Category Archives: CHANNEL ISLANDS

CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part III

GUERNSEY (continued…)

Thursday-Thursday, May 23-30, 2019

We didn’t only do indoor touring as these islands offer a gorgeous backyard in which to play.

We had heard of two beautiful islands close to Guernsey–Herm and Sark. Daily ferries connect to both for day tripping, and based on some friends’ recommendations we decided on Sark.

The island is populated by 600 people, not including the seasonal influx of tourists, animals–both domesticated and wild

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(saw a rabbit, Deborah, and thought of you :), tractors, horse-drawn carts,

and bikes. What we didn’t see are cars, which are not allowed on the island ensuring lovely cycling roads–when not avoiding the tourists, animals, tractors, horse-drawn carts, and other cyclists.

We saw a few of the formal sights such as the local prison,

and the 17th-century La Seigneurie where two of the three ruling families (seigneurs and dames) lived.

Not quite understanding exactly who these Seigneurs and Dames were, I learned about one of the more recent ones when stopping in at the Tourist Information (TI) Office. There I read about the Nazi Occupation and the formidable and feisty Dame Sibyl Hathaway (1884-1974), the feudal overlord who inherited the position of Dame when her father, the Seigneur, died.

Wanting to learn more about this Dame, I found a wonderfully entertaining article, which is definitely worth reading if you’re interested.

During her lifetime Dame Hathaway fought to maintain Sark’s bucolic way of life, one established way back when. She did so with comments such as, “If it was good enough for William the Conqueror, it should be good enough for us”. After reading the above-mentioned article, this pronouncement gives you a pretty good idea of why she could be labeled ‘feisty and formidable’.

Speaking of good ole William, feudal laws followed under the Normans still existed well into the 1900s, which is how Sibyl inherited her right to govern over the other islanders.  This changed in 2008 with elected officials replacing this hereditary position, but not necessarily voiding all of the Dame’s ‘rules’ as cars are still not allowed on the island…

Similar to other islands of intoxicating landscapes, Sark has attracted its share of artists. Prior to WWII some set up their own colony calling themselves the Sark Group. They built their own two-story studio and gallery, which today serves as the Post Office and store. We saw some of their art work on signage in the small TI office. Every time I read about creative retreats such as this one I think of our artist friends and how they would soak this up.

The painting above captures one of the most spectacular views on the island. It appears when crossing to ‘Little Sark’ via a manmade bridge (repaired in 1945 thanks to Dame Hathaway’s use of German POWs from the occupation).

In spite of quite a drop on either side my fear of heights didn’t keep me from enjoying the 360º vista.

Although, I do admit the handrail came in handy every now and then as we walked our bikes across. Walked because riding wasn’t allowed.

I can’t tell you how much I loved exploring this island. And, I can’t specifically state why except to believe it came from riding down country roads under a sunny, blue-sky day, poking here and there, stopping for refreshments (yes, coffee) while engaging in conversation with other contented souls, and just literally ‘being’. Talk about lucky.

The only dark cloud above Sark, and not one tourists would necessarily know about, comes from the recent domination of two landlords, the billionaire Barclay twins. In 1993 they purchased Brecqhou, a little island NW of Sark and proceeded to build a huge Gothic castle. Subsequently, they bought/built four hotels on Sark and also planted a vineyard (in an area not necessarily noted for its fine wine…).

With all of this wealth they exhibited the typical 1%-ers behavior:  we later heard of the Barclays helicoptering in a head of lettuce from their Ritz Hotel because it was organic. It better make some good salads if that’s how they’re doing their grocery shopping.

Being the wealthiest islanders they aimed to mold Sark into their own private fiefdom. They bullied the islanders into changing an inheritance law, reducing Brecqhuo’s taxes, and challenging the centuries-old rule of the Seigneur (or Dame). The latter the Barclays said wasn’t democratic enough. But, then, after the 2008 voting in of a democratically elected chamber they threw a temper tantrum when their candidates weren’t voted in. For revenge the twins shuttered their businesses  (tossing over 100 locals out of work). They reopened them later only to close them again. Trust me, it gets complicated.

For visitors, though, this friction seems pretty muted.  We learned of only two signs of this divisiveness: (1) when our waitress said they had just opened after four years of closure,and, if the Barclays felt the business did well, they’d remain open;

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(2) the withering grape vines we passed cycling out of town. But, as I said, we didn’t feel any simmering undercurrent during our short stay.

