CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part I

Getting there

Monday-Tuesday, May 20-21, 2019

To lessen the miles (and help with any adverse current) we left Lymington and headed to Studland Bay, an easy 17 miles away. As we passed the Isle of Wight the three formations of chalk and flint called the Needles came into view.

Although, to me, ’The Molars’ would be a more appropriate moniker.

Reaching our destination, startling white cliffs greeted us reminding me of how much we enjoyed our first visit here in 2014. One of the reasons being Studland Bay was the only anchorage we had while cruising the south coast of England due to being a coastline relatively devoid of safe places to drop one’s hook.

The anchor dropped quickly and smoothly, always a relief when performing that exercise the first of the season.  Pulling it up made up for the ease of dropping it as the current pushed JUANONA forward while the anchor chain pulled backwards. But, the windlass (anchor motor) won out, and off we sailed to Alderney, the northernmost island of the Channel Islands.

You could count my knowledge of this archipelago in the English Channel on two fingers:

(!) They are not part of the EU, which means non-EU boats can check in here to reset the VAT clock (avoid having to pay VAT tax on the boat) of 18 months. Considering the other possibilities to reset the VAT are Norway and Morocco, this land mass offers a valuable service to yachties. If we didn’t have our import of JUANONA under our Dutch temporary residency, we’d also be very thankful for this (and our visit here will serve as a backup for difficult bureaucrats)

(2) The 2008 book, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, that swept the U.S. book club repertoire described a brutal Nazi occupation during WWII.

So, I checked online to find a bit more background on the Channel Islands…

Romans visited the islands followed by Christian missionaries (which may be why the largest cities on the islands all start with “Saint”?) in the 6th century. In the 9th century Norse invaders took over the islands and they became the property of the Duchy of Normandy. By the 10th century the islands came under English rule when William II of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror) became William I of England after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

A jumbled history of English and French stakes to the islands occurred over the next eight centuries, resulting in a split of the islands into two Crown Dependencies:  the Bailiwick of Jersey (the largest island) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (the latter covering Guernsey as well as Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands).

Not to go into too much detail (and, frankly, I don’t think I could untangle the snarl of who-ruled-what-when well enough for myself, much less you), the islands are self-governing but are still ‘possessions’ of the United Kingdom. They print their own currency (1:1 to the British pound), and have their own courts and administration. (FYI:  there are three of these Crown Dependencies, the other being the Isle of Man.)

Jersey (population 100,000+) and Guernsey (pop. 63,000+) are the dominant islands with Alderney (pop. 2,000), Sark (pop. 600), Herm (pop.60), Jethou (and, I love this:  pop. 3) and Brecqhou forming the primary grouping, with much smaller iles dotted around.

Fishing, quarrying, mining (silver), and agriculture (cows) formed the economies, with tourism now being one of the largest money-makers.

Obviously, I’m missing a lot of history here but you, at least, know as much as I do (and, probably more if you’ve read about this area).

So, now to our first island…

 

Alderney

Tuesday-Thursday, May 21-23, 2019

Current and tide rule the boating world around here. No wonder when there are 10+ meter (33 ft+) tides which can create currents of up to 5 knots or more. The high tide range significantly limits anchorage possibilities, which is one reason there are so many shallow-draft boats around here which can ‘take the bottom’ (ie they can dry out and stay upright on ground when the tide goes out).

When we left England we set a heading of 190 degrees, a straight line into the town of St. Anne at Alderney, 56 miles south-south west of us. But, as you can see from the chart plotter, the current pushed us almost 40º to the east giving us a course over ground (COG) of 150º and moving the bearing to Alderney to 205 degrees and eventually even more.

It wasn’t until a few miles from our destination that our COG came close to matching our set heading. As these two photos show, our track simulated a drawn bow.

We picked up one of the many guest moorings and the next morning hailed the water taxi operated by one of the many friendly locals we met during our two-night stay here.

Expecting more deserted harbors the number of other boaters (mainly, a lot of guys enjoying a boys’ cruise it seemed) surprised us. Yet, sailing season starts early over here. Although, we still had plenty of time to peruse this area of the sea before the huge bubble of boaters when schools let out in July and August.

Within 90 minutes, we managed to snap a photo of the interior harbor,

climb the steep hill to town center, eat a lovely breakfast (some of the best coffee ever) at Jack’s Cafe (highly recommended),

rent electric bikes (and, we agree with Colleen:  they provide the perfect spurt of energy when needed :), and clear Customs after lowering our official yellow quarantine flag we had raised prior to entering.

Speaking of Customs, we asked the officials to stamp our passports. Now we felt doubly ‘legal’ for not only did we have our temporary Dutch residency covering us for Schengen and temporary import of JUANONA but also official exit from the Schengen zone.

In addition to the official paperwork we will also retain receipts of our Channel Islands marina andharbor fees to prove our temporary exit from the European Union for any future official questioning. This pertains to diesel fuel as well, for some countries require proof that we didn’t cheat the system by buying fuel while claiming it was for commercial use and therefore exempt from tax.

