- For other places with the same name, see Channel Islands (disambiguation).
The Channel Islands (French: Îles Anglo-Normandes, Norman dialects: Îles d'la Manche) are an archipelago in the Bay of St Malo, off the Normandy and Brittany coast of France - only Alderney the most northerly truly lies in the English Channel. They comprise two "bailiwicks", of Jersey and of Guernsey, which are self-governing Crown Dependencies of the United Kingdom. There is no single political entity or jurisdiction of the Channel Islands, and Jersey and Guernsey are as distinct from each other as they are from the UK home nations.
|Bailiwick of Jersey |
Jersey itself is the only populated island of its bailiwick. It's well-developed, with St Helier the principal town, and lots to see and do. Its outlying islets are nowadays uninhabited, and tiny at high tide, but were once much larger.
|Bailiwick of Guernsey |
Guernsey island (a little smaller than Jersey) is also well-developed, with St Peter Port the principal town, and again lots to do and see. Its main inhabited outlying islands are Herm, Sark and Alderney, and these are semi-autonomous within the bailiwick.
The Channel Islands have been inhabited since humans re-settled northern Europe after the retreat of the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. They became islands when sea levels rose 6000 years ago, but were still within sailing distance from mainland Europe even for primitive craft. They are dotted with Neolithic graves and other structures and artefacts demonstrating continuous links with the mainland. Early priests and hermits such as Jersey's Saint Helier arrived in the 6th century.
In 1066 William Duke of Normandy gained the crown of England, so his descendants ruled many parts of France as well as England. A series of wars, and peace treaties followed by more wars, wrested European territory away from England to the growing Kingdom of France, until all that remained were the Channel Islands. And so they remain today. The two bailiwicks of Jersey and of Guernsey are therefore "Crown Dependencies". They have the same monarch as the UK, King Charles III, but are not subject to the UK parliament, legislation or taxation in most cases, and were never members of the EU. However they cede control of defence and most international affairs to the UK.
That defence role in practice meant that these islands were used as bastions to project British sea power into the Channel, preferably to the detriment of the French. In the Revolutionary/Napoleonic period at the start of the 19th century, and again mid-century, they were fortified against French attack that never came. In June 1940 when France was overrun by Germany, the British evacuated most of the islanders and did not fight, seeing this as a lost cause. The Nazis were therefore able to occupy the islands bloodlessly, all smiles at first and propaganda photos of British bobbies beneath the swastika, but soon unleashing their standard terror. They (or rather their slave-labourers) in turn heavily fortified and bunkered the islands against a British counter-attack that never came, not even after D-Day, so liberation only dawned when Germany surrendered in 1945. So this means multiple fortifications that are still in good condition, and major visitor attractions.
Post-war the islands continued with agriculture and developed tourism, but their new industry was off-shore banking and corporate domiciles, taking advantage of a low-tax, low-regulation base upon English-speaking territory close to London. This has shared the ups and downs of the global economy and the exchange rate - Jersey and Guernsey each have their own currency but pegged at parity with the UK £ sterling.
The Channel Islands are exposed to the Atlantic; in winter frost is rare but the ferries are disrupted, the esplanades are rain-lashed, and many places shut down. Summer is pleasant, and the May and September "shoulder" months are less crowded. For visitors from Britain, the short travel time means a long weekend is feasible, but a week is better to get around the main sights without feeling rushed.
English is spoken fluently throughout the islands. The Jersey accent is clipped and sometimes likened to South African English, while the Guernsey accent adds an "eh" upflick to sentences, like a question mark or startled Canadian. But there is so much mixture, especially in tourist facilities where staff and visitors hail from far and wide, that a "pure" or distinctive island accent cannot be said to exist.
French is widely understood, and is, with English, an official language for historical reasons. It is featured in place names and signage, but is not spoken locally.
If you see what looks like misspelled French, it's Jèrriais or Guernésiais. These derive from Normandy dialects of French and are taught in schools in a bid to preserve them. They're recognised as languages rather than mere dialects, but nowadays are used as a badge of identity rather than for practical communication, and are losing the struggle to remain living languages.
The Channel Islands are outside the EU Schengen Agreement but form a Common Travel Area with the UK, Republic of Ireland and Isle of Man. So if you're eligible to enter UK (with or without visa) then you can also enter Jersey or Guernsey for up to 90 days. However you may not work without registration, see below, or take up residence.
By air: Aurigny Airlines are based at Guernsey airport (GCI IATA) and Blue Islands at Jersey airport (JER IATA), and budget airlines such as Jet2 and Easyjet also fly seasonally. Both airports have daily flights from London Gatwick and Southampton, and once or twice a week from other UK cities. Direct flights from Europe are seasonal.
By boat: car ferries sail from Poole and Portsmouth in the UK, and from Saint-Malo in France, plus other seasonal foot-passenger ferries from Normandy. The landing point in Guernsey is always St Peter Port. On Jersey it's usually St Helier, but occasional ferries call at Gorey on the east coast on their way between Normandy and Guernsey.
