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Mar 31

Alderney: Fortress Island

Alderney is only a small island, approximately three miles long and a mile and an half wide, but it is crammed with fortifications. The earliest is a Roman fort / trading post at Longis Bay which subsequently became a nunnery, German gun emplacement and private house amongst other incarnations. At the end of the first millennia the island was part of the Duchy of Normandy, and accidentally became British when Duke William swam the Channel. The Tudors had a building spree with at least four castles and then the Victorians became edgy, the French getting uppity again, and built about a dozen forts. All this was dwarfed (in number rather than size) by the Germans in the Second World War. Not only that, but the Germans converted the island into a giant concentration camp, intending, so it is said, to house the great and the good of Britain after Hitler had invaded. I doubt if there is anywhere on the island where you are out of sight of some form of military remains. And yet Alderney has a peace and charm that is totally at odds with its war-like heritage. The coast is beautiful with a mixture of low, rugged cliffs, sheltered sandy bays, a few patches of marshland and hundreds of rocky islets off the coast. A bird watcher’s paradise. To the east the French coast is usually quite clear, Alderney being level with Cap de la Hague, and Guernsey and Jersey are misty smudges on the southern horizon. St Anne’s, the one and only town, has the feel of a small English market town of the 1930s, probably somewhere in Devon. This despite the architecture being slightly continental. The annual island fete is held at Longis Bay, close to the old Roman fort. My son, Edward, and I came across it by accident last year while walking round the coast, clambering over a bank into the fete field. Most people seemed to be arriving on foot from all points of the compass. A curious mixture of traditional English village fete, bygone agricultural show and a few innovations – even the Thai restaurant from St Anne’s had a stall (very well attended too!). Edward and I couldn’t cope with the unaccustomed mass of people (at least 300) and so nipped round the corner to a little restaurant / café and had a very pleasant lunch in their Mediterranean style garden.
Matthew Brundret