The next time I was aware of any significant journey was when, as a family, we visited the island of Alderney, Channel Islands, UK. It became our favourite holiday destination for three years but I did not understand the significance of it until an adult when I learnt that my Great Grandmother Harriet was born there in 1865. It was her story which originally inspired me to write my first novel, Riduna, and I have always felt a connection with her. Whist staying on the island I am acutely aware of walking in her footsteps and I have spent much time researching into what life must have been like for her.
I’ve written much about Alderney on my other blog http://www.dianamj.wordpress.com. I will always feel a special affinity with both the place and its people and have since met distant relatives. Today the population is only around 2,000 and is certainly somewhere to find peace, space and wholeness. Famous for its gannet and puffin population on small islets just off the coast, Alderney is a magnet for those who love wildlife, fishing, playing golf, walking, swimming from beautiful stretches of sandy coastline or just finding time to just be!
Harriet, my great grandmother was orphaned at the age of eight years old and was brought up by her grandparents who ran a guest house. At fifteen she became too much to handle. Was it the influence of the military which swelled the population at the time to around 5,000, with the building and manning of several Victorian fortresses which still adorn its headlands. Harriet, bless her, was shipped to stay with an aunt on neighbouring Guernsey. A few years later she met her husband to be and became Harriet Jackson and the subsequently moved to the mainland and settled in Woolston, Southampton.
In the same way as our American and Australian cousins find it so compelling to visit their roots and the places of their ancestors, I always feel a sense of returning ‘home‘ when I visit Alderney. I feel so much empathy for the Homecoming
folk who celebrate their return to the island after the evacuation of WW2, though their story is bitter sweet. It was a tough time for those who chose to stay. For me now it is a joy to return. To fly over the coast before landing in Joey the islander lifts my spirits – It is a
place which will remain forever in my heart, wherever I may live.
And so in a sense it is akin to a pilgrimage.