Returning our bikes we walked down the steep hill back to the ferry dock, feeling completely sated with a summertime joy.

You don’t have to go off island to appreciate Guernsey’s outdoor attractions.

The town itself provides interesting walks. A maze of cobblestone streets and stairs wind up and down the hills. It seemed we were always going up or down some incline.

Yet, any climbing resulted in a lovely view over the city.

Even after a week of going places in town I still couldn’t tell you the most direct way to reach anywhere. Other than our coffee place, of course.

During one of our first self-guided tours around town we passed a plaque on Tower Hill. It was one of the most disturbing ones I’ve seen, for it marked the spot where a mother and her two daughters, one being pregnant, were burned to death for their Protestant belief under Bloody Queen Mary’s rule.

To make it even more horrifying the daughter gave birth during the burning, and the executioners decided to throw the baby back into the fire. Makes me sick just writing this even now.

When discussing this with the minister mentioned in my earlier Guernsey post he said people were horrified to hear this and determined the islanders needed to be educated. So, when reigns changed from Mary to Elizabeth I, the Elizabeth College for Boys was established by the Queen in 1563.

A much pleasanter walk took us to a peaceful oasis in the middle of town where stunning photographs serve as part of the flora.

Candie Garden, perched on a hillside in the north part of town, drew us to another spectacular piece of St. Peter Port. We didn’t visit the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery there but did see a statue dedicated to its famous exile-er.

I had mentioned in Channel Islands: Part I the best-seller, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, as being one of my few sources of information prior to arriving here. Set during the Nazi Occupation 1940-45 the story features landmarks existing today.

I found reminders of this book scattered throughout the town, which isn’t surprising considering the tourism board has embraced this novel whole-heartedly. They’ve even created a ‘passport’ you can get stamped in various locations.

Adding to that, one of the walks promoted in their “Tasty Walks” guide book features a city trail dedicated to locales associated with the book’s characters.

That guide book turned out to be a great resource. We didn’t really do any of the 20 self-guided walks but wish we had, especially after circumnavigating the island on the public buses.

Halfway around we had to switch buses, and while waiting we noticed a wetsuit throng of little ones hoisting surfboards for a lesson. Whenever we come across surfers I always think of my Nags Head family who, for sure, would have been catching waves if they were here. Those wetsuits would come in handy as I believe the water is about the same invigorating temp as Maine’s.

We ended up taking a trail on the south side of the island, and the scenery was stunning.

Being a Bank Holiday Weekend plenty of other visitors were out and about strolling the streets. Especially the one fronting the harbor featuring an annual fair. A mushroom of tents had sprouted up over night and now offered a range of wares from ice cream to pet accessories.

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And, no surprise seeing dog collars and catnip for sale:  tThe Guernsey SPCA sponsored the fair. Which also accounted for the appropriately dressed folk playing ball.

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The day also offered one of our favorite activities:  sticking our heads out of head holes…

Being in a harbor where boats appeared to come and go as often as the tide we met some fabulous folk, both visiting cruisers and locals:  Karen and Jean-Luc; Elie, Jan and Mike; Sadie and Denis; and, the local port captain of the Cruising Association, Richard. And, being sailors, they kindly shared their knowledge of ports and anchorages assisting us in where to head next.

This port didn’t lack for boaters, especially with the number of regattas. We’d go to bed on an almost-empty pontoon only to wake up the next morning surrounded by a boat load of racers, some even rafting to us in the middle of the night. Definitely added a higher level of energy to the harbor.

Experiencing some of the Channel Islands I was amazed we hadn’t really thought of them as a vacation destination. The lovely outdoors combined with a distinct cultural experience felt similar to visiting the Azores, another European archipelago (albeit a bit further away from the mainland).  Although, we had heard more cruise ships were popping into the harbor here, which explained the American accents we heard when walking in town or riding the buses.

In speaking later with a resident, she said tourism had actually decreased since the heyday of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

During those decades these islands served as an exotic destination for Brits who wanted sun and beaches (and there are some amazing ones here) while also enjoying the ease of an English-speaking country. Furthermore, frequent ferry runs between the mainland and islands ensured convenient transportation.

Yet, as the Brits began to venture further afield to Spain and other countries offering similar amenities, and sometimes for less money, the Channel Islands lost a lot of their visitors. Now an emphasis is on marketing these islands resulting in an increase in tourism, one of Guernsey’s main economic drivers. 

