There has been much rejoicing in the land of my birth over Scotland’s recent decision to remain in the United Kingdom.
This got me thinking about other parts of the British Isles and reminded me of a trip my husband and I recently took to a lesser-known, unusual part of the British Isles to see some close friends — the Channel Islands.
These eight small islands really are different to the rest of the U.K. — and not technically a part of the U.K. at all — but instead “British Crown Dependencies.” Although they are in the English Channel, they are closer to France than England, and the climate is better than the most of the British Isles. Only about 75 square miles in total, they have a population of 168,000 and are about 30 miles from the French coast of Normandy.
Our friends, who live on the island of Guernsey, said the locals refer to the Channel Islands “as pearls thrown into the English Channel by France, but picked up and polished by Britain.”
Other islands include Jersey, the largest of the islands, and the smaller Alderney, Sark and Herm. The Channel Islands have autonomy over internal affairs (including police, currency, education, airports and harbors) and some external matters.
According to bbc.com, the islands originally were part of the Duchy of Normandy and became part of Britain when William the Conqueror took the crown of England in 1066. In 1204, King John of England lost Normandy back to continental France, but Guernsey stayed loyal to the English crown while keeping Norman laws and language. Victor Hugo, the 19th-century French novelist famous for writing “Les Miserables” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” described Guernsey as a “rock of hospitality and freedom.”
In more recent times, the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by the Nazis during the World War II. It was a brutal occupation, with thousands dying and four concentration camps being built on Alderney. The German garrison in Alderney did not surrender until a week after VE Day, making it one of the last Nazi outposts to surrender.
BBC.com says the islands’ economy is driven by tourism, agriculture, e-commerce and financial services.
Low taxation makes the Channel Islands attractive for wealthy residents, with income tax at a flat 20 percent, according to artsandislands.com.
During our time on the Channel Islands we took what seemed to be a step back in time as we visited the tiny Isle of Sark, with just 4½ square miles and about 600 residents. All cars are banned, so transport is by horse and carriage, bicycle, tractor or what the British call “Shanks’ pony” (which means by foot).
After visiting the thinly populated Sark and reflecting on its 17th-century traditions and remote way of life, my favorite island quote by an English poet of this era, John Donne, comes to mind: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”
The Channel Islands were great to visit, but I am glad that Coastal Georgia is now my home.
God bless America!