Last year, our book club read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel based on the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II. Guernsey was the only part of Britian that was so occupied; the island is located just 8 miles off the coast of France, so it was inevitable that the Germans would take it after France had fallen. Britian could not afford to defend the tiny island without tremendous loss of civilian life, and so decided to evacuate all the children and adults who wished to go, leaving behind a handful of brave men and women to continue. It's a great read, written in the form of correspondence between the main characters on Guernsey and mainland Britian and U.S. I didn't know at the time that I read it that I would be visiting there so soon!
We had sailed from Southampton the day before and arrived in St. Peter Port early the next morning. The dock there is quite small, so our giant ship could not come all the way in; we anchored just outside the harbor and went in by tender (small boat). Approaching the island, you can't miss the giant fortress; while many others in the group opted to go there on a tour including the underground tunnel museum, we decided to stay above ground and explore Guernsey by foot.
Our first stop was St. James Church, the tall spire you can see in the photo above. Housed inside St. James are the Guernsey Tapestries, a collection of 10 unique, heavily embroidered works, each depicting a century of Guernsey history. They were created as a collaborative work by residents of the 10 boroughs that make up the island. Dozens of needle artists of all skill levels contributed hundreds of hours to the completion of these tapestries over the course of about three years. They were finished around 2002; the Queen visited for the opening and awarded a medal to the organizer of the project. She probably was invited to one of those garden parties as well. You can see more of the tapestries here .
Guernsey has more claim to fame than good looking cows; it was also where the first post box was invented. While French is the official language, English is most often spoken; they have their own pound currency (I brought a bill home to press in my book) and postage stamps. One of the churches that we visited was having a sort of spontaneous rummage sale, and I purchased several collections of colorful Guernsey stamps to use in future art projects. As we passed the pub shown above, I wondered if it was the site of the original cock and bull story. Who knew?
Next stop was the Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, high atop a hill with the best views in town. The Museum is full of war time memorabilia and provides an excellent commentary on the German occupation. The adjoining Art Gallery was showing art created during this time by residents who had the added challenge of not having very much to work with. It's amazing how resourceful people can be when circumstances call for it. Many household items were repurposed during this time, and here you thought our current frenzy for altering things was a brand new idea! At the museum I purchased a great little reproduction book of a government war publication, titled Make Do and Mend -- I see it is also on amazon.com. Oh, and there was tea and scones at the adjoining cafe in the gardens.
Our final destination was to find the house where Victor Hugo lived for about 14 years while in exile from France. It was here that he wrote Les Miserables among other works. The house is lovely; the gardens in the back even more so, with views of his beloved France from the upper windows. I've included a few photos above. Alas, all we could see across the water on this day was the giant cruise ship waiting down in the harbor.
Long before our day ended there, I had fallen in love with Guernsey. The flowers all over the island were magnificent; hundreds of hanging baskets and tiny courtyards filled with beauty; the temperature was around 75 degrees; a welcome escape from our sweltering Chicago summer. So, if I go missing sometime, there is a good chance you will find me here again in this charming, inspirational setting.