At little more than one-and-a-half miles long and boasting no more than 50 inhabitants, Herm Island has long been revered by residents and holiday-makers alike as a destination unsullied by the modern world.
The tiny Channel Island, sandwiched between Guernsey and the Isle of Sark, has one shop and one pub. The hotel – a television-free, telephone-free and clock-free zone – transports its guests' luggage in a tractor as cars and bicycles are banned.
So when leaseholders Adrian and Penny Wood Heyworth announced earlier this year that they were selling their rights to the island there were fears for its future.
Residents inundated the local press with letters warning that the island would lose its distinct identity were it to be sold to an outsider. Their fears were compounded when Von Essen, a luxury hotel chain with a portfolio of country houses in the UK and France, was named as one of the interested parties willing to part with £15m for the 40-year lease. Instead the island went for an undisclosed sum – thought to be considerably lower than the asking price – to the Guernsey residents John and Julia Singer, who met and fell in love on Herm 14 years ago. They have promised to preserve "the jewel in the Bailiwick's crown" when they take over from the Heyworths next week.
The Singers' arrival on the island, which lies three miles east of Guernsey, brings to an end the Heyworth family's six decades of ownership of Herm.
In 1949, five years after the German occupying force left the Channel Islands, the States of Guernsey bought Herm Island from the Crown in order to create an unspoilt island idyll that could be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Major Peter Wood, Mrs Heyworth's father, took over the lease and for the next 31 years turned Herm into a thriving but unspoilt holiday destination.
Mr and Mrs Heyworth took over in 1980 but decided to sell on the remaining 40 years of the lease in May because none of their children were willing to take on the responsibility of running the island once they had retired.
"They love it but they have their own successful businesses," said Mrs Heyworth. "Running Herm is a lifetime commitment."
That commitment will now fall on the Singers, who have lived on Guernsey since 1990 and look upon Herm as the place that sparked their love for each other. They have set up Herm Island Ltd, which they intend to run as a non-profit organisation. Any money that is made from the island's vital tourism trade will be channelled into Starboard Settlement, a trust that supports charities in the developing world.
Speaking about his purchase, Mr Singer was keen yesterday to reassure residents on Herm that little would change. "No immediate changes are envisaged to the present facilities, and our short-term focus will be to maintain everything to the current standards of excellence," he said.
"With the benefit of two or three years' operating experience, ideas will no doubt form of where improvements could be made. However, we can be certain that nothing will impact on the present warm welcome to visitors or the island's beauty and tranquillity. Herm will be remain the jewel in the Bailiwick's crown."
Mr Heyworth hinted that part of the reason the lease went to the Singers was because of their determination to keep Herm as unspoilt as possible.
A Crown Dependency since 1204, Herm was initially inhabited by monks. During the Industrial Revolution quarries were built to mine granite but since the Second World War its main source of income has been tourism.
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