Alderney shares a history with the other Channel Islands, becoming an island in the Neolithic period as the waters of the Channel rose.
After choosing independence from France and loyalty to the English monarch in his role as the Duke of Normandy, in 1204, Alderney developed slowly and was not much involved with the rest of the world.
That is, however, until the British government decided to undertake massive fortifications in the 19th century and to create a strategic harbour to deter attacks from France. These fortifications were presciently described by William Ewart Gladstone as "a monument of human folly, useless to us ... but perhaps not absolutely useless to a possible enemy, with whom we may at some period have to deal, and who may possibly be able to extract some profit in the way of shelter and accommodation from the ruins."
An influx of English and Irish labourers, plus the sizable British garrison stationed in the island, led to rapid anglicization. The harbour was never completed - the remaining breakwater (designed by James Walker) is one of the island's landmarks, and is longer than any breakwater in the UK.
The last of the hereditary Governors, John Le Mesurier, resigned his patent to the Crown in 1825 since when authority has been exercised by the States of Alderney (as amended by the constitutional settlement of 1948).
The island was occupied by German forces during World War II. Before the Nazi Germany troops landed in June 1940, almost the entire Alderney population evacuated, leaving only 2% of the population.
The Germans built four concentration camps on the island. Each camp was named after one of the Frisian Islands and included Nordeney located at Saye, Borkum at Platte Saline, Sylt near the old telegraph tower at La Foulère, and Heligoland.
Each camp was operated by the Nazi Organisation Todt and used forced labour to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. In 1942, the Norderney camp, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Sylt camp, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS Haupsturmfuhrer Max List.
Over 700 of the inmates are said to have lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944.
For two years after the end of World War II, Alderney was operated as a communal farm. Craftsmen were paid by their employers, while others were paid by the local government out of the profit from the sales of farm produce. Remaining profits were put aside to repay the British Government for repairing and rebuilding the island.
What to do
Alderney’s varied wildlife is protected by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. The island has become a bit of a birdwatcher magnet, as well as being popular with ramblers and wildlife lovers. There are 70 kilometres of tracks and walks that take keen walkers along the cliffs, beaches, commons and even the picturesque cobbled streets of St Anne.
If you fancy trying your hand at fishing, why not charter a boat to take you out to sea. At the same time you may also be able to spot some of the old shipwrecks that lie around the island. Alderney can offer some of the best opportunities for sea fishing in the whole of the Channel Islands. There’s even an annual angling festival every October, and Alderney holds several British and Channel Islands records.
Other sports are covered too - golfers will appreciate the nine-hole golf course. There are also plenty of opportunities for sailing, swimming, surfing, wind surfing and even scuba diving.
Alderney has its own duty-free shops where you can pick up spirits and tobacco at bargain prices. It is worth shopping around in St Anne, which has plenty of boutique shops selling a range of gifts and kitchenware. Souvenir hunters might like to hunt for the perfect Alderney knitwear and pottery. Don’t forget to stop and sample some of the delicious locally made ice cream.
Most of the main shops are open from 9:00 to 5:30 on Monday to Saturday, although they tend to close for lunch and also on Wednesday afternoons. Some of the popular shops also open on Sundays during the high season. The banks in the town are usually open from 9:30 to1:00 and 2:30 to 3:30.
The food in Alderney has a definite French flavour to it, and is dominated by the island’s abundant seafood. The local speciality is shellfish. However, most restaurants also offer traditional British, international and oriental options. Most alcohol is cheaper than on the UK. Pub licensing hours are flexible and pubs tend to be child friendly.
There’s a special day called Milk-O-Punch Sunday, held on the first Sunday in May, when a local delicacy of milk, eggs and rum is offered free to everyone by every publican on the island.
Alderney also holds an annual Seafood Festival in May. The event brings the island’s top chefs, restaurants and hotels together in an effort to produce special dishes and showcase the very best and freshest seafood.