Welcome to the land of witches, werewolves, and gateways to other worlds. There's plenty in Guernsey to ensure that your family has a fairy-tale holiday
A mere hop away from the UK mainland lies Guernsey, a member of the British Isles but separate from the United Kingdom. Historical islands aren’t usually something to get the kids interested in, but things are different here. Between crumbling castles and bewitching tales of witches and werewolves, the island is every old fairy-tale come to life, set amongst the same stones that these very legends were created upon.
And best of all, it’s near enough that you don’t have to worry about the constant cries of “are we there yet?”
Low duty on petrol means car rental is popular with visitors who come here. There are some designated ‘disc zones’ that will impose time restrictions on where you park (and a £40 if you go over the limit), but throughout most of the island you can park for as long as you want, free of charge. Public transport is good value as well – if you choose to hop on one of the new fleet of green and yellow buses, a journey to any stop on the line will cost you a mere 60p. A wide range of accommodation choices means there is something to suit every budget, from sophisticated hotels and spas to friendly guest houses, self catering cottages and campsites. Being small, the island is easy to drive round, but bear in mind most roads are narrow and also used by cyclists, tractors and horses. If you do somehow manage to find a place to put your foot down, don’t forget the speed limit in most areas is 56 kph (35mph), while in and around St Peter Port it is 40kph (25mph).
Elegant St Peter Port
Despite being relatively small – it only houses around 18,000 people – St Peter Port doubles as both the capital of Guernsey and the main port of the island, rising majestically from its picturesque harbour to keep a protective eye on Guernsey’s sister islands of Sark, Herm and Jethou. With the most sheltered anchorage in the Channel Islands, it has been a haven and harbour for over 2,000 years, and despite a high proportion of international banks based here it retains that 17th-century elegance. From cobbled streets to ancient church spires, the scenery is undeniably beautiful, freshened up with a touch of crisp sea air. Stroll through its streets to find a wealth of independent retailers offering everything from antiques to clothes and jewellery. Many goods are also surprisingly cheap thanks to excise duty rates being lower than in the UK.
Fun for all ages
With its 1950s style, St Peter Port is existing proof that you don’t need theme parks or circuses to keep everyone entertained. It boasts some excellent indoor and outdoor play areas, family parks, and year-round activities.
For starters, there is Saumarez Park, the largest public park on the island, which comes complete with a well-equipped children’s adventure playground and bouncy castle, as well as a duck pond, rose garden and tea rooms. Wildlife enthusiasts meanwhile shouldn’t miss the adjacent Saumarez Nature Trail with its richly carpeted wildflower woods, banana trees, birdsong and butterflies. Don’t be afraid to take everyone along either – the owner himself has noted that children especially seem to find a trip through the flowers uplifting.
Step back in time with a visit to the nearby Guernsey Folk Museum situated in the outbuildings of a stately home. Your children will see just how lucky they are nowadays when they visit the Victorian schoolrooms, playroom, wash house, dairy and plough room which all depict life as it used to be on the island around 100 years ago.
Another attraction which always proves popular with youngsters is the shipwreck museum at Fort Grey, known locally as the ‘Cup and Saucer’ because of its shape. It tells the story of the island’s numerous shipwrecks, with salvaged artefacts including cutlery, candlesticks and crockery from the SS Yorouba which broke apart on the rocks in 1888. The nearby sands provide the opportunity to go rock-pooling, paddling or beachcombing.
Myths and legends
Folklore is bred into Guernsey, and its history has been shaped by the presence of fairies, witches, werewolves and other supernatural beings. It’s not hard to see why either, since for most Guernsey residents these are not just legends, but ways of life. One particular spot is known as Le Variouf – the werewolf – named after the furred beasts that were said to roam the streets at night. Originally a legend spread by smugglers to hide their nightly activities, the name has stuck and so has the story.
Other places offer more physical evidence. Le Creux ès Faies is a Neolithic passage tomb, dating back to around 3000 BCE, and is affectionately referred to as the entrance to the Fairy Kingdom, the underground world that they came from. Alternatively you can visit the Table des Pions, a large arrangement of rocks known locally as the fairy ring. It’s said that if you walk around the ring three times and make a wish, then it will come true.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, a trip to the unsettling Lihou Island may be for you. Accessible only by an ancient causeway when the tide is low, it’s home to an ancient, ruined pagan priory, and is a protected area thanks to the seabirds that nest there. Many legends swirl around the island – tales of dark magic and devil worship – but the discovery of 15 skeletons underneath the priory and evidence of a mysterious cult show that perhaps the truth is not as far off as you might think.
A must-see is the Little Chapel of St Andrews, charming creation of Benedictine monk, Brother Deodat. He re-created a scale model of the Basilica at Lourdes and painstakingly encrusted it in thousands of pebbles, seashells and colourful pieces of broken china. Inside, there is only space for the priest and perhaps three people, earning it the title of one of the smallest functioning chapels in the world.
Don’t expect to find chain outlets like McDonalds, Pizza Huts or Starbucks in Guernsey. Instead there are owner-run eateries to suit every pocket from beach cafes and country pubs to gourmet restaurants.
‘Bean jar’ is a deliciously more-ish bean stew that you shouldn’t even think about leaving Guernsey without sampling. ‘Gâche’ – pronounced ‘gosh’ – is the island’s famous fruit loaf, traditionally eaten smothered with rich golden Guernsey butter, and just in case your sweet tooth isn’t truly satisfied, Gâche melee is an alluringly thick local apple cake that comes hot with a dollop of cinnamon ice-cream. Oh, and don’t forget to grab a big bowl of moules – mussels – while you’re here, as they’re some of the freshest you’ll find anywhere.
Tennerfest is an island-wide, six-week-long food extravaganza. Every October more than 50 of the island’s restaurants compete to come up with the best fixed-price menus that they can put together. It’s the perfect time to experience the fresh creations of the island’s top chefs.
Before leaving Guernsey…
Take a day out to pop across to neighbouring Sark or Herm by boat. Both islands are only a short distance away, and share a long and mysterious history thanks to the pirates that inhabited the otherwise abandoned land. Like modern-day sirens, they used lights to lure sailors onto the rocks, plundering the shipwrecks. Even today, the islands hold an air of haunting mystery, only accentuated by the Neolithic structures and unspoilt wilderness that covers them.
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