There's usually a reason why a road is less well travelled and, stood waist deep in rotting seaweed on Guernsey's wild west coast, I think I've discovered it. The road I should have taken would have provided commanding views of the island's blood-red granite coast and the murky Atlantic. Instead, on this dull autumn day in the English Channel, I chose to trample across the pastel sand and have wound up with a welly full of kelp.
It was an altogether drier story yesterday. The sun shone brightly and my wife Helen and I embarked on a cycle tour of the island. Caryn, from Donkey's Days Out, met us at Bruce Russell and Son's Silversmiths in the quaint southern parish of St Saviour. The company's name refers to the Norman nickname for Guernsey folk, who are called donkeys by their neighbours on the nearby island of Jersey. A friendly rivalry exists between the two, with Jersey's inhabitants affectionately known as "crapauds" - French for toads.
Our first stop was St Saviour's church, which has beautiful stained-glass windows overlooking a Gothic graveyard. Nearby is the entrance to a tunnel complex that was used as an ammunition store by German troops during World War II. With their proximity to France, the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain occupied by the nazis and Hitler was obsessed with fortifying them. More concrete was poured here during the war than anywhere else, much of it to bolster the iconic Martello towers (small 19th century defensive forts) which dot the coast.
We pedalled through the verdant countryside, twisting down a labyrinth of narrow lanes known as the Ruettes Tranquilles. These tiny roads are often no more than 3m wide and I gritted my teeth around every corner for fear of colliding with a tractor. Fortunately the speed limit is only 15mph (about 25km/h) so they're ideal for cautious cyclists.
Nestled in the picturesque Fauxquets Valley, the Meller family farm has carved a reputation for producing the exquisite Rocquette Cider. Owner James showed us around the property, starting with the rolling orchard with its fruit-laden trees and ending at the business end of the bottling plant. Great care is taken to capture the thirst-quenching flavours which the locals love to guzzle in many of the island's traditional pubs.
Not wishing to be left out, Helen and I jumped at the chance of a tasting. Cycling is thirsty work, after all. The traditional blend packs a punch at 6 per cent alcohol and has a long, dry taste but that's nothing compared to the awesomely named Headless Horseman, which weighs in at a hefty 7.2 per cent. I didn't overindulge as there was still a fair way to go, but I couldn't resist buying a box of the farm's Scallywag cider for later.
A good tour guide can make or break a travel experience and Caryn certainly made ours. A proud Guernsey native, she's a fountain of knowledge on the island and cheerfully narrated our journey as it unfolded. Donkey's Days Out offers a choice of affordable tours and groups are kept to sensible sizes; I'd thoroughly recommend them.
We parted company at the Fleur de Jardin hotel, where we enjoyed a pint of - you guessed it - Rocquette Cider, and a tasty Guernsey crab baguette. A friendly French waiter tended to our table and for a while it felt as though we were somewhere in rural France. The Channel Islands were once part of the kingdom of Normandy and the islands' French street names further enhance its continental character.
The following day we visited the capital, St Peter Port, where this Anglo-Franco heritage is even more evident in its cobbled streets and cute cafes. Few places are more picturesque than this crowded cluster of historic granite buildings that cascade down the hillside to a bustling marina. We had meant to visit Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables while exiled in Guernsey from 1856 to 1870, but the sunny weather persuaded us to go for a brisk coastal walk instead.
We strolled past bathing pools that look east towards the 800-year-old Castle Cornet and delved along a forest trail, slipping on wet leaves and hopping over muddy puddles. Gaps in the foliage offered fleeting glimpses of Herm, the smallest of Guernsey's islands and just a 15-minute ferry ride away. On a good day there aren't many deckchairs where I'd rather be than on Herm's Shell Beach and the Mermaid Tavern serves some damn good pub grub to boot. Further south east is Sark, a slightly bigger rock that is home to about 300 people. The only vehicle there is a tractor which pulls the island's ambulance, leaving the residents to get around by pushbike.
After walking for an hour we arrived at Fermain Bay, a hidden gem sheltered from the wind by towering cliffs on either side of its pebbled beach. We tucked into a slice of Guernsey gache (traditional fruit bread) as the turquoise water lapped at our feet. You could almost mistake the scene for an idyllic Greek island cove, were it not for the fact we were both wearing jumpers.
But that was yesterday and this is today, wading waist deep through stinky seaweed on the rugged west coast. We are soaked to the bone, but we don't mind because there is the promise of a beach kiosk and a bowl of piping hot bean jar just around the corner. This hearty fodder consists of slow-cooked haricot beans with beef shin and veggies. It's Guernsey's national dish, or as good as, and diehards will devour it with a pig's trotter when they're feeling particularly patriotic.
Eventually we escape from the quicksand clutches of the boggy beach and scramble over a granite wall to safety. My cheeks may be wind-burnt and my socks are squelching in my shoes, but as the clouds part to reveal a ribbon of blue sky overhead, I feel like I've hit the jackpot.