It looks magical on a sunny day – the porcelain glitters in the sunlight. Every available surface of the exquisite, colourfully kitsch Little Chapel, a tiny replica of Lourdes, is covered in a myriad of tiny pieces of china, pebbles and glass; the effect is gloriously OTT.
I am on the first stop of a brief but comprehensive tour of a few delights of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands off St Malo Bay, France. Throughout the island, many of the signs are in English AND French. It is raining in a half-hearted, but persistent way that shows no sign of stoppin. My guide, Sylvia, is typical of many people who live here – they visit once and don’t want to leave. She was fortunate enough to marry a local (it is VERY expensive to move here without such an intro) 45 years ago and clearly loves every inch of it. She is the first, but will not be the last, person to apologise for the weather; these islands are renowned for their balmy climate, embraced by the Gulf Stream, that at present appears to have taken a holiday elsewhere.
Driving on towards Pleinmont Point, she describes the troubled times this island went through during WWII. This is brought vividly to life by a sinister concrete look-out tower and a huge gun, restored in exactly the same position the German troops had placed it over 70 years ago.
The weather is ‘bracing’ and unseasonal. Standing on the edge of a high cliff we fail to make out the Hanois Lighthouse, shrouded in sea mist. It stands as a warning to ships that this is a wild coast that shares its place on the edge of the awesome Atlantic. Strong winds buffet us as we scurry back to the car, past masses of pretty, bedraggled wild flowers.
We drop by ‘Le Creux ès Faïes’ or Cave of the Fairies, in reality a prehistoric tomb, one of a number of ancient relics from Guernsey’s Neolithic past. Stooping low to enter the darkness, we can make out a simple floral wreath resting on the earthen floor, demonstrating that this place is still a place of pilgrimage and remembrance.
Round the shoreline we richochet along tiny lanes, occasionally mounting the pavement to avoid oncoming traffic, past little wooden stalls ‘Hedge Veg’ boxes brimful of fresh fruit and vegetables and idiosyncratically beautiful bunches of flowers. It’s typical of Guernsey that there’s an honesty box for passers-by to pay for their bounty.
Rocquaine Bay spreads out in front of us with little boats lurching around on the sea, past Fort Grey aka The Cup & Saucer, an intriguing Shipwreck Museum and on along the coast. At its end there’s weird Fort Saumarez, an 18th Century Martello Tower on top of which the Germans built a four-floor Observation Post. The tide is still covering the centuries-old causeway out to Lihou island, where a ruined Benedictine Priory gives shelter to thousands of migrant sea birds.
Turning inland past fields where wild orchids grow, we find another tiny chapel, dedicated to St Apolline, the patron saint of dentists. The simple interior has a lovely stained glass window depicting the saint, a few stems of gladioli in a vase and an air of tranquillity as far removed from any dentist surgery as you can imagine.
Back along the coast, at Vazon Bay we see hardy young surfers toting big surfboards across the beach to make the most of the wind-whipped waves. It’s lunch time and we stop at Cobo Bay Tea Rooms for possibly – no, in my view, definitely – the best crab sandwich in the world. It’s served with a friendliness and old-world charm I will find all over Guernsey. Whilst we shelter from a speedy squall which is only dropping by before heading off to nearby Jersey, Sylvia tells more stories of island life and I slowly relax into another world of slower pace and natural beauty in harmony with man’s modern needs.
Leaving Cobo the sky seems to promise a brighter afternoon – it really is unusual to have such blustery weather in the summer but the silvery grey vista somehow adds to the slightly exotic yet familiar feel of this maritime isle. On our way towards St Peter Port, where I will be staying for the next few days, we pass L’Ancresse Common and there, lying quietly on the grass next to a big blue bucket, is a most beautiful creature, gazing at us with benign curiosity.
This golden and cream Guernsey cow provides thick, foamy milk, smoothly indulgent butter and luscious cream that bring back the taste of childhood in an instant. As she graciously poses for the camera, she seems to epitomise all that is good and indulgent on idiosyncratically gorgeous Guernsey.
More Channel Islands posts here: