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).
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.
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.