In recent years, the idea of a “bucket list” has sprung up – roughly defined as a number of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”.
I probably have one in the back of my mind somewhere, but I’ve been knocking off part of that list quite accidentally.
It involves visiting the islands around the edges of the British Isles and I’ve ticked off a few in the last year or two.
I’ve been lucky enough to see many far-flung parts of the world, but, like many Brits, there are parts of my own country which I’ve missed.
In the last couple of years, I’ve spoken at events on Jersey, the Isle of Man, and the Isle of Wight – all for the first time.
Last week, I added to the list the lovely island of Guernsey – or their “rock” as the locals call it.
Many people have the idea that the Channel Islands are only just off the south coast of England, but a quick look at the map will show you that they are much closer to the mainland of Europe.
Guernsey is actually about 70 miles from Southampton, but nearer 30 from the French coast.
This becomes very clear as you drive around the island and see many signs duplicated in French and English.
In a very good way, Guernsey has the feel of an England which is gone, and there’s a lot of variety around the island’s coastline with craggy rocks, soft beaches, and a lovely natural harbour.
Walking through the main town, St Peter Port, on a sunny Saturday, it felt so much a combination of Whitby and Scarborough – and a taste of what Hartlepool could be.
The island has been very adaptable too – the tourist market has changed and many Brit holidaymakers fly farther afield in search of guaranteed sunshine these days.
High quality tourism is still there, though, and you can add a highly flourishing finance industry to many other busy activities.
Talking of finance, I was feeling very nostalgic in handling a green pound note, reminding me of of the subtle distinction which makes Guernsey part of the British crown but not technically part of the United Kingdom.
The other lovely bit of memory stirring was the total absence of VAT!
Walking along the pier of St Peter Port, there is a commemoration stone which is a harsh reminder of a fact which is sometimes forgotten.
As you can see from the photo, Her Majesty the Queen unveiled the memorial to the fact that Guernsey was not liberated from Nazi occupation until May 9th, 1945, almost a year after D Day. The islanders had gone through an appalling time during the war years and they are clearly very proud of their independence and Britishness.
I was proud to buy a Guernsey flag during my visit and it now hangs proudly on my garage rafters with about 60 friends.
On a good day, it’s not a long haul to the island, and we could learn a lot in the North East about how to get a seaside location absolutely right.