Friday 15th September 2017
A not quite so early start for the day because today was Sark day and the ferry didn’t leave until 9:15 am for its 55 minute trip.
The trip turned out to be a little longer than that because the remains of the sea conditions we experienced yesterday were still about. Thankfully though, for quite a number of our group the seas were not quite as stomach turning. And as if to greet us to Sark, the sun came out and remained so all day.
On arrival, other than the really hardy ones who chose to walk up to the only town, La Collinettee, we packed ourselves aboard one of the tractor-drawn “toast racks” as they have become known. Each carried a hundred paying passengers in what can only be described as sardine-can intimacy but, after a mercifully short rocky ride on a rocky road, got us there.
The two-hour horse-drawn carriage ride that was booked for us had been brought forward because of a late cancellation, so we were off again – behind Danny and “Jake”. Each open “carriage” carried ten – two lucky ones up beside Danny and the less fortunate ones – of which I was one – arrayed cosily again on slightly padded bench seats along each side of the tray facing inwards.
With quite high hedges on either side of the unpaved road, we sometimes had difficulty seeing the features Danny was pointing out but we had two stops where we could view the sights. The first was on the Eastern side of the island where we walked down to a cliff-side vantage point from which we could see the island’s lighthouses and across the Channel to France.
The other was at La Coupee between big Sark and Little Sark where there is a causeway rebuilt by the Germans during World War II using we were told the labour of prisoners – it must have been a mammoth task filling in what was a very deep ravine.
The waggon (rather than carriage) ride, if not big on comfort, was an enjoyable way of seeing the island’s highlights as Danny pointed them out in his laconic but knowledgeable way.
In the hour and a half we had left to us after the tour we wandered about the town – or more truthfully – village visiting the small shops that were open and having a sandwich lunch in a garden setting next to the prison!!
Sark Prison is apparently the smallest habitable jail in the world. Built in 1856, it can house two inmates at a push and is still used for overnight stays.
Then it was time to climb back onto the “toast rack” for our fast downhill run to the quay to await the ferry. To everyone’s relief, this was a much smoother ride than the outward one and those of us not staying in the town retraced our steps back up past statues of Victor Hugo and Queen Victoria to our hotel.
While most of the rest of the group headed off back down into town for a pub meal I, perhaps even wearier than yesterday, settled for Dover sole in lemon butter and lavishly buttered new potatoes in the hotel’s Leopard Bar and Restaurant. A great way to end what had been a tiring but great day.
Saturday 16th September 2017
The morning began looking decidedly bleak and wet but as has happened so often on this tour the day improved as it went on. Our first visit for the day was to what is known as The Little Chapel, and little it is.
Attractively set on a hillside it is a photographer’s dream – that is if you could time your shooting so as not to be blocked by other visitors or photographers. While quirkily beautiful on the outside, it is even more so inside and I have tried to capture some of that in the photos below:
The chapel has an interesting and, at times, amusing history, so rather than try to include that here, I’ve provided a link to the Visit Guernsey site which tells its story better than I can:
We then paid a brief visit to a gold and silversmith and clockmaker, only a short walk from the chapel – more I suspect so Tony, our Tour Guide, could add to his collection of pocket watches. He had already bought one in St Peter Port, so he must be a keen collector. Having said that it was a really nice store with a sizeable range of gold and silver jewellery and ornaments some of which was very attractive. But there was nothing that really grabbed me and the prices of those that did appeal were way out of my league.
The main stop of the morning was at the German Occupation Museum which in terms of tour planning made sense in that we were to meet later with Molly Bihet, who was a child during the occupation and has written a number of books about this experience.
As for the Museum itself, it is owned and operated by Richard Heaume. Again, rather than get more creative than I should, this is how its story is told on his website:
“It all began when Richard the schoolboy began collecting spent bullets in the local fields after the plough had gone by. In June 1966 Richard`s parents allowed him to use the cottage opposite their house to display his collection. Bit-by-bit, he added purpose-built extensions to the small farming cottage, starting in 1976 with the transport corridor and tea room, and in 1987 with the superb Occupation Street. The museum is now an extensive collection of original Occupation items and documents including many extremely rare pieces.”
And as the website attests, the Occupation Street exhibit is the outstanding feature – if not quite to my mind worthy of the “Superb” label. It is a remarkably comprehensive collection including as it does some quite sizeable exhibits such as artillery pieces, a horse-drawn field kitchen, searchlight and sea mine. While worth a visit particularly in filling a gap in my memory bank of World War II, I found the occupation story it told thought-provoking rather than moving.
We then had some free time before our meeting with Molly at 3:00 pm – time which I used productively I hope in completing Episode Six and starting on this one, Episode Seven.
Our meeting with Molly was held in a private room in the hotel and I have to admit to some reservation about why we were meeting and how it fitted into our exploration of Guernsey. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
For those of you who don’t know her story – and I was one of those, this is a short version:
The Channel Islands were the only British territory to be occupied during World War II. Molly was nine years of age in 1940 when the Germans arrived and her family stayed in Guernsey throughout five years of occupation. She did not write her first book. “A Child’s War” about her experiences – or happenings – as she calls them until the 1980s. And it was her recollections of those “happenings” that she shared with us.
She is quite a tall women and shows little sign of her age either physically or mentally. She told her story with quiet passion, touches of humour and the occasional tear in a still strong voice – and engaged us all immediately. That this was so was as much that she, consciously or otherwise, followed a stream of consciousness path rather than a chronological one and I for one found it fascinating. She chatted away to us for a little over two hours without us noticing the time passing. Thank you Molly.
On the foodie news front, I enjoyed seared scallops and a fillet of John Dory which, while beautifully cooked, didn’t seem to have the same whiteness of flesh as I’m used to. Perhaps it’s a different “version”.
Sunday 17th September 2017
On the move again…
Today we headed for Jersey on the 12:45 pm ferry to St Helier, so Tony granted us a bit of a lie-in – postponing our departure from the hotel until 9:30 am. And well-earned it was too.
The later ferry departure time also provided the opportunity of a full round the island coastal tour. This included a quick visit to Fort Sausmarez on the Western coast of the island almost due west of St Peter Port.
Here an earlier Martello tower had been added to by the German occupation forces to make a naval observation post. This along with the batteries that once surrounded it was part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall” which was designed to prevent the allies from reaching northern France.
From there we continued our way around a very picturesque coastline to St Peter Port in ample time to join the queue for the ferry – happily a relatively short one. Happily, too, the hour-long journey was a smooth one.
On arrival on time in St Helier we drove a little to the west for a short but very pleasant and needed walk-about in the very attractive fishing village of St Aubin. Here, in addition to our walk-about we managed to fit in a light lunch to sustain us until dinner at the “Hotel Cristina” which was to be our home for the next two nights.
The hotel is set quite high on a hillside overlooking the impressively named “Royal Bay of Grouville” and the views from the Restaurant and Lounge with their huge floor to ceiling windows and doors are just stunning.
Regrettably, this big tick of approval didn’t extend to Dinner which was a disappointment and, as such, not worthy of a “foodie news” assessment. Certainly it was a Sunday evening, and perhaps the Executive Chef was enjoying a day off. We’ll find out tomorrow when we dine in again.