Guernsey

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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For my two night add-on trip to Guernsey, I stayed on the outskirts of St Peter Port, the capital of the island. Just like St Helier on Jersey, the harbour is right in the town centre, so travelling by boat is super easy.

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As the ferry sailed into St Peter Port, I immediately noticed that Guernsey  is quite different to Jersey. For one, the hills are a lot steeper. When I booked my accommodation on booking.com, the guest house was described as a 25 minute walk from the harbour. I figured that would be fairly easy with just hand luggage. What I didn’t realise, however, was that the 25 minute walk was up a near vertical climb. OK, that may be an exaggeration, but the residents of St Peter Port must have some of the strongest leg muscles in the world walking up and down those hills all day. When I found my guesthouse, I was a little annoyed to discover a sign on the door telling new guests to check in at another hotel, 80m back down the hill. Not overjoyed at the thought of having to back track, only to then climb the same 80m again still carrying my rucksack, I set off back down the hill. I passed two guys who saw my expression, smiled at me and said ‘we just did the same thing’. Somebody was definitely looking down on me during my time on Guernsey, though. My first bit of good luck was the receptionist telling me he had a spare room in the main hotel and giving me a free upgrade, also saving me that extra 80m trek in the bargain.

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I made a lot of journeys up and down that hill in the following two days. St Peter Port’s labyrinth of winding, narrow streets and my distinct lack of any sense of direction combined to ensure I never took the same route twice. Every time I was confident I’d figured out the best route, I’d find myself stuck in a dead end or approaching the coast a couple of hundred metres along from where I expected to be. It also took me a while to figure out the different harbours, which is an issue when the guide book uses them as landmarks. That is the charm of St Peter Port, though. It’s a great place to just wander and get lost, enjoy a coffee or window shop. On my first evening there, I grabbed some snacks from the Co-operative (still an actual local Co-operative on the Channel Islands) and made the most of the lovely weather by sitting on one of the harbours to enjoy my dinner. There are not many places in the world that would let you sit on a park bench amongst multi-million pound yachts while you munch on hummus and vegetables, but the boat owners seemed quite happy to leave me be while they went about their business.

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Guernsey is about half the size of Jersey, although with about two thirds of the population so the roads are quite a bit busier. They’re also a lot narrower, especially across the middle of the island where it is very rural, the speed limit down to 15 mph in most places. I assume because of the narrower roads and slightly lower, although still pretty high, level of wealth on the island, cars are generally smaller. There are very few of the huge, four wheel drive monsters that are a common show of personal wealth on Jersey, even though their roads aren’t really designed for them nor does the terrain require it. Cars on Guernsey are more practical, they have to be otherwise no-one would ever get anywhere. I did notice one man driving round in a very flash sports car, which I thought odd because he must never get it over 30 mph. He seemed happy, though.

As I spent a whole day on Herm, I only had half a day to explore outside of St Peter Port. My flight was departing at 4pm, so I needed a way to see the island and still get back to my hotel in time to leave for the airport at 2.45pm (the nice staff at the Grisnoir Guesthouse/Abbey Court Hotel offer free transport to and from the airport). There is a local bus service that loops the island, but due to it’s size it’s restricted to the wider roads along the coast. I considered hiring a car, but it’s difficult to actually see anything when you’re the one trying to navigate the roads, and I wouldn’t have had a clue what I was looking at anyway. I ventured to the Guernsey Information Centre for some inspiration, only to find there wasn’t much on offer. Then I noticed a flyer for Tour Guernsey. Run by Andy Taylor, born and bred on the island who just wants to show everyone how amazing his home is, they offer unique tours of the island in their 11 seater Land Rover. And, the tours are approximately 3 hours long to fit in with cruise ship arrivals, so it was perfect for me. For not much more than I would have  paid for the hire car, I’d also got a real local guide  who could tell me all about the things I was looking at. This was when my second wave of good luck hit me. None of the cruise ship passengers wanted to join the tour that day. It was a German cruise ship and, although I offered my translation skills, they weren’t keen on an English speaking excursion. I thought Andy would cancel the excursion with only me booked on, but he said he was happy to carry on with only one passenger. So, I got my very own private tour! Not only that, but he said we would get to see even more because we’d save time not having to wait for the other passengers to get in and out.

