Cruis­ing the Bri­tish Isles

Cruis­ing the Bri­tish Isles re­veals a host of sto­ried sites to ex­plore.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Cover - by TERRI COL BY

About 90 miles out­side of Lon­don, slow­ing traf­fic on the A303 is the first sign that you are ar­riv­ing at your des­ti­na­tion. All of the driv­ers pause. And how could they not? Out­side your win­dow, just a bit in the dis­tance, is the 5,000-year- old Stone­henge, one of the most fa­mous his­toric sites in the world.

It was jaw drop­ping to see the iconic pre­his­toric stone cir­cle from our 21st- cen­tury tour bus. The setup for vis­i­tors to Stone­henge is ef­fi­cient, and while you can no longer walk up and touch the stones, you are close enough to feel the power of the place and see the nearby burial mounds that also mark it as spe­cial for an­cient peo­ples. Stone­henge is a great first or last stop to book­end a cruise out of nearby Southamp­ton where we set sail aboard Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess to ex­plore his­toric sites in the Bri­tish Isles.

Long at the cen­ter of Western his­tory, the Bri­tish Isles are home to many his­toric sites in­clud­ing cas­tles, monas­ter­ies, and mon­u­ments; and mark­ers of con­flict from 18th- cen­tury bat­tle­fields to World War II bunkers to sites of modern sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence and rev­o­lu­tion.

Eng­land and the Chan­nel Is­lands

YOU’LL LIKELY BE FLY­ING IN AND OUT of Lon­don, so a visit to the Tower of Lon­don, Buck­ing­ham Palace, or West­min­ster Abbey is also eas­ily ac­com­plished. We chose the Tower. Built by Wil­liam the Con­queror in 1078 on the banks of the Thames, it’s a sym­bol of power where Beefeaters in their blue and scar­let at­tire give tours daily. Don’t miss a look at the Crown Jew­els. Our first cruise stop out of Southamp­ton was at the Chan­nel Is­lands, and we found abun­dant his­tory on a lit­tle is­land you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of. The is­land of Sark is within sight of the French coast, but it’s a Bri­tish de­pen­dency, gov­erned by a unique po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, parts of which

dates to Queen El­iz­a­beth I. Un­til a few years ago it was Europe’s last feu­dal do­main. Along with the rest of the Chan­nel Is­lands it was the only Bri­tish ter­ri­tory oc­cu­pied by Nazi Ger­many dur­ing World War II.

Nearby Guernsey Is­land is more well known. There, you can see re­mains of some of the Ger­man bunkers, but Sark is very much a world apart. At Sark’s snug har­bor, trac­tors hauled us in open trail­ers up a steep road to the town. And that was the last we saw of mo­tor ve­hi­cles of any sort. No cars, no trucks, not even a mo­tor scooter.

We hired bi­cy­cles to ex­plore this pas­toral plateau lit­tle more than two miles square, set high above the vivid blue, churn­ing seas of the English Chan­nel. Other than dodg­ing the oc­ca­sional clip-clop­ping horse-drawn cart full of tourists, we had the is­land's smooth gravel lanes to our­selves, cooled by an ocean breeze and watched in­dif­fer­ently by cows and horses graz­ing in green pas­ture over­look­ing the sea.

Lit­tle more than a five-minute ride brought us to the im­pos­ing grey gran­ite seigneurie, home of the feu­dal rulers around whom much of Sark’s his­tory re­volves. The term de­rives from the French word for lord. The seigneur’s sta­tus as feu­dal ruler of his ten­ants wasn’t abol­ished un­til 2008.

Per­haps the is­land’s great­est modern chal­lenge came with the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion from 1940-45, when the in­cum­bent ruler, Dame Sibyl Hath­away, re­fused to evac­u­ate. Much of that his­tory is laid out in a small ex­hibit ad­ja­cent to the seigneurie.

Don’t miss the es­tate’s spa­cious walled gar­den, in glo­ri­ous full bloom in mid-June. We stopped nearby at a small café for a pot of tea and slice of cake, and pon­dered our re­grets at the thought of leav­ing.

Op­po­site page: Ger­man bunker, Guernsey; Above: The view from the is­land of Sark and the seigneur, Sark

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