The Hendersons A week on Guernsey in La Barbarie
England and Guernsey - 2001
Saturday, July 14 - Sedlescomb - Gatwick - Guernsey
Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. Guernsey will be a great place to celebrate.
We leave Sedlescombe at 8:00 a.m. and drive to Gatwick. We arrive plenty early for our flight – good thing because Gatwick is sheer pandemonium. It is crowded and confusing. We almost get on the wrong plane.
The flight to Guernsey is brief – less than an hour. Guernsey is beautiful – quaint, clean and a mass of flowers. We will enjoy exploring this little island.
We queue up for a taxi to take us from the airport to our digs, La Barbarie. I think there are only a half dozen taxies on the island. Although we are 5th or 6th in line, we wait 45 minutes for a cab.
The ride is short and we arrive before our apartment is ready. We have lunch next to the pool – fresh crab sandwiches – they are plain, but delicious.
After our room is ready we begin unpacking and Tom assembles Tucats. We aren’t renting a car here – the island is so small we can’t justify the expense.
Reading through the literature it sounds like Guernsey closes down on Sunday – no shops, no petrol , no bus. We get directions to the nearest ‘supermarket’ and hop on Tucats – it isn’t far. It also isn’t a supermarket. We buy enough provisions to get us through Sunday. We’ve brought a back pack with us, so Tom packs the purchases in it, our handlebar bag and our rack pack. I put the backpack on and we peddle back to the flat.
We decide to go for a walk to nearby Saints’ Bay. We didn’t realize that it is sharply down hill – no bike riding to this beach for us, we’d never make it back. The view from the bay is of France.
Sunday, July 15 - Guernsey
The weather is a bit changeable today. We want to explore St. Peter Port and some of the surrounding countryside.
The main road to St. Peter Port looks quite busy, so we take unclassified roads to the town. The TI is open and we get some maps and information about day trips to other islands within the Channel Isle system. Since we are without car, our pace is leisurely. We peddle out to a place called Oat House. They have cheese shop/manufacturer and a chocolate shop/manufacturer. Because it is Sunday, the shops are open, but they don’t have any production going on. They also have a jeweler, so I buy a pair of earrings for my mother.
Tom has learned that there is a Safeway in St. Peter Port, so we peddle in that direction. It is closed, but at least now we know where it is located.
We go to the waterfront area of St. Peter Port and peddle around. We tour Cornet Castle, which sort of sticks out into the bay with views of Herm, Jethou and Sark, three of the small islands nearby. The Germans fortified this medieval castle in WWII with guns and it must have been a superb defense. It is easy to tell what is original – the blocks are irregular and old – from the German additions, which look like cinder blocks. The Germans built or adapted parts of the castle for munitions stores – some of them are named after German women – Frieda, Maria. I suppose they missed their wives and sweethearts, but I find it hard to shrug off the violence they brought to these very peaceful islands in their five-year occupation.
We decide to peddle to the German Occupation Museum near the airport. The road out of St. Peter Port is very steep – we walk Tucats most of the way up the hill. Because we’ve gotten lost so many times today – many roads are unmarked and our map doesn’t name all of the roads – we arrive at the museum a half-hour before closing. We decide to return there another day and peddle toward our flat. It should be ˝ mile. By the time we backtrack because of wrong turns, we travel two miles. This is a beautiful place, but you can’t get anywhere in a hurry unless you know exactly the route you are going to take.
Monday, July 16 - Guernsey
We have a well-planned day today, with a trip to Sark as a highlight, but things don’t quite work out!
We get a bit of a late start, but head on a ride beginning near St. Peter Port. Our goal is ‘L’Ancresse’ (The Anchorage). This is on the north of the island. Tony and Stephanie Clarke (Tony worked with Tom in Copenhagen – he married Stephanie some years later, then he died of an asbestos related cancer when he was in his early 40s) honeymooned here. They named their cottage in Reading ‘L’Ancresse’, which struck me as an excellent name for a place where two people intended to spend their lives together. Tony was a physicist before he became a computer programmer. He was very bright. We miss him.
Anyway, we cut our route short because we want to get some shopping done at the Safeway in St. Peter Port. We’ll have to try this route later.
The ‘supermarket’ is pretty small, but we manage to get most of what we need. We pack it all up in the handle bar bag, rack pack and backpack and head back – only three miles – to our flat. There are some hills, but they aren’t bad, so we manage to get back without too much effort. However, we are too late for the boat to Sark. Another day, perhaps. We must be on Island time – we can’t seem to accomplish everything we want!
We have a sausage roll for lunch, but it is inadequate, so we peddle over to a nearby teashop. While we have a cup of tea and a cake, we strike up a conversation with a local man who married a Guernsey woman and moved here in the mid-1970’s. He gives us a tip on a bike route on the West Coast of Guernsey along with some favorite restaurants. We have a good chat, then head for the German Occupation Museum.
