Sunday, 28 August 2016

Island 339 - Alderney, Channel Islands

Alderney is the 3rd largest and most northerly of the Channel Islands.  However it is only 3.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and can easily be explored on foot.   When I visited for 4 days in early July 2016 with a friend, the only UK airport from which you could fly direct to Alderney, was Southampton, so that's what we did.  The only airline serving Alderney is Aurigny, which is owned by the Guernsey government (The French name for Alderney is Aurigny). The flight time is about 40 minutes and the planes are small - the two we flew in took 18-20 passengers and everyone had a window seat.   There were no direct scheduled ferries from anywhere when we visited, although you can sometimes make day trips to the island from France or Guernsey.

Aurigny Plane with its distinctive puffin symbol

I tried to visit Alderney when I went to Guernsey in 2009 but there were no day trips running during the week I was there.  However Alderney deserves more than a day visit.  I could easily have spent a week walking all the paths and taking time to explore things thoroughly.  However in four days we managed to walk the entire coast path and some of the inland paths, go up the lighthouse, ride on the train, visit the Museum, go to the cinema, find a few geocaches and walk out to 3 of the forts on tidal islands. 

There is a lack of health and safety warning notices on Alderney, despite the unmarked drops and holes that abound around the old fortifications.  However it was good to find a place where everything hasn't been sanitised or fenced off and where we were trusted to be responsible for our own safety.  It was refreshing to be able to clamber over the rocks and explore the German bunkers and Victorian forts, in a way that I would like to have done as a child but wasn't allowed to do so by my parents.  If you are looking for a holiday destination with beautiful largely empty beaches, interesting historical buildings, peace and quiet, interesting wildlife and not too many other visitors, then Alderney may well be the place for you

I expected Alderney to be much more rocky and covered in German fortifications than is actually the case.  The island is very green and the German fortifications are not as obvious as those on Jersey and Guernsey, as many are underground and in many cases the Germans just adapted the Victorian forts that were already there.

The only settlement on Alderney is the town of St Anne with its "suburbs" of Crabby, Braye and Newtown.  In St Anne there are 3 branches of Le Cocq's food shops, another food shop selling Waitrose products, a bakery, several churches, a museum, a post office, several restaurants, bars and cafes, a pharmacy, a cinema, a bank, a public library, the Visitor Information Centre, an Alderney Wildlife Trust shop, a couple of estate agents and a few gift shops.

Alderney is home to some rare species of wildlife e.g. Glanville fritillary butterflies (I saw a couple of these on the southern cliffs near Lager Sylt), long tailed blue and swallowtail butterflies and blonde hedgehogs (we failed to see one of these, although we did see an ordinary brown hedgehog).  Puffins and storm petrels breed on the small neighbouring island of Burhou and for this reason is it closed to the public from mid March until early August.  It is however possible to go on a boat trip around the island.  Northern gannets nest in their thousands on the rocks of Les Etacs and Ortac.

The two rocks, which make up Les Etacs rocks, are home to about 12,000 gannets in the summer months.  A smaller colony breeds on the more distant rock called Ortac. This is about 2% of the world's population of northern gannets.  You can hear and smell the gannets from the Alderney mainland cliffs to the north of Vallee des Trois Vaux.

Gannet Colony on Les Etacs 

I have often read reports saying that the local residents on this and that island are very friendly and welcome visitors but I have sometimes found this not to be so in reality (e.g. Out Skerries).  However it is genuinely the case on Alderney.  Most local people said hello when we met them but each day we were there several of them stopped for a chat and asked where we were from, where we were staying, how we were enjoying our holiday etc and were very happy to answer our questions and tell us a bit about themselves.

Alderney has been inhabited for at least 5,000 years. It was occupied by the Romans, who built a fort or signal station at the southern end of Longis Beach, which is known today as the Nunnery.  Much of the outer wall and some other parts of the building are thought to be the original Roman structures. (It is now home to the new Alderney Bird Observatory.)  In 1546 the English government built a fort to the south of the Nunnery.  It was originally called Upper Fort or Les Murs de Haut but was later called Essex Castle. In 1721 Alderney came under the control of the Le Mesurier family on Guernsey.  

At the outbreak of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th century, the number of guns and batteries on the island was greatly increased to dissuade the French from invading.  The Semaphore Tower (now called the Telegraph Tower) was built at the south east end of the island in 1809 to provide a means of communicating with the other Channel Islands using Mulgrave's Telegraph System.  After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 the defences were not maintained and fell into a state of disrepair.

Telegraph Tower

In 1844, with the threat from the French increasing again, it was decided to construct a harbour at Braye on the west side of the island, which could be used as a naval base.  In the 1850s 18 forts were constructed on every headland on the south west, west, north west and north east sides of the island. Queen Victoria visited in 1854 to view the progress of the construction of the harbour and forts.  The last fort to be built was Fort Touraille, which was later renamed Fort Albert after the death of Prince Albert.  It was constructed between 1856 and 1859. 

Fort Tourgis is the second largest of the Victorian forts built on Alderney in the 1850s.  It was completed in 1855 and housed over 300 men.  It is currently in a ruinous state.  It is not fenced off but there are warning notices and there certainly are lots of holes you could fall down.  The floor in the barracks has collapsed and you can see straight into the basement.  The Cambridge Battery below and to the north of Fort Tourgis has been cleared and made safe to explore.  There are numerous interpretation panels to read.

Fort Tourgis
View from one of the German bunkers at Cambridge Battery
Daymark at Fort Tourgis

Construction of the western arm of the breakwater at Braye began in 1847 and by 1864 it was 1,463 metres long.  However about a third of it was destroyed in a storm shortly after its completion and it wasn't rebuilt.

Braye Harbour and Breakwater
Stripy end to the seaward end of  Braye Harbour Breakwater

Braye Harbour
In June 1940 the residents of Alderney were evacuated to England and on 2nd July 1940 the Germans occupied the island.  In 1942 Hitler issued orders for the building of the Atlantic Wall, a line of defences across the coastline of northern Europe from Norway to the Spanish border.  On Alderney forced foreign labour was used by Organization Todt to construct fortifications.  The forced labourers were housed in 4 camps - Lagers Helgoland, Norderney, Borkum and Sylt.  In 1943 Sylt was taken over by the SS and it became a concentration camp.  By 1943 there were over 4,000 forced labourers on Alderney.  They built five Coastal Artillery Batteries, 22 Anti-Aircraft Batteries, 13 Strongpoints, 12 Resistance Nests, 3 Defence Lines and  laid 30,000 Land Mines. 

Site of Lager Sylt Concentration Camp 
The building known locally as The Odeon was built by the Germans and used by their Navy as an MP3 range-finding tower. No I don't know what one of them is!  It is possible to look inside it but you need to collect a key from the Alderney Wildlife Trust shop in St Anne.
The Odeon
Known locally as the Water Tower, this was in fact the observation tower of the German Luftwaffe HQ and listening post during the Second World War.

"Water Tower", St Anne

 German defences at Bibette Head

Bibette Head

German Artillery Position below Fort Tourgis
You can just see one of Andy Goldsworthy's Stones inside

 War Memorial at Longis Common to commemorate all the slave labourers who died on Alderney

 There is a plaque for each nationality of slave labourer who died on Alderney

Alderney was liberated on 16th May 1945.  The islanders were allowed to return to their devastated island and a long period of clearing up and rebuilding followed.
Sapper George Edgar Onions of the Royal Engineers died on Alderney in June 1945 while clearing German mines aged only 22.  He is buried in the churchyard in St Anne.  This peace garden was named in his memory and was created in 2010.  However when we visited in July 2016 it was looking very neglected.
Sapper Onions Peace Garden
Face the Future Sculpture at Sapper Onions Peace Garden
The Alderney government has produced an excellent set of 9 free walk leaflets for different short walks around the island and a separate A2 size map of the island.  They have also produced a glossy brochure listing accommodation providers, cafes, restaurants and other services, a calendar of events and what to see and do while on the island.  These were all on display at the Airport, in the Visitor Information Centre and Alderney Wildlife Trust Shop in St Anne.  You will need a map of some kind, as signposts on the island are few and far between and it would be easy to miss some of the places of interest.  The footpaths are marked on the ground with painted white stones, some of which tell you where they go to and how far it is. There is a 10 mile coast path around the whole island and the island is crisscrossed by many other paths.  The roads are quiet but not as quiet as you might think, as there are hundreds of cars on the island and the islanders love to drive up and down the roads.  The island has its own car registration system and all the number plates begin with the letters AY followed by a number.

A railway line was built on Alderney by the British government in the 1840s to transport stone from quarries at the north east end of the island to build the breakwater at Braye and the Victorian forts.  It opened in 1847. In 1921 the line was leased to Brookes Ltd, which exported crushed stone for use as road aggregate.  During their wartime occupation the Germans lifted some of the track and replaced it with a different gauge.  After the war it was re-laid with standard gauge track. by the Ministry of Defence.  It was leased to the Alderney Railway Society in the mid 1970s and passengers were first carried on the line in 1980.  The current locomotive in use is a diesel called Elizabeth.  She pulls two former London Underground carriages, which date from 1959.  Trains run on the line at weekends in the summer months.
Elizabeth the Diesel Locomotive
 Level Crossing near Longis Common
Mannez Lighthouse was built at Quesnard Point on the north eastern tip of Alderney in 1912 by a local man William Barron for Trinity House.  It is 32 metres high and was automated in 1997.  The original light is no longer in use: Trinity House decided that a smaller range (only 12 miles, instead of 24) was needed, so smaller LED lights have been installed on the side of the lighthouse.  The lighthouse is open on summer Sunday afternoons for a conducted tour.  This was one of the highlights of our stay on Alderney and is well worth the small admission fee.  Children wanting to go up the lighthouse must be at least 110 cm tall.
Mannez Lighthouse
Mannez Lighthouse
Mannez Lighthouse
Until the Second World War Alderney was farmed communally and many of the buildings in St Anne were farmhouses with adjacent barns.  Due to a lack of streams on the island, public water troughs, known as Abreuvoirs Publique were built at various locations across the island to provide water for farm livestock.  The communal farming was not continued after the Second World War. 

Judge Barbenson's Cattle Trough and Fountain at the entrance to the airport
Abreuvoir Publique, St Anne
St Vignalis's Garden was originally a cattle trough but it was converted into a very peaceful if small public garden in memory of St Vignalis who, according to legend, was the missionary who first brought Christianity to Alderney in around the 6th century.

 St Vignalis's Garden

From 1860 Alderney had its own breed of cattle, which were a cross between Jersey and Guernsey cows.  However in 1940 most of them were sent to Guernsey where they were either eaten or inter-bred with Guernsey cows.  The rest were eaten by the Germans.  This cow, who clearly wanted to pose for a photo, is a Guernsey.

 Guernsey cow
This watermill is located in the Bonne Terre Valley.  There is a path to it from St Vignalis's Garden.  However when I visited it was very narrow and overgrown in places.  There has probably been a mill on this site since 1236 but the current mill dates from 1796.  It was undergoing renovation when I visited on a hot and sunny afternoon in 2016.

Bonne Terre Watermill
Braye Beach on a sunny evening
Saye Bay
Not at all crowded on a sunny summer afternoon
 Corblets Bay
Yellow Telephone Box and Blue Postbox in St Anne
It is thought by experts that the Bayeux Tapestry, which ends just after the Battle of Hastings, would originally have had some more panels and would have finished with the Coronation of William the Conqueror in Westminster Abbey.  An Alderney resident called Kate Russell had the idea of completing the tapestry.  The designs were created by Pauline Black and in 2012 the first stitches were made.  Over 400 people contributed stitches to the tapestry (including Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall), which was completed in February 2013.  The Alderney Bayeux Tapestry Finale was displayed at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum in Bayeux for a couple of months in 2014.  Its permanent home is Alderney Public Library, which is where it was when we saw it.  However it is off to the Battle Museum of Local History in Sussex from September-December 2016, as part of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings celebrations.

Bayeux Tapestry Finale
Coronation of William the Conqueror at Westminster Abbey
Symbols of Guernsey (donkey), Jersey (toad), Alderney (puffin) and the England (lion)
Bayeux Tapestry Finale
The End
The Madonna Stone, which is located on the coast path to the west of Val du Saou, is not an ancient standing stone.  It was originally a cattle scratching post in a neighbouring field.  It was erected in its current position in the 1960s.
 Madonna Stone
This German built bunker was a Luftwaffe Dezimetergerat station, which was used for high frequency communication with Guernsey, Jersey and France during the Second World War.  It is now known as the Wildlife Bunker and it contains information panels about the natural and military history of Alderney.
Wildlife Bunker
Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor who is known for his land art.  He uses natural and found objects to create his sculptures, which are sometimes permanent and sometimes temporary.  In 2010 he spent time on Alderney creating 11 spherical "stones" out of rammed earth.   Each one had different objects sourced from around the island concealed within them.  The idea was that the hidden objects would be revealed gradually as the wind and rain eroded the "stones".  The stones were left to cure for a year and were then put on display in 11 locations around the coast path on Alderney.  Each boulder weighed 3 tonnes and was 5 feet in diameter.  Five years later when we visited only three of the original stones were still in existence (unless we missed any): one in a bunker below Fort Tourgis, another at the north eastern tip of the island and the 3rd on a wall at the Nunnery
Andy Goldsworthy Stone in the German Artillery Position below Fort Tourgis
 Andy Goldsworthy Stone at the North East end of Alderney
 Andy Goldsworthy Stone near the Nunnery
 Shell Wall near the Lighthouse
 Telegraph Tower
I have no idea how the double decker bus made it onto Alderney, as there is no car ferry.
Looking North East along Platte Saline
There is a good selection of places to eat out on Alderney.  They are all located in and around St Anne.  However I thought most of the restaurants were a bit on the pricey side and some of them are not open every day.  We had fish and chips at the Braye Chippy one night and another night we had a Chinese takeaway, which was excellent.  We bought filled baguettes and cakes for our lunches at the excellent bakery in St Anne.  We also ate lunch twice at Krys's Little Rock Café: a healthy food burger van at Braye Harbour.  Krys is very friendly and chatty and the food was freshly cooked and very tasty.

 Krys's Little Rock Café at Braye Harbour
HMS Affray was a Royal Navy submarine.  It disappeared while on a training exercise in the English Channel in 1951. All 75 crewmen on board died.  The submarine was found two months 7.5 miles to the north west of Alderney near the Hurd Deep.  This memorial was unveiled in 2012.
 HMS Affray Memorial at Braye Harbour
 Puffin Sculpture by the side of Longis Road
 Giant Sundial in St Anne
 Norman Arch on La Trigale in St Anne
My friend and I agreed that we thought the rock formation on the side of the cliff on the right hand side of the photo looked like John Wesley at prayer. 
"John Wesley Rock" AKA La Roche Pendante

The Alderney Community Woodland in the centre of the island has waymarked paths through the 17 hectares of woodland.  This was an area of the island, which we didn't have time to explore.

There is an excellent Museum run by the Alderney Society in St Anne housed in the old school, which contains a wealth of information about the geology, ecology, military, social and economic history of Alderney.

St Anne's Church is known as the Cathedral of the Channel Islands.  It was designed by George Gilbert Scott and consecrated in 1850. It has a full peal of 12 bells.  In July 2016 it was shrouded in scaffolding and not looking very photogenic, so I didn't take a photo of it.

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