Postcard From Jersey
This was once a favourite destination of mine, somehow I’d always seem to end a Grand Tour here! I haven’t been to Jersey however since 98 … how much had my beloved island changed(?). Having the luxury of a full week to play with this time, I was about to find out … I had absolutely no idea what incredible holiday was in store for me ..
Based in St Helier, I pre-contrived a very simple plan … to circumnavigate the island using my own steam (ie. by foot, by bike and by kayak). It took me five days to explore the place I call ‘Paradise Island’, this is how I got on …
DAY ONE – South-Western Sector (cycle & kayak)
I was ‘chomping at the bit’ to pick up my hire bike and go and explore!
Blessed with glorious sunshine (that was going to stay with me all week), I could not have wished for a better start. To-day I covered the southwest sector, the cycleway along the full sweep of St Aubin’s Bay was the most relaxing stretch of cycling that I have ever encountered … it really did set the tone. I have said that this was a circumnavigation of the island; but as magnificent as the coastline was, this was not all about golden sandy beaches, azure blue seas and verdant cliff-top trails … there is an INCREDIBLE rich vein of inland treasures to discover too.
I came off the ‘prom’ at Beaumont, headed north along an old railway line (perfection!), before having my first encounter (of this trip) with the mighty “Green Lane” system. These are a network of quiet country lanes that cars can use but are restricted to 15mph … I can not stress enough how much I love them, epitomising everything that I enjoy most about cycling!!!
The four sides of the island all have very different characters … the western side, to-day’s target, is quite stark and windswept (a sand dune and salt-resistant grass wilderness). I eventually reached the far southwestern tip, round La Corbiere (pici. of lighthouse top left). There are also an impressive array of old German fortifications here to attract your attention.
After uncovering yet more old railway trails and tapping into some mischievous off-roading, I reached Ouaisne Bay, where I was about to experience one of the most memorable adventures of my life! I had pre-booked a sea-kayaking lesson … this was a first for me. My instructor was a chap by the name of Mick, his experience was reassuring (bearing in mind the sea was quite choppy and there was a strong undercurrent and hidden rocks to negotiate). In addition, his local knowledge and passion for the island were mesmeric!
It was a phenomenal way to see things from a completely different angle … normally I am walking along the cliffs, this time I was looking UP at them!
There was a price to pay, however … we returned to our launch point (a beach), right in front of a bemused family enjoying the sun-drenched sand. Unfortunately, two and a half hours sitting in the kayak had taken its toll on my ageing body … my spine had completely disintegrated!, so when I attempted to stand up out of my plastic encasement, I just keeled over into the sea! I continued to entertain the said family by asking them “… is this France? ..”! Thank you Mick … I shall treasure the memory of to-day forever!
Although I was totally shattered by now, I was still able to ‘mop-up’ the parts we didn’t cover on the kayaks by peddle power, eventually taking the same promenade route I had tootled along many hours earlier.
DAY TWO – North-Western Sector (cycle)
To-day’s opening route followed in yesterday’s ‘wheel tracks’ … although I did, unbelievably, manage to improve on it! A quick mention of the maps … bloody awful! (makes you value the mighty O/S even more). There are plenty of ‘touristy freebies’ available, but I opted to buy the ‘Big Guns’ (2 1/2″ : mile) … I soon discovered even its frailties. I am used to reading maps, but to those not so familiar, it must be confusing. There are designated numbered cycle routes that can be followed too, but I couldn’t help thinking that you have only got to miss one of their signs and you’re in Lostsville! Saying that you are never too far away from things and will soon be able to pick up the thread!
I had an elevensies cuppa tea & cake break at the picturesque, and surprisingly busy, village of St.Peter … I was so relaxed, watching the world go by, I didn’t want to leave!
I was soon on the intriguing minor back roads around the airport, before dropping down (it is hilly in the middle of the island) towards the coast … and more sumptuous sea hugging roads.
Having filled my lungs to the brim with sea air, I once again turned inland. There is an amazing variety and abundance of things to do on the island. My option was to either visit an orchid and flower garden or go and see some of the relics from ‘The War’ … guess what I chose? (picis. below might give you a clue!).