I am so glad I picked up that Tour Guernsey flyer, I had so much fun touring the island with Andy. There was history, culture, beautiful scenery, industry and stories only a local would know. We drove down lots of those narrow lanes I mentioned earlier, along the coastline and even through a field at one point. Almost every person we met knew Andy. The locals are obviously still getting used to the sight of the open-sided safari-style Land Rover driving around, one old lady teasing Andy by asking if we’d seen any lions yet.

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We stopped outside St Martin’s church, where the Grandmother of the Cemetery stands. The pagan stone carving, originally created about 4,000 years ago and then updated two thousand years later, is a local good luck charm. She originally stood in the church grounds, but was moved by Christian church members to the edge of the property. They even tried to destroy her at one point by pushing her over. Locals came to her rescue and put her back together, although she still has a crack through her middle.

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As we drove across the centre of the island, Andy told me about the agricultural history. There are hundreds of commercial size greenhouses filling the fields, but most of them are derelict today. Guernsey once had a thriving fresh produce industry, but as it became cheaper to import from other countries with hotter climates, like Spain, to the UK the demand dwindled. Islanders, including Andy, have lots of ideas for other uses for the greenhouses, but the problem is that they are only licensed to be used for growing fresh produce. I hope this is an issue that Guernsey resolves soon because it’s so sad to see all that potential resource go to waste and ruin the Guernsey landscape. I’d love to go back to Guernsey one day and see they’ve become a new centre for some ecologically sound product like hemp or bamboo. Which brings me nicely along to our next stop on the tour, because the hemp and bamboo could be used to make an eco-friendly version of the famous Guernsey jumper. I have to admit, visiting a Guernsey factory wasn’t on my to-do list. Aside from the fact I’m vegan, I’m also allergic to any kind of animal wool. I think I must have been the most awkward looking visitor they’ve ever had! Having said that, I did appreciate the tour and explanation of how the Guernseys are produced, and it’s fascinating. The machines had been turned off for the day by the time we arrived, which I was actually glad of because standing in a room full of flying wool fibres can get itchy and uncomfortable for me to say the least. The main sections of the Guernseys are woven on huge looms at the small factory, before being sent to knitters dotted all over the island who start to piece them together. Then, they return to the factory to be finished off. The factory has customers all over the world, and you  can expect your Guernsey to last for around 20 years. Even then, it can be returned to the factory for mending. The most common downfall of a Guernsey is a frayed collar, which can easily be replaced. If they weren’t made of wool, I’d recommend them as an almost zero waste product.

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Keeping up the historic rivalry between the two islands, Guernsey’s west coast competes with Jersey for wartime defence structures. They are everywhere, dotted in between historic forts and stunning beaches. Once again, Andy was very knowledgeable about the wartime history of the island.

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This is where we stopped for a refreshment break. I felt disappointed that I had to get to the airport in just a couple of hours, I would have loved to spend a few days chilling in the sun on the beaches of the west coast.

We talked about the newly released movie The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, it’s portrayal of Guernsey during the war, and the effect it will have on local tourism. I bombarded Andy with questions about living on the Channel Islands, and the relationship between the different islands.

Whether you have a half day, like me, or a week to explore Guernsey I would definitely recommend taking one of the tours with Tour Guernsey. There really is no better way to experience a location than with a local.

Useful Info

Ferry Jersey to Guernsey: £31.00 (foot passenger)

2 nights accommodation @ Grisnoir Guesthouse: £76.50

Tour Guernsey REAL Guernsey Tour: £55

 

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Herm

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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As I mentioned in my earlier post from Jersey, I really wanted to visit at least one of the smaller Channel Islands on my trip. Only 20 minutes on the ferry from Guernsey, where I stayed for the second part of my trip, Herm is the perfect day excursion to experience another side to Channel Island life. Boats run daily, and tickets can be bought from the Trident kiosk between the Weighbridge Clock Tower and the harbour.

Peter Wood, a retired army major, arrived in Herm in 1949 and set about transforming it into his idea of paradise. As the island’s tenant he owned the hotel, pub, shops and cattle. His successors have continued his work since he passed away in 1998. Their lease expires in 2050.

Rules are strict in Herm. You are not allowed to play radio in the open, there are no cars on the island (although the locals do use quad bikes to transport cargo) and, apart from for the children who live there, cycling is forbidden. However, as the island is only 500 acres in size, and you can walk around the whole thing in less than two hours, the transport restrictions at least shouldn’t bother you.

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Unless you’re happy staying in the Harbour Port, home to the tavern and a handful of eating options, Herm is only for the active. Although there are varying grades of difficulty to the multitude of paths that crisscross the island, to see anything worthwhile you will have to walk up steep hills and along cliff paths. Turquoise signs tell you how many minutes it takes to reach the sites. DSC_0194

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I decided to turn left at the port and circumnavigate the island, sticking to the coastal path as much as possible and then finally cut across the middle to the main village. With that route I could cover pretty much everything to see on the island.

The first site of interest is the small, two-person cemetery that was created when the cholera epidemic of 1832 claimed two victims travelling on a passing ship. Further along the path, I found Robert’s Cross and the remains of a prehistoric tomb.

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All the scenery on Herm is exceptionally beautiful, but the northeast coast makes it hard to believe you are still in the British Isles. On a sunny day, which I was lucky to have, stepping on to Shell Beach is like stepping into another, tropical world. Indeed, this beach has the highest incidence of sunburn in the Channel Islands. The name Shell Beach comes from the many varieties of shells that gravitate here from all over the world. If you want to know more about the shells you find, the beach cafe sells guide books. The much smaller, but still beautiful, Belvoir Bay is another popular sunbathing spot.

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From Belvoir Bay, a lot of people take the path inland through the main village where the islanders live. I stuck to the coastal path back round to the port and explored the much quieter south of the island. The landscape is totally different on this part of the island. The cliff top paths can be quite treacherous in places, and it was so quiet I could hardly believe I’d just been on a beach packed with sunbathers. I saw hardly any other walkers on this stretch of the coast, I could see why the local puffins choose to live there.

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Once back in the port, I was pretty tired. But I couldn’t come to Herm without seeing everything, so I braced myself for one last hill to the main village. There are only 10 families that live on Herm, so it’s small even by regular village standards. The little cluster of houses is a fascinating insight into what it must be like to live in such a small community. Halfway up the hill to the village, someone had the great idea of developing an area of woodland that makes a much more scenic route than the main path. It at least helped to distract me from the steep hill.

Info

Ferry from Guernsey to Herm: £13.50 return

Eating vegan in Jersey

Please note: this post is part of a series. Click here to read from the beginning.

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Before I flew to Jersey, I had visions of myself living off rice cakes and fruit from the supermarket. Usually, when visiting anywhere with a sizeable population, a quick search on HappyCow and a couple of questions on Facebook results in a fairly lengthy list of options. With Jersey, though, I was a bit worried. The limited recommendations I was getting from people were generally not good for a gluten-free diet.

I needn’t have worried, though. The few options on HappyCow were very good, and I was also lucky to have a friend on the island who did lots of research for me before I arrived. Most of my friends are omnivore, but I am extremely lucky that they are very supportive of my vegan diet and understanding about my gluten allergy. My friend not only managed to find restaurants with vegan and gluten-free options for me, by the time I left for the next part of my trip in Guernsey I’d eaten so much good food I could barely walk onto the boat!

Breakfast

Usually, my friends and I like to book Airbnb type accommodation when we travel together. There are lots of benefits to this, including that we usually have access to a kitchen and I can prepare my own food if I need to. Unfortunately, we were unable to find suitable options in Jersey that didn’t cost a fortune. Instead, I found the Stafford Hotel on booking.com. Most of the accommodation options included breakfast, and I figured that if I have to pay for breakfast I should at least find a hotel where they have vegan options. Admittedly, I didn’t contact the hotel in advance, but I chose the Stafford because all the reviews said they had an excellent breakfast buffet. So, unusually for me as I practice intermittent fasting and don’t normally have my first meal until after 11am, I started everyday with hash browns, beans, fresh fruit and coffee from the hotel. For a 2 star hotel, we were very pleased with the Stafford. It’s a rickety old building with very thin walls (I could hear someone snoring very loudly from another room, and was kept awake by creaking floorboards in the corridor outside), but it’s exceptionally clean with good facilities and very attentive staff. The team at the hotel seemed very eager to please, and I’m sure if you contacted them in advance they would do their best to provide more vegan options for breakfast.

