When you tire of the tourists’ Europe, try the slow and easy Channel Islands

DAVID PIPER April 1 1970

When you tire of the tourists’ Europe, try the slow and easy Channel Islands

DAVID PIPER April 1 1970

When you tire of the tourists’ Europe, try the slow and easy Channel Islands



THE BRITISH ISLES are the home of the miniskirt, maxicoat, Isadora scarf and all things mod and marvelous. But some of the Isles — the group known as the Channel Islands — remain more ancient than modern: officially, for instance, the squires of some island parishes still hold the ancient right of droit du seigneur, which gives them the privilege of deflowering local maidens on their wedding night. It doesn’t happen now, but in theory it still could.

Jersey is the largest of the seven islands, which are, in fact, nearer France than Britain. Neither totally English nor French, they remain a delightful meld of both cultures; the Jersey natives still speak Norman French, but since the war English has been the official language.

To the British these islands are a wellknown holiday spot, but they remain largely unknown on the international tourist circuit. Which means that when you weary of the inevitable tourist “musts” on a European trip — London, Paris, Rome — the Channel Islands can be a fascinating, and diverting, side trip. There are scheduled flights to Jersey from London (fare: under $40), or by ferry and hydrofoil from the British and French coasts.

All the larger islands have their own parliaments, make their own local laws and have their own tax systems — which, since the taxes are among Europe’s lowest, make the islands a haven for the wealthy.

On the tiny island of Sark, however, Dame Sybil Hathaway, an 85-year-old matriarch, is as much the absolute ruler of her 500 subjects as any medieval monarch. She permits no cars, and her subjects can own only dogs: she has the only bitch.

Jersey has a population of 63,000 — and 800 hotels and guest houses that cater to about 700,000 visitors a year, mostly in July and August. The average August temperature is 64.4, but because the islands are bathed by the warm-water Gulf Stream it remains relatively mild even in February, when the average temperature is 43 degrees. Hotel standards

are enforced by a Tourism Committee, which awards star ratings. The most expensive room on the island, at the St. Brelade’s Bay Hotel, is $15 a night for two, and you can pay as little as $13 a week in a guest house, breakfasts included. Gin is about two dollars a bottle and a good French vin ordinaire is about $1.25.

Jersey’s five-mile-long St. Ouen’s beach, one of 22 on the island, is the longest surfing beach in Europe, and it’s also easy to sail, water ski, play golf and tennis and go sight-seeing. A hired car costs around $20 a week, and there are regular bus services. There are also regular flights and sailings to France, England and the other Channel Islands. A day trip by hydrofoil to France costs around $15.

Inland, Jersey is winding lanes beside lush meadows, tethered, fawn - colored Jersey cows and pink, purple and greygranite farmhouses, some of which date back to 1700. It is fields full of flowers, potatoes and tomatoes for the British market. It is also relics of the German occupation in World War II, notably fortified gun emplacements on the headlands and an underground hospital built in preparation of the invasion of Britain. There is even a zoo directed by writer Gerald Durrell (My Family And Other Animals).

In conversation, Channel Islanders will sooner or later come back to history. The past is very real to them, but tradition is tempered by common sense. Take the case of the Queen’s last visit in 1957.

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh stepped ashore from the royal yacht Britannia at the Jersey port of St. Helier. They were welcomed by Sir Alexander Coutanche, Bailiff of the island, wearing the traditional red robe and carrying the white gloves. They were then greeted by Admiral Sir Gresham Nicholson, the Lieutenant-Governor. Behind them were the Seigneur de Rozel. Lieutenant-Colonel Raoul Charles Lemprière Robin, exercising his hereditary duty of receiving the reigning monarch at the water’s edge, and the Seigneur des Augres, Philip John de Veulle, Esq., exercising his hereditary office of butler to the reigning monarch. While tradition said that Colonel Robin should meet the monarch at the water’s edge on a white charger, it was felt that the jetty would be much cleaner if the horse was dispensed with.

Later, at the royal court, the seigneurs and dames of the island paid homage with the words: “Je suis votre lige, à vous porter foiset hommage contre tous.” Then as tradition decreed, LieutenantColonel Christopher Riley, Seigneur de Trinité, presented Her Majesty with two

mallard ducks on a silver tray. And after the Queen went home, the island’s parliament promptly began debating the ownership of the silver tray: tradition said the ducks were the gift of homage, but the ancient protocol said nothing about expensive solid-silver trays. The parliament did not, however, ask the Queen to return the tray.

The States, the Jersey parliament, is comprised of 28 deputies and 12 constables elected for three-year terms by each island parish. Twelve senators sit for six years and only half these face re-election at any one time. While these are elected on an islandwide ticket, it is the parishes that set the rates and property taxes, issue driving, dog and cycle licenses. Centeniers, the unpaid police appointed by the 12 elected constables, are the only people empowered to arrest anyone. The uniformed police may not make an arrest, though they are responsible for criminal investigation and other routine policing.

While some of the new residents would like to see reforms, the island’s largely rural population is against this. And on Sark, the Dame, worried about what will happen when she dies, is trying to make Sark part of Guernsey for administrative purposes. But her 500 subjects are opposing her. They like the way things are. □