Herm: The Tiny Island with a Big Spirit

Stepping back in time, British Travel Journal’s Editor Jessica spends a blissful 48 hours on Herm: an unspoilt island retreat in the Channel Islands. Abundant with wildlife, flowers and tranquil beaches, Herm is a natural haven for wellness with coastal footpaths, twinkling sea views, dark skies and exquisite sunsets. 

With its stunning scenery, natural beauty, and rich history, Herm might be the smallest of the Channel Islands, yet it holds within its bounds a big spirit that is bound to captivate anyone who sets foot on its seemingly untouched pristine beaches and scenic trails.

Stepping off the Travel Trident ferry from St Peter Port in Guernsey, we were warmly greeted by the island’s treasured CEO, Craig Senior. As we began making our way up Rosaire Steps, Craig’s friendly smile and charming Yorkshire accent made us feel instantly relaxed and at home on this beautiful island.

Rosaire Steps

Herm has no cars, bikes or cats, perfect for our two-year-old spanador Poppy, who seemed every bit as excited as we were to explore the miniature island – just a mile-and-a-half-long by less than half-a-mile-wide. So small that depending on the tides and sea levels, the overall land mass fluctuates by around 25%.

Tide times are also important for the local Oyster Farmers, whose farming site is on Herm’s Fisherman’s Beach. It is here that they grow Guernsey and Herm Oysters, available to sample across the island or can be freshly delivered to your cottage. During special weekends at Shell Beach you can order from a special Herm Oysters menu and watch oystermen shucking the oysters’ sea to fork’ style for you. 

Or, you can book a day on the farm to learn first-hand from the master mermmeliers about how the oysters are grown, raised and harvested before joining the talented chefs at the White House Hotel, who prepare your oysters for tastings, and show you a selection of recipes and serving suggestions.

The White House

From Rosiere Steps, Craig takes us first to the island’s only hotel, The White House – an enchanting Grade II listed building that dates back to the 1800. Several spacious settees on the lawn are perfectly placed amidst the towering palm trees and vibrant flower borders of the Britain in Bloom Gold Award-winning gardens, with sights of the harbour and spectacular sea views. 

View from The White House
View from The White House

Feeling the gentle breeze on your skin and breathing in the sweet scents of the flowers brings a sense of peacefulness and calmness to the soul. Our teenage daughters, Holly and Daisy, were quick to spot the tennis courts and eager for a game. We left them to thrash it out on the court and jumped in Craig’s John Deere 4-seater Gator to explore more of the island with Poppy in tow.

Herm Harbour
Herm Harbour

It was a beautiful evening, and we felt we had arrived in paradise. Craig waved at a group of friendly locals enjoying a drink by the harbour as their children triumph from jumping into the sea from the harbour wall. We placed our bags in our holiday cottage, Sea Holly, and picked up Harvey, Craig’s sproodle (and forever best friend), before heading to Mouisonniere Beach on the island’s north coast. 

Poppy and Harvey teared it up along the pristine white sands spanning the entire length of Herm’s north coast between Alderney Point and Oyster Rocks. Not many visitors cross the common or traverse the coastline to reach Mouisonniere, choosing to visit the beaches with cafes instead – so you can’t beat it for peace and tranquillity. Other than one other dog walker, we had the entire beach to ourselves.

Craig shared his story and passion for the island. Having moved to Herm with his family in November 2019, he swapped his high-pressured job in London (where he was accountable for 30 golf and leisure clubs) for his high-spirited commitment to Herm’s 70 residents, 100 or so additional seasonal staff, and up to 100,000 tourists who visit the island each year.

Craig’s new purpose is financially supported and actively encouraged by John and Julia Singer, the current owners of Herm. Unique to them as the place their romance began – having had their first date on Herm in the mid-90s – they relocated from Guernsey in 2008, following the purchase of the remaining 40-year lease (funded by the charitable trust Starboard Settlement agreed with the States of Guernsey, who act as the landlord), and have since harboured a deep love for the island.

And it is easy to see why: the peacefulness, the birds, the sea life, the remoteness, it takes less than a few hours on the island to feel there’s something rather magical about Herm.  

Craig took us next to St. Tugual’s Chapel – one of the oldest buildings on the island, dating back to the 11th century. The chapel is named after St. Tugual, a Welsh monk who lived in the 6th century and was known for his wisdom and healing powers.