This is a small museum, but well done. Poor Channel Isles – occupied for five years. Many residents left before the Germans arrived – small children and military age men – and the Germans deported or imprisoned many more. Several were executed and others starved. These were the most heavily fortified areas under German occupation because of their strategic importance.
We leave the museum and follow, to some extent, one of the bike routes published by TI. We are continually amazed by the flowers here – although there are many houses with little or no garden, so many places are surrounded by riotous colors. Freesias, hydrangeas, African daisies, roses, nasturtiums, pansies, petunias, geraniums, begonias, lavetera, alyssum, more flowers than I can name. The mild climate and good soil (red, somewhat like Prince Edward Island) combine to make this a gardener’s paradise. Added to this the British love of gardening and you have a perfect combination.
Tuesday, July 17 - Guernsey
We wake to a tremendous wind and a real gullywasher of a rainstorm. Doesn’t look like much biking today. Tom works on his computer project until the rain lets up enough for us to take the bus to St. Peter Port.
We check e-mail, then have lunch at a busy café in the High Street. The weather clears enough that we walk to the house of Victor Hugo, who lived on Guernsey while exiled, first from France, then Belgium, then Holland. He decorated the house himself and it is full of symbolism about his exile and his beliefs on the nature of God and His relationship to man.
The wood in the house is very dark and some of the rooms have tapestries on the walls and covering the ceilings. All in all, I can’t say I like the house, but it does express Hugo’s frustration with being exiled.
We take the bus back to our flat, do a bit of laundry (the machines here take forever – 1 ˝ hours to wash, one hour to dry).
Wednesday, July 18 - Guernsey
Today looks promising – there are clouds, but they don’t look threatening.
We leave by 9:30. We had planned a fairly long ride, then a boat trip to the Isle of Sark, but we realize that we’ll be rushed, so we cut our ride down to about 10 miles. We are finally, at the end of our holiday, getting to be strong riders and don’t have to push Tucats up any hills. Our ride is through pretty countryside on small country lanes.
We have lunch at the flat, then take the bus to St. Peter Port to catch the boat to Sark. As we come round the curve overlooking the harbor we see a huge cruise ship anchored just out of the harbor. We learn it is a Holland-American lines cruise ship, the Amsterdam. The harbor isn’t large enough for it to come in, so they use life boats to ferry passengers into the town.
The High Street in St. Peter Port is really pretty – well maintained and lively. Because Guernsey is a tax haven, there is no VAT, so tourist shopping is pretty popular.
I’ve also learned that Guernsey must be a banking haven. The yellow pages has 45 or 50 banks (not branches, but actual banking establishments). We see a lot of people in business dress – suits, skirts, blouses, high heels. We also see more expensive cars than makes sense on an island with no motorways, and, quite frankly, pretty skimpy roads.
Anyway, we board the boat to Sark – it is a nine mile, 45 minute journey. We pass Jethou (private island) and many ‘piles of rocks’ between Guernsey and Sark.
Sark isn’t at all what I expected. The boat lands at the base of the harbor. Some people opt to take the tractor drawn carriage to the top. We opt to walk. It is pretty steep, but well shaded, so not unpleasant.
The “High Street” has a few shops in wooden buildings. Nothing particularly interesting. I had imagined quaint little shops, covered in flowers – the sort of thing you’d find in the Cotswolds. I had no idea the streets would be dirt – but if you don’t have cars, why bother paving the streets? Most people on the island, and the tourists, bike. Cars are not allowed. ‘Heavy lifting’ is done by tractors.
Sark is tiny – 3 miles by 1.5 miles with 550 residents. There is a feudal manor house, which we don’t visit. We walk along the road and look for a place for tea. The first hotel advertises tea, but we can’t find anyone around. We walk a bit further and find another hotel, and at least there are people here. We have cake and tea, then continue our walk. The road changes to a cliff top pathway. The view is spectacular. Eventually we get to the causeway connecting Big and Little Sark. What a beautiful sight.
We stop at a chocolatier nearby – their wares look wonderful, but we have to be careful about taking too much luggage.
We stroll along the road to the “High Street”, then down to the boat moorage. Our trip to Guernsey is a bit rough, but pleasant.
We pass the Isle of Breghou just off Sark. There is a gray, imposing building on it. Wonder what it is?
After we get back to Guernsey we take the bus back to the area near our flat. The driver is very funny – he tells us to put our trust in him, just like we do the Lord, he’ll get us as close to our digs as possible.
We are both tired, but content. Sark is interesting, but not a place we’d go back to. At least we can mark one place off our list.
