A family affairComment on this story
Try to imagine a lovely little island, just a mile and a half long, with six white, sandy beaches and a hotel with no clocks, phones or television sets in the bedrooms.
Are you thinking the Pacific? The South Seas? Think again. This is the Channel Islands, and we are on the tiny, hideaway holiday destination that is Herm.
Its precise geographical location is three miles off the coast of Guernsey, but in terms of atmosphere, it’s Enid Blyton-meets-Arthur Ransome some time around the 1950s. Access is by boat only, there are no cars and it’s even forbidden to play radios in public places.
In fact, once the ferry has dropped you here, the loudest sounds you can hear are pheasants squawking and waves lapping sleepily up the beach.
The big choice facing the first-time Herm visitor, though, is whether to come just for the day, or to stay in the island’s time-warp hotel The White House (private swimming pool, neatly mown lawns and high tea every day at 5.15pm sharp).
The island’s director of hospitality, Jonathan Watson, makes no apologies for the lack of games consoles and flatscreen TVs in the rooms.
“You might call us old-fashioned, but we pride ourselves on catering for families who want a traditional beach holiday,” he says.
“We have between 40 and 60 families who have been coming here for the same week, year after year. And quite a few mums and dads who first came here as children themselves many years ago with their own parents and who are now bringing their own children.”
And that’s just the guests: 35 full-time staff live and work on Herm who, between them, have 19 children.
Idyllic childhood or what? Just like the children who come to stay on Herm, the island’s junior residents get to build sandcastles, swim in the sea and explore the woods and heathlands, only on a year-round basis.
For many years the island has made a point of employing staff with young families, both to keep the numbers up at the school and to ensure a level of stability in the workforce (the hospitality business is a famously itinerant one).
Everywhere you look, in fact, there are couples: Brett and Yolandi (head gardener and pub manageress), Mat and Katell (island boatman and admin assistant) and Linda and Andy (receptionist and deputy hotel manager). One previous head gardener arrived on Herm as a single man, and left a decade later with a wife (the pastry cook) and two children.
Herm’s history as a family island stretches back more than 60 years to the days when former Army major Peter Wood and his wife Jenny (both now buried in the chapel cemetery) modernised and opened up more of the place to visitors, followed by their daughter Pennie and her husband Adrian, plus their three daughters.
When the Woods left in 2008, the States of Guernsey oversaw the sale of the island’s lease to ensure that Herm was bought not by an international hotel chain, but by a charitable trust committed to running the island as community first and only then as a money-making operation.
“We’ve been coming on family trips here for years,” says 38-year-old Susan Needham, from Southampton. “The children are now 11 and 13, and we were wondering whether they might be getting a bit old for Herm. But when we suggested going elsewhere they were furious. What they love is how the place never changes.”
That said, the resident population of just 63 swells mightily during summer months. At full capacity, the hotel and self-catering cottages can accommodate 200 guests and another 400 can camp, while the number of day visitors can reach 1,500 or more in the summer months.
There’s a pub, a cafe, gift shops, kayaking expeditions and puffin trails to keep everyone occupied. And don’t forget those six beaches, of course, of which the two longest are Fisherman’s and Shell.
Belvoir is the most secluded, and, like Shell, has a beach cafe serving the local delicacy, a fruit loaf called gache (pronounced ‘gosh’), which comes topped with a thick layer of creamy Guernsey butter.
Of course, the good part about all those crowds of visitors is that, come teatime, they all pile on to the ferries and head back to Guernsey, allowing overnight guests the chance to drink in not just the local Herm Gold real ale, but the silence.
With the day-trippers gone, you’ll have plenty of time for a walk around the entire island. What’s more, it takes only 90 minutes to do the full circuit, so youÕll be back in time for dinner.
Channel Islands Direct offers a four-night stay at the White House Hotel, Herm, from £1,243 (about R15 000) B&B, based on two adults and two children sharing. Price includes return air fares from London Gatwick to Guernsey, transfers from airport to seaport and return ferry to Herm. A four-night stay in Upper Keep self-catering cottage, for the same sized party, costs £1,010 (08444 937 486, channelislands direct.co.uk). - Daily Mail