Forage and feast your way around Guernsey’s coastline – Chloe Cann serves up a taste of a long weekend on the rugged Channel Island
I am perched on a log in the Guernsey countryside, my numbed fingers outstretched, a small, chocolate-brown object that looks like a brain sitting in my palm. It’s called a King Alfred’s Cake but you definitely won’t find it lining the shelves of the bakery section at your local Sainsbury’s.
“In the 90s they found a body buried in the Alps from 5,000 years ago,” explains D’arcy, our guide and co-founder of Wild Guernsey, as he toys with his brown leather cross body satchel, his woolly hat and oversized jumper protecting him from the bitter March winds. “They found a pouch on him with fungus in, which was a King Alfred’s Cake.”
It turns out the fungus has been used as tinder for fire lighting for thousands of years, and once again today on our two-hour Fire and Foraging workshop. As we don’t have hours to play with we can’t get too primitive and attempt the art with flints; instead D’arcy provides firesteels – pocket-sized spark starters that are perfect for the instant gratification generation. But even still it takes a few attempts before I’m holding a cake glowing with flecks of amber. “Once you get an ember you’re like ‘blimey, I’m going to look after this,” D’arcy says. And he’s right. Having spent five minutes labouring over it I’m positively euphoric as the embers take to the barley straw and flames dance in front of me.
My improving bushcraft skills aren’t the only source of excitement this freezing cold Sunday. The marbled turquoise and navy waters of Rocquaine Bay in the island’s south-west provide a magnificent backdrop to our afternoon spent foraging and starting fires.
It’s not just one corner of the island that hogs all the coastal limelight, however. Vazon Bay in the west was awarded the title of Britain’s cleanest beach by The Telegraph last year. At neighbouring Cobo Bay you can fix yourself up with the island’s best fish and chips, which kids balance on their skateboards as the sun sets. And Moulin Huet Bay on the south coast is famed for its Renoir connection: the French impressionist took inspiration from the jagged, dark rock faces that give way to the sea.
There are plenty of ways to admire the island’s coastline beyond idling on its sandy shores – local operators offer activities, from sea kayaking and kitesurfing, to stand-up paddle boarding and coasteering, making it the ideal escape for families and outdoorsy types.
More independent clients can opt to hike or bike through the island or walk around the cliff tops. Visit Guernsey also offers visitors the option of self-guided Tasty Walks. The 18 routes encompass local sights and attractions, such as famous French writer Victor Hugo’s house, secret coves and grand manor houses, and also foodie pit stops along the way.
It’s also on Guernsey’s shores that the island’s wartime history is most visible. The Channel Islands were the only British territories to fall under German occupation during the Second World War, and pillboxes, bunkers and other fortifications still pepper the seafront, leaving an indelible reminder of a different time.
Once your clients have worked up an appetite they can kick back and indulge by the sea: the kiosks that dot the shoreline offer treats such as gache melee (a traditional Guernsey apple dessert) as well as cream tea.
Getting around the diminutive isle, which measures just 12 miles long, is easy. Many visitors come over in their own cars on the ferry, but for clients who would prefer to fly there are also car rental companies on the island, and taxis too.
One 60-something guest I meet at charming three-star hotel Les Rocquettes champions the island bus. “It goes very slowly so you can see everything,” he says as we chat in the steam room. “It’s only £1 and it takes about one and a half hours to do the whole line.” He’s visited Guernsey and Jersey several times before and is fond of both. “What I like is the people,” he notes, “so friendly.” He’s also rather impressed by the hotel. “Friends of mine stayed in a five-star and said Les Rocquettes was better. The facilities are impressive for such a small place, and the service is very good.”
With its gym, swimming pool, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi, sleek bar area and hearty breakfast I have to agree. It’s on the outskirts of St Peter Port and would be tricky for less mobile clients to reach without a car because it’s up a steep incline, but otherwise it is good value.
Unfortunately we don’t get as much time to indulge in the facilities as we’d hoped: the arrival of storm Katie means our three-hour trip home on Condor Ferries’ fast ferry is cancelled due to the bad weather. Instead Condor offers us alternative transport on board conventional ferry the Commodore Clipper to Portsmouth, which ends up taking some 10 hours – do warn your clients about the potential for disruption in bad weather.
It’s a rather damp note on which to end a weekend away, but regardless, Guernsey still has me all fired up.
Book it: Airways Holidays offers three nights at Les Rocquettes staying in a standard room (based on two sharing) with travel by fast ferry Condor Liberation from Poole from £319pp – price based on a September 11 departure. The Fire and Foraging workshop can be booked directly through Wild Guernsey, and leads in from £20 per adult and £10 per child.
60 seconds with... Alicia Andrews, executive director – commercial, Condor Ferries
How can agents book with Condor Ferries?
Agents can book direct for individual customers and Condor has a dedicated sales manager for group bookings. It is easy for agents to book via the website or the groups booking line: 0845 609 1024.
How does Condor work with agents?
Agents are invited to take part in fam trips organised by Condor, in conjunction with Channel Island tourism partners. Condor offers up to 20% discount on services for groups of up to 10 foot passengers, all with allocated seating. Further discounts are available depending on group size and trip type – a reduction of up to 50% is available on day trips for groups of 10 or more foot passengers. Group bookings can also benefit from pre-paid meal vouchers, offering 20% off onboard prices for drinks and food.
Where does Condor operate services to?
Condor operates year-round sailings. Fast-ferries operate from Poole to Guernsey and Jersey and onwards with Condor Rapide to St Malo. The conventional ferry operates between Portsmouth, Guernsey and Jersey.
Why do people choose the ferry over planes?
For many of our passengers, it’s the flexibility of having no luggage restrictions and being able to travel with their own vehicles. For others, it’s the convenience of being able to take pets and without the hassle of airports.
What can guests expect on Condor Liberation?
It’s a state-of-the art ferry with three seating areas, and all seats are pre-assigned. In Ocean Traveller seats are airline style with folding lap trays. In Ocean Plus there is a choice of seats in the Horizon Lounge, either reclining with a tray table or around a table – all with at-seat power. The Horizon Lounge is key-card entry and passengers benefit from the exclusive bar. And Ocean Club is a private lounge, with leather reclining seats and tables, where stewards serve hot and cold drinks.