29 JANUARY 1972, Page 23


Channel Isles

Carol Wright

To visit islands where one knows that even in a few days, the true flavour can be captured without much strain is a delight. Tending as we do, to despise our own back yard, the Channel Islands have not had the publicity they deserve. They deserve it for their petite beauty, good food, sense, and friendliness unimpaired by summer invasions: And after the commuting struggle in Britain, the joy of knowing nothing is more than fifteen-thirty minutes' drive away is restful.

Our habitually pressured and speedridden life may make adjustment to 1220 mph in towns and 45 mph outside difficult at first. But to enjoy the Channel Islands, pace must be slowed. A shopping walk through the streets of St Helier or St Peter Port is a progression of goodmornings and gossipings; problems are deliberated without hurry. This does not mean the islands are living in a placid past. They know the value of tourism.

Jersey has opted for more slick, sophisticated tourism with plenty of luxury hotels, many with their own garden-setheated swimming pool as at St Brelades Bay, a hotel I like very much, Water's Edge Hotel, and the Old Court House. The west coast gives surfing surges for the younger set who also have their share of discotheques, while the older visitor is pampered with superb food such as lobsters grilled just in butter and brandy at spots like the Bonne Nuit. Annual gastronomic festivals are organised amongst the hotels. Although crowded in high summer, peace is still obtainable. There is Jersey's empty north coast, little bays accessible down cliff climbs but, being north-facing, limited in the sunshine hours. Then only a mile or two from the beaches are rich upland farms reached through car-wide twisting leafy lanes snaking upwards. Accommodation and diet-disregarding food can be obtained in the long, low, black and white farmhouses that serve the traditional island recipes and go in for elaborate tea spreads of the childhood memory kind.

Guernsey, more homely, is a return to the delights of a childhood holiday. In St Peter Port the Fleur du Jardin is a good away-from-the-beach place to stay or eat with its 140-year-old communal plough outside. Along the waterfront, old warehouses have become first class restaurants like the Steak and Stilton and La Nautique. For a view of Castle Cornet guarding the harbour and the bays out towards Herm and Sark, the restaurant of La Fregate up the hill backing the town is a place to savour both the seascape and food; mushrooms in batter are a local hors d'oeuvre here and I remember a winter day's sweet of fresh sliced peaches, tanged with orange juice and Cointreau and topped with the local yellowed cream. Traditional teas of Guernsey gache (a malt tea cake) homemade scones and lemon curd can be taken at the Hotel du Moulin run by the individualist, Miss Milburn, who will sometimes turn out with pony and trap to meet guests arriving at the airport.

Pony, bicycle or foot is the best way to explore these islands. The past, though prized, is no bar to progress. Guernsey has wisely prohibited camping and caravanning and is concentrating on upgrading small boarding houses and providing modern &elfcatering apartments in blocks set round provision of cliff paths.

In a small island that in summer acids 25,000 people to its usual 45,000 it seems unlikely crowd escape is possible. Yet several beaches are still little known in the southern, ravined coast. One or tWo beaches are slowly being opened up by the provision of cliff paths.

Day expeditions to France, Sark, Jethou or Herm add dimensions to the visit's activities. On Herm there is little else but the small farming population in summer and the White House Hotel and long, long beaches swept by wind and tide, The hotel, once the home of Sir Compton Mackenzie, is now open in winter too for the ungregarious holidaymaker. In addition to the warm, comfort-conscious rooms in the main building, there is accommodation in converted fishermen's cottages adjoining the site.

For a low air fare in small, intimate aircraft or five-and-a-half hours by ferry from Weymouth I'd make a spring dash to see the daffodils, golden swathed down to the sand beach fringe. I'd be mothered in a farmhouse on a new leaf Jersey lane where I could sit sheltered by the long low walls in the sun and watch the flowers and the sea and then a few days loitering the cliff paths of Guernsey, hiring a boat to nose along the coast, staying again in a country inn like the Fleur du Jardin, riding the beaches to examine the sand-silted fortresses of past wars.

For this is a no-man's-land position near to France, a British way of life but French in character and patois and above all independent in its peaceful life.