Official business completed we hopped on our rented bikes for our jaunt around the island under a brilliant blue sky and warm sun.

Although it’s not my area of interest, anyone fascinated by military equipment and defense should visit here. Known as one of the most heavily fortified places in this part of the world, Alderney boasts over 30 forts, batteries, bunkers and armories seemingly on every headland, 18 of which the Victorians constructed between 1850 and 1860.

Within two hours we had easily biked and toured various landmarks around Alderney, espying a rookery of gannets,

spotting an immense fog horn located on top of Mannez Lighthouse, built in 1912…

reading the plaques in English, French, Polish, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish on the  Hammond War Memorial commemorating the forced laborers who lost their lives here during the occupation…

and recognizing a name used for Rod and Jo’s famous log on Sleeth Island :)

As we continued our cycling the circumference of this island we couldn’t avoid reminders of how heavily fortified this island became. It seemed every few miles we’d come upon some sort of military structure. Many, if not all, of which the Germans repurposed during WWII.

To obtain a more in-depth education about Alderney we visited the local museum;

and, it’s well worth visiting, beginning with the lovely lady greeting us. She was happy to have us since it seemed we represented 50% of the museum’s visitors that afternoon. We were joined by another couple from the states, two friendly gentlemen ending their three-month, eclectic travel of Malawi, the Greek Isles, and now the Channel Islands. The four of us weaved various paths in and around several rooms filled with peacetime artifacts, such as a mangler (in which I once got my arm caught in a motorized  one a long time ago  that was fun,),

juxtaposed with wartime memories.

IMG_3861The book mentioned earlier in this post has generated huge interest during WWII. Unlike Guernsey, the majority of the islanders decided to evacuate. This occurred when they saw the Germans continuing their march west towards the French coast. In 1940 the first to be evacuated were the children, many of whom went to Cheshire, England. The islanders voted at a town meeting to leave their homes and the next day on June 23, 1940 six ships from England left for Weymouth.

Hitler relished the invasion and occupation of these islands, Germany’s one foothold in territory belonging to Great Britain. In particular, he saw Alderney as an important part of his ‘ Atlantic Wall’. It was this island’s proximity to mainland Europe (only 8 miles separating it from mainland Cherbourg, France) that caused Hitler to heavily fortify Alderney.

He also planned to invade England from Braye harbor in which we were currently moored (which, thankfully, never took place).

Initially German soldiers felt it an honor to be posted on the first invaded piece of British soil; however, the lack of fighting and amenities soon changed this attitude to one of boredom and lackluster duty. Although, it didn’t keep the local SS from terrorizing the 5,000 slave laborers imported from mainland Europe to construct fortifications around the island. As one German soldier wrote in his diary, “It certainly was a godforsaken island.”

But, there always seems to be bits of caring humanity regardless of which side one is on, and the museum featured one such German soldier, Conrad Gries.

He was responsible for drawing up plans of the minefields laid on Alderney. Ordered to destroy the plans prior to the liberation of the island May 16, 1945, he hid a copy in the hopes the Allies would find it. Which they did, no doubt saving many lives.

A small room off to the side detailed a curious event right after the war when islanders returned to Alderney (due to lack of resources on the island this occurred in stages using the application below). The first group returned December 15, 1945.

A joint project of the curator, a school group, and residents describes the ‘Battle of the Butes’ (the Butes being a locale). After five years of occupation, many homes were in disrepair and household goods sorely lacking. Added to this was the need to fumigate for vermin, causing further destruction to personal property. To compensate, the Red Cross, British government, and other sources sent, i.e., ‘issued’, supplies, aka ‘Issue Furniture’. Included in this stash were items recovered from the island’s homes.

This didn’t sound so bad but how the appointed judge from the Home Office in England decided to allocate these household goods is bizaare:  they roped off the goods, assembled the returning islanders, then blew a whistle, lower the ropes, and a stampede of frantic men, women and children try to claim as many pieces as possible.

I mentioned to the woman at the front desk how demeaning this free-for-all must have been, especially considering what those people went through during the war. She said it caused a lot of friction between the islanders, and even now, there’s a residual disgruntlement. People would enter a friend’s home only to spot a bureau or vase that use to be theirs (!). Or, they wouldn’t invite someone over in case the friends recognized an item belonging to their family.

Beyond the horror and sadness of WWII, the museum showcased local shipwrecks, all understandable due to the dangers of navigating these waters.

From an Elizabethan wreck dating late 1500s to the  LIVERPOOL, the world’s largest four-masted, full-rigged ship, in 1902

to a small cabin cruiser in 1969 and the SS ARMAS of Cyprus in 1973.

