Mention the Channel Islands and conversations often revolve around the glamour of Jersey and memories of the TV series Bergerac for those old enough to remember. Often overlooked, however, is the Island of Alderney.
Only eight miles off the French coast at its nearest point and with many local family and street names bearing testament to their historical connection to the country, Alderney dances to its own tune; flexible drinking laws and MOTs required only on public service vehicles are two of many such examples. Reachable via ferry or plane from Guernsey does make for a slightly more adventurous journey but is it one worth taking? We give you five reasons why we think it is..
Despite its small size (3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide) Alderney boasts one of the largest bird migrations in Europe. Honey Buzzards, Marsh Harriers (a UK protected species), and Fly Catchers are some of the Island’s longer distance migrants. Other sightings include Goshorts, Whinchats and Ospreys to name but a few. Simplify the job of learning more and book a tour with John Horton of Alderney Tours . A two hour, round island mini-bus tour takes place daily between 2pm and 4pm between April and October. £15 per adult; £10 per child (under 16). John has appeared on many wildlife programmes including BBC Countryfile and can tailor the itinerary to suit.
One of the biggest wildlife draws has to be the blonde Hedgehog which is unique to Alderney. How they got introduced to the Island is still being speculated on but it is widely believed a pair were bought to the island in the 60s and either escaped or were released into the wild. Coming from only few individuals, the current population has been fairly in-bred resulting in their blonde spines. With lack of predators – Alderney doesn’t have a badger or fox population and few cars on the road – they are thriving.
Similar to all islands, the wildlife isn’t confined to the land. Seals, gannets and puffins are native to this area and a boat trip via Seabird Boat Safari with Alderney Wildlife Trust, a locally run independent charity , is a must during the spring and summer to view these animals in their natural habitat. Tours take place every Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm between March and October. £25 per adult; £20 per child.
Alderney has more than 2% of the world’s Northern Gannet population. Storms over the years had decimated the colony but they are now thriving once again. The birds come to breed on two of Alderney’s rocky outcrops between February and September and are home to nearly 9,000 pairs. Putting the largest wingspan of any European seabird to good use, local tagging of the population has revealed the distances they travel in search of food, with one bird being tracked travelling up to Norway in search of a fishy snack. Flying in from Guernsey allows for an aerial view of their breeding ground so keep a look out for the white rocks situated just off the coastline.
Puffins may not quite match the Blonde Hedgehog in the cuteness stakes but they come very close. They arrive on the tiny islet of Burhou in March and leave in early August. The Boat Safari makes the 2 mile journey to this breeding ground and it is fascinating to see the flash of their orange beaks as they fly past whilst the Islands seal population relax on the rocks nearby.
Talks on the Seabird Boat Safari also focus on the geology of the land. The Islands were formed from a volcano that erupted billions of years ago and the array of colour in the cliff faces pay testament to the Island’s long history.
Moving onto more recent times, Alderney is home to examples of Roman architecture. The local “nunnery” lays claim to the title of the best-preserved Roman Fort in Britain, dating back to the 4th Century. Whilst it was allegedly a place of disrepute for Nazi soldiers during WW2, the building is today put to rather more sanitised purposes and serves as the Island’s Bird Observatory.
The Island is home to a huge amount of fortifications dating from both the Victorian era and the World War II occupation. As a defence against the perceived threat from France, Queen Victoria ordered a huge construction effort resulting in the largest harbour wall in Europe and 18 forts and batteries. Visit Fort Tourgis which housed 346 men and 33 guns. Viewed from land or sea, the Fort is an impressive structure and, following volunteer efforts, sections of the Fort are now open to the public.
The Second World War remains one of the biggest historical draws to the Island. The Islanders evacuated in June 1940 only managing to return five and a half years later after the removal of some 30,000 German landmines. Reminders of WW2 can be found all over the island from the 655 bunkers that are still in place today through to the remnants of the concentration camps. Of particular interest is the Pak bunker at Douglas Quay. The bunker was constructed by the occupying German forces and is due to open on 1 June which coincidentally is European Bunker Day.. Alderney Tours can arrange a WW2 historical tour for those interested in this aspect of the Island’s history
Food & drink scene
With only one or two deliveries onto the island a week, making the most of what Alderney has to offer is paramount to the local community which has resulted in some spectacular produce. Fish and seafood naturally feature prominently, and the local Kiln Farm produces dairy and meat products which are sold in local restaurants. The butter has to be seen to be believed. It is the colour of the sun such is the richness of the milk. The Georgian House is one of the go-to places to eat and serves up a spectacular crab linguine. Enjoy the food on the large terrace at the back of the bar area. New to Alderney is The Vault. At the Braye Beach Hotel, the original wine vault is now an up tempo steakhouse restaurant and cocktail bar. The menu is fantastic, and they also offer cocktail experiences events.
Be sure to try the Alderney honey. With an array of wildflowers on Alderney it makes it the perfect place for bees to thrive and Alderney is only one of two places that is bee disease-free in the world (the other being Hawaii).
Hire an electric bike from Cycle & Surf and explore the island which takes around 2 hours. Cycle hire cost: £12 per day for an adult bike; £8 per day for a junior bike
Much of the colour-rich farmlands and heathland on the island is managed by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. Visit the Longis Nature Reserve which is known for its plant species diversity and its wetlands provide shelter for migrating birds. Not to be missed (quite literally) is the Mannex lighthouse; 32 metres high it used to have a light range of 24 nautical miles with the fog horns audible from over 12 nautical miles! Tours are every Sunday 3pm from May to September.
A two centre holiday
Make the most of flying into Guernsey and have a two centre break. Spend anything from a few hours to a few days before flying back to the mainland. For those on a whistle-stop tour, visit the Hauteville House, home to Victor Hugo during his exile from France. The design, architecture, and furnishings reflect his political and ideological vision with the pre-bookable one-hour tour exploring his ideology and personal life in more depth. Jump in a taxi and have lunch at the four-star Bella Luce Hotel, a former Norman manor house. Guernsey is famous for its Golden Guernsey Goats Cheese and this features in the starter menu with whipped beetroot and walnut relish. Visit on a Sunday and enjoy one of their generous roasts in the courtyard. The hotel has its own gin brand, Wheadons Gin, with a distillery on the premises.
The gin contains 15 botanicals of which 14 are foraged locally with the rock samphire used being unique to the island. The hotel offers distillery experiences which can explain more about the gin. Future plans include developing their own spicy Guernsey rum.
Gin lovers can also walk down to The Imperial Hotel where they serve locally-produced charcuterie and Blue Bottle gin. The charcuterie comes from Wallow Farm who breed and rear their own pigs then butcher and cure all of their charcuterie at their farm in the heart of rural Guernsey
Where to stay?
The Braye Beach Hotel
Located near the harbour, the Braye Beach Hotel has views overlooking the bay and direct access to the beach. It has been listed as one of The Top 25 Small Hotels in United Kingdom and Channel Islands. Enjoy their buffet or a la carte breakfast featuring local butter and honey.
The Georgian House
Situated on the cobbled streets of St Anne, The Georgian House has four boutique en-suite bedrooms on their 3rd floor. Rates from July to August start from £95 based on two people sharing
Blonde Hedgehog Hotel
Situated on the quiet cobblestoned streets of Saint Anne, The Blonde Hedgehog is a new hotel scheduled to open late September 2019. The hotel is composed of three buildings; Clarence House, The Corner House and The Blonde Hedgehog itself. Housing two suites, seven rooms and one cottage, the property is inspired by the rustic beauty and charm of this enamouring island and designed to be a true home away from home.
Spending a few days in Guernsey?
The Bella Luce Hotel has special offers including the overnight gin package
Standard rates start from £150 based on two people sharing
Get me there:
Return flights from London Gatwick to Guernsey with Aurigny are from £100 per person, which includes a 20kg hold baggage allowance.
Return flights from Southhampton Airport to Alderney start from £149 per person.
One-way flights from Guersey to Alderney start at £64 per person.
Aurigny also offers direct flights to Guernsey from London Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford and Norwich.
The Little Ferry Company
New Alderney to Guernsey inter-island Passenger ferry service with The Little Ferry Company will run until Sunday 29th September for the 2019 season
Tickets start form £40 and can be booked here: https://www.thelittleferrycompany.com/book-now
For more information on Guernsey, go to www.VisitGuernsey.com