Herm sweet Herm

by alicia

Small, stress-free and seductive, the Channel Island of Herm is the place to go if you're searching for that perfect no-frills getaway. Take your lover, your family, your friend - but not your car

Beautiful Herm Island, the smallest of the Channel Islands, is only a mile and a half long, and half a mile wide. And the main attraction of this gem is that cars are not allowed. What can be more inviting for those seeking that perfectly quiet getaway holiday?

I had my first glimpse of Herm from neighbouring Guernsey one fine day in mid-February. I was immediately attracted. Tourist season starts only in March and continues until October; but that did not deter me; I settled for a day trip. The 20-minute boat ride from Guernsey was most pleasant, with blue skies and a perfectly calm sea all the way. These islands are supposed to be the sunniest in the British Isles.

First impressions

The locals returning from their shopping expedition to Guernsey headed straight to two tractors, dumping their baggage into the trailers (tractors and quad bikes are the only vehicles allowed on Herm). The rest of us tourists headed uphill towards the single pub for a quick bite before setting off to explore the island. We’d heard that The Mermaid Tavern, the hub of Herm, opened only at lunchtime during the winter.

Behind the bar, taking orders and serving drinks, was Nigel Waylen, who’d been working there for six years. “The island has a local doctor, five paramedics and a floating ambulance if necessary. We have our own fire-fighters and ambulance for transporting,” he explained. “What about school for the kids?” I asked. “Mrs Carey, the teacher, comes in every day for school. We’re pretty busy in the summer and take on extra staff but you can’t live here permanently unless you are local or married to a local.”

I can see why Peter Wood wanted to buy the island from the Crown in 1946, even though it was rundown and deserted. And I can just picture the Trappist and Chartreuse monks who used to live here walking silently in prayer and meditation. Thankfully, the German armed forces who came in 1940 did not stay too long on the island. The Wood family did much restoring and building the infrastructure; today, Starboard Settlement, a trust set up by the present leaseholders, manages the island.

Exploring the island

With map in hand, I set out northbound, following the signpost to Fisherman’s Beach; my aim was to walk around the island. I couldn’t help smiling: as well as pointing people in the right direction, the signpost also gives the time it will take to get there, in minutes. I continued on towards Bear Beach, Mouisonniere Beach, then east towards Shell Beach, which was totally white, quite dazzling and spectacular with millions of fragments of shells.

Enchanted, I sat on the dunes, quietly taking in the breathtaking views out to sea on this clear day. Where do all these shells come from? Was Robinson Crusoe’s island like this? It’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular beaches on the island. Thank goodness, there are no fortifications or lookout points constructed for defence purposes, as on the other Channel Islands; these would simply be out of place next to these golden beaches and gentle hills. The beaches here are unspoilt, clean and pollution-free.

I could easily have spent more time on the dunes, but I had a ferry to catch back to Guernsey, so continued my walk. The cliff path towards Belvoir Bay was somewhat steeper but the views out to sea made it all worthwhile. There were no more sandy beaches here on the southern part of the island, but colourful wild flowers were just beginning to blossom. I eventually got to Puffin Bay, spotting more deserted rocky inlets, some puffins and terns. I quickened my pace, as I could see the boat coming in to the harbour.

Where to stay

Tucked away near the harbour is a white majestic building with extensive gardens all around. This is the traditional and family-owned White House Hotel, the only hotel on the island. Here, guests can choose from a variety of rooms and cottages, with breakfast and dinner included. Half-board starts at £85 per person per night during low season, increasing to £98 during high season. The White House welcomes children and will even provide high tea for them in the evenings, allowing grown-ups to enjoy the spectacular sunsets from the splendid dining room. In keeping with the tranquil Herm atmosphere, the country-style hotel has no televisions, clocks or telephones in the rooms. The hotel also rents self-contained cottages, leaving you the option to dine in or out in the evenings.

All too soon it was time to leave this peaceful island. I had one regret as the catamaran pulled out: it would have been so exhilarating to spend a night or two on Herm. Just imagine, an island with only 50 inhabitants and no cars to pollute - true paradise!