Thursday, July 19 - Guernsey
Today is our last day of real sightseeing and ‘holiday.’ The weather is perfect – a few puffy white clouds, a light breeze, plenty of sunshine.
We leave the flat around 9:30 and peddle to the German Underground Hospital. This is the remains of an 800 bed hospital hewn into the rocks under orders of the Germans during the occupation. They used prisoners from other occupied countries to build the hospital, which they began in 1940, the same year they began the occupation of Guernsey.
What an ‘inhospitable’ hospital! It is cold, damp and dark. The passages go deep into the hill. The lighting, provided by harsh fluorescent lights, is inadequate. We can’t imagine being a patient here – far from home, probably frightened and lonely. Even though medical care was provided by their fellow countrymen, the patients couldn’t have been particularly comfortable. After D-Day (1944) many of the wounded from the French front were sent here. Given the lack of food on the island at that time and the conditions in the hospital, they must have had a high mortality rate.
The last part of the museum has island newspapers from the beginning of the war through surrender by the Germans. During the occupation the local newspaper was very much a German propaganda piece – glowing tributes to German military might, accounts of German tolls on British shipping, glowing paeans to the Fuhrer. Then, abruptly, a change to reporting news such as the liberation of the Islands.
The rest of the day is spent on Tucats. We cycle to the South West coast of Guernsey and follow the main road to the north near L’Ancresse. The wind is fairly constant, but the day is warm and pleasant. We stop for lunch near Les Sablon – originally we had planned to have lunch at a café that was recommended by a local man, but the fare isn’t that appealing. There is a very nice Indian restaurant along the main road, so we lunch on pekoras, naan, pilaf and chicken tikka.
Tonight we have dinner at La Barbarie. We have a wonderful fixed price meal – prawns in filo for starters, a fruit sorbet, Scottish salmon in prawn sauce, fresh vegs. Tom has profitaroles in chocolate sauce, I have a tart. Too much food, but beautifully prepared and served.
Friday, July 20 - Guernsey - Wraysbury
Today we travel from Guernsey to England. We take a cab to the airport for an early check in. What a rude surprise when the gate agent tells us we are only allowed one bag each (we have 2) and the rest need to go standby. Turns out they consider us domestic passengers because we aren’t checked through to an international flight. We can’t check through to our flight to Seattle because there isn’t enough time to make a connection from Gatwick to Heathrow. Tom had talked to two agents before we left and was assured our luggage would be OK. Obviously there is a communication problem between the telephone agents and the gate agents.
We are most unhappy and make our feelings known to the TI representative at the airport.
As it turns out, our luggage does all make it on the flight, which is only an hour. Tom had read we could get a voucher for transport to Heathrow if we had a flight leaving LHR within 24 hours. That saves us about ₤30 in taxi fare, which is nice.
It takes nearly 1 ˝ hours to get to LHR because of the rush hour traffic. Once there, I talk to the customer service rep and make seat selections for our trip home – upper deck, front row.
We take a cab to Wraysbury and the Oast Barn, our B & B for the last night. We are the only guests – good thing as the room isn’t en suite.
The owner recommends a local pub for dinner – The Perseverance. We have an excellent meal – fried Brie in a red current sauce. I have stilton chicken – a boneless, skinless chicken breast sliced in half with a piece of stilton between the two halves and a stilton sauce – it is wonderful.
After dinner we stop at The George for a nightcap, then back to the Oast Barn for the night. We are very close to Heathrow, but the air traffic stops at 11:00 p.m., so we have a reasonably quiet night.
Saturday, July 21 - Wraysbury - Heathrow - Seattle
Ready to fly home. This has been a super holiday. We are happy that son Tom is at our home in Lakewood so we can have a visit, even if it is brief.
The cab driver to LHR is quite chatty – he recommends visiting the Isle of Man – lots to see there, he says.
We are more than a little irritated to find that our seats have been reassigned and we are not getting the seats we had requested! That’s two strikes against British Airways – we’ve traveled BA several times before and have always been impressed by the service, but we intend to be very vocal about our dissatisfaction with this. Instead of upper deck, front row, we are next to the last row in lower deck. Although everyone is apologetic, doesn’t make us feel a lot better.
BA is instituting a “World Traveler Plus” service – costs a bit more, but there is more legroom. I hope they have that available the next time we fly.
All in all this has been a wonderful holiday. – we’ve seen and done things that are entirely new. Our travels, except for the baggage allowance yesterday and the seat assignment today, have gone on without a hitch. We’ve tracked our expenses and are within 5% of budget, probably better because of the favorable exchange rates lately. We’ve learned a lot about booking travels using the internet – as more places get web sites, this will become even easier.
Thus endeth Tom and Marilyn’s excellent adventure.