If you really want to get away from it all, then the Channel Island of Alderney is definitely a candidate. It’s not easy to get to as the only connection is a flight from Guernsey although there are plans to restart the ferry service. Don’t expect bright lights and big city but wallow in the peace and quiet take healthy walks and enjoy the excellent seafood.
The island is tiny around 4 miles long and 1.5 miles wide and as the northernmost Channel Island, midway between France and England it’s always been of strategic importance. It is as a fortress dates from Roman times, but most of the fortifications were built in the 19th century to deter attacks from the French.
German invasion in WW2
When the Germans invaded in WW2 they expelled the population and replaced them with thousands of slave labourers. They were put to work building Hitler’s Atlantic Wall a network of bunkers, batteries and watch towers, 70 years after the end, most of these are still intact and they’re now officially recognised as part of the island’s cultural heritage.
St Anne, Alderney’s diminutive capital, is really just a couple of cobbled streets. The island began to prosper as a refuge for privateers government sponsored pirates, in the early 18th century. The Le Mesurier family from Guernsey became heredity governors, running the place as their private fiefdom.
This lasted until the end of the Napoleonic when privateering was ended and suppressed, and the last Le Mesurier handed the island to the crown. There’s an excellent museum in St Anne which as well as dealing with the early, has many artefacts from the German occupation.
The coastal path
I take the coastal path round the island well signed and an easy day’s walk. If you want to explore the fortifications it’s better to spend a couple of days the first going west of St Anne and the second day walking east. Alderney’s population has been shrinking and most live in St Anne so it’s an entirely rural exercise.
Starting at Braye Harbour, I follow my nose west and find deserted beaches and reach Fort Tourgis, the largest of the Victorian fortresses. Most of it is dangerously dilapidated but Cambridge Battery has been restored and you can see how the original Victorian fortifications were adapted by the Germans. There are plans for a self-contained luxury here, but locals scoff at the idea.
At the Western end of the island is Fort Clonque, connected to the mainland by a causeway. It’s now owned by the Landmark Trust and is available for rent. Further on, near the airport, I pass the site of the infamous Lager Sylt, one of the slave camps. This one was run by the S.S. and probably saw some of the worst atrocities on the island.
Continuing on the south coast, there are stunning views of cliffs and bays before reaching the Tudor ramparts of Fort. Work started in the 1560s but the castle was never completed. In Victorian times it became a fortified barracks and military and today has been converted into private dwellings.
Continuing east, towards the Lighthouse on the hill to the left is a German Anti-Aircraft watch tower known as the Odeon for its resemblance to old cinemas. You need to get a key from the tourist office but from the top you get fantastic view over the island. As you might imagine it’s surrounded by bunkers and gun emplacements, all lost in the vegetation.