It all started two years ago before this trip, a few days preceding a birthday, the birthday! Alderney was visited once very shortly, for refueling, when en route for Saint Mary in the Scilly Islands, with the promise to come back for a longer stay.
Helped by a splendid and unexpected end of September mild and sunny weather forecast, you timidly propose a journey somewhere close to the sea, and bravely, why not to an island! Of course your aim is to try to enjoy flying, without losing too many credits with your partner, because in some case flying might well mean "staying blocked on a lousy airfield for thousands of different reasons but without even a single really good one". You have been told that several time, and you have endangered several times to loose all your credits, or even go below zero!
Alderney has a nice small airport (EGHA) which quite probably occupies 2/10th of the surface or at least 2/10th of the length of the island, the remaining part being occupied by the town, St Ann city, a golf court, and some free ground! Quite close to pilot dreams as you may leave at a walking distance from the airport and maybe your plane. Moreover, Alderney is a true aviation friendly airfield, with for example duty free fuel!
After some exchanges of opinions, you got the ok from your partner, and the very dangerous mission, to find a nice location to stay when reaching your destination. Feverous research, and finally you decide for a bed and breakfast, being attracted by some nice water paints hanging on the walls, visible from the accommodation pictures available on the website. It should be the house of an artist. You check once again that your partner is ok for this accommodation, and then book a room. A short phone call with the owner begins to convince you that this might be the right choice, and allows you to learn that the bed and breakfast is at about 7 minutes walking time from the airport. Anything better?!
Flight from Valenciennes (LFAV) to Alderney (EGJA) is quite easy with the possibility to fly along the French coast for a large part of the journey. You may well also choose to do some radio navigation following the VORs and ADFs along the way. In that particular case, the journey then could be: LFAV VS ABB DPE LHP Vauville ALD EGJA.
As for any flight, pre-flight check with the check list, around the plane, in the plane, etc... Contact, engine start, radios on, and after the run up you are flying to your destination, Alderney. The weather is clear and clean and the flight has no real difficulties. The end of the journey is slightly trickier, requiring some attention for avoiding the P (prohibited) areas of the nuclear power plants, and Cherbourg, a French navy base.
French airspace control is a little bit busy that day, due to the nice and bright sun which has attracted a lot of mechanical birds in the sky. Once having left the coast, you switch to Channel Islands control, and, "as usual", the British controller immediately slows down the speed of his exchange with you, due to your impossible to hide French accent. In this area IFR or Special VFR is compulsory. SVFR do not present any peculiar difficulty, being a VFR flight with the obligation to follow airspace control instructions.
Alderney appears as a stone in the middle of the water and you do start to feel what it is about landing on a (huge - motionless) aircraft carrier. Approaching the island, you switch to Alderney Tower and you are instructed to land on runway 08. Nothing peculiar, but it is worth mentioning the threshold of 08 which is slightly higher than the rest of the strip.
Landed and parked on Alderney's green grass. Here we are! The welcome of the staff let you really feel the meaning of aviation friendly airport. Only a small, quite understandable restriction : Formalities are quickly expedited and after having checked again 10 times that you did not forget something about or in the plane, you walk to your bed and breakfast. Quite easy to find it in principle, as it is located very close from the water reservoir, which was indeed a blockhouse and an observation tower build by the Germans during the 1939-1945 world wide war.
After the theoretical 7 minutes walk, let's say 20 minutes indeed, because you are looking around to enjoy the environment and the bags are heavy (why did you took so many stuffs with you? the stay will only last two days); you reach your destination and start to wonder if you will successfully pass the chosen accommodation test!. She has to say yes or no to what you choose! You hear a “Hmmmm, what a lovely place”, and then you stop trembling and sweating. The day is almost saved!
The accommodation is indeed very fine, with a lovely inner court garden and nicely arranged room(s).
The visit planning is quickly arranged: today round the city and restaurant, tomorrow round the island (to lose the weight we will gain at the restaurant) and visit of the museum.
The city is relatively small and well maintained. Focal points are Victoria Street (which is the main street), and the harbour. Here and there, shops are advertising for their services with some English humour in some instances. The harbour is worth the visit, and with the nice weather and sunshine, a beer is most welcome.
After this exhausting walk (very very few miles), it is time to restore your energy with some local food and kitchen. After having asked to several people you met here and there which restaurant they would recommend you ends up at the Georgian House. Indeed highly recommendable with good service and courses. The ambiance is quiet as we are at the very end of the touristic season. Here again an inner garden, which seems to be the specialty of the island, is adding charm to the overall ambiance due to our nice waiter.
With all these efforts your credit is going up, and probably your future trips proposals should get some more acceptance from your partner, or at least less suspicion of being suspected to only succeed in “staying blocked on a lousy airfield for thousands of different reasons, but without any single valid one !".
Time has come to rent a bike and to visit the Island. Alderney is like a small rock with a lot of slopes and declivities, therefore be prepared to sweat with the bike unless you are becoming very very swifty again the champion you were, if ever. By the way during this ride you get some short and sweet remarks such as "maybe some loss of weight could be beneficial for the next bike ride, and eventually for the plane efficient pay load ...."
The coast is naturally gorgeous, with plenty of different small beaches and shores to see and to enjoy if you are not too sensitive to the not very warm water.
Of course there are plenty of remains from formers disputes and wars, starting from old castles and forts from alternatively the Franco-English or Anglo-French competition to own this island and the other Channel Islands; till the remains of the German bunkers from the Second World War.
Defensive constructions are all around the island as “the enemies" were alternatively coming from the south, the north, the east, the west, and again same history for several rounds.... We did not got time enough to visit all of these, and therefore we agreed to come back for a second visit. Worth mentioning are Andy Goldsworthy's Stones that we found all around the island.
The port is worth a walk or a bicycle ride as well as the rock wall of the breakwater which is about 870 meters long. A railway was build to bring the rocks and the stones from an adjacent carrier and the rails are still there. Needless to talk about the waves and the noise when the weather is windy.
Tides are amongst if not the strongest worldwide and this certainly call for some attention when being close to the beaches, or in the sea.
The museum is worth a visit for three main reasons : The surroundings, the content of the museum, and the gentleman who was taking care of the visitors. Although its size is proportional to the size of the island, the museum summarizes the history of Alderney and its inhabitants from the Stone Age till after the Second World War. In this museum , are exhibited the artefacts of the only known wreck of an English warship of the Elizabethan Period, the Elizabethan Wreck. The findings from this wreck appear to be crucial to understand why the union Jack ruled the seas for such a long time. It seems to be related to standardisation of the armament simplifying logistic. Old recipes still very valid for companies to remain competitive.
Maybe as noticeable as the exposition, was the gentleman, in charge of the museum that day. Extremely knowledgeable and prolix with a lot of humour on any subject about the past, present and future of this island. Thank you so much to you, Sir, for the detailed explanations we received.
Time has gone in a snap and reluctantly you start your journey back. Conclusion: You feel the need to come back here to visit the remaining areas; you did not had time to visit and see everything, to enjoy some relaxing time and to spend your remaining locally printed pounds. You finally even got some bonus points, receiving a compliment for this trip from your forever co-pilot. (With the hope that this small description, will give you the wish to fly for, and to discover Alderney...).