Inter-island flights connect Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney. There's car hire at the airports but most visitors don't need a car.
Guernsey has ferries to Jersey, Herm, Sark and Alderney and a day-trip is often possible.
Jersey and Guernsey both have good bus services to their airports and main settlements.
Alderney has no bus, but amazingly has a standard gauge railway trundling along its north coast. On Herm or Sark simply walk or cycle.
- Jersey: St Helier the chief town has a Museum and Gallery, and Maritime Museum. Elizabeth Castle is on a tidal islet, reached by causeway or amphibious ferry.
- Mont Orgeuil on the east coast was the predecessor to Elizabeth Castle.
- Hamptonne in mid-island is a museum of country life on a farmstead.
- La Hougue Bie in the north is a large Neolithic passage grave with two medieval chapels perched on top.
- Jersey War Tunnels are a remarkable underground command complex and hospital.
- Guernsey: St Peter Port the chief town has Castle Cornet, the mansion of Victor Hugo, the museum in Candie Park, and the German Naval Signals HQ.
- Guernsey Underground Hospital is even larger than that on Jersey, hewn out by slave labour during the wartime occupation.
- Fort Grey, a Martello Tower on the west coast, houses the Shipwreck Museum.
- Sausmarez Manor is the stately home of the Seigneurs of Guernsey, with subtropical gardens.
- Herm: the 11th century St Tugual's Chapel depicts Biblical scenes with island fishermen and cattle.
- Sark: the Seugneurie has charming gardens. Teeter across the heights of La Coupee to Little Sark, and make what you will of Sark Henge.
- Alderney: Fort Clonque is the best of the fortifications ringing the coast.
- Simply walking the breezy headlands is a good way to spend the afternoon. Jersey has a walking and cycling trail along its old railway track bed.
- Beaches: Jersey and Guernsey have several long sandy beaches. Those on the other islands are rocky. Beware stiff currents everywhere.
- aMaizin! on Jersey is an adventure park for children.
- Golf: there are courses on Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney.
- The food you find here is much the same as the cuisine of Britain and Ireland, and both are evolving. For years the tourist pitch was that the Channel Islands were just like home, no nasty surprises or foreign stuff, so it was very trad fare. That's still around but just as the mainland has improved its range and quality so too have the islands. St Helier in Jersey has the best selection.
- Hotel restaurants often offer the best and may cater to non-residents. Tassili and Bohemia both in St Helier are two standouts.
- Tennerfest is a promotion in Jersey in Oct / Nov with fixed price dining for £10.
- St Helier on Jersey and St Peter Port on Guernsey have the main concentration of pubs.
- Jersey has a brewery, two gin distilleries and a vineyard.
- Guernsey has two breweries, and one of these also makes gin.
- Food and drink are pricey throughout the Channel Islands, even with the lower duty on alcohol. Duty-free on the way home is where you might see a genuine saving on spirits compared to UK supermarket prices.
There are no universities based in the Channel Islands, but their further education colleges affiliate to mainland UK universities. There are several English courses, for instance at St Brelades College on Jersey, long or short to comply with the entry regulations (below), as explained on their websites.
The two Bailiwicks set their own regulations but in practice these are similar, and they share the same economic climate. Bigger barriers to employment are the lack of accommodation at a price that makes the job worth taking, and a poor £ exchange rate. It's a symptom of the limited employment prospects that both governments' websites can list all the vacancies on their islands.
On Jersey you can take up a job if you've been resident for at least five years or are married to someone already entitled. Otherwise, the business needs to jump through bureaucratic hoops to have you registered, either because you have special skills or they need more staff than can be recruited locally. Large employers such as banks have block allocations and can do this swiftly, but in all trades it's at the employer's invitation before you come to the island, you can't just amble downtown looking for "help wanted" signs. Jobs on this basis are for a maximum of nine months (extendable in the special skills category), then you have to leave for three months before you can return. You may rent but not buy property during your stay. These arrangements are suitable for seasonal staff but they block continuity or developing a career.
Guernsey is similar but the time limit is 180 days in any 12-month period. Your status may lapse if you leave the Bailiwick even for a day-trip, so any holiday breaks will need to be confined to Alderney, Herm and Sark.
Standard precautions about traffic, safeguarding valuables, and care around slippery rocks and in the sea. And don't get drunk!
Remember there is no reciprocal health care arrangement with the UK or European mainland. All health care must be paid for at the time, so you need adequate insurance in case it's a big hit.
- Normandy and Brittany are within an hour or two by ferry. St Malo is the most interesting of the ferry ports (a day trip may be possible) and onward transport plies to Rennes.
- Poole and Portsmouth are the main ferry ports on the UK mainland.
- Southampton has the best selection of flights between the UK and Channel Islands.