Another interesting bit of information concerned the Alderney Cow, bred form the 1850s to 1920s. Since my knowledge of cows as a farm animal is iimited to the love of cheese, butter, and all things fatty, I’ll quote directly why these animals were prized:  ‘high quality milk-butter yield, easy husbandry, and requiring littler expensive dietary needs’.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of the Alderney cow was lost when interbreeding with Guernsey cows occurred in 1927. But, at least they live on in literature for those who have read A.A.Milne’s “The King’s Breakfast” and Jane Austen’s EMMA.

Looking for further island exploration Max happened upon, most likely, the most dangerous adventure on Alderney:  The Bat and Hedgehog Tour.

Checking with the Alderney Wildlife Trust, the guide said this week’s tour had been scheduled for Tuesday (the day before) but he’d be happy to accommodate us by doing it tonight. Sounded great to us! So, we made our reservation and then strategized on filling up the four hours prior to meeting him at 9p.

We settled on finding a local hang-out followed by dinner. However, we faced a minor problem: the liveliness of the town bustling with locals and tourists alike that greeted us in the morning had now dwindled to a trickle of activity. All shops and most eateries had shut their doors and would next open Thursday morning.

As we slowly made our way up the main street peering in windows hoping for an ‘OPEN’ sign, a kind woman stopped to ask if she could help us (this was the second time of the day someone had offered us guidance, earning Alderney high marks on friendly natives). She said we may have noticed that businesses close every Wednesday afternoon but what were we looking for? We said eventually a place for dinner. And, with that piece of information she said, ‘Eddie’s is just right up the block, and tell him Norma sent you.’

Her name worked like a charm. Being his Tapas Night, he said he was full but could serve us out in the garden. Which is how we ended up with not only a lovely view but also some exquisite samplings of dishes.

A setting sun brought on a chill so we left for a pub we had checked out earlier. Wanting to be alert for our tour, Max decided to order a tea, and if anyone looked like the sort of person who would ask for tea in a pub, Max would be it:

But, the most entertainment came from the warm and chatty bartender’s response to his request. She was flummoxed and stunned, then exclaimed, ‘TEA? You’re in a pub and you want TEA?!’ I can only imagine how she would have responded if he had added that it was really herbal tea that he wanted…

Forty minutes later (after a beer after all) we found ourselves back in the Alderney Wildlife Trust office where our young guide Roland commenced the tour with so much information my head was spinning. This guy is a walking encyclopedia for bats and hedgehogs.

We discovered bats comprise almost 20% of the earth’s mammals… you identity the different families by  their echolocation range… they actually fly, not glide like ‘flying squirrels’… and, they’re difficult to spot in the dark (that’s my observation after walking around with a loudly clicking echo meter managing to only see one or two madly darting objects).

 

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, are easier to spot as long as you know where to look and have an informative guide. Alderney has the unique distinction of being one of two habitats (North Ronaldsay, an Orkney Island is the other) where you can find blonde hedgehogs. And, it seems locals take on bragging rights if one lives in
their garden. Otherwise, it’s the more common brown ones.

They don’t burrow but nest. And, naturally, those nests are often under and in hedges.

Roland ensured we knew that they were not albino but blonde due to a recessive gene that just keeps occurring. Having no predators on the island, hedgehogs thrive on Alderney. And, possibly the blonde ones increased in population due to being easier to see at night, so less road kill. Nice to know.

My fondness for these little creatures comes in large part from a childhood addicted to Beatrix Potter’s books.  A favorite was THE TALE OF MRS. TIGGY-WINKLE, the story of a female hedgehog who washes clothes for the animals in the neighborhood.

I even had a little animal hedgehog I could dress up. I know, I know, anthropomorphism and sexism combined but, hey, I was a kid. Who wouldn’t want to know of a hedgehog with whom you could sit and share a cup of tea?

So, when I saw them they immediately brought to mind a little hedgehog running around in a mob cap and apron while my voice became the high-pitch of baby talk.

Roland told us not to worry about harming them because if they truly felt threatened by us they’d curl up in a ball versus just scurry away. Which made both of us relax a bit when he shone his flashlight on one.

Supposedly, it’s rare to see them, but all we saw were little blonde hedgehogs out for the night.  Hmmm…. perhaps the blonde ones have more fun? :)

Our dangerous tour ended with our happily exclaiming our luck in seeing those cuties as we made our way back to JUANONA.

With sun shining and decent winds we left the next morning for our next Channel Island, alas, one without Mrs. Tiggy-winkles…

 

2 thoughts on “CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part I

  1. Mark Heathcote

    What is interesting is that the Channel islands are the only remaining part of Normandy .The mainland Normandy having been captured over the year by the French, Why they are known in france as the Isles Normandes. They owe allegiance to the Queen but not as the Queen of England but as the Duke of Normandy the successor to William I the Conqueror Duke of Normandy!
    Mark Heathcote-

    Reply
    1. margaretlynnie Post author

      Hi, Mark! The history is fascinating, although, for me, a bit confusing for the reason you explained. We do hear a lot of French on the Islands as well as English; but, I have to admit, I have to listen very closely to understand the English…

      I hope all is well. Please keep in touch!

      Reply

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