul Brady, sales manager of St Peter Port’s Duke of Richmond Hotel, told me over crabcakes. “Many companies – Pizza Express, Burger King – failed here. They didn’t introduce change gradually; they didn’t work the Guernsey way.”

So, after a quick flight, I was hoping for a relaxed long weekend. On arrival, guide Elizabeth Gardener-Wheeler took me on a (leisurely) tour of the wedge-shaped island: it’s vaguely triangular, the south coast cliffs sliding down to sandy shallows in the north. Our drive passed wide beaches, Guernsey cows and parish churches. We entered the Déhus Dolmen, a neolithic tomb dating back to 3500 BC and drove to the Little Chapel, a grotto-like shrine, built in 1914 and now encrusted with shells and porcelain.

Elizabeth is not a native Sarnian, but fell in love with the island. “I’ve been here for over 20 years,” she said. “I’m even a member of the Guernsey Occupation Society – they say I’m an honorary donkey!”

Sorry? Elizabeth explained, first that Guernsey locals are called donkeys (“they’re stubborn and persevering”), and also that she’s fascinated by the island’s Second World War history. The Channel Islands were the only British territory occupied during the war. Nazi forces commandeered the island from 30 June 1940 to 9 May 1945 – it was a time of curfews and privation.

Torteval loop hole tower Torteval loop hole tower (Sarah Baxter) The evidence of this period is still conspicuous. Aside from the jumble of guns, uniforms and 65-year-old preserved plums on display at the German Occupation Museum, military bunkers and trenches scar the island; Martello towers, built in the early 19th century to keep Napoleon at bay, are topped with Nazi extensions. The level of fortification for such a small outpost is startling – over 66,000 mines were laid here. For Hitler, little Guernsey was a big prize: a strategic brick in the Atlantic wall, a potential staging post for a mainland offensive and ideal rallying propaganda – German troops on British soil.

The next day, I maintained an easy pace. A booklet of local Tasty Walks – scenic hikes, all with restaurants or cafés en route – provided my inspiration, and I headed south from St Peter Port to trace the island’s most dramatic seaboard. I was up early, and the capital’s cobbled streets and boat-bobbed marina were quiet. Castle Cornet, which has stood guard over the harbour for nearly eight centuries, was at peace – its five museums not yet open for the day.

I had no plan other than to walk. If you had energy and time enough, you could make a loop of Guernsey: it’s a 39-mile circuit. I doubted I’d get that far, but the sun was shining, the Channel glinting and the path – passing pools where Victor Hugo once bathed, and leading up into bluebell woods – was inviting.

I’d expected Guernsey to be charming, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be quite so spectacular. The cliffs, up to 100m high, were cloaked in furze and wildflowers; they dipped to secretive bays and shattered into the clear green-blue. No wonder Renoir was so fond – he painted the Moulin Huet area several times after a visit in 1883.

And there was that history too: 15 loop-hole towers were built around the island between 1778 and 1779 to deter French incursions – poignant reminders of past ugliness amid the beauty.

My shore-hugging walk was linear, and to return to St Peter Port I’d intended to detour to a bus stop when I’d had enough coast. However, given the island’s bijou proportions, I realised I could just walk back, heading inland via a shimmy of ruettes tranquilles – narrow lanes with a 15mph speed limit. This also gave me a chance to shop. Many islanders sell “hedge veg” – home-grown produce, ranging from carrots to tomatillo chutney – from their verges; you pay via an honesty box. By the time I got back to town and settled into a sea-view bar with a local Breda lager, I’d ticked off exquisite bays, a German cemetery, military defences, thatched cottages, pickled beetroot and some 2.5 billion-year-old rock. All without being in a hurry.

I had no intention of speeding up on day three. I’d thought about taking the fast ferry to tiny Herm Island (just 1.5 miles across) but instead chose a slower vessel.

A 'hedge veg' stall A 'hedge veg' stall (Sarah Baxter) Ant Ford-Parker of Outdoor Guernsey met me at Petit Bôt Bay, which – when I’d passed by the previous day – had been just a smidgen of shingle; now, the low tide revealed a sweep of soft sand. We carried kayaks to the water’s edge and pushed off.

We paddled lazily eastwards, wending through a scatter of rocks, nosing into channels, navigating close to cliffs of nesting gulls and steering around seaweed-frilled obstacles. It was as if Disney had designed a kayak ride, so perfect were the twists and turns; I half expected the Black Pearl to burst from the depths.

Alas, no Jack Sparrow. Just a snack. “Guernsey has 200-odd types of seaweed, and they’re all edible,” Ant said, scooping up a handful of what seemed to be floating spaghetti. “This one – thong weed – is the best; I put it in pasties.”

So Ant and I drifted, nibbling the salty bootlaces and startling oystercatchers as we went. We paddled a bit, paused to revel in our fish-eye view, paddled a bit more. No rush, just taking it slow.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Aurigny (01481 822886;  aurigny.com) flies to Guernsey from several UK airports. Embraer E195 jets operate four times a day on the Gatwick-Guernsey route, reducing some flight times to an underan hour; fares start at £39 one way.

Condor Ferries (0845 609 1024; condorferries.com) operates between St Peter Port and Jersey, Poole, Weymouth and Portsmouth.

Staying there

The Duke of Richmond (01481 726221; dukeofrichmond.com), in St Peter Port, has comfy beds, attentive staff and a great restaurant. Doubles from £145 B&B.

Visiting there

Outdoor Guernsey (01481 267627; outdoorguernsey.co.uk) offers a range of activities; a two and-a-half-hour kayak trip costs £35pp.

More information

visitguernsey.com

Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Travel
travel
News
people
Voices
Jules and Delaney
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
fashion
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

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes