A Weekend in Guernsey

When you find out that someone has been keeping a secret from you – it can make you react in two ways; annoyance that you hadn’t been told before… and excitement that you’ve found out now. The question is – what’s the first rule about Guernsey Club?

A *ahem* few years ago, I was at University in Canterbury in Kent, UK [yes – I really did go to University, although not to study journalism. Clearly] – back in those days I was heavily involved in the University Sailing and Windsurfing Club, not a huge club, our members numbered around 15-20 ish active participants, and maybe triple that everytime we organised a booze cruise to France. How odd.

Anyway – the point of this trip down memory lane for me was the recent revalation that despite drawing from across the University’s diverse population, we seemed to have a disproportionate amount of Channel Islanders on our books. I guess when the sea is always that close, then sailing is always an option.

Fast forward 10 (ish) years, and it was time to pay a visit to a friend from days of yore. I’d been invited to visit my friend in Guernsey for some time, but the stars had never aligned – maybe now was time.

So. How does one get to Guernsey. Short answer is by boat (portsmouth) or plane (London Gatwick). As I’m based in the South-east of the UK, flying was the easier option. The flight times were good – so good in fact, that I was able to be at my desk working in the morning, and have my feet wet in the Sea at St Peter Port before sundown.

I’ll be honest now. I flew with FlyBe, and as good as the flight, service, and passage through the airport was… I couldn’t help being slightly disappointed when I was led onto my (jet) plane. I had been promised a twin propeller plane. Oh well, I guess I have to move with the time – although it would have added a little novelty to the trip. You can also fly with Aurigny Air Services who service Guernsey, Jersey, and Alderney and do have the prop planes.

As if by magic, good planning, or just sheer luck, the Friday evening I arrived also happened to be the night of the Guernsey Round Table Annual Harbour Festival. A wonderful atmosphere had descended on St Peter Port and the harbour was filled to bursting with locals, tourists, and stalls. A magnificent programme of events had been organised by the Round Table including Dinghy races, a tug-of-war, and a raft race between members of the emergency services (and the sea scouts).

My host for the weekend was crewing on one of the rafts, so my first job on arrival was to fill two buckets with water balloons to erm impede the paths of the other crews. Or at least make sure they were wet before they hit the water.

With the taped on emergency lights flashing, and the car-battery-powered sirens blaring out, the crowds cheering from the harbour walls and a countdown from the crowd, the racing was off. Well – aside from a little capsize or two it was paddles down and the race was on.

The fire service raft had a little helping hand when, from behind the harbour wall, suddenly appeared the ladder from one of their fire engines, complete with hose on the end of a boom arm, promptly spraying the competing crews and putting them at a slightly increased risk of needing rescuing by each other.

A couple of smoke flares later, some very wet crews appeared back on the slipway and someone was crowned the winner. Couldn’t tell you who – but it was fun, and the Pimms was good!

A couple of quick games of Crown and Castle, the local dice game, and I was up on my winnings – the next big event of the evening was the man powered flight competition – contraptions, costumes, and courage; all launched off the top of a scaffold tower Red Bull style. We took up a ringside seat on one of the marina pontoons and watched as man proved definitively that flight is best left to winged creatures.

The evening moved on at it was time for the fireworks finale. We hopped aboard the water taxi across to the Yacht Club and watched as Guernsey proved that it knows how to put on an amazing fireworks display. I guess austerity got stopped at the border checks.

Saturday dawned, and having shaken off the Pimms, I was invited aboard a RIB for the short journey across to Herm – the holiday island paradise island just east of Guernsey.

RIB trip to Herm
RIB trip to Herm

Herm is the smallest of the Channel Islands that’s open to the public and is famous for the fact that cars are banned (as on Sark). Bicycles are also banned on Herm, although tractors and quad bikes do scoot around for the resident farmers/tourism. Herm is only 1.5 miles long and less than half a mile wide so after a quick stroll around to the other side of the island, we took up residence on Belvoir beach and promptly cooked in the glorious sunshine.

Sometimes it’s difficult to explain in words just how beautiful a place is. I can only recommend that you go there and see for yourself. The light is different, the reflection of the sun all around you, the colours of the beaches almost glow. The only sounds are of children splashing, families enjoying themselves and the clink of the petanque competition taking place further up the beach.

It was also here that I decided to settle the age old question of iPad vs Kindle for reading. I can confirm that not only is it impossible to read through the reflective iPad screen – but the metal body also gets bloody hot!

Back to Guernsey, and on the Sunday we took a car tour around Guernsey – stopping off at all the various viewpoints, historical monuments, and the wonderfully amicable kiosks serving teas, coffee, snacks, and importantly – cheesy chips.

Time was short, too short, really to explore all that Guernsey has to offer. So with little more than a half hour to clear check-in, customs, and baggage control (roughly a 20 yard stretch of the airport), I departed back for Blighty and left behind what must be one of the most amazing secrets of the British Isles. You don’t even need a passport to visit (as a British citizen) – your driving license will do.

Flights are cheap, it doesn’t take long, and they have one of the best traffic management systems I’ve seen at junctions. I’d tell you… but you know the rules.