Alderney is the most northerly of the Channel Islands and a British Crown dependency. It is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is 3 miles (5 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.5 km) wide. The area is three square miles (8 sq.km), making it the third largest island of the Channel Islands, and the second largest in the Bailiwick. It is around ten miles (16 km) to the west of La Hague in the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, in France, twenty miles (32 km) to the north-east of Guernsey and sixty miles (97 km) from the south coast of England. It is the closest of the Channel Islands to France as well as being the closest to England. It is separated from Cap de la Hague by the dangerous Race of Alderney (Le Raz).
The island has a population of 2400 people, and they are traditionally nicknamed vaques after the cows, or else lapins after the many rabbits seen in the island. The only parish of Alderney is the parish of St Anne which covers the whole island.
The main town (‘La Ville’ or simply ‘Town’ in English) is often erroneously referred to as ‘St Annes’ (or less inaccurately: ‘St Anne’). It features an imposing, pretty church and unevenly cobbled high street. There is a primary school, a secondary school, and a sub-post office as well as hotels, restaurants, banks and shops. Alderney is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful of the Channel Islands.
Alderney shares a history with the other Channel Islands, becoming an island in the Neolithic period as the waters of the Channel rose.The etymology of the Island’s name is obscure. It is known in Latin as Riduna but as with the names of the all the Channel Islands in the Roman period there is a degree of confusion. Riduna may be the original name of Tatihou, while Alderney is conjectured to be identified with Sarmia. Alderney/Aurigny is variously supposed to be a Germanic or Celtic name. It may be a corruption of Adreni or Alrene, which is probably derived from an Old Norse word meaning island near the coast. Alternatively it may derive from three Norse elements: alda (swelling wave, roller), renna (strong current, race) and oy or ey (island).
In terms of geography Alderney is similar to the other islands in that it has sheer cliffs broken by stretches of sandy beach and dunes. It has a temperate climate, moderated by the sea, and summers are usually warmer than elsewhere in the British Isles. Trees are rather scarce, as many were cut down in the 17th century to fuel the lighthouses on Alderney and the Casquets. Those trees that remain include some cabbage trees (due to the mild climate – often miscalled palms but of the lily family.), and there are now some small woods dotted about the island.
Alderney and its surrounding islets feature a rich flora and fauna. Puffins on Burhou and gannets on Les tacs just off Alderney are a favourite of many visitors to the island. The Blonde hedgehog is a species native to Alderney. The island has its own breed of cattle, called the Alderney; the pure breed became extinct in 1944, but hybrids remain elsewhere, though no longer on Alderney itself. In August 2005, the west coast of Alderney and associated islands, including Burhou and Ortac, were designated as Ramsar wetlands of international importance.
The island is surrounded by rocks, which have caused hundreds of wrecks. There are two treacherous tidal streams on either side of the island: the Swinge between Alderney and Burhou, just outside the harbour, and Le Raz between the island and the Norman mainland.