Coordinates: 49° 20'N and 2° 25’W
Weather: Beautiful sunshine throughout the day!
Air Temperature: +18o C (64o F)
It is a gorgeous Spring Day in the Channel Islands! These lands, located just offshore of the French coast are, nevertheless, a Crown Dependency under the Queen of England. Yes, this is unusual but correct. They have their own local government but are not part of the Government of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, nor are they part of the European Union. They are literally ruled by the Queen under one of her other titles as the Duke of Normandy (not Duchess), a history that spans back into the early middle ages.
The Prince Albert II had thought ahead to relocate from Scilly Isles to Guernsey last night. Thus we woke up this morning, already at anchor and ready to go ashore at our convenience.
The sun was streaming across the bay outside the harbor as I initially worked as a Zodiac driver to assist the transportation of our guests from ship to shore. The Zodiac ride was simply marvelous as we proceeded across the blue water towards the harbor entrance. We could see a large harbor fortification on the port side that had been constructed in the Middle Ages but also utilized throughout World War II. The Zodiac ride was relatively short, as the ship had anchored close by the harbor, which also had beautiful homes along the nearby hillsides.
After the guests were ashore, I jumped out of the Zodiac to assist in guiding a historical tour of the island, which was everything that I had hoped for. We started out by passing a large Queen Anne home, which was built by one of the early rulers of the island, then continued on to visit the ‘Little Chapel’. This very small chapel is at the edge of lands maintained by a local girls’ school and adjacent to a field full of Guernsey cows. These namesake bovines were looking quite content as the mooed in the fields while having their grass breakfast.
The Little Chapel is an exquisite place of worship that is a beautiful jewel, with fully mosaic designs on both interior and exterior. However, instead of the usual tiles, the artist utilized broken porcelain plates covered with delicate designs. Small stained glass windows admitted a wonderfully colored light to illuminate the interior. I simply love stained glass and mosaics so this visit was just the best for me.
We continued on to the Channel Islands’ Occupation Museum, which was constructed to memorialize the terrible events of World War II when half the population had to be evacuated to England. This occurred just before the islands were occupied for 5 long years. Guernsey was the only British Territory in Europe to be occupied during the war. The excellent museum was much larger than most people had anticipated and had many, many exhibits that were well presented. They covered a wide variety of topics including island life and rationing. The Islands had been militarily utilized in multiple ways and there was a good linkage to my background as one of my historical research specialties is an expertise in ’Operation Sea Lion’, which was Germany’s plan to invade England during 1940.
All too soon we had to depart this beautiful isle and continue our voyage during and excellent lunch to visit our afternoon destination at Sark, another Channel Island.
One of the Prince Albert II’s advantages is to go out and visit truly remote locations in our expedition cruising ship. Sark’s population is well under 1,000 people and can only be reached by a Zodiac ride, which approaches a very small harbor. However, one of the interesting aspects (at least to a sailor) is that the harbor walls are quite tall, huge masonry structures that look almost that same as similar small harbors utilized in the Middle Ages.
We entered the harbor of this unique place, then rode up to the top of the island while on wagons pulled by tractors. There are no automobiles anywhere on the island but we did have to be careful to avoid horse drawn carriages and bicycles as well as the stray tractor making its way along the small, tree lined country roads. Some guests went out to explore on their own through the small village. Others took the chance to take a walking bird tour with one of our ornithologists. I helped to lead a large number of guests who wanted to take a guided historical tour. We started at the small but well-organized visitor center before walking down small roads, dodging the occasional bicycle while reviewing the island’s unusual history, which included many interactions with pirates and smugglers throughout the ages. Sark Island is truly a fascinating place, very alluring but a bit difficult to get to unless you have an experienced vessel at your disposal.
Reluctantly we headed back to the ship for a recap of events by our Expedition Leader and staff. I focused on the execution of Charles I after the English Civil War as we are approaching London, which was the scene of the trial and subsequent grisly events. All in all it was a great day filled with sun, unusual locations with beautiful sights and fascinating history.