At just one and half miles wide and three and half miles long, Alderney is often described as the hidden gem of the Channel Islands. Alderney’s charming town centre, beautiful coastline, breakwater and fortifications, stunning natural heritage and mild climate make it a popular destination all year round.
Tourist highlights include seven glorious stunning uncrowded beaches, the Alderney train – the only working railway in the Channel Islands, the Bayeux Tapestry finale, Mannez lighthouse, and the bell tower of St.Anne’s church.
The best way to see the island is on foot, by bicycle or by boat. Walking tours, cycle hire, round the island boat trips and guided tours are on offer, year round.
Alderney’s position in the English Channel – being some 60 miles due south of Portland Bill and just eight miles from Cap de La Hague on the French coast, meant that from the Roman period to the Second World War, it has been in the front line of European conflict. This strategic location – close to France and on the south side of the entrance to the English Channel – projected Alderney and the Channel Islands into the forefront of English/British naval planning through the centuries.
Alderney possesses surviving military defences from the second century AD to the German Occupation from 1940 to 1945, but those from the early Victorian period are undoubtedly the most impressive works in today’s landscape.
Some eighteen forts and batteries were built to defend the new harbour at Braye, which was being developed from 1847 onwards by the Admiralty as a base for a small squadron of Royal Navy warships to watch the newly completed French naval base and arsenal at Cherbourg, and to act in conjunction with a larger force at Portland to prevent a French fleet from Brest entering the Channel.
The celebrated Alderney Breakwater – which remains a significant feature in the island today although only two thirds of its original length, has been nominated as one of the world’s most outstanding engineering structures by the Institute of Civil Engineers on the occasion of their 200th anniversary. Despite the rough weather which the Breakwater faces every year, it continues to shelter Alderney and shipping in Braye Harbour. These mid-nineteenth century naval and military works transformed Alderney, through a period of 25 years, from a small rural and fishing community of just over one thousand people, into an island of bustling activity and international attention with a population more than twice the size of the present day. Many of the town’s prominent buildings – the Court, old Gaol and St.Anne’s Church – date from this period of the island’s maritime prominence.