All aboard for Alderney

Samantha Mayling checks out the multi-tasking locals of Alderney during a day trip from Guernsey.

For an island with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, it’s not surprising that Alderney folk have to multi-task.

The radiographer is also a pig farmer, while the airport check-in chap also checks people out as he is the undertaker.

Our first clue about what makes Alderney special could be seen as we boarded our Aurigny plane at Gatwick.

The tailfin features a picture of a puffin in flight, with its bright, multi-coloured beak.

Sadly, we were visiting Alderney too late in the year to see puffins, but there’s plenty more wildlife to spot on the island.

Just eight miles from France, it’s third biggest island in the Channel Islands, and part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Our flight from Gatwick to Guernsey was less than an hour, and the following day we travelled with The Little Ferry Company to Alderney, 25 miles away.

The ferry trip took just over an hour and was more of a white-knuckle ride than expected, thanks to the rapid tides and currents, said to be among the fastest in the world.

It came as no surprise that the service only operates during the summer, and a 15-minute flight from Guernsey with Aurigny is a less bumpy way to arrive – but perhaps not as memorable.

Braye Beach

Our first port of call was for coffee at the Braye Beach Hotel, with rooms overlooking the pale sands of Braye Beach (pictured). The hotel even has its own small cinema, with 19 comfy leather chairs.

This was our departure point for a whistle-stop round-island minibus tour with John Horton of Alderney Tours – a former Metropolitan police officer who’s swapped London life for the island’s wildlife.

It may only be a small island – just one and a half miles wide and three and a half miles long – but it is packed with sites of historic interest and wildlife-watching opportunities.

John told us that wildlife holiday tours are becoming very popular as Alderney is one of the best places in the UK to spot dolphins, seals, unique flowers, migrating birds, butterflies, moths and even blonde hedgehogs.

Alderney hosts 2% of the world population of northern gannets between February and October each year, and, as we watched the colony on the rocky outcrop of Les Etacs, it felt like we were in a wildlife documentary.

German occupation

John also told us about the Second World War occupation by the Germans, who built the only concentration camps on British soil on the island.

There were 600 wartime bunkers – more than the rest of the Channel Islands put together – including the ‘Odeon’, which looks like a cinema but was a range-finding tower.

We also stopped at the ‘nunnery’, which is now the Alderney Bird Observatory where John is a warden, monitoring the island’s birdlife.

Archaeologists have uncovered a Bronze Age burial site, a Roman fort, and evidence of Napoleonic, Victorian and German occupation.

But the name is something of a mystery – the site is unlikely to have housed nuns, and the ‘nunnery’ was probably a nickname for a brothel.

Georgian House

Lunch was at the Georgian House, in St Anne, which had appetising sea-food options on the menu: Alderney fish soup, pickled mackerel, crab, seabass, samphire, lobster, pollock and oysters.

Our guide for the afternoon tour of St Anne was Donald Hughes, who, like so many others we met on the island, arrived from the mainland and just stayed.

We started at the tourist information centre, where there was a tribute to Wombles creator Elisabeth Beresford, who lived on the island and named one of her Wombles Alderney.

The cobbled streets looked quaint, with colourful bunting and blue post boxes, like a quirky vintage recreation of an English village where everyone leaves their front door unlocked – albeit with French road names.

It was a Saturday afternoon but there was almost no traffic, so we could amble aimlessly, taking pictures and listening to Donald’s tales of Alderney’s history and architecture.

The Channel Islands became part of the Duchy of Normandy in 933 but after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Dukes of Normandy became the kings of England, the islands became English property.

The Channel Islands are now Crown Dependencies and even today, the Queen is known as the Duke of Normandy on the islands.

We heard more about the Nazi occupation in the Second World War, and saw the grave of Sapper George Onions who died clearing mines in June 1945.

We strolled back down to Braye harbour to catch the ferry to Guernsey – but there was just enough time for a paddle in the sea (still warm in September).

When I next visit, I shall definitely make sure it’s during the puffin season.

Aurigny:
Return flights from Gatwick to Guernsey with Aurigny are from £90 per person (light fare) or from £142.
Aurigny also offers direct flights to Guernsey from Stansted, Bristol, East Midlands, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford and Norwich.
Return flights between Guernsey and Alderney are from £96 per person
aurigny.com

Ferry to Alderney:
Day return fares to Alderney cost £40 per person. The service runs from April to October.
thelittleferrycompany.com

Alderney Tours:
Two-hour round-island minibus tours run daily between April and October from 2pm to 4pm. £15 per adult and £10 for children under 16.
Pre-booking is required.
alderneytours.co.uk

The Georgian House:
Double rooms available from £85, including breakfast.
georgianalderney.com

Alderney Town Walks:
Guided walks of St Anne are available on request from the Visitor Information Centre. £6 for adults and £3 for children.
visitalderney.com/visit/walking-holidays

See visitguernsey.com for a list of operators including Travelsmith/Alderney Holidays, C. I. Travel Group (Airways Holidays, GuernseyTravel.com), and Premier Holidays.