Friday, 18 August 2017

Beautiful Britain - The Smaller Channel Islands - Part 1

My history for the next few weeks will come from “The Channel Islands” by Joseph E Morris, B.A., published by London, Adam and Charles Black, 1911. It is fascinating because, firstly, it is a guidebook from 1911, depicting a Jersey before the Great War erupted across Europe, and secondly because it is very much an outsider looking in, and making very personal observations mingled with the history.

Beautiful Britain - The Smaller Channel Islands - Part 1: Alderney

Hitherto, in dealing with the two larger of the Channel Islands, we have found their claims to natural beauty in their coasts.

The interior of Jersey is no doubt pleasant, with its lush-green valleys running north and south, with its quiet little villages, and with its never-ending potato-fields. The interior of Guernsey, on the other hand, is frankly hideous, save here and there a cottage, or a picturesque old farm, hidden in the folding of some safely secluded dell.

But in both cases alike the real distinction of the island is limited to cliffs that for warmth of colour and strangeness of contortion can surely be paralleled in Cornwall alone. Sark, on the contrary, is almost wholly coast ; the interior in comparison is a negligible quantity ! And almost as much may be said of Alderney.

Both these islands are exceedingly small-Sark being only a trifle more than three miles in length, and about one and three-quarters of a mile in breadth (measuring, not precisely from east to west, but at right angles to the axis) ; and Alderney being about three and a half miles in length, from north-east to south-west, and one and a quarter miles in breadth.

Alderney is undoubtedly the less beautiful of the two, and is probably by far the least frequently visited of all the different members of the Norman archipelago. The voyage from St. Peter Port, in a very small boat, and made only two or three times in a week, is dreaded, and not without reason, by those for whom rough seas have no welcome.

Alderney, again, is the least foreign of the Channel Islands in local colour, though nearest France in situation ; and here the old Norman patois has been entirely replaced by English. It possesses in its capital, St. Anne, a small, old-fashioned country town that is wholly without parallel anywhere else in the islands. The harbour is at Braye, a short mile north from the centre of the town; and the visitor, in strong contrast with what happens at Sark, is landed in the least romantic corner of the island.

Of the old church nothing now remains but a picturesque tower, and even this does not seem to be medieval. The new church was erected from designs by Sir Gilbert Scott, and is, perhaps, the most striking modern building in the Channel Islands.

The interior of Alderney, or Aurigny, to use the French form - Her crew hath seen Castile's black fleet, beyond Aurigny's isle- is strongly individualized, and rather wild and remote. One feels at once that this little island has a flavour of its own-a state of things no longer felt among the villadom and glass-houses of Guernsey.

The strength of Alderney, however, lies chiefly in its west and south coasts ; no one would visit the island except to visit these, or unless one happened to be an enthusiast for the world's neglected and inaccessible spots. I do not know how far the barbarous quarrying that was projected some six or seven years ago on the south side of the island has since been carried out, or how far it has injured the amenities of the coast.

Anyhow, the Two Sisters, towards the south-west corner of the island, are hardly to be rivalled in their splintered grandeur, even in Jersey or Sark.

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