Leaving for Jethou, I was unable to make connections with the direct weekly boat. I therefore crossed to Guernsey, transferred to the Jethou ferry, and retraced my wake—a journey of seven miles to go 400 yards. From the sea, 20-acre Jethou appears a barren hump of rock, but Mr. and Mrs. Angus Faed, who leased it in 1964, prayerfully farm it. The Faeds also operate the island’s ferry and a pub-cafe.
Jethou’s former tenants sometimes made the island pay in more colorful ways. “Col. Montague Fielden—he was tenant in the 1870′s,” Mr. Faed said, “he used to fire on passing fishermen. His lease was terminated when it turned out he had been using Jethou as a depot to smuggle brandy from France to Dorset.”
The island may be haunted by Neolithic ghosts as well as by illicit spirits. Mr. Faed took me to the Druid’s Stone in Fairy Wood. This menhir stands at one end of a bare ellipse surrounded by tall trees. Nearby, he patted a thick low sycamore branch.
“Solid, you’d say? Well, here it is in a picture I took—and it’s not a double exposure.”
The branch was only a ghostly outline, through which the rest of the wood and the ominous Druid’s Stone were clearly visible.”It’s like a spell’s been put on this place,” Mr. Faed said.
Spell or no spell, he intends to stay. “We sold a property on Jersey to buy here. All those rich tax avoiders have driven house property sky high. But we got this whole island, the cafe, and the manor for what a four-bedroom house would cost there.”
On Alderney, the northernmost island, rich tax avoiders can still pick up bargains, for the wind blows there as hard as the sun shines, and the island draws mostly visitors with a taste for spacious solitude. The very lornness of Alderney intrigues. On its country roads, if you pass another car every half an hour it’s a traffic jam.
The population figure, 1,500, is the same as before World War II, but the people are not at all the same. Many of the old Norman families never returned; many English families took their places. On Alderney now no one speaks Norman French.
In the peaceful capital of St. Anne I failed to find the celebrated “one street and every second house a pub.” On half a dozen charming cobbled streets, every second house was, instead, a gem of 18th-century architecture.
A Man’s Home May Be His Fort
Elsewhere on Alderney, the chief architectural motif was military. Alderney is by far the most fortified island I have ever seen. During much of the 19th century, the “Gibraltar of the Channel” bristled at the wicked French but rarely fired a shot in anger. Many of the fortifications have been converted to flats and homes (opposite). One, Fort Clonque, bought four decades ago for $131, recently sold for more than $50,000.
Few Alderney properties have appreciated to such an extent, and a dedicated bird-watcher can still rent the but on unpopulated Burhou, two miles off Alderney, for 60 cents a day. There he may commune with the thousands of clown-nosed puffins and Mother Carey’s chickens—properly storm petrels—that nest in rabbit burrows. He may also observe the amazing gannet colonies on Les Etacs and Ortac. These rocks are so dense with the white birds that they look snow-covered.
Will such charms of nature still attract visitors if Britain joins the Common Market? If she does, the now largely duty-free Channel Islands would have the same tariffs as other members, and island prices would go up. In agriculture, Britain would have to remove tariffs that protect the Channel Islands against the Netherlands and other Common Market mass-producers.
As usual, Jersey and Guernsey view the situation differently. Jerseymen say that when hotels, food, and drink cost the same in Jersey as in England, tourists will switch to Spain, Greece, and Portugal, low-priced, non-Common Market countries. Some demand that Jersey assert its independence and refuse to join even if Britain does.
Guernseymen generally feel it is wrong to assume tourists come only because drink and food are cheap. “Why,. I’ve even seen some teetotalers!” one told me. The most optimistic expect to have more tourists than before—from Common Market countries.
I asked Guernsey Bailiff Sir William Arnold (page 729) why Jerseymen and Guernseymen have such opposite views on the question.
“Oh, they’re different from us over there,” the bailiff said, “less placid.”
The far-from-placid, j000ce-pressing M. Le Cornu was not surprised: “What can you expect of Guernseymen? They’re different from us, you know—kind of simple.”
M. Le Cornu was being humorous, for he calls himself “a simple man.” It is simplicity in its broadest sense—honest, direct human kindness—that makes all the Channel Islanders so attractive to a visitor from an overcomplicated Great Power.