To be frank, I can’t remember huge amounts about my trip to Guernsey. We flew from Southampton and Chris made me a certificate for being brave and flying in a small plane. I quickly discovered the island was small and easily circumnavigated, with areas of dramatic coastal cliffs and pretty bays. Chris had been before several times and wanted to take me to his favourite spots.
Guernsey - in a Nutshell
Is Guernsey Part of the United Kingdom?
Guernsey is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a British Crown Dependency. It is not part of the United Kingdom, although defence and some aspects of international relations are managed by the UK. Although the bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are often referred to collectively as the Channel Islands, they are not a constitutional or political unit.
Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands The jurisdiction of Guernsey consists of ten parishes, on the island of Guernsey, three other inhabited islands (Herm, Jethou and Lihou) and many small islets and rocks. The Bailiwick of Guernsey further includes the islands of Alderney and Sark.
The Channel Islands became part of the British Isles because they were under the control of the Duke of Normandy, when he invaded in 1066. Because of its proximity to France they have remained strategically important, as a defence against invasion from mainland Europe and they bristle with castles and maritime fortifications. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by the Germans in World War II, who found their defences 'woefully inadequate for modern warfare'.
The island has a mixed British-Norman culture, although British cultural influence is stronger, with English being the main language. The island has a traditional local language, known as Guernésiais.
Facts and Factoids
- Guernsey is a small island, six miles long by three miles wide. You can circumnavigate the island easily in two hours, even though the roads are narrow and slow going.
- The island used to be the tip of a peninsula, attached to mainland Europe, however rising sea levels separated it from modern-day France, approximately 8,000 years ago.
- Guernsey's tidal range of 33 feet is one of the largest in the world.
- The Guernsey cow is renowned for the high butterfat and protein levels in its milk. They are more docile than their Jersey counterparts, though their milk making ability is slightly less efficient. (There is also a breed of goat known as the Guernsey goat - it has a golden-coloured coat.)
- The post box, in Union Street, is the oldest cast iron pillar-box still in use, in the British Isles. It is the only red post box in Guernsey. All the others are painted blue.
- Spring arrives four weeks earlier in Guernsey than on mainland Britain, allowing the early cultivation of blooms for sale.
- The world’s first underwater arrest occurred in Guernsey. A scuba-diving police officer arrested a local for illegally harvesting shellfish.
- Guernsey people are traditionally nicknamed donkeys or ânes, especially by the people of Jersey, in retaliation for dubbing them crapauds (toads).
What Currency Is Used in Guernsey?
The currency is the British Pound sterling.
Are There Fairies in Guernsey?
Channel Islanders believe they are descended from ‘pouques’ – or fairies. As with Jersey, there are many legends on the island, which feature these elusive creatures. There's even a fairy ring on the western side of the island. Your wishes will come true if you walk around it three times. According to local folklore, Guernsey was once even invaded by a group of fairies, lured by the beauty of the local women. A bloody battle ensued, inspiring the name of Rouge Rue (Red Road) in St Peter Port. There are witches too. Many of the houses sport “witches’ seats”. These sticks of granite are so that the witches can stop and rest, instead of running round casting spells.
St Peter Port, Capital of Guernsey
We stayed in the capital of Guernsey, St Peter Port. It's an old town, with Roman antecedents. Today. it's definitely a tourist mecca with a very French flavour, visited by over 80 cruise ships each year. There are fish restaurants galore, plenty of fish platters with big-budget scarlet lobsters. The harbour is dominated by thirteenth-century Castle Cornet. Here, there are several museums to entertain and scarlet uniformed gunners parade out to music at midday and fire the(very noisy) noon day gun. There’s also Hauteville House, the lavish former home of exiled French writer, Victor Hugo. He completed Les Miserables here and it’s actually now owned by the city of Paris, (so France has claim to a very small part of the island still) and houses an honorary French consul, as well as other museums.
The Shell Chapel
The other main tourist site, on Guernsey, is what is promoted as the smallest chapel in the world. It’s fairly recently built (designed by a French monk), early twentieth century, and unusually decorated with shells pebbles and broken china and shells.
We made a boat trip to Sark, also part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is a royal fief, with its own set of laws based on Norman law and its own parliament. It has a population of about 500. Little Sark is a peninsula joined by a natural but high and very narrow isthmus to the rest of Sark Island. We sailed across the channel known, as the Big Russel, to get there. Plenty of amazing rock formations on the way. Charming scenery, and no cars allowed (only bicycles, and tractors). You can walk easily along the coastal paths - it’s very small - or hop onto one of the local horse traps.
And I bought a traditional navy blue woollen fisherman's jumper - called a guernsey - of course. Guernsey sweaters were knitted for fishermen, dating back as far as the sixteenth century