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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ooh they have a Marks & Spencer - some thoughts on the Balliwick of Guernsey

Firstly I hope my title doesn't sound condescending, it's just that on family holidays my Mum would always say it when we visited somewhere for the first time. When we strolled into St Peter Port I and saw an M&S I was reminded of that!

I first visited Guernsey when I was 5 or 6 and hadn't returned since so I had no real expectations. Indeed visiting it now was a bit of a odd decision and if I'm honest the choice of it as a destination was more to do with an ex boss recommending a hotel and Trish and I lusting after the menu.

As the time drew nearer I wondered if a mistake had been made as I considered all the great cities I could have been visiting but these fears were soon allayed but it is not a destination for everyone.

The Balliwick of Guernsey encompasses the Islands of Guernsey, Herm, Sark, Alderney, Brecqhou, Lihou and Jethou.

The Channel Islands (the Balliwicks of Guernsey and Jersey) are not part of the UK, they are a crown dependency. This is important for UK tourists. Yes the pound is  the official current and UK notes and coins are accepted but Guernsey (and for that matter Jersey) currency is not legal tender in the UK (so change any notes/coins before coming home or at a bank). They drive on the left but the rules are slightly different. Also there is NO reciprocal arrangement with the NHS so you need travel insurance. The Islands are also NOT part of the EU, it has a special relationship with it around free trade etc.

The Island are off of  the coast of  France and the last remaining possession of  the British Crown of the Dukedom of Normandy. Historical Note: William the Conqueror who invaded England in 1066 was Duke of Normandy.

I'm going to stop using the term Balliwick now.

You can reach Guernsey by sea or air. I flew from Gatwick using the island airline Aurigny (others are available). It was a pleasant flight out and relaxed. You get a complimentary local paper.  Note that flights can get delayed by fog as I found !!

The airport is small...... really small....... which is both good and bad. Well bad if you are stuck there as there is nothing to do!!

The island is small so reaching the airport from anywhere is quite quick. You can get buses or taxis there. I hired a car and picked it up at the airport. It was pretty good value.

The capital of Guernsey is St Peter Port this is by far the largest place on the island. It is the hub for all the buses and if you arrive by sea this is where you'll come to. There are quite a few shops and places to eat. There are no Tesco's or Sainsbury's in Guernsey (although the Alliance supermarket now stocks Tesco lines). Thankfully there are no McDonalds etc.

Although there is a good bus service the everything goes through St Peter Port so if you stay outside of it to get about you'll need to bus into St Peter Port and change. I was at St Martin's and there was only one bus (it was reliable and ran every 1/2 hour). A bus ride costs a £1.

We hired a car, getting about was fairly easy but there are no main roads as they'd be called in the UK and the speed limit was 35mph 25mph in some areas. The roads are VERY narrow and be prepared to reverse. Also vehicles often use the pavement edge - this may not be legal but seems to be the custom :)  Hire cars are identified with a large H to warn the locals!! The map supplied with the car was better than the one I brought with me as it had local landmarks like hotels (very useful for getting your turn off!!), petrol stations and traffic lights!

Car Parking is free. Where indicated you will need to put a clock disk in your car indicating time of arrival. The parking zones are divided into  times slots so some are say 2 hours or some 10 hours if you stay longer than the time you will get ticketed (we saw it happen). The 10 hour slots fill up quickly so if you are going for a boat trip to the other islands you may want to get a bus (it'll be a £1 each way).

There is lots of sea food as you would expect on an island. Expect to see lots of Crab et al on offer.

Older UK visitors like the Channel Islands as it is a bit exotic but everyone speaks English (there is a version of the old Norman Language that is recognised. The Guernsey, Sark, Alderney and Jersey versions are all different). Given the closeness to France and that it was once a part of France ( ok a long time ago) lots of street names are in French!

Guernsey has a Cornish look but with a Gallic twist and it is much less scruffy than Cornwall can be.

Is there stuff to do? Yes but with a qualification, Guernsey has a population of 60000 so don't expect major theme parks etc the island is small so you have to like walking etc. Day trips to Sark and Herm are great and there are tours of the island. I wouldn't call it a family holiday destination more for the mature or couples etc. That said I left enough to come back to do again

Weather? it is coastal! It can be very windy!! Temperatures tend to be a bit cooler than Southern England.

If you love the place then moving to Guernsey is prohibitively expensive. There are two property markets one is Open and anyone can buy the other is Local and you have to be qualified as local (you don't have to be born there to qualify I think just lived there for a LONG time !!). If you want to emigrate then property prices start from about 600k for something small on the Open Market!! The people who move there tend to have money so aren't a drain on the islands resources.

Guernsey makes its money out of Finance. Other industries are, I believe, in decline.

It should be noted that when the Cruise Ships get in then St Peter Port gets much busier!

The island of Herm is close to Guernsey indeed very visible from St Peter Port and is a 20 minute boat ride. You get tickets from the Trident Ticket office near St Julian's Pier. Your boat will either be next door to it or further up the pier (where you pick the Sark boat up from) dependent on tide (where you pick your boat up from for the return journey will depend on the tide - the two are 10 minutes walk apart).

There isn't a vast amount to do..... the population is about 60 people. There is a foody hotel, a pub, gift shop and at Shell Beach and Belvoir Bay kiosk selling food. The reason you go to Herm is to enjoy the views, sit on a beach with a limited number of people or enjoy the wildlife.... you can all guess that sitting on a beach was the thing not on my list.

The walking is not too arduous and given how small the island is it is pretty easy to explore. You have two choices on arrival walk around the island. Walk up the hill crossing the islands and then explore. Your choice, walking around misses the small chapel but your call.

If you are in Guernsey then i'd recommend going to Herm. You don't have to book a ticket for the return journey just turn up. Cost was £12.50 return.

The island of Sark is just over twice the distance of Herm is and is a 55 minute boat ride. You pick tickets up from further along St Julian's pier. You are advised to book in advance and you must specify the boat you are returning on. The boats are not frequent there is a cheaper (?) early bird special at 8:30 but I got the 10am out and the 4 pm back (there is a 6pm). it cost £27 return (if memory serves). Although the boat was scheduled to leave at 10am it arrived 25 minutes early and left when filled (I believe another boat left at 10). So getting there early and being at the front of the queue gained me 20 minutes. The boat ride is rougher than the Herm one.

Sark has a population of 600 so there is a population "centre" and there are more shops and tea rooms if that's your thing. It is "considerably" bigger than Herm so I didn't explore all of it. Upon arrival you have two choices either walk up the very steep hill or get the horse drawn cart and pay £1.10. I got the cart up and walked down. Sark is a plateau atop a hill!

I don't think there are any beaches (I could be wrong!). There is a nice garden (La Seignurie) and some good walks. Again like Herm it is a good place for wildlife. You can hire a bike or have a coach ride. A 2 hours ride costs £65 according to the Sark website and it is the same for one or two people. I of course walked.

I never went! it is an hour and 20 minutes by Catamaran and cost £69 return which was too steep for my pocket :)


Ragged Robin said...

Interesting post Pete - From your holiday posts it does look a nice place for a short break (out of season!). I didn't realise you needed travel insurance - its a good job no-one had any problems when we were on Jersey!!! We found Jersey overcrowded (by local population I mean not necessarily holiday visitors) in that there seemed to be just one village after another and not much countryside inbetween. Was that the case with Guernsey?

Pete Duxon said...


there wasn't huge acres of it in Guernsey but there were places to get away from it on the coast.... you won't find huge fields. Lots of space on Sark and Herm :D

I think you'd be ok if it was an emergency but I wouldn't want to bank on it.

Pete Duxon said...

here you go Caroline

Ragged Robin said...

Thanks Pete :) We may have taken it at the time when we took out travel insurance - its that long ago I can't really remember but must admit your comment came as a surprise to me!!

We eventually found a place on Jersey called Ouen Beach/bay which was a lot quieter! To be honest it was the summer when we had temps of nearly 100 degrees farenheit and I hate the heat so that may not have helped with my impressions of the holiday. Jersey Zoo and the War Tunnels were good though and we also went to the Flower Festival.

Will consider Guernsey for a short break though and I've always been keen to visit Sark and Herm. Will have to either get a driving licence with photo or the dreaded passport!! and make sure we go out of school hols!! When are you coming to the Cotswolds?

Pete Duxon said...

Cotswolds? September!

i think June would be a good time to visit Guernsey if I'm honest.