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing spot to stretch your legs and treat your eyes, consider the Channel Islands. And, if you do, please say hello to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle for me :)

 

 

 

CHANNEL ISLANDS: Part II

GUERNSEY

Thursday-Thursday, May 23-30, 2019

With decent winds we left Alderney for the 24-mile sail to St. Peter Port (aka, Saint-Pierre-Port), the capital of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is one of the three Crown Dependencies of Great Britain.

After 5 hours we arrived at the harbor entrance, requested permission to enter and did so after waiting outside while a large ferry docked. Next we waited for one of the marina skiffs to guide us carefully to one of the floating pontoons.

We opted for those docks in lieu of Victoria Marina, an interior harbor protected by a sill from low tides*.

Originally planning on getting a berth in the marina, we decided not to risk crossing the stone barrier:  some cruisers in Alderney mentioned they had heard of a boat with the same draft as ours (2-meter or 6’ 6”) getting stuck on the sill (!). No thanks. Plus, the pontoons were only a three-minute walk from one of the main streets.

I have to say living in Maine one gets use to tides and steep ramps to and from floating pontoons, but in this neck of the woods, they can get a heck of a lot steeper…

which is why many boats are built to sit on the ground when there’s no water under them.

JUANONA, not so much.

*A sill is a barrier that captures a harbor’s/marina’s water at high tide and retains it during low tide. Basically, just think of it as a bathtub for boats.

And, in spite of the rather tired and dingy appearance, the showers provided luxurious hot water with strong pressure (similar to Alderney’s) and appeared surprisingly clean. Actually, even the public restrooms throughout the islands seemed exceptionally clean. No laundry facility at the marina, but we found one in town easily enough. With a supermarket nearby, plenty of buses and ferries within a five-minute walk, and a great Tourist Information (TI) Office just across the street, the location offered everything we needed. Oh, yeah, and a great coffee shop, too :)

Doing some quick research online we discovered a fabulous treasure in St. Peter Port–Hauteville Maison, also known as Victor Hugo’s House.

Having visited his apartment in Paris a few years ago, to tour his home here seemed a no-brainer. Especially since this is where he wrote one of our favorite books and musicals, LES MISERABLES. Just writing that makes me break out in song, lucky for Max it’s not out loud.

Reading that they required reservations and noting none available until the following week, I thought we’d miss seeing it. But, the lady at the TI suggested I try calling, and, voila! a last minute opening for the hour-long tour was available.

The house had actually stayed in the family until 1927 after which Hugo’s granddaughter and the children of his grandson donated it to the City of Paris. When water leakage damaged the interior, the billionaire art collector, François Pinault  (also, a key benefactor of the Notre Dame roof re-build) funded the entire, 3 million-euro renovation in 2018. Fortunately, careful restoration left the house the same as when Victor Hugo lived here.

Not being up on the details of this novelist/poet/dramatist/artist, we learned that Victor Hugo’s (1802-85) political beliefs morphed over the decades, from supporting the monarchy to opposing it. The latter occurred when Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808-73) threw a tantrum over the one-term limit of his presidency and staged a coup d’etat. Having a way with words, Hugo coined the derogatory (but, one must admit, clever) phrase, “we have had Napoleon the Great, now we have Napoleon the Small”, a none-too-subtle expression of his feelings towards Louis-now-self-titled-Napoleon III.

He (Hugo, not Emperor 3) avoided arrest by heading to Brussels in December 1851. But his stay was short due to the proximity to France and a formal decree of exile, so he left for Jersey in 1852 where other non-Napoleon III supporters lived.

But, Hugo obviously knew how to p_ _ s off royals. An unflattering article about Queen Victoria’s visit to Paris in 1855 caused his next boot out of a country. Not that he wrote it; but, the article penned in London was re-published in a Jersey paper by some of his fellow exiles. When they were expelled from that Channel Island, Hugo decided to also leave in a show of support.

He moved to the nearby island of Guernsey in 1855 and with the success of THE CONTEMPLATIONS, a poetry book, he purchased the house in 1856. And proceeded to decorate it. And, boy, did he decorate.

Arriving before our scheduled tour, we had access to his backyard,

and, while Max enjoyed the ambiance here,

I went on the hunt for a cup of coffee, which I found just up the street in a hotel with another lovely garden view.

