Blonde hedgehogs, beautiful beaches and brilliant birdlife are just a few highlights of the third largest Channel Island
More than 60 miles off the English coast but only eight miles from France, Alderney is the most northerly of the Channel Islands. Just over three miles long and one and a half miles wide, it is a perfect size for discovering at a leisurely pace.
A Crown Dependency, Alderney’s status dates back to 1204, when France invaded and the Ridunians (as locals have been called since Roman times) pledged loyalty to their duke, the English King John. The island was fortified by the British in the 18th century to prevent invasion by the French and is still ringed with stone towers and forts. Alderney was occupied by the Germans during WW2 and became part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 1949.
Braye Bay: Arriving by sea, the first thing you notice about the harbour is the length of the breakwater. Designed to provide a safe haven for British ships, work on the 3,000 foot structure began in 1847 and took 17 years to complete. The island’s railway was put in to transport stone from a quarry to create the wall, while the ice-cream coloured cottages nearby were built to house construction workers.
Saye Bay: Heading east, the Hammond Memorial is dedicated to the conscripted labourers brought to Alderney during the Nazi occupation. Unlike Jersey and Guernsey, which retained the majority of their civilian populations during WW2, Alderney was entirely evacuated and turned into a series of forced labour camps.
Longis Bay: You can see a good example of the German fortifications at Longis Bay, where the thick concrete wall, once part of their Atlantic Defense, now serves as a perfect windbreak for sunbathing. It’s a short walk across the causeway at low tide to Raz Island, with its 19th-century fort. The tide here moves incredibly quickly, creating a treacherous stretch of sea known as the Alderney Race.
Clonque Bay: Covered with bright pink heather, the hillside above Clonque Bay is a perfect spot for a picnic. Alderney is still predominantly agricultural with open fields still farmed according to the ancient Norman system of ‘riages’ or strips. Clonque is a popular place for farmers to collect seaweed or ‘Vraic’ which is used as fertilizer.
Alderney has more than 260 species of sea birds with colonies of gannets, guillemots and puffins dotted along the rocks. Keen bird watchers can take a boat trip to Burhou, an important bird breeding colony or visit one of the nature reserves at Longis or Val du Saou. The latter contains the Wildlife Bunker, an interpretation centre set in a former German bunker. The island is famous for blonde hedgehogs, otherwise known as Alderney Spike Girls. Legend has it these pale animals arrived in a Harrods bag in the 1960s and spread thanks to the mild climate and lack of natural predators. For more info on wildlife see www.alderneywildlife.org
The town, St Anne is a delightful arrangement of Victorian terraces offset by gracious Georgian houses. The grandest is Mouriaux House, a soft-pink granite mini-chateau built for the island’s governor in 1779. The main shopping area around Victoria Street developed in the early 19th century with the growth of the British garrison and today has a selection of cafes, estate agents and small boutiques. For groceries try Le Cocq’s where the traditional frontage incongruously opens out into a spacious mini-market selling a good range of fresh food and brands.
Alderney Museum, open daily from April-October, offers a variety of exhibits from the island’s first Iron Age settlement at Les Hughettes to an account of life during the Occupation.
At 32 metres above the ground, Mannez Lighthouse on the east coast offers a wonderful view of the island if you can manage the climb. Open weekends from May – September.
Built in the 1840s, Alderney Railway was designed to move stone from the quarry at Mannez to the breakwater and is now the only railway in the Channel Islands. Operating at weekends from Easter to the end of September, the train comprises a Diesel locomotive and two 1950s London Underground carriages. Railway enthusiasts may also enjoy the miniature railway at Mannez. See www.alderneyrailway.com for details.
Alderney also has a scenic nine-hole golf course, although alternate tees allow you to pay 18-holes. Fees from £15 for nine-holes. See www.alderney.org/golf for details.
Where to stay
Braye Beach Hotel is the most luxurious accommodation on the island. Delightfully decorated in shades of blue and cream which replicate the colours of the bay, rooms are fresh and comfortable. Facilities include a cinema room, bar, lounges and an AA rosette restaurant with views of the beach across to Fort Albert. Low season rates are from £109 per night for a double room including breakfast. There are usually special offers for longer stays.
The Harbour Lights Hotel is an option for those on a tighter budget, with nine pine furnished guest rooms, a bistro and terrace. Out of season doubles start at £80 per night including breakfast.
For those who enjoy self-catering, there are a number of properties on the island sleeping from 2-10. One of the most attractive is Newford House, a beautifully restored five-bedroom Georgian town house in St Anne’s; from £1,100/ week in spring.
Local produce includes lobsters, crabs and scallops. While some vegetables are grown on the island, the majority of food is imported from the UK or France.
Good restaurants include Braye Beach Hotel, which is open all year; Tel: 01481 824300 for reservations. Chef Scott Chance creates a range of elegant dishes such as pan-seared scallops with black pudding and quails' eggs, pheasant with red cabbage and chestnuts or pumpkin cheesecake with baklava; while lighter options such as salads or gourmet sandwiches are available for lunch.
The First and Last, Braye Street, 01481 823162, just above the harbour offers traditional cooking with a fine range of seafood. Open from spring to autumn, the homemade puddings, many of which use Channel Islands cream, are particularly good.
There are a number of cafes and bistros in St Anne serving sandwiches and light meals.
The only direct flights from the UK to Alderney are with Aurigny (www.aurigny.com) from Southampton, or connect in Guernsey from Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands and Bristol. Flights from Southampton to Alderney start from £57 one-way.
Blue Islands (www.blueislands.com) also fly to Alderney via Guernsey from Southampton, Jersey, Isle of Man and Southampton. Flights from Alderney to Guernsey start from £27.50 one-way.
From May-September Manche Iles Express (www.manche-iles-express.com) operate ferries from Guernsey to Alderney. The journey takes one hour and costs £37.50 one way. You can reach Guernsey by ferry from Weymouth or Poole in two hours with Condor Ferries (www.condorferries.co.uk), from £32.50 one-way.
The busiest time to visit is Alderney Week, 30 July-6 August 2011. Events include a sandcastle competition, open air theatre productions, an iron man competition and a torch lit procession. For more details see www.alderneyweek.net
Alderney Seafood Festival takes place 7-17 May 2011 with island chefs showcasing local produce, while Alderney Wildlife Week features the island’s first Bird Race, 29 May, where teams try to record all the wild birds they can spot in one day.