Wednesday, 7 July 2010


After hot sunny days on the canal, our arrival in Guernsey was a complete contrast – rain, a cool wind and darkness (early evening). Our hire car this time was a Ford Focus and although we had directions to our St Peter Port hotel from the hire car people at the airport, the combination of darkness, wet unfamiliar roads and strange car made for an ‘interesting’ (read ‘fraught’) beginning to our Channel Island visit. To make matters worse, the roads have French names which change at different sections, and while searching for one street invariably find we’re at the next section. Trying to read maps in the dark by the light of a confused Sat Nav just doesn’t work! (Sat Nav eventually found it wasn’t still in the Hertford area and re-adjusted its thinking).

Anyhow we did arrived at the Pandora Hotel – practically next door to the house once owned by the exiled Victor Hugo (more of that later), and it is very comfortable. I would say it would have been built early last century and it is two buildings made into one hotel. We are in a quite large room on the ground floor however to get to our room from ground floor reception this is the route: Turn left, go down 1 step, walk 10 steps, turn left, down 4 steps, turn right, 2 steps, turn left, down 3 steps, turn right, down 4 steps, turn left, down 7 steps - and finally turn left and we are at our room (still on the ground floor!). The hotel is built on a steep hill and so the adjoining building’s ground floor is much lower than the reception area.

Next morning the weather had cleared and we set out to drive around this exceptionally interesting island. Evidence of the WW2 German occupation was everywhere with concrete installations for gun placements, etc. The massively built underground German hospital was amazing. It was built over 3 years by POW (slave) labour and used also as an ammunition store as well as a hospital. In winter it was dry, but the condensation in summer made the complex so damp, I wonder that the wounded didn’t die of pneumonia. In fact I think it was really only used as a hospital for a matter of months.

Summer in the Channel Islands is delightful though – and the islands are very popular with holiday-makers. St Peter Port (the capital of Guernsey) is very pretty – narrow winding streets of shops clinging to the side of a hill sloping down to a harbour sheltering hundreds of pleasure craft. From the higher lookouts the views are stupendous – ancient buildings with stunning gardens and hundreds of hanging flower baskets of riotous colour with the gorgeous azure sea dotted with islands (Herm and Sark quite close by). Outside St Peter Port, country villages have ancient stone cottages or white painted homes and are ablaze with summer flowers and always close by is the sea.

On Sunday we caught a ferry to Sark and after about an hour came to this very interesting little island only about 3 miles around. There are no cars on the island, but tractors pull ‘carriage’ loads of boat passengers up the very steep road to the village. There are a row of small shops – souvenir, craft, bike hire, cafes, etc. Also waiting are horse-drawn carriages which we were happy to board for a leisurely 2 hour clip-clop around the island. We stopped occasionally for short walks to scenic spots including the connecting ‘bridge’ to Little Sark – originally bombed by the Germans, but re-built after the war by German prisoners. About 600 people live on Sark with farming, fishing and tourism the only livelihoods. The scenery surrounding the island is quite spectacular and the lush green of the gardens and small fields very pretty. It really is no wonder it is a popular place to visit.

On Monday we visited the St Peter Port house of Victor Hugo who had been exiled from France to the Channel Islands with his wife and two of his adult children (his mistress lived just down the road!). From the outside it looks like any other large Guernsey home. In the inside it is another story altogether. When he wasn’t writing, he was designing and supervising the décor of the house. No expense was spared (his books sold well), but he also scoured the local secondhand dealers and ancient carved chests, tables, etc., were bought, dismantled and incorporated into the built-in furniture. Paintings, Gobelin tapestries on the walls AND ceilings and priceless Dutch wall tiles were used. Some rooms were very dark with black wood panelling and decoration, and then the next room would be light and airy although still most unusually decorated. The contrasts were most evident unlike the hidden doors and passageways connecting and hiding fixtures and other small rooms (one for developing photographs). We have never seen anything quite like it and we’re sure we’ll never see another like it again. Just astonishing.

There were two other ‘must-see’ places to visit – the first to the German Occupation Museum which told the story of events during WW2 when Germany invaded the only part of the British Isles they could. It was interesting to read articles and view the items collected from that dark period of wartime. I found it fascinating to see how the Island people coped and the hardships they endured when food was in extremely short supply.

The next place to visit was the Guernsey Tapestry – beautiful embroidered panels about 1.5 metres by 1 metre with each panel covering a century and stitched by members of each area of the Island. It was instigated as a Millennium project and all 10 panels took two years to complete. It is a simply stunning work of art.

We loved Guernsey and were sad to leave just as we were getting to know our way around. Would very much like to return one day and perhaps go to Jersey as well.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff about Victor Hugo. I hope you stole some keepsake for me! I love the fact that (supposedly) the shortest correspondence in history was between Hugo and his publisher - the former asking about the publication of Les Misérables. He telegraphed the single-character message '?' to his publisher, who replied with a single '!