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Moo

Whether you are vegan, omnivore or part-time flexitarian (?) you have to stop at Moo for lunch. I bought mine to go and ate it in the sunshine in Royal Square. Moo aim to offer as much local, seasonal, organic produce as possible. They have lots of vegan and gluten-free options, and the staff are the coolest people to have a chat too whilst they’re preparing your food. I had the beetroot and mint rice paper wrap (I’d advise you to pick up cutlery if you choose the wrap, it got a bit messy) and a sloan ranger juice. I also tried some of their juice shots whilst I was in the cafe.

Cafe Spice

Handily located right opposite our hotel, Cafe Spice offers excellent Indian cuisine and great customer service. The entire vegetarian menu, except the korma, is vegan and gluten-free if you order with the boiled rice. Poppadoms are also vegan and gluten-free. The manager got very excited when I asked about the vegan options, telling me they’d had a large vegan group in the night before and proudly showing me the Viva card they’d left.

Banjo

For a more upmarket night out, Banjo is a great restaurant, although make sure you book in advance. There are 2 dining rooms, decorated in different styles, and a cocktail bar. If you have a passion for interior design, you should definitely check out this restaurant. As well as the cool eating and drinking areas, the bathrooms have also been designed in a very unique style. They have a couple of vegan options. I chose the lentil curry, which was lovely. My only disappointment was the poor selection of vegan and gluten-free spirits. The bar is known for it’s cocktails, but unfortunately I couldn’t try any of them.

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El Tico

I think El Tico is probably my favourite spot out of everywhere I ate on Jersey. They have a separate vegan menu with gluten-free options, huge portions and the food tasted amazing. I chose the tico super salad (see picture above) which I can highly recommend. My only disappointment was that my fruit smoothie (ingredients vary depending on fruit available) was served in a plastic cup with a plastic straw, and not particularly big for what I paid. The use of plastic was a shame, as I’d noticed lots of bars and restaurants around the island using paper straws and trying to discourage customers from using them at all. If you are easily offended by the smell of seafood, El Tico might not be the best place for you. Most people in the restaurant were eating mussels as this is the local delicacy.

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Big Vern’s

Big Vern’s is the restaurant I was least impressed with. It looked really hopeful. They had vegan options clearly marked on the menu, including a vegetable curry which I went for. The menu clearly stated that it’s vegan if you ask for it without the yogurt, but when I tried to order none of the serving staff knew what a vegan is. I patiently tried to explain, and also said I didn’t want the naan bread that came with the meal because I’m allergic to gluten. Not once, but twice I was served the curry with naan bread and yogurt. Having said that, once I actually received the meal I ordered, it did taste really good. It’s just a shame that the staff don’t know their own menu.

Pizza Express

I’m sure you are all aware of Pizza Express, but I have included them here to show that there are chain restaurant options on Jersey as well. We went to Pizza Express one evening for a meal, and it was lovely. I had the Vegan Giardiniera with gluten free base.

Jersey Zoo

We opted to take a picnic for our day at the zoo, but there is a cafe there. I don’t know about the meal options, but I thought I’d include it in the post because I noticed they had a vegan and gluten-free cake on the menu.

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Guernsey/Herm

As I mentioned above, I felt like I ate my own body weight in amazing vegan food whilst I was on Jersey. For that reason, and also because I was travelling alone once I left Jersey and trying to cram in as much as I could, I just lived off snacks whilst I was on Guernsey and Herm. The Co-operative in St Peters Port has a great selection of vegan and gluten-free options, including the Savse smoothies pictured above which I found to be a handy breakfast option.