The Channel Islands – Jersey, Guernsey, Herm, Alderney and Sark – are the remains of a vast primordial volcanic crater. Although they lie closer to France than England, the islands’ inhabitants are British citizens. They are, however, neither legally part of the UK nor administered from Westminster, having governed themselves since the 13th century. Their distinctive histories, cultures and geography set them apart not only from France and England but also from each other.
This 14-day tour explores the gardening, history and horticultural heritage of the Channel Islands. Warmed all year round by the Gulf Stream, the Channel Islands possess dynamic ecosystems, each a sanctuary for an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Our tour is timed for spring, when clifftops are covered with wildflowers and subtropical gardens burst with colour.
Starting in Jersey, the ‘Floral Island’, the tour continues to Guernsey. From here, we take excursions to the nearby islands of Sark, Burhou and Herm. As well as seeing a large and varied selection of public and private gardens, including Grey Gables, La Maison des Près and the walled garden at La Seigneurie on Sark, we also visit the wildflower meadow at Le Noir Pré, which bursts into colour at the end of May with over 50,000 blooming orchids, and enjoy a tour of the Eric Young Orchid Foundation, where unique varieties are still bred. A feature of this tour is the large number of specially arranged visits to private gardens that rarely open to the general public, and a boat trip from Alderney to view the Atlantic Puffin colony which breeds on Burhou Island between March and July.
This tour draws on the expertise of local guest speakers. The ‘Birdman of Jersey’, Mike Stentiford, will introduce some of his island’s abundant birdlife, and Dr Olga Finch will introduce the islands’ rich archaeological heritage. During World War II, the islands were the only part of the UK occupied by Germany. We visit the Jersey War Tunnels, a 1-kilometre tunnel network built by POWs originally as an ammunition store and then converted into an underground hospital. We have the special opportunity to visit the La Hougue Bie Museum with the conservator to view the ‘Jersey Hoard’, a vast collection of Iron Age and Roman coins discovered in 2012 and now on display after a period of study and conservation. We visit the unique Glass Church of St Matthew, the extraordinary doors, font, screen and altar of which were designed and produced by René Lalique. As befits these unique islands, this is the only church of its kind in the world and a splendid example of the Channel Islands’ singular beauty and heritage.
Along the way we will sample Jersey’s famous cheese, ice cream, picked crab, the Guernsey Gâche (a special bread made with raisins, sultanas and mixed peel), and Sark’s famous lobster.