Guernsey (Aug 22-24)

So, city number 20 was… St Peter Port on Guernsey (though as you’ll read we did bend the rules slightly this visit). We flew from Bristol on a remarkably small aircraft – rows just 4 seats wide (2 each side of the isle) and two propellers. It was an easy short flight from Bristol to Jersey, though we had a very quick connection to Guernsey which rather concerned us until the air hostess checked our tickets, and said it was the same plane and advised us to just stay on it when we landed. This was great fun, as for about 15 mins we had the whole plane to ourselves and watched with interest as our ‘private jet’ was prepared for it’s next journey! The moment ended when the new passengers were let on, and we had a second even shorter flight to Guernsey. We caught the bus to near our hotel (as expected, cheaper than Bristol First Bus for a longer journey) and checked into our hotel. We had a short time before dinner so we enjoyed a refreshing swim to wash away our journey. Dinner itself was a real treat – one which Greg had arranged in advance. We had the special seafood platter – a huge selection of a variety of prawns, langoustines, crayfish, crab and lobster. It all went well with the house sauvignon blanc, and followed with a nice cheesecake. 🙂 We got up quite early the next day, enjoyed a nice freshly booked breakfast (along with excellent croissants; a benefit of being so close to France we guessed!). We then caught an early bus to take us down to the port.

From there we caught a ferry to a local island – Herm. (technically we caught two ferries, as we each ended up on a different boat; beware Trident ferry company!). Herm is a beautiful island, and we were lucky enough to visit on a wonderfully sunny day (we made an emergency trip to find a Boots just before sailing in order to buy some suncream!). With blue skies and beaches which stretched into the distance it seemed pretty idyllic to us. We had about two hours there, which was long enough to take a walk round most of the north end of the island. As Herm is only about 1½ miles long and less than half a mile wide this wasn’t difficult, and we really enjoyed walking through some picturesque scenery including a fair amount of heather. It was a very pleasant wander, and we passed by several beaches which were either empty or almost empty. Although we passed a few people on our journey it was by no means busy, and so for several stretches it felt like we had the island to ourselves! As we headed to the eastern side of the island we approached the very popular Shell Beach, and walked along this before heading back inland. As we headed towards the port we briefly explored the 11th Century St Tugals Chapel, which was delightful albeit very small.

We left Herm by ferry, which arrived late and left very late due to the huge amount of luggage being transported. This wasn’t helped by the general inefficiency and ineptitude of the people unloading, who behaved like they hadn’t quite thought about how to organise the offloading. As a result our lunch was a basic sandwich, grabbed in haste from a local convenience store, as we had a hard deadline – the departure of our Ferry to another island – Sark.

Sark was a longer visit as we were going to stay the night there, and I was looking forward to seeing how it differed to Herm. Certainly it was clear at first sight that it was substantially larger – though still modest at 2 square miles. You go through an impressive arch on arrival, and climb up fairly steeply to reach the main village. I decided to get some fresh air and hiked up, taking a path which travelled through a selection of trees and ran separately to the main ‘road’ used for a tractor pulling the tourists. This is where one feature of island life becomes apparent – no cars! Instead you can walk, cycle or catch a horse and cart around the island. I met Greg at the top and we chose to cycle, headed to the bike hire shop, and we soon cycling towards our hotel. It was a great place for bikes; nice tree lined avenues and no traffic to worry about. It only took us about quarter of an hour to reach our destination, and we were soon pulling up outside a nice looking place with a wonderfully kept garden with chairs to relax and a small pond. The staff were very welcoming and quickly has us checked in to a nice room with a view of the sea. Our luggage arrived shortly afterwards (tractor service from the port!) and we left most of our gear in the room and left to explore the island.

