The second largest of all the Channel Islands, Guernsey is also the western-most island in the chain, sitting 50km off of mainland Europe. One of the British Crown Dependencies, I had always been curious about visiting Guernsey and its capital St. Peter Port – there was even a time I thought it would be one of the places included in the second edition of Europe in a Day! After my day trip to neighbouring Jersey, I was keen to return to the Channel Islands and so made a point of visiting St. Peter Port as soon as I could. It might have been a particularly rough sea crossing to get there, but I still couldn’t wait to see what Guernsey had in store!
At a glance:
Bailiwick of Guernsey / Bailliage de Guernesey / Bailliage dé Guernési
Capital: St. Peter Port (Saint-Pierre Port in French, Saint Pierre Port in Guernésiais)
Currency: Guernsey Pound (GBP/GGP*) (*unofficial)
Area: 78 km2
National Day: May 9th
National Anthem: Sarnia Cherie – Dear Guernsey (unofficial)
Highest Point: Le Moulin – 114 metres (374ft)
Famous for: WWII fortifications, dairy products, beaches
Famous Channel Islanders from Guernsey:
- Richard Doyle (author)
- Heather Watson (tennis player)
- Roy Dotrice (actor, known for A Moon for the Misbegotten, father of…)
- Karen Dotrice (actress, starred as Jane in Mary Poppins)
- The origins of the name Guernsey are uncertain, with several theories suggested. Some believe it comes from Norse meaning ‘Green Island’ or from the Viking name Grani, making Guernsey ‘Grani’s Island’. There’s also an argument that the name comes via the Spanish for ‘the island of horns’.
- In 1204, Guernsey allied itself to the British crown and remains incredibly proud of its continued links to the monarchy. Indeed, as William the Conqueror ruled Guernsey before he took over England, some islanders quip that England never conquered Guernsey, but Guernsey conquered England!
- Although the Bailiwick of Jersey covers a larger area, the Bailiwick of Guernsey is made up of more inhabited islands. Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm and Brecqhou all have people living on them – even if as of 2021, only one person now lives on Brecqhou!
- For such a small island, Guernsey has a rich history of folklore and supernatural sightings. Ghosts, witches, werewolves, and even a spectral goat said to haunt one particular road have all been seen in Guernsey – a popular local legend even says that the island was once invaded and conquered by fairies!
- Much like neighbouring Jersey, Guernsey’s media broadcasters are subsidiaries of regional UK-based broadcasters and therefore Guernsey is currently ineligible to take part at the Eurovision Song Contest.
English is very much Guernsey’s dominant language, but French and Guernésiais have also held official status since 2020. Also known as Dgèrnésiais, Guernsey French and even Patois, Guernésiais is a Romance language related to Jèrriais, but the two are not completely intelligible. The Second World War saw an increase in the use of Guernésiais to confuse the occupying Nazis, but the evacuation of so many islanders ultimately had a disastrous impact and barely 2% of Guernsey’s inhabitants today claim to have any understanding of the language. Some estimates of remaining fluent speakers are as low as 50. Despite no universally agreed-upon orthography, attempts are being made to ensure the continued survival of the island’s native language – so do your part with these Guernésiais phrases!
|Goodbye||À la perchoine||a la pair-shoy-neh|
|How much does this cost?||Coumian qu’i coûte, chenchin?||kom-yoo-key koot she-shay|
|Do you speak English?||Dvis-ous l’Angllais?||dvee-zoo long-gyay|
|I don’t understand||Jé n’caomprends pouit||zhehn kom-pron pwee|
|What are you doing?||Tchi qu’t’es à faire?||cheek-tay o fair|
Guernsey Airport is located near the village of La Villiaze, just under 5km south-west of St. Peter Port. There are several bus routes that run between the airport and town, with the journey taking around 35 minutes. Ferries also connect Poole and Portsmouth in England to Guernsey, taking a little over 3 hours directly into St. Peter Port.
What to do:
Once the grounds of a private estate, the Candie Gardens were given to States of Guernsey in 1869 and became a public flower garden. With its water features and stunning sea views, the gardens are a beautiful place to relax and enjoy its lawns and colorful flower beds, featuring plants from all around the world. The peaceful gardens are also believed to be home to the oldest heated glasshouses in the British Isles, dating from the early 1790s. At the top of the gardens, the stately Priaulx Library houses an archive of all things relating to Guernsey, while opposite the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery offers visitors an insight into the island’s history and culture, including a wing dedicated to Guernsey’s folklore. From the museum you can also get the keys to explore the nearby ornate turrets of Victoria Tower. Named after the first reigning monarch ever to visit Guernsey, construction on this slender stone tower started in 1848 and its summit offers some spectacular views of St. Peter Port, as well as across to the islands of Herm and Sark.
Heading back down towards the waterfront, you can’t fail to spot the towering 30-metre-tall Mast at the centre of Guernsey’s largest roundabout. Erected in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation, the white mast can often be seen flying several flags for events taking place around the island, including the company flags of any cruise ships docked in Guernsey. Just beyond the roundabout, the 5-metre-high obelisk of the Liberation Monument is made of 50 individual layers of Guernsey granite, one for each year since the occupation when it was unveiled in 1995.The monument also forms a large sundial that casts a shadow over a series of inscriptions on the surrounding benches every year on May 9th, the anniversary of Guernsey’s liberation. These engravings commemorate the individual events of that day, including the acceptance of the surrender at 07:15AMand the unfurling of the union flag at the Royal Court House at 10:15AM. While the benches make the perfect place to take stock of those dark days, they also make a good vantage point to people watch at St. Peter Port’s bustling harbor. A Roman shipwreck found here in 1982 proves the area has been used for shipping since at least the 3rd century!
A short stroll further along the front, the Guernsey Information Centre is housed in a striking grey stone building and contains everything visitors could want to know about the island’s many attractions, as well as local souvenirs. Directly outside, Liberation 75, Past Present and Future is a life-sized bronze statue of a family that was commissioned to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the island’s liberation from the Nazis, though the unveiling was delayed due to the pandemic in 2020. The clothing of the family ranges from 1940s style to the modern day to connect the past and present, while their expressions are said to reflect their hopes and fears for the future. Continuing down the street, you’ll spot the stone steeple of the Town Church, also known as the Parish Church of St. Peter Port. First mentioned in 1048, much of the building seen today was renovated during the 19th century but parts of it still date back as far as the 1400s. The church is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the closest church to a pub in the British Isles – thanks to a gargoyle extending from the church’s roof, it’s just a little over 45 centimeters from the Albion Pub across the street!
Built on a small rocky islet in the 13th century, Castle Cornet has defended the entrance to St. Peter Port’s harbor for over 800 years. Explore the site’s eventful history through the several museums housed here, including the Royal Guernsey Militia Museum and The Story of Castle Cornet Museum, or you can take a wander through the grounds and along the castle walls to take in the views. Heading back along the breakwater into town, it’s just a short walk up to the grand white Hauteville House. Built around the year 1800, French writer Victor Hugo spent 15 years living here during his exile in Guernsey and the residence was gifted to the city of Paris in 1927 by Hugo’s descendants. Nowadays, it’s home to an honorary consul to the French embassy while the rest of the building and its lush gardens are open to the public as a museum. Marvel at the house’s extravagant and lavish interior, meticulously decorated by Hugo himself and admire the breath-taking sea views from his writing room on the third floor. Some of Hugo’s most notable works, including his epic novel Les Misérables, were finished here – and it’s not hard to see why it proved so inspiring!
At a first glance, St. Peter Port feels like an unassuming and sleepy seaside town. But among its small-scale grand buildings and numerous memorials, you’ll quickly become struck by just how much has happened here. Add to this flowering gardens overlooking the ever-changing seascape and Guernsey breaths a sense of the past, but also a fresh feeling of serenity and inspiration. It might be small, but Guernsey is a perfectly-formed gem!
A huge thank you to Josephine Dowding at the Guernsey Language Commission for providing translations and sound bytes of phrases for the phrasebook, and also to the staff over at the Guernsey Museum & Art Gallery and The Lexicon Bookshop for helping me track down resources in Guernésiais. A big thank you as well to Anne Cakebread for writing Teach Your Cat Guernésiais (I’ve been using it with a dog though, hope you don’t mind!)
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