A young guide with a lilting French accent (of course) led our small group of ten through the public rooms where he entertained:

the Billards Room with family portraits and drawings…

the Tapesty Room wallpapered with oriental rugs (a small sun-lit room next door offset this dark one)…

the Dining Room with Dutch Delft tiles, and where he provided meals for the city’s poor children,

along with lessons of life, which were also carved into the decor.

Stairs to the first (what we call second) floor landed us in an elaborate hallway off of which were two richly,(overly so in my opinion) decorated lounges for more entertaining,

with one end of the two rooms suitable for presenting plays.

Then to the second (third) floor where the hallway served as his library, which included one of the first ever editions of an Encyclopedia…

and opened into a large study and bedroom, but one he never slept in.

To the tippy-top third (fourth) floor where he did actually sleep…

and work (this is the room in which he was sitting in the sepia photo above…

and where, finally, I would be able to rest if I lived here) as he looked out to his garden and the sea beyond to France.

Throughout the house the guide pointed out Hugo’s fascination with Chinese culture,   one shared by others during this time.

(Ellen, note the peacock :)

I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be for those who had studied this man’s life and work because for me, not well-versed on Hugo, this tour was fascinating and a definite highlight of our time here.

Unlike some of our other cultural visits we didn’t tour a lot of museums here. Actually, as I write this, I realize Hugo’s house was it as far as museums go. We did, however, do a quick stop at one other building, also overly decorated:  the Little Chapel.

We reached this little (and, it is wee) site after a 30-minute bus ride to the center of the island.

Along with a group of other curious tourists we hopped off to stroll the one-minute walk to a building festooned with broken pottery shards.

Inspired by a similar chapel in Lourdes, this grotto chapel was the third one begun by Brother Déodat. His first one (9’x4.5’) was too small as was his second (9’x6’), and I love this–he decided the second one didn’t fit the bill when the Bishop of Portsmouth couldn’t fit through the door.

The one we toured measures 16’x9’, and, as you can see, we easily stepped through the opening.

Being un-consecrated anyone and everyone can mediate/pray/worship/perform miracles here. And, visit for free with donations accepted.

It is lovely it its kitchyness and fantastical mosaics,

It’s also where Max caught the spiritual glow.

As I said, basically you could walk through the chapel

and out the door

in 20 steps.

We could have dwelled a bit longer but…. And, evidently we weren’t the only ones feeling as such because we joined the same stampede of visitors who caught the bus out with us who were now determined not to miss the next bus heading back. Otherwise, we’d all have to wait another hour and there’s just so much cemented pottery shards I can take at one time no matter how devotedly placed.

Another day, while waiting for our coffee place to open we popped into a larger place of worship, the Town Church.

Spotting a guy who appeared to give impromptu tours we asked him about some mounted plaques. For the next 15 minutes he entertained us by pointing out some of the more interesting of these memorials.

When I asked about a rather prominent one for The Very Reverend Daniel Francis Durand and noted it was pretty cool he was the son of the guy who headed up Canterbury, he laughed and corrected me saying,’no, that was something stated to make him sound important:  he wasn’t literally the son, he simply came from there.

He then walked us over to the memorial of Captain Nicholas Messier, a privateer (aka pirate) who fought the French. Our informal guide appreciated the hypocrisy for he said isn’t it wonderful how someone is lauded by the same people who could just as easily have treated him as a criminal. I think I could use this guide on all our tours…

One of the largest plaques immortalized one of the most famous islanders, James Saumarez, Lord de Saumarez. He fought with Lord Nelson in the Mediterranean, though not at the Battle of Trafalgar. The two officers had a strained relationship, and our guide mentioned it was due to Saumarez not approving of Nelson’s romantic liaison with Lady Hamilton. As our host stated succinctly, ‘Saumarez was a prude.’

Our last critiquing of these plaques concerned one dedicated to Rear Admiral Thomas Saumarez Brock (his father being another famous islander, Isaac Brock, who defeated the Americans when they attacked Canada during the War of 1812) and his wife and her eldest son. Here we learned their daughter used plundered marble from the Roman Temple of Diana in Ephesus, a famous ruin in Turkey… and, bragged about it.

It’s also when I noticed a clerical collar peeking out from our guide’s sweater.

I left that church thinking now, he along with a few others, is a minister whose sermons I wouldn’t mind listening to. Nothing like some irreverent humor to spice up one’s Sunday :)

Next, the great outdoors…

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…