We headed south towards Little Sark (the smaller of the two parts of the island), and couldn’t resist stopping at a local chocolate shop to pick up a small selection of home-made treats. Little Sark is separated from Big Sark by a narrow isthmus called La Coupée which is 300 feet (91 m) long and has a drop of 330 feet (100 m) on each side. (Apparently protective railings were erected in 1900 – by German prisoners of war; before then, children would crawl across on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge!). On Little Sark we enjoyed afternoon tea in the tea garden of La Sablonnerie, and then headed to the coast to enjoy the view and watch the sun go down, where it seemed like we were the only people anywhere around allowing us to enjoy a quiet moment to ourselves. We had to leave before sunset (Sark gets properly dark at night!) and enjoyed the evening light as we cycled back towards our hotel, only stopping to visit the Pilcher monument and watch some people tying up their boat in a small harbour below. The final event of the day was dinner, which we’d booked at our hotel. The set menu was expensive, sounded nice, and to be honest we didn’t know quite what to expect. As a result we were rather blown away when it turned out to be one of the best meals we’d had in ages.

The early signs were good – an amuse bouche of fried gnocchi with Sark wildflowers. Then for starter we we shared the seared scallops with crispy pancetta and sweetcorn purée and the tian of crab and prawns with parmesan crisps. Both quite superb, with the edge going to the crab. Main course was aged local rib-eye steak beautifully rare, and hake which was deliciously delicate. Palette cleanser was a startlingly good black cherry sorbet and dessert was strawberry mille feuille with lime chantilly. Everything was beautifully executed, and all in all it was a very splendid meal indeed. We returned to our room pleasantly full and slept soundly.

The next morning we enjoyed a nice home cooked breakfast, and left our luggage with reception marked for the 11am ferry. So we grabbed our bikes for the last time to enjoy a ride back to the port. We left early to give us time to enjoy a detour, and took ourselves off to the famous La Seigneurie Gardens. We’d seen some pictures of these, and wanted to experience these beautiful gardens for ourselves. Unfortunately when we got there we found that they weren’t open yet; we had to go at 10am, which was the opening time! So, we wandered around a little… and noticed that the ticket money box was already out and the door to the garden wasn’t locked. So, we put our entrance money into the box, walked around the closed sign, and nipped into the garden. It truly was delightful; perhaps even more so given that we had it all to ourselves, making it feel like our own secret garden! We were really impressed by the huge amount of colour on display, and the high walls kept out the wind meaning that everything was kept warm and protected. We spent about 20 mins enjoying the splendid views, and realising our time was up we left via a corridor surrounded on both sides by a riot of wildflowers. From here we sneaked back round the closed sign, and with still no-one in sight we grabbed out bikes and headed back.

We took our time returning to the bike shop, and thoroughly enjoyed our ride through the small lanes of Sark, admiring the trees with just a hint of autumn on them. We passed by a small church, and stopped in to have a look. It was more impressive than we expected on the inside, and called St Peter’s turned out to date back to 1820. From here it was a short ride to return our bikes, and say a sad farewell to Sark; somewhere very different from our normal cities, and which both of us had very much enjoyed. We found a patisserie which was open and bought two delicious looking pastries – Greg had apricot tart and I had lemon tart; both were excellent with fresh flavours and crisp pastry. We also stopped by a local craft shop and fell in love with a couple of wonderful pieces made by the owner. We purchased these as gifts (no details; don’t want spoilers!), and made our way back down to the harbour where we admired the fish dancing in the water before our ride arrived and we waved goodbye to the island, hopefully to return one day.

On returning to Sark we had two more stops. First was the underground museum, which was a somewhat eclectic collection of material from Guernsey during the wartime occupation. It was interesting, but rather lacking explanation and a consistent narrative. I reminded us of an eccentric collector filling several rooms with his pieces without much consideration or planning. After this we had a much more interesting visit – to the house of Victor Hugo (Hautville House). Greg had arranged a slot in advance, going through quite a rigmarole – he had to apply to the Cultural Embassy in Paris, and after some correspondence received back a certificate of entry for our party! The house itself was a real reflection of the man, with every room extensively customised and decorated. Motifs abounded, and Victor had delighted in reusing objects for new ends – such as a wardrobe door between rooms, and the back of a chair as wall decoration. At the top of the house was his writing room, and with an expansive view of the ocean; something upon which Hugo commented with great pleasure in several of his letters. We left the tour to spend a little more time in the garden, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun until the time case for us to catch the bus back to the airport and our flight to Jersey.


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