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Travel Review: Alderney

Fort Houmet Herbe. Photo courtesy of Visit Alderney

Fort Houmet Herbe. Photo courtesy of Visit Alderney

  • by Rebecca Hay
 

QUESTION: What do London and Alderney have in common?

Answer: The Wombles and Underground trains!

And apart from that, you could not find two more different places! One is loud, dirty and full of people, the other is peaceful, clean and lacking in folk.

Good job, the Hay clan chose the latter then! Known fondly as “The Rock’’, Alderney is part of The Channel Islands and although it may be only three miles long, it packs a lot into a small space!

The creator of The Wombles, Elisabeth (Liza) Beresford adopted the island as her home and her famous collection of litter picking, recycling Wombles included one called Alderney and featured many tales based on the island. Liza sadly died in the island’s hospital in 2010, but she left behind a legacy and a couple of Underground trains!

Alderney’s railway is the only one in The Channel Islands and was built in the 1840s by the British Government to move stone about the island. In 2001, enterprising islanders brought in two Underground trains to use in the tourist season to ferry visitors around.

The railway is just one of many attractions on this stunning island. To reach it is relatively easy. Aurigny Airlines operates a slick service from Manchester to Guernsey and then onto Alderney. There are several flights a day and the warmth of The Channel Islands starts here with airline staff happy to help. My two children, Ruaridh (5) and Flora (3) were excited enough going on the big flight from Manchester to Guernsey, but the icing on the cake came when they boarded the airline’s flagship aeroplane Joey, complete with red nose and smiling eyes for a 15 minute hop to Alderney. The Trislander plane seats only 15 people and its engine was as throaty as my super charged Morris Minor, but the children loved it!

The views were fantastic too and as we soared into Alderney we got a glimpse of our home for four days. We arrived at the small, but well operated airport in style as Ruaridh and Flora were given a chance to sit in the cockpit, before they picked up their special certificates for flying on Joey!

Waiting for us in arrivals was Barbara Beynon, alias Babs, the lady who runs the tourist information with a firm, but fair hand! Babs had a hire car waiting for us delivered by Braye Hire Cars and off we went on our adventure.

We were lucky enough to stay in the island’s four star Braye Beach Hotel. Run impeccably by manager Richard Proctor or the “man with the tie’’ as Flora dubbed him, the hotel is everything you expect a four star establishment to be.

The rooms are nice and comfy and carefully decorated and a welcoming decanter of sherry awaits, as does a fridge full of fresh milk and water. Food is first class with enticing dishes such as freshly caught mussels and tempting puddings to keep you happy and a hearty Alderney breakfast to sustain you through the day. Richard has been in the game for a few years now and he knows how to look after his guests, even ones as demanding as Ruaridh and Flora!

The hotel’s neighbouring bar, The Divers Inn was once stayed in by Methodist founder John Welsey, whose links to East Lancashire are well documented. And how he must have loved Alderney. It’s the freedom and quietness of the island which appeals most.

Only nine miles away from Normandy in France, the island boasts Roman and Victorian forts as well as German bunkers and watch towers. Alderney was a prize capture for Aldolf Hitler, his first on British soil and locals were evacuated to the mainland. German troops hated the island as they had little food and found it cold and bleak.

But the legacy they left behind is a haven for visitors. Ruaridh and Flora loved scrambling down bunkers and pretending to be troops firing across the island out to sea. Enterprising youngsters on the island use the bunkers and many quarries for parties and they together with the forts are a must see for tourists.

The best way to see the island first off is with a minibus tour run by teacher Annabel Finding. Annabel’s experience in the classroom, meant she could cope with the millions and zillions of questions Ruaridh had and with her easy going, but informative style, we passed a couple of hours nicely. One of the highlights was a visit to see the famous Alderney stones. Created by British artist Andy Goldsworth, 11 5ft boulders depicting life on the island are dotted around and make excellent photo shoots for the children! The other was a trip to the local jumble sale, held regularly to raise funds for worthwhile causes and a chance for locals to grab a bargain!

The main town of St Anne’s contains cobbled streets crammed with all the services you need from a farm shop to post office and bakery. The local church is a peaceful haven and there are lots of pubs and eating establishments to choose from.

Wildlife is a big draw to the island and Ruaridh and I were lucky enough to join wildlife manager Roland Gauvain for an introduction to what’s on offer. Everything was pretty quiet on our visit with the main attraction of the rare blonde hedgehog happily hibernating. Known as the “Alderney Spike Girl’’ the species is said to have been brought onto the island in a Harrods bag and now 25 per cent of the hedgehog population is blonde.

Roland is a man who knows his stuff and his love of the island is obvious. His patience is even better as he doggedly answered every query Ruaridh threw his way!

The island is rich in wildlife, with black rabbits also among the unusual residents and with over 50 miles of walks and paths, you can see the wonderfully deserted white beaches and enjoy the fantastic floral displays. At night, the skies are littered with stars and the sea is rich in wildlife too.

But as with most memorable places, it’s the people who make somewhere special. And Alderney has that warmth in abundance! Locals are proud of their island, patient (not a toot to be heard in this non seat wearing spot, with a 35 mph limit!) and happy to help without being intrusive.

But then they know they have much to be proud of and to enjoy. So there’s no need not to be content, is there?!

Factfile:

Alderney is a fantastic island for families. Children (and big kid adults!) will love the Trislander aeroplanes which operate from Guernsey to Alderney, with its flagship Joey donning a red nose and eyes! Check out the Channel Islands airline, www.aurigny.com which flies from Manchester (on a normal sized plane!) to Guernsey daily and then on to Alderney.

Accommodation: Braye Beach Hotel perches on one of the most stunning beaches in Alderney. Its four star accommodation boasts 27 well appointed rooms, AA Rosette food and a private cinema and complimentary WI Fi access. The hotel is part of the Vista Hotels group. Log onto: www.brayebeach.com or www.vistahotels.co.uk for special offers.

Tourist Information: Alderney Tours run by teacher Annabel Finding is well worth jumping aboard as Annabel not only gives you a potted history of the island, but also gives you a chance to get your bearings. Log onto: www.alderneytours.co.uk

The official tourist board can be found at www.visitalderney.com where marketing guru Barbara Beynon will be able to guide you with ease for a successful holiday!

 

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