What the Harry Potter series did to Alnwick Castle (reel life Hogwarts), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – a film that has won the hearts of many this year – is doing to the island of Guernsey. But we aren’t complaining; a place like Guernsey must be explored! By Rashima Nagpal
If you didn’t already know, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, the film based on the eponymous book, wasn’t actually shot on the island of Guernsey (bubble popped?). But that shouldn’t keep you from taking a trip to Guernsey! For the essence of the channel island – and the characteristic impact of the Second World War on it – has been remarkably portrayed in the Mike Newell movie. But if it is the exact locations from the film that you seek, you’ll have to head to the popular movie sites of North Devon, Hartland Abbey, Clovelly, and Bideford. But let us warn you – Guernsey is no less beautiful.
Apparently, Mary Ann Shaffer, along with Annie Barrows, went on to write the heart-warming tale of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (her only published work) only after she was inspired by the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands on her visit to Guernsey in 1976. Here are some fascinating facts that make this island in the middle of nowhere special:
The German Occupation Museum, in the south of the island at Les Houards, offers a compelling snapshot of life on Guernsey between 1940 and 1945. Look for the exhibit on Freda Oliver and Paul Schlimbach—she a local woman, he a German officer—who became a couple in the heat of war (much like Elizabeth McKenna and Christian Hellman). Their letters, diary entries and photographs tell their story of romance amid trying times.
- The Old Government House Hotel in St Peter Port was also a key player in the occupation era; it was the General Staff Headquarters for the German officers. Now, a five-star retreat of afternoon teas and polite ambience, it attracts tourists from all over the world.
- Today the island is known for its freesias, nerines and clematis, among other rare flowers that bloom in its extended spring season. Make way to the Guernsey Freesia Centre, to the north of the island, to see the various stages of growing these popular blooms; there is a gift shop selling both flowers and corms to take home.
- The cows of Guernsey are ridiculously famous! They produce some of the most rich and delicious dairy products in the world. The Guernsey cow was bred on the British Channel Island of Guernsey and was first recorded as a separate breed around 1700. It is known for its golden-colored milk, which is high in beta carotene, as well as its hardiness, longevity, and docile disposition.
- The 33-feet tidal range of Guernsey is one of the largest in the world; it transforms the coastline roughly every six hours. High tide is perfect for swimming, while you can enjoy exploring the rock pools for marooned sea life when the tide retreats.
- The post box in Union Street is the oldest cast iron pillar-box still in use anywhere in the British Isles. It is easily recognisable, as it is the only red post box in Guernsey; all the others are painted blue.
Oh, and did you know that Guernsey is geographically closer to France than it is to Britain?