St. Tugual’s Chapel
St. Tugual’s Chapel

“It is about striking the right balance”, Craig told us, “staying sympathetic to the island’s history and culture while accepting that it needs to move into the 21st century”. 

Four years after moving to the island with his family, Craig and his wife Emma tied the knot at the chapel – their two daughters as bridesmaids and Harvey (the dog) as ring-bearer – inviting all their friends and family from the UK (and beyond) to join them for the wedding and celebrations.

St. Tugual’s Chapel
St. Tugual’s Chapel Garden

Craig’s pace of life might have slowed down considerably since resettling in Herm; nonetheless, even throughout the pandemic, he never really stopped. One of his biggest projects has been upgrading the island’s boilers and converting them to biodiesel – along with lots of construction projects, refurbishments and decorating.

Craig showed us the brand new decking and viewing platform at the top of Harbour Hill – a labour of love completed by his team during lockdown, together with a new nature trail with photographic information boards dotted around the island (and quiz sheets available from the Herm Shop) enabling children to learn more about the birds, marine mammals, insects, flowers, and plant life in Herm. 

Poppy and Harvey led the way to the reinvented Zen Garden (formerly a granite quarry) and winner of this year’s RHS Community Awards. Craig’s gardening team revitilised an otherwise forgotten area planting Japanese cherry trees, cloud trees, and Japanese maples. Found at the top of the island’s Valley Garden this is the place to come when you want to escape it all.

We took a short detour to see the village primary school with just one room, one teacher, and four children. I noticed the sign “Free range children, please shut the gate”. Down the lane, there’s another amusing notice; “Do not cross this field… unless you can do it in 9 seconds because the bull can do it in 10 seconds.”

Following a quick tour of Herm’s two campsites, Seagull and Mermaid and the recently renovated self-catering cottages, Rosaire and Lower Belvoir, we retreated to a snug corner at The Ship Inn (adjoined to The White House Hotel), where we reunited with Holly and Daisy. 

The Ship Inn
The Ship Inn

Sitting by an open fire, we enjoyed Herm Berry mocktails and pints of Herm Island Gold. Having spotted Herm Gin on the menu… made from locally sourced botanicals including lemon balm, rosemary, wild rose and yarrow flower, I quizzed Craig about foraging on the island.

He told me about a local tour guide and horticulturalist (Malcolm Cleal) who takes small groups on walking and foraging adventures along the shoreline and inland – a great way to discover more about Herm’s flora and fauna and what’s edible and useful.

Herm Coastal Paths
Herm Coastal Paths

There are lots of other activities around the island, too, including guided walks and challenges such as the Herm Three Peak Challenge and a 10K stand-up paddle board race. 

The White House Hotel hosts gin tasting with Herm’s own gin expert, holds special Murder Mystery weekends, has planetarium shows in their outdoor marquee as well as circus performances, magic and fire shows for the kids. Other activities for guests include swimming (there’s a heated outdoor pool), tennis, fishing, hiking, snorkelling and Hula hoop golf.

The Mermaid Tavern (the island’s other pub) is at the heart of the twilight entertainment with Rocking Bingo, tribute bands, two Craft Ale and Cider Festival Weeks (June and September) and Rock n Roast Sunday’s.

The Mermaid Tavern
The Mermaid Tavern

After enjoying a delicious Seafood Linguine at The Ship, we walked back to the cottage, admiring the cosmic twinkling stars on the way. We rested, preparing for a weekend of self-exploration of this extraordinary island.

As a family who love running our ritual on a Saturday morning is usually to run or volunteer at a local ParkRun, happily stranded on the island, we decided to run our way around its island cliff paths instead. 

We took a few moments to stop and pinch ourselves over the views – it is hard to believe you are still in the UK. Reaching the top of the hill at Le Grand Monceau on the north coast is especially spectacular – the views of the azure waters sparkling in contrast to the glowing white sands of Shell Beach. Over in the opposite corner of the island, the clifftops on the southeast offer breathtaking views of France, Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney.

View from hill at Le Grand Monceau
View from hill at Le Grand Monceau

Later that day, we enjoyed a kayaking trip with Outdoor Guernsey and were delighted to see James again – our adventure guide from coasteering in Herm a couple of years previously. We were impressed – he remembered us – my husband’s attempt at a forward flip was, after all, unforgettable, he reminded us! 

We spent a wonderful afternoon paddling on the calm turquoise sea from Shell Beach to the south, passing Belvoir Bay. We were lucky enough to catch glimpses of seals basking on the rocks and to see the puffins – who return to the cliffs of Herm each year to raise their offspring – resting on the tops of the waves at Puffin Bay. James finished the session by challenging us with a demonstration of how to do a headstand on the kayaks – my younger daughter Daisy managed it while the rest of us fell quickly overboard trying!

Shell Beach Cliff Path
Shell Beach Cliff Path

That evening, we dined at The Conservatory Restaurant, located within The White House Hotel. Starters included melt-in-your-mouth beef carpaccio, freshly caught crab bon bon and flambeed wild mushrooms with toasted sourdough, fried quail egg and crispy pancetta. 

The pan-seared lamb rump was cooked to perfection, and the combination of flavours from the chorizo ratatouille, fondant potato and lamb jus was simply divine. We shared a delicious salted caramel cheesecake with chocolate macaron and comb salted caramel sauce for dessert. 

The next day, we woke up early for an unmissable sunrise swim at Belvoir Bay – and had the entire beach to ourselves. We swam across to Caquorobert, where we clambered the rock pools before diving safely off the rocks and racing back to the beach. The smell of freshly baked croissants and roasting coffee steered us to the beach café (their homemade chocolate brownies are also utterly delicious).

Sunrise at Belvoir Bay
Sunrise at Belvoir Bay

We wandered the village shop, admiring the souvenirs, clothing, and locally-made crafts. We bought some hand-made Herm jewellery and a beautiful puffin printed scarf. At the food and ice cream parlour, lobster and charcuterie platters were on their specials board.

We choose to enjoy lunch at the Mermaid Tavern – relishing a delicious feast of traditional British fare and seafood caught in the surrounding waters. The focus on locally sourced produce was evident, and we savoured the flavours of the island with Herm oysters and mussels followed by baked whole plaice with new potatoes and seasonal vegetables and seafood linguini.

We went for a hike along the island’s cliff paths and explored more of its landscape. Herm is a diverse tapestry of natural wonders, with bluebell drifts dotting the rolling hillsides and majestic kestrels soaring high above the craggy cliffs. Eucalyptus thickets provide a fragrant respite, and gorse plateaux offer bursts of vibrant color, and hulking sea stacks stand proudly against the endless horizon. 

Poppy helped us to discover some newly cleared pathways behind the hotel, leading to Princess Radziwill’s Walk and a secret hidden spot with a bench from which to sit and enjoy the sea views. We also sniffed out the island’s old jail – a claim to fame for Herm as the smallest prison in the world (it only fits one!) 

Herm island’s old jail
Island’s old jail

On our final evening we attended a VIP Herm Beach Party at Shell Beach – a gourmet BBQ, with DJs Leon Robertson, Tom Brock and Jay Allen playing dance classics and chill-out house. The beach gets its name from the millions of tiny shells that have been washed up by the Gulf Stream. We feasted on gourmet burgers, locally caught fish, charred corn on the cob and a selection of breads and salads to the soundtrack of the set and the waves. 

As we strolled back to our cottage, the enchanting aura of Herm Island captivated us even more, amplified by the most beautiful sunset. The island’s magic had enveloped us completely. 

Sunset
Sunset

Herm is a special gem to the Channel Islands and the next morning we departed feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, having been inspired by the island’s breathtaking natural beauty, warm-hearted locals, rich history, and the endless opportunities for exciting outdoor adventures.

Jessica and her family stayed in one of the four recently refurbished Sea Cottages in Manor Village, prices from £312 for 3 nights in a one bed cottage in low season to £2,471 for 7 nights in a premium 3 bed cottage in high season.

Condor Ferries operate fast and traditional ferries from Poole and Portsmouth to Guernsey year-round taking from just three hours. Ferries depart from Guernsey’s St Peter Port to Sark, Alderney, and Herm at multiple times throughout the day during the summer. Travel Trident inter-island ferry departs from Guernsey’s St Peter Port Harbour to Herm year round, and at multiple times throughout the day during the summer. Flights direct to Guernsey operate from most UK airport hubs, aurigny.com

To find out more visit www.herm.com

Words | Jessica Way

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