Guernsey, Channel Islands

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Guernsey, Channel Islands

The second-largest of the Channel Isles, Guernsey is the most English, a place where ‘politeness is a way of life’.

The island of Guernsey is the centre of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a self-governing dependency of the British Crown, not administered in any way by the United Kingdom. The Bailiwick of Guernsey includes the other Channel Islands of Alderney, Sark, and Herm, but not Jersey, which is independent as the Bailiwick of Jersey.

St Peter Port
St Peter Port, Guernsey.

In the Middle Ages, Guernsey and the other Channel Islands were a part of the Duchy of Normandy, which came to rule England in 1066. After Normandy was lost by the kings of England in the 13th century, and the ducal title was surrendered to France, Jersey, along with the other Channel Islands, remained attached to the English crown. Guernsey has remained independently tied to the British Crown since 1204, and its legal system largely remains based on Norman custom and local usage, administered by the Royal Court of Guernsey.

Its ambiguous location between Britain and France has long made Guernsey a place of exile from Britain and France. In the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) the island was a haven for pirates. In more recent years, Guernsey provide exile to Victor Hugo, banished from France, Belgium and Jersey for his fierce opposition to Napoleon III. Proclaiming it the ‘rock of hospitality and freedom’, Hugo would live on Guernsey for 15 years, and was inspired by the beauty of the island to write his masterpieces, including Les Miserables. Hugo’s home, Hauteville House, intricately decorated by the author himself, is now open to the public as a fascinating museum.

Hugo’s comfort was enhanced by the fact that – despite refusing to ever learn English – he was able to easily communicate in Guernsey, where the majority of locals spoke a dialect of Norman known as Guernésiais. Today, however, Guernésiais is a dying language. The majority of locals today speak English, with Guernésiais spoken by 2% of the population, most of whom are over 64 years old.

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British isles to be occupied by the Nazis during World War II, from 1940 and 1945. The British Government decided not to defend the islands, leaving locals to either stay put or flee to the mainland. Before the occupation, over 80 percent of Guernsey children were evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never reunited with their families, while over a thousand Guernsey inhabitants were deported to camps in southern Germany. The tragic history of Guernsey during World War II can be explored at the German Occupation Museum, founded by a local who experienced Nazi occupation as a child, and the La Vallette Underground Military Museum.

Guernsey scenery

Like the other Channel Islands, Guernsey is a major tourist draw for its scenery and mild weather. Flatter and less dramatic looking than Jersey, the bucolic country lanes of Guernsey are ideal for exploration by bike or on foot. Look out for ‘Hedge Veg’ stalls where you can buy fresh local produce – just make sure to pop some money in the honesty box! The isle is home to stunning and secluded beaches, particularly the golden sands of Pemboke Bay, Vazon Bay, and Côbo Bay on the North Coast. Guernsey is also developing a reputation as a foodie hub, so make a point of a visit to a local restaurant or two.

Guernsey is also a great launching point for exploring the area. Jersey, Sark, Alderney and Herm can all be visited by ferry from Guernsey.

Articles about the Channel Islands published by Odyssey Traveller:

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External articles to assist you on your visit to the Channel Islands: