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The British Channel Island of Guernsey is located in the Bay of St Malo 30 miles from the coast of North West France and 70 miles from Southern England. Guernsey is actually one of a small group of islands known collectively as the ‘Bailiwick of Guernsey’ which is itself a part of the Channel Islands or in French ‘ îles de la Manche’ and occasionally ‘Les îles Anglo-Normandes’.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey includes Alderney, Sark, Breqhou, Herm, Jethou, Lihou and Burhou. Most of the islands (except Guernsey and Alderney) are small with no cars and few inhabitants.
Several books have been written about, or based in, Guernsey especially during the period of the German occupation of the Channel Islands during 1940 and 1945 in the Second World War. The most well known is ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ which was written by Mary Ann Shaffer who passed away in 2008 and completed by Annie Barrows both of whom come from the United States of America. Mary Ann had visited the island once before writing her novel and her niece visited after the book was completed.
The other much acclaimed book about Guernsey is ‘The Book of Ebenezer Le Page’ by G B Edwards. This has a distinctly more local feel to it and tells the story of a fictional ‘Guernsey-man’ or ‘Guern’ and his life on the island. It’s a fascinating insight into the way of life on Guernsey and is considered by most locals to be the quintessential historical fiction about our island.
Guernsey is known for one especially famous, albeit temporary, resident – Victor Hugo. The author of Toilers of the Sea and Les Miserable’s lived in the island during his exile from France. He purchased a fine house in St Peter Port, high on a hill with views that allowed him to see his home country on a fine day.
For a little over one month in 1883, Pierre August Renoir also visited Guernsey where he painted 15 scenes taken mainly on the rocky south coast bay of Moulin Huet. This sheltered bay with luxuriant foliage lining a narrow descending path through the valley which emerges above its craggy beach is washed with almost mystical light.
Once amongst the granite outcrop of rocks which divide the clear sea into channels, there is an illusion of levels which may only be fully appreciated by standing amongst them at certain states of tide.
The island of Guernsey has beautiful cliff paths along the entire Southern and much of the Eastern coast, the latter of which also includes a splendid pine forest perched above rocky coves.
By contrast the North and much of the Western coasts boast long beaches of clean sand washed by the twice daily tides of the Atlantic Ocean. On the South Western corner of Guernsey is the island of Lihou (my namesake) although strictly speaking it is only an island at high tide as it is connected by a causeway after the ebb. This tiny and remote location was once the home of Benedictine Monks who constructed a priory using the same stone that is found at Mont St Michel in the 12th century.
Herm, to the east of Guernsey is often compared to the exotic islands of the Caribbean. The micro-climate and flat white beaches punctuated by lush greenery make this the perfect get away destination for locals. Shell beach comprises entirely of billions of tiny white shells deposited by the Gulf Stream as is it meandered around Herm’s northern coast.
A few miles further to the South East, the island of Sark can be found with its towering cliffs and rural community. Until recently Sark was the oldest and last remaining feudal government in Europe. The change was brought about by two immensely wealthy brothers who purchased and moved to the adjacent island of Breqhou, where they built an impressive 20th century castle with splendid landscaped gardens high on the cliffs with every conceivable luxury to sustain them and helicopters pads as well as their own private harbour to allow them to commute. The Berkley Brothers media empire includes such well known titles as The Daily Telegraph newspaper. Sark itself is another favourite destination with locals seeking the refuge and tranquillity of a smaller, motor traffic free environment where the mode of transport is either bicycle or horse drawn cart.
All of the Channel Islands including Guernsey and its larger neighbour Jersey are blessed with an abundance of wildlife from Puffins to Seals, and the famous Guernsey Lilly to the golden yellow of the bracken covered cliffs. Walking is very popular and perhaps the best way of all to soak up the atmosphere is from the deck of a sailing boat gliding beneath the cliffs or anchoring for lunch and a swim in one of the many bays.
Guernsey is most famous internationally for the breed of dairy cows which can be found all over the world. Guernsey tomatoes were also very famous until globalisation priced them out of their traditional markets and the famous woollen ‘Guernsey’ jumpers are still popular with those who go to sea or wish to emulate that style.
Guernsey folk have been seafarers throughout the ages and many fought on board Nelson’s ships during the battle of the Nile in addition to many other famous encounters. Admiral Lord James de Saumarez was the most famous of these but locals including family descendents of the Lihou name also fought and some went on to discover places in around the world which bear their names. A section of the famous Great Barrier Reef, along with Port Lihou in Australia, was named after Lieutenant John Lihou RN.
I hope you have found this potted history of Guernsey informative and if you would like to find out more about the island or ask a specific question, please drop me a line and I will be pleased to help if I can.
Author, Rachel’s Shoe