Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Trip Report: The Channel Islands Triangle

Our annual holiday this time around took us to Guernsey, the largest island in the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which is a UK 'Crown Dependency'. This means the islands are self governing (for example they are have never been full EU members), but they defer to the UK for various matters, e.g. defense (and they have their own version of the pound). The Bailiwick also includes Alderney, Sark, Herm and other smaller isles, while the other Bailiwick that makes up the Channel Islands is Jersey.

Since it's nearby, Birmingham was the departure point of choice. Flybe operate flights twice a day (sometimes with a third to Jersey in the summer) to Guernsey and Jersey, where the morning routing is BHX-JER-GCI-BHX and the afternoon is BHX-GCI-JER-BHX. This is a relatively rare opportunity to go on a flight with a stop somewhere, something that used to be commonplace but is seldom seen today (connections don't count!). We chose the afternoon rotations and so flew on BE511 BHX-GCI outbound and BE512 GCI-JER-BHX back. The routing, courtesy of Great Circle Mapper:

BE511 Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) to Guernsey (GCI/EGJB)
Flybe Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 G-JEDP
The outbound flight was largely uneventful, and was operated by G-JEDP, once painted in the green 'low cost, but not at any cost' livery - now turned purple. Check-in and security was fine, with no queues, despite recent media coverage of delays at BHX. We were flying at a busy time of day too. Anyway, BE511 departed RWY33 and landed on Guernsey's RWY27. Some enroute pics below:

Taxiing out: a Qatar 787-8 and Flybe E175

Coventry airport

Leamington Spa

Isle of Wight

Isle of Sark, seen as we turned onto the final approach for Guernsey
Being an internal flight, passport check upon arrival are not necessary and baggage claim was fast too - from disembarking to being outside the terminal must have been not much more than 15 minutes!

Thoughts on Guernsey
It's an unusual place. It's 3/4 English and 1/4 French, I'd say, with the road names all in French and a sort of French eating/drinking culture. That is, pubs in the form that someone from the mainland UK would frequent are hard to find, aside from the odd locals-only type affair. There are plenty of hotel restaurants and bistros, through. With a small population, narrow roads, a maximum speed limit of 35 and some roads banning cars altogether, I expected Guernsey to be a quaint and quiet. Actually, and particularly in the Capital St. Peter Port, it's heaving! I do appreciated that we went in August, and that tourists are part of the problem, but most of the cars on the road were locally registered and not hire cars. The island is 10 miles at its widest. Where are all these people driving?!

In terms of attractions, there are numerous museums, including the Guernsey museum, 3 on the German occupation period, and a shipwreck museum to name a few. Castle Cornet, Sausmarez manor and it's gardens are worth a look. I couldn't help feel, however, that the guidebooks exaggerate the size of some of the events/markets/museums. The beaches are OK (we liked Pembroke best) but seafront facilities on all of them are limited. This is not a place to bring kids, I would say. It is, however, an excellent place for a walking holiday rather than your traditional bucket and space type trip.

Overall I'd describe Guernsey as being best geared towards the older traveller, and those who like to walk (the Island bus network is good, but half the fun is in taking your time and seeing the place on foot!). Some photos below:

Castle Cornet

View from the Castle towards St Peter Port

Pembroke Bay

La Gran’mère du Chimquière, a 4000 year old Pagan statue in St Martins

Moulin Huet Bay

View over St Peter Port. Herm and Jethou are on the left, with Sark in the distance

BE512 Guernsey (GCI/EGJB) to Birmingham (BHX/EGBB) via Jersey (JER/EGJJ)
Flybe Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 G-KKEV
The flight back! G-KKEV, a 10 year-old dash, arrived on time from Birmingham. This used to have Kevin Keegan painted next to the front left door, but he's gone now! Guernsey is a tiny airport, dominated by the national carrier Aurigny. There's the odd Flybe and Blue Islands service too. The most interesting flights are to Alderney, operated by Aurigny Dornier 228s - these recently replaced the famous Joey Trislanders. The departure lounge here consists of 1 café and 2 shops. Views are not great, and I'd recommend waiting as long as possible in the viewing gallery/café upstairs before checking in!

Our flights were pretty much on schedule. The hop over Jersey took just 15 minutes, helped by the easterly winds - departure off 09, a turn south, before left turns to land on 08 at Jersey. Skies were clear and we had great views as we flew over Sark at 4000ft!

Sark, at the bottom, and little Sark above, turning south towards Jersey
There was no drinks service and no cockpit welcome on this short hop, understandably. Despite the perfect flying conditions, touchdown in Jersey was hard! Passengers from BHX/GCI got off and the crew made sure that the luggage left behind belonged to pax staying onboard. What they did not do, was check our boarding passes... because there was no check upon arrival at BHX either, you could feasibly buy a ticket to Jersey and stay onboard to Birmingham (if you just had hand luggage)! I'm sure they should have checked this, and it wouldn't have taken long, as only ~20 people remained onboard. You would run the risk of seat reservation clashes though!

The final leg back to BHX was fun! There were some big showers around over the channel and southern England, and given the short duration of the flight (and limitations of the turboprop powered Dash), cruise was at FL170. This meant we periodically skimmed the tops of towering cumulus and CBs, making it a fun ride - a few bumps elicited squeals from the less confident fliers!

St. Helier, Jersey, seen on the RWY08 climbout

The routing, courtesy of

The actual landing was perfectly done on RWY15, and we eventually disembarked at 18:00, 2 hours after boarding in Guernsey. This is quite a while on the Dash, which is OK for legroom but decidedly narrow. My other 'complaints' are that the cabin was boiling hot, and the crew weren't overly friendly... although I don't know what kind of a day they'd had so mustn't criticise them too much! Bag collection took 25 minutes, not as bad as I'd feared given the recent horror stories about Swissport at BHX.

See the 3 take-offs/landings here:

So that concludes my 68th, 69th and 70th flights - 5th, 6th and 7th on the Dash and 9th, 10th and 11th with Flybe. As I've found before, Flybe offer a decent service, but in terms of comfort, I think I'd rather take their Embraers where possible in future.

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