My post today is a selection from "The Channel Islands" by David Thomas Ansted and Robert Gordon Latham, published in 1865. Most travel guides look at the population, the sights to visit, something of the history, but this is an exception. It begins by looking at the geography of the Islands, and then considers how this has shaped their subsequent history, so it is a bit different from the general guidebook.
Geography of the islands – Part 2
The course of the tidal wave through the waters that surround the Channel Islands, may be thus stated. The great wave coming in from the Atlantic, advances from the south-west, and is turned to the east. A part of it passes on to the north-east, north of the islands; but a part enters among them by various channels, and being first lifted by shoal water, and then thrown back by the coast of Normandy, it is both detained in its course, and is deflected to the north.
At Mont St. Michel, the magnitude of the wave is at its maximum. Owing to the vast extent of the shallow water, and the narrowness of the deeper passages throughout the great bay enclosing the islands, the wave remains extremely large, amounting in Jersey to nearly forty feet, in Guernsey to almost thirty, and in Alderney to about twenty feet at high spring tides; the difference between high water at spring and neap tides, being seventeen feet at the Minquiers and Jersey, eleven at Guernsey, and seven at Alderney, though sometimes very much greater on the occasion of great spring tides or equinoctial tides.
High water takes place at Jersey nearly half an hour before it reaches Guernsey, and three quarters of an hour before Alderney. The velocity of the tidal current, where not increased by narrow passages, is from two and a-half to three miles per hour.
Although the course of the tidal wave may thus be traced, the current by no means follows the same law. In this respect the complication is so great, that it would be quite impossible to describe it in detail in this place; but in a general way it may be stated, that the stream does not flow northwards with the advancing tide wave in the open channels, till the wave has been flowing three hours, and that when it has turned it continues in that direction not only till the flood has turned, but till the retiring wave has receded half its course. In other words, the stream flows from half flood to half ebb, and ebbs from half ebb to half flood. While, however, this is the case in certain channels, the direction of the stream is not only different, but often diametrically opposite, at no great distance, but somewhat nearer shore.
No wonder, then, that the rocks are jagged; no wonder the sand-banks are numerous and shifting; no wonder the ship heaves, and tosses, and groans, while forcing its way through these angry and powerful bodies of moving water. Bather is it wonderful that in all the islands the climate is so equable, and the weather generally so pleasant; that so little rain falls, so few fogs obscure the air, and so much comfort can be obtained at all seasons.
Owing to their geographical position, these islands are rich in certain departments of natural history. They are surrounded by shallow water, rocks, and sands, at a temperature very favourable for animal life. The water is always well aerated, there is abundant vegetation, and plenty of shelter in little caves and nooks. In this respect few parts of the coast of Europe, or its adjacent islands, are more rich. Zoophytes of almost all kinds, crustaceans, molluscs, and sponges, may be studied to perfection in natural rocky basins and caverns, and may be easily removed for study; while the sea-weeds and lichens are equally abundant, and equally available for natural-history investigation.
Owing to the climate, the vegetable productions of the land are equally remarkable. Having a more equable temperature than almost any part of the western shores of Europe, but not a larger rain-fall, there is every facility for cultivating whole classes of plants, elsewhere difficult to keep alive; and, though there is little intense heat in summer, still the absence of cold in winter is sufficiently marked to admit of the orange-tree bearing fruit, while the camellia is loaded with flowers in sheltered gardens, from December to March.
Placed close to Normandy, with whose early history they were intimately connected, the inhabitants of the Channel Islands have never lost the associations that were hence derived. In language and literature, and in laws and customs, they retain many early forms adapted for a young people, and thus they offer abundant material for useful study and comparison, to the ethnologist, the philologist, the student of history, and the lawyer. They have also abounded in antiquities referring to the earliest inhabitants of Western Europe, although such remains have disappeared rapidly of late years.
But chiefly are these little spots remarkable for exquisite and varied beauty of scenery. Each island has its own beauty, but all are remarkable. The artist may study for weeks the trees and ferns of a few acres of ground, or the rocks and lichens of some hundred yards of cliff; and the naturalist may wander for days over a space of a few square miles, without half exhausting its treasures.
That the Channel Islands are not known to the public generally cannot be said. But the knowledge concerning them is vague, and not at all in proportion to the interest they are calculated to afford. The islands are popularly little distinguished from each other, though essentially very different. Their magnitude and relative importance are scarcely ever appreciated by those who have not visited them; and those who do visit one, are frequently induced to pass over the others as of minor interest; although, in fact, there is hardly any resemblance in the characteristics of each, and all are worthy of a prolonged examination.
It must not be imagined that size is a criterion by which their relative interest can be guessed at, or that any of the islands can be understood by a rapid survey. There are difficulties in the way of really reaching the spots best worth seeing in all the islands, while the readily accessible views, and various points of view dwelt on in guide books, with the unction peculiar to that class of literature, cannot safely be accepted, either as those which will satisfy the true lover of the picturesque, or as in any way worthy of the exclusive notice they have been favoured with.
As in most small tracts of country where there are objects of special interest, some little time and trouble must, in fact, be devoted to their discovery. A carriage will doubtless place one near the spot where these things are to be looked for, and the roads are generally good; but a pair of legs, accustomed to convey their owner without complaint, and a steady head, not alarmed at a precipice, are necessary for any one who would do justice to nature, and seek her where she loves to linger, and where she pours forth her most valuable treasures.
As a place to visit during summer and autumn, but especially in the late autumn, up to November, it may safely be said that these islands are, beyond comparison, superior to any of the ordinary resorts of tourists, unable to reach the south of Europe. Much more varied in the style of beauty, though much smaller than the Isle of Wight, we have in most parts of Jersey and Guernsey, conditions only found in the most sheltered parts of the UnderclifF in the Isle of Wight.
The winds blow, and may be troublesome, but in the latter half of the year they are seldom cold, and never treacherous; there are then no fogs, and night frosts are extremely rare. The flowers continue to bloom, the fall of the leaf has more of softness and tenderness than of sternness, and the approach of winter is so quiet and gradual, that it is almost unheeded. There may be better summers on the Continent, though they are pleasant enough here, and the spring is ungenial in all northern latitudes; but for late autumn, there is no rival to the Channel Islands within several hundred miles.
In describing the islands, it will be best to proceed systematically, beginning with those that form the northern boundary of the tract of sea they are contained in. Those whose time is limited, cannot indeed follow this course in their travels; and many do little more than drive round Jersey and Guernsey, and spend a few hours in a fatiguing walk over the flat table land of Sark. To them this systematic course cannot fail to be useful; for though they no doubt fancy they have seen everything, they may thus discover that there remains material for another visit, when they will do well to devote time to each island in succession, and look out for the points before neglected. They may be assured, that they will find few places so small that take so long to see.
Those also who have not yet visited these outlying possessions, these ancient fiefs of our Queen, whose inhabitants regard themselves as independent of parliamentary jurisdiction, being governed by their own houses of assembly, and by officers appointed by the crown without reference to the laws of England, will be enabled thus to obtain beforehand a general glimpse of what is to be seen and studied, which may save much time and trouble when they do come.