It is a liminal place – a place in between – in more ways than one. Floating between Britain and France, the Minquiers have long been subject not only to the vagaries of the tides, but also to the feuds of duchies and governments, torn between Normans, Britons and French for over 1,000 years. Today they are under the jurisdiction of Jersey, counting as a self-governing part of the British Isles but not part of the United Kingdom.
“It’s been fought over since 955 CE,” said Josh Dearing, the skipper of the Jersey Seafaris boat that had just ferried me to Maîtresse via a creperie in La Manche, “but the buildings have been there since the 1800s. “.
Dearing – who doubles as a tour guide – led me through the ghostly village of Mistress, its stone buildings in various states of disrepair and disrepair. “They were built by fishermen from the port of La Rocque [in southern Jersey]but also miners and quarrymen [who were] after island granite,” Dearing said. The gatherers of vraic – seaweed used as fertilizer – also landed here. On the northern shore of the island are the ruins of an old hospital, used to treat miners’ injuries during the 19th century mining period. The constructions sit on the only part of the island that does not disappear with the tides. For the same reason, it is the only piece of land in the Minquiers that supports greenery, in the form of fragrant pelargoniums – planted by fishermen who used their soft leaves as toilet paper.
Dearing pointed to carefully carved graffiti on the exterior wall of the hospital, displaying the initials “C BS” above a date: 1865. Most of the buildings date from this era. Today a few of the cottages are still used by fishermen, but most are owned by a handful of Jersey families, who spend a night or two on Maîtresse when the weather is fine. There are no permanent residents and no hotels – or anywhere else – where tourists can stay. Sales of chalets are rare and the owners are protective of their property.