The German Hospital (now re-branded as the Jersey Tunnels, to represent a wider picture of The Occupation) is well worth a visit … even though I have been here several times before. Unlike a purpose-built modern museum, this labyrinth gives you a real sense of history (although no degree of imagination could envisage what conditions the poor souls who built this place must have suffered … slave labour!). The feeling is also physical … the temperature very quickly plummets as you enter the dark world!
I returned to base by avoiding as many main roads as possible … try doing this in a car!!!
DAY THREE – Eastern Sector (cycle)
This was the least known part of the island to me and, to be honest, I just didn’t have the same enthusiasm for it (how could it possibly match the last two days) … boy was I misguided, what another cracker lay ahead …
To get out of the hustle and bustle (comparatively speaking!) of St Helier, I had to swerve around the pedestrians that were sharing the same narrow strip of tarmac as the cyclists. I went through what I presume is the port and ferry area, it is in dispersed with several marinas … some money moored here, judging by the luxury yachts on view(?)! There was one fantastic piece of cycleway that is noteworthy of mention however>>>
There are no cycleways, as such, however on the eastern side, I had to go along the road. This didn’t seem to matter somehow … the views seaward were spellbinding. The sun played its part, turning the sea into a most inviting shade of blue!
At the relaxed fishing village of Gorey, complete with a medieval castle (pici. above), I took stock of my sumptuous surroundings before climbing inland. I met many fellow cyclists (both islanders and tourists) over the week … there was always a lengthy exchange of pleasantries to be had … that’s what cycling and this place do to you!
Next on the list was Jersey Zoo (although they are not called zoos these days) … a place of world-renowned animal conservation and breeding. It was established in 1958 by famous author and naturalist Gerald Durrell and is named after him to-day. Again, it is not normally something I would visit (and I have been here before) … and again I am so glad I did. It was a busy old place and there were more popular attractions than others. However, two things struck me … the first was the absolute dedication on the part of the staff, and the second was just how big an area it covered. I was really enjoying exploring one luring path after another (away from the crowds), and spent far longer here than I’d originally planned.
Feeling enormously pleased with myself on how well my holiday was going, I made my way back ‘home’ via as many more minor roads that I could muster! There was a sad ending, however, I had to hand back my trusted bike companion … for I resume my adventure on foot to-morrow.
You might by now be wondering about my accommodation(?) … well as an honoured guest of the Governor of Jersey, these were my digs for the week (you believe me don’t you?!).
DAY FOUR – North-Eastern Sector (walk)
To get to my starting point, Rozel Bay, I had to catch a bus … there is an excellent service here, covering every nook and cranny of the island. The buses are frequent, modern and their timetables are easy to read.
Although I was not entirely convinced about the island’s mapping and system of waymarking, I was treated to a truly splendid slice of cliff walking … views of Guernsey to the fore and the French coastline to the aft.
There was a time (not that long ago) when I would have walked the whole stretch in one go! however, there were factors that were now not in my favour … I was still carrying an injury from our recent cycling holiday, a few days return to the saddle here must have aggravated it. Also, the forecast to-day was 22 degrees, it felt more like a sapping 32!!! … it was too much for my Viking blood! Therefore, after about 8 miles, I decided that I wanted to savour the moment rather than rush it, so I vowed to return to-morrow to complete my odyssey.
The clock was now on my side, to enjoy a very special evening ahead … for there were a couple of nuggets still up my sleeve!
At this point of the story, I would like to introduce a VERY special place for me, and one of the reasons for my return to St.Helier … the magnificent Blue Note (jazz & blues) Bar. I was thrilled to learn, a few weeks ago, that it was still going strong (I had my spies out!). It had been entertaining me, at some stage of the evening, all the week. To-day, The (resident) Blind Drivers band were playing between 4-6 pm … I didn’t want to miss them. They bill themselves as “… straight blues, with a rockabilly chaser, freshly squeezed from the sunny isle of Jersey ..”. I had the good fortune to have a beer and chat with lead singer (& harmonica), ‘Ferret’ … he is not only highