New kid on the block

Undated Handout Photo of St Peter Port from water, Guernsey. See PA Feature TRAVEL Guernsey. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Guernsey.
Undated Handout Photo of St Peter Port from water, Guernsey. See PA Feature TRAVEL Guernsey. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Renato Granieri. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Guernsey.
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I imagine children who have grown up by the sea have a natural ability to scramble over rocks like sure-footed crabs and leap across gullies with lightening ease. Unfortunately, I spent my formative years inland, and so I lag woefully behind the rest of our group on a coasteering expedition (see picture at bottom). exploring Guernsey’s coastline.

Dressed head to toe in wetsuit gear, I slip and slide nervously along the base of cliffs, spending most of my time crawling on all fours. It’s a relief when I splash into the 16-degree Celsius glassy-clear water and swim into a cave, knowing that at least a liquid cushion will soften any accidental blows. But when we’re instructed to climb up a craggy verge and jump “because it will be fun”, it dawns on me that my fellow outdoor adventurers are almost half my age.

Guernsey has often been unfairly stereotyped as a holiday haunt for the blue rinse brigade, but given the wealth of action-packed activities on offer - including kayaking, cycle tours and jet ski safaris - its appeal extends to a much wider demographic. Not that you necessarily need to be under 20 to leap from vertiginous knife-edges - just game for anything and young at heart.

With 41 miles of coastline to discover and an average 1,950 hours of sunshine per year, this scenic Channel Island is ideally suited to al fresco pursuits. And with the government-owned Aurigny airline offering a new jet plane service to the UK, cutting journey time by 20 minutes, it’s wildlife-filled bays and soft, sandy beaches will be within even easier reach.

Back on dry, solid land, I follow the cliff path around Herm, one of the smaller outer lying islands easily reached by a ferry from Guernsey’s capital, St Peter Port. Puffins and cormorants nestle in rocky crags, and gulls squark with territorial ferocity when I venture too close to their nests.

It’s easy to see why families are attracted to the dune-lined beaches and sheltered coves, and I envy the 66 residents who get to enjoy the island’s natural beauty long after the last ferry has chugged home.

Given its favourable tax benefits, granted in exchange for pledging allegiance to the UK, Guernsey has attracted many millionaires. But a strict limit on housing means not everyone can build their dream home here.

Only 14 per cent of the island is developed, local guide and resident Elizabeth Gardener-Wheeler tells me, and of the 26,000 houses available, only 1,600 can be owned by non-islanders. The result is a tight-knit community, where crime is almost non-existent and farmers happily leave fruit and vegetables for sale on unmanned stalls outside their properties.

Much of the camaraderie here stems from the island’s well documented period of occupation during the Second World War. Liberation Day on May 9 is a major celebration and, next year, islanders will commemorate the 70th anniversary since German forces retreated after five years of invasion.

There are gentle reminders of the Nazi years in surprising places, such as symbols painted on bus shelters - only revealed when they were redecorated earlier this year - and rusted barbed wire twisting above garden walls.

German tourists often come to find out about their family history, visiting the German Occupation Museum in Les Houards, where historical artefacts are displayed alongside personal letters and photo albums.

My hotel for the stay is the Duke Of Richmond, a higgledy piggledy collection of rooms in a sparkling, renovated property decorated with vintage poster prints and leopard-print upholstery. It’s a signature design for the family-run Red Carnation franchise, who also have a sister hotel in the centre of St Peter Port.

It’s a short walk from my hotel, the Duke Of Richmond, a higgledy piggledy collection of rooms in a sparkling, renovated property decorated with vintage poster prints and leopard-print upholstery. It’s a signature design for the family-run Red Carnation franchise, who also have a sister hotel in the centre of St Peter Port. Almost verging on chintzy, The Old Government House is wonderful combination of slightly faded grandeur and opulent modern design. A grand banquet room with sea views is a showpiece, while TV screens disguised in fussy gilt picture frames are strangely endearing.

I sit in a red leather sofa in the art deco Crown Bar, a favourite haunt of owner Mr Tollman, and order a bottle of Wonkey Donkey, brewed by the local White Rock Brewery. It takes its name from the islanders’ affectionate nickname, the barman explains. “We’re quite stubborn,” he says, smiling. “That’s why they call us donkeys.”

If that adversity to change is what keeps this island ticking along at a such a wonderfully nostalgic pace, long may that stubbornness continue.