Category Archives: Guernsey

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…