Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.
For my two night add-on trip to Guernsey, I stayed on the outskirts of St Peter Port, the capital of the island. Just like St Helier on Jersey, the harbour is right in the town centre, so travelling by boat is super easy.
As the ferry sailed into St Peter Port, I immediately noticed that Guernsey is quite different to Jersey. For one, the hills are a lot steeper. When I booked my accommodation on booking.com, the guest house was described as a 25 minute walk from the harbour. I figured that would be fairly easy with just hand luggage. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the 25 minute walk was up a near vertical climb. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but the residents of St Peter Port must have some of the strongest leg muscles in the world walking up and down those hills all day. When I found my guesthouse, I was a little annoyed to discover a sign on the door telling new guests to check in at another hotel, 80m back down the hill. Not overjoyed at the thought of having to back track, only to then climb the same 80m again still carrying my rucksack, I set off back down the hill. I passed two guys who saw my expression, smiled at me and said ‘we just did the same thing’. Somebody was definitely looking down on me during my time on Guernsey, though. My first bit of good luck was the receptionist telling me he had a spare room in the main hotel and giving me a free upgrade, also saving me that extra 80m trek in the bargain.
I made a lot of journeys up and down that hill in the following two days. St Peter Port’s labyrinth of winding, narrow streets and my distinct lack of any sense of direction combined to ensure I never took the same route twice. Every time I was confident I’d figured out the best route, I’d find myself stuck in a dead end or approaching the coast a couple of hundred metres along from where I expected to be. It also took me a while to figure out the different harbours, which is an issue when the guide book uses them as landmarks. That is the charm of St Peter Port, though. It’s a great place to just wander and get lost, enjoy a coffee or window shop. On my first evening there, I grabbed some snacks from the Co-operative (still an actual local Co-operative on the Channel Islands) and made the most of the lovely weather by sitting on one of the harbours to enjoy my dinner. There are not many places in the world that would let you sit on a park bench amongst multi-million pound yachts while you munch on hummus and vegetables, but the boat owners seemed quite happy to leave me be while they went about their business.
Guernsey is about half the size of Jersey, although with about two thirds of the population so the roads are quite a bit busier. They’re also a lot narrower, especially across the middle of the island where it is very rural, the speed limit down to 15 mph in most places. I assume because of the narrower roads and slightly lower, although still pretty high, level of wealth on the island, cars are generally smaller. There are very few of the huge, four wheel drive monsters that are a common show of personal wealth on Jersey, even though their roads aren’t really designed for them nor does the terrain require it. Cars on Guernsey are more practical, they have to be otherwise no-one would ever get anywhere. I did notice one man driving round in a very flash sports car, which I thought odd because he must never get it over 30 mph. He seemed happy, though.
As I spent a whole day on Herm, I only had half a day to explore outside of St Peter Port. My flight was departing at 4pm, so I needed a way to see the island and still get back to my hotel in time to leave for the airport at 2.45pm (the nice staff at the Grisnoir Guesthouse/Abbey Court Hotel offer free transport to and from the airport). There is a local bus service that loops the island, but due to it’s size it’s restricted to the wider roads along the coast. I considered hiring a car, but it’s difficult to actually see anything when you’re the one trying to navigate the roads, and I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was looking at anyway. I ventured to the Guernsey Information Centre for some inspiration, only to find there wasn’t much on offer. Then I noticed a flyer for Tour Guernsey. Run by Andy Taylor, born and bred on the island who just wants to show everyone how amazing his home is, they offer unique tours of the island in their 11 seater Land Rover. And, the tours are approximately 3 hours long to fit in with cruise ship arrivals, so it was perfect for me. For not much more than I would have paid for the hire car, I’d also got a real local guide who could tell me all about the things I was looking at. This was when my second wave of good luck hit me. None of the cruise ship passengers wanted to join the tour that day. It was a German cruise ship and, although I offered my translation skills, they weren’t keen on an English speaking excursion. I thought Andy would cancel the excursion with only me booked on, but he said he was happy to carry on with only one passenger. So, I got my very own private tour! Not only that, but he said we would get to see even more because we’d save time not having to wait for the other passengers to get in and out.
I am so glad I picked up that Tour Guernsey flyer, I had so much fun touring the island with Andy. There was history, culture, beautiful scenery, industry and stories only a local would know. We drove down lots of those narrow lanes I mentioned earlier, along the coastline and even through a field at one point. Almost every person we met knew Andy. The locals are obviously still getting used to the sight of the open-sided safari-style Land Rover driving around, one old lady teasing Andy by asking if we’d seen any lions yet.
We stopped outside St Martin’s church, where the Grandmother of the Cemetery stands. The pagan stone carving, originally created about 4,000 years ago and then updated two thousand years later, is a local good luck charm. She originally stood in the church grounds, but was moved by Christian church members to the edge of the property. They even tried to destroy her at one point by pushing her over. Locals came to her rescue and put her back together, although she still has a crack through her middle.
As we drove across the centre of the island, Andy told me about the agricultural history. There are hundreds of commercial size greenhouses filling the fields, but most of them are derelict today. Guernsey once had a thriving fresh produce industry, but as it became cheaper to import from other countries with hotter climates, like Spain, to the UK the demand dwindled. Islanders, including Andy, have lots of ideas for other uses for the greenhouses, but the problem is that they are only licensed to be used for growing fresh produce. I hope this is an issue that Guernsey resolves soon because it’s so sad to see all that potential resource go to waste and ruin the Guernsey landscape. I’d love to go back to Guernsey one day and see they’ve become a new centre for some ecologically sound product like hemp or bamboo. Which brings me nicely along to our next stop on the tour, because the hemp and bamboo could be used to make an eco-friendly version of the famous Guernsey jumper. I have to admit, visiting a Guernsey factory wasn’t on my to-do list. Aside from the fact I’m vegan, I’m also allergic to any kind of animal wool. I think I must have been the most awkward looking visitor they’ve ever had! Having said that, I did appreciate the tour and explanation of how the Guernseys are produced, and it’s fascinating. The machines had been turned off for the day by the time we arrived, which I was actually glad of because standing in a room full of flying wool fibres can get itchy and uncomfortable for me to say the least. The main sections of the Guernseys are woven on huge looms at the small factory, before being sent to knitters dotted all over the island who start to piece them together. Then, they return to the factory to be finished off. The factory has customers all over the world, and you can expect your Guernsey to last for around 20 years. Even then, it can be returned to the factory for mending. The most common downfall of a Guernsey is a frayed collar, which can easily be replaced. If they weren’t made of wool, I’d recommend them as an almost zero waste product.
Keeping up the historic rivalry between the two islands, Guernsey’s west coast competes with Jersey for wartime defence structures. They are everywhere, dotted in between historic forts and stunning beaches. Once again, Andy was very knowledgeable about the wartime history of the island.
This is where we stopped for a refreshment break. I felt disappointed that I had to get to the airport in just a couple of hours, I would have loved to spend a few days chilling in the sun on the beaches of the west coast.
We talked about the newly released movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it’s portrayal of Guernsey during the war, and the effect it will have on local tourism. I bombarded Andy with questions about living on the Channel Islands, and the relationship between the different islands.
Whether you have a half day, like me, or a week to explore Guernsey I would definitely recommend taking one of the tours with Tour Guernsey. There really is no better way to experience a location than with a local.
Ferry Jersey to Guernsey: £31.00 (foot passenger)
2 nights accommodation @ Grisnoir Guesthouse: £76.50
Tour Guernsey REAL Guernsey Tour: £55