Crossing the Channel: Getting to the British Channel Islands Is Easier Than You Might Think
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From all scenic viewpoints along the Guernsey Coastal Path, a 38-mile walking trail that meanders from beachfront to cliffside and back again, the English Channel looks towards the surrounding oblong, rocky forms in the near distance, the Channel Islands. Rock samphire, a variety of sea fennel, and gorse, a shrub with yellow flowers, grow wild along the cliffs. In St. Peter Port, narrow streets with quiet shops and vibrant flower boxes are linked by ancient keyhole-narrow alleyways and stairwells called venelles.
As the islands approach the 75th anniversary of liberation, perhaps it’s time to explore the labyrinthine streets of the Old Market Quarter in St. Peter Port, or pick up an Occupation Trail Passport. The good news is, getting to the two largest Channel Islands, Guernsey and Jersey, has never been easier. And once there, getting to the smaller and less-habited islands of Sark, Alderney, Lihou and Herm, is a cinch by ferry or private boat.
Getting to Guernsey by Air
Flybe recently established the first daily nonstop flight from Heathrow (LHR) to Guernsey (GCI) in more than 20 years. The daily service is operated by a 78-seat Bombardier Q400 aircraft. The flight operates on the following schedule through 26 October 2019:
- BE2195 Guernsey (GCI) 2:40pm Departure ⇒ London (LHR) 3:45pm Arrival
- BE2196 London (LHR) 5:20pm Departure ⇒ Guernsey (GCI) 6:25pm Arrival
One-way fares from LHR to GCI range from £35-£88. Flybe has more than 30 codeshare/interline partners, though know that there are not quite as many opportunities for massive points accrual as one might wish. The good pricing and quick journey balance this — by the time the flight from Heathrow is at cruising altitude and the duty-free cart makes a pass down the aisle, you are practically there. Flybe also flies nonstop from the following UK airports: London Southend (SEN), Birmingham (BHX), Southampton (SOU) and Exeter (EXT). It also flies nonstop between GCI and Jersey (JER).
Flybe’s franchise partner Blue Islands offers a mixture of nonstop flights to both Guernsey and Jersey and can be booked through Flybe. Eurowings offers seasonal service to Guernsey, between April and October, from Dusseldorf (DUS).
Aurigny, the local airline of Guernsey, operates six daily flights to Guernsey from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW), and flies nonstop to Guernsey from Bristol (BRS), East Midlands (EMA), Jersey (JER), London Stansted (STN), Manchester (MAN), Alderney (ACI) and Southampton (SOU). Seasonal service runs from between GCI and Leeds/Bradford (LBA), and Norwich (NWI). Loganair offers seasonal, though not daily, service from Bournemouth (BOH), Edinburgh (EDI) and Glasgow (GLA).
Visit Guernsey has an excellent compilation of air and sea options here.
Getting to Jersey By Air
Guernsey is 26 square miles in size, and Jersey is roughly twice that size. The islands have overlapping histories, and at certain moments in history, have held different allegiances. Activities like coasteering, hiking, cycling, tracking 3,500-year-old remnants of Neolithic civilization, immersing in World War II (and previous) history and exploring local beaches are commonplace when visiting both. You’ll also find ample opportunities for sailing, fishing, and golf.
Aurigny and Flybe both fly to Jersey as well, as does British Airways, with mainline flights from London-Gatwick. You can also catch nonstop flights from Southampton (SOU), Bristol (BRS), Exeter (EXT), Birmingham (BHX), Manchester (MAN), East Midlands (EMA), Doncaster (DSA), Liverpool (LPL), Glasgow (GLA), Edinburgh (EDI) and Belfast (BFS), among others. A number of carriers offer service from a variety of European cities, from Aberdeen to Zurich — the most abundant offerings are from EasyJet, Eurowings and Flybe. Other seasonal flights include Aer Lingus from Dublin (DUB), Jet2.com from Leeds/Bradford (LBA), Loganair from Bournemouth (BOH), Humberside (HUY) and Norwich (NWI) and Lufthansa from Munich (MUC).
Jersey’s Tourist Information Centre has compiled links for air and sea travel here.
Arrival by Water
Condor Ferries operates service to both Guernsey and Jersey from Poole and Portsmouth in England, St. Malo in France and between Guernsey and Jersey. Manche Isles Express offers passenger-only service to Guernsey, Jersey, Sark and Alderney during the summer months from Dilette, Carteret and Granville, in Normandy, France. Direct Ferries offer service to Guernsey from Poole and to Jersey from Granville.
The smallest Channel Islands, Jethou and Brecqhou, are privately owned. But Sark, Herm, Alderney and Lihou each have unique natural environments where one can get quite used to daily scenic walks on rocky cliffs and dry dirt footpaths, isolated beachfronts, historic sites and a total immersion in the varied maritime ecosystems of the islands.
From St. Peter Port in Guernsey, ferry to the isle of Sark — population 400. You can ferry with Isle of Sark Shipping, Ltd., as well as with aferry.com. From Jersey, you can travel to Sark with Direct Ferries.
Once there, explore the two-mile pastoral agrarian island on foot, bicycle or via horse and carriage, which can be booked upon disembarkation from the ferry. Aside from tractors, these horse and carriage are the only permissible modes of transport on Sark.
Some important stops to make once you cross the coupee, a narrow footpath along a natural isthmus between Big Sark and Little Sark, are La Sablonnerie for tea in the gardens or impossibly fresh lobster, as well as Caragh luxury chocolates, which are handmade and filled with Sark cream. Also visit La Seugnerie gardens and maze, which features a wealth of geologic highlights, including ‘Sark Henge’. Recently, Sark was recognized by the International Dark Sky Association. So, spending the night — whether in an inn or campsite — will yield rewards, in the form of an absorbing and complex astral landscape.
Travel Trident offers daily service via a 20-minute ferry ride from St. Peter Port in Guernsey to Herm, which is located three miles from Guernsey. Though just a mile in size, Herm has two expansive stretches of beachfront. Bring a picnic and squeeze in time for a cliffside walk, replete with wildflowers. Keep an eye out for puffins, Atlantic seals, risso dolphins and minke whales. The famed Herm Oysters Limited has its main site on Fisherman’s Beach.
Alderney is the northernmost and third-largest Channel Island — 1.5 miles wide and three miles long. The Little Ferry Company offers service from Guernsey, and Aurigny flies to Alderney, though a comprehensive air and sea strategy for getting to Alderney can be found here. Accommodations along the beach range from luxury hotel to the Saye Beach Campsite.
Lihou Island is a tidal island off the west coast of Guernsey, accessible only via a causeway during low tide, and for just a few hours each day. Because of that, be sure to check the tide table before beginning your adventure. Also a Ramsar site, Lihou has an unimaginable amount of biodiversity, with gullies of clean, nutrient-rich water, 33 types of lichen, more than 214 types of seaweed and a wealth of sea creatures like winkles, limpets, sea anemones and more. Explore an old Benedictine priory and look for the Venus Pool.
Between new airline routes, seasonal frequencies and frequent ferry services, it’s easier than ever to get to the Channel Islands. And if you’re eyeing a trip, don’t just focus on the two largest islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Try your luck with island hopping, but be sure to check the ferry schedules beforehand.
Featured photo by Amy Beth Wright / The Points Guy.