Rocky and I are off on an adventure to celebrate his college graduation. Anticipating nice cool weather, we are cruising the British Isles with stops in the Channel Islands, Ireland, Isle of Man, Liverpool, Belfast, and the Isle of Skye and other ports in Scotland. We leave from Southampton and end in Edinburgh.
We are flying on a United Dreamliner. Uber to the airport and check-in was great. This newer plane with a premium seats-lots of legroom-was great. The windows were the neatest part. There were no shades; they just change color depending on the light. With travel during an American holiday, the plane was not full and Rocky got a row to himself.
The efficiency ended on landing. There were really long lines at immigration at Heathrow. We got our luggage and headed out only to find out that we had a 35-minute wait for the bus. Rocky fell asleep on my shoulder. Then where was another 45 minutes to circle the airport and collect passengers that had come into other terminals. The drive to Southampton took over an hour and a half. I will give Azamara credit for a quick check-in process although security was painstakingly slow. I have never seen such aged security workers in my life. We finally got our welcome champagne 5 ½ hours after we landed in England. We dropped our carry-on bags and headed up to fortify ourselves at the buffet.
Rocky and I were lucky. We booked late at a heavy discount on a “guarantee”. You paid the lowest price offered for the cruise and were guaranteed a room, but not a particular one. We could have ended up in an inside cabin, but we scored an ocean-view room a floor up from the lowest level near the center of the ship. We have a full itinerary this cruise with new ports everyday until 4 days at the end in Edinburgh. It’s a golf itinerary and some of the passengers will attend the British Open at the end of the cruise. We have a couple of “Titanic” stops on this cruise. Titanic’s initial departure on its maiden voyage was from Southampton. Our first stop is the island of Guernsey, in the Chanel Islands. This is a tender port for us; we are anchored just off the coast of the capital, St. Peter’s Port which “has been an active harbor since Roman Times.” The island is roughly in the middle of the channel, 13 miles from France and 18 miles from England. Dominion has gone back and forth between the two countries, but it is currently part of the British Empire. They do have some autonomy. They have their own currency, although British Sterling is accepted. There are a few places where it looks like they are just trying to be different-mail boxes that look the same as those found in London except these are blue instead of red.
Our guide for the town and castle tour was actually Scottish, but she loves living here with her English husband, a dairy farmer. We passed a large marina with one side for guests and the other for locals. On Sundays most everything is closed, but once a month there is an outdoor market and the vendors were starting to set up for “Seafront Sunday”.
We passed first the statue of Prince Albert and the lovely local church with the most beautiful flower baskets hanging from its fence. The morning was cloudy, but comfortable. The seaside quay has been doubled in size, but flooding still occasionally occurs. As we walked up to high street through a medieval passageway, our guide pointed out a medal hook in the cobblestones that was used to pull the goods from the ship up to high street. There was also a tunnel where the ill-fated cattle were lead up from the cargo holds to the town.
As we walked along high street, Rocky and I noticed a building at a Y intersection. We both had the same thought; it looks like Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter. Maybe a familiar design if you are from this part of the world, but for us a real treat. There were also lots of medieval markings on the buildings for tradesmen, et
There was a collection of interesting building surrounding the town square off the side entrance to the church. The gallows were erected in this area and in front of one of the buildings was a platform where a cage was placed; women accused of adultery were put inside. On the top of this building was a communications tower, cleverly concealed as a tobacco leaf in reference to the substantial tobacco trade that told place out of Guernsey.
The last stop on our tour was Castle Cornet with origin in the 13th century. To reach the castle, it is a short walk along the castle emplacement built during the time of Victor Hugo’s residency on the island. The walk continues past the castle out to lighthouse. Turn back and look up the hill and you will see Victor Hugo’s home, Hauteville House, now a museum open to visitors.
The castle highlights the additions over various centuries with Elizabeth I’s crest above one entrance and Elizabeth II’s over another. The additions in unadorned concrete were made at the time of the German occupation. Graffiti swastikas can be found in some areas of the castle and the odd addition of the names of German women can be found at the entrances to tunnel entrances built by the Nazis. One of the German additions is of some current use; the harbormaster was calling a sailboat race from one of the gun towers during our visit.
The castle is now a tourist attraction with 5 museums reflecting the varied interests of visitors included with the admission price. At noon each day one of castle cannons is fired. It was fired two additional times this year, on Queen Elizabeth’s birthday and on the day of Princess Charlotte’s birth. The ticket price also includes costumed reenactments and period dancing in an upper chamber adorned with portraits of former English Monarchs.
Rows of solders ready to fire lined on a multiple steps moving into position after a row fired and ready to reload before it was their turn again. From the castle you also had a view of the ruins of Fort George that has yet to be restored, although there is some private homes that have been built in the area with a view to Havelet Bay and the castle.
After our tour concluded, we walked back into town to catch the return tender to the ship. The skies had cleared and it had become a beautiful sunny day. Traffic at the Sunday market had definitely picked up and it appeared that day-trippers had also arrived by ferry. Guernsey is definitely a place I would like to return and spend several days.
We found that services had concluded in the church so we were able to go inside. It is a gorgeous church and we were welcomed by a parishioner who invited us to have coffee. I saw what she meant. There was obviously no church hall, so their Sunday buffet was set up right inside the church and the parishioners were enjoying food and drinks. I opted just to look around and take pictures. The benches had wonderful needlepoint seat cushions and there were also footstool with beautiful and varied needlework designs. Charming.
I had been impressed with the beautiful flower baskets outside, but the fabulous stained glass is what impressed me most. One window depicted Jesus as a fisherman, so appropriate for this seaside church. After that visit we took a tender back to ship for some naptime; Rocky and I are still a bit jetlagged. Tomorrow we add another new country; it will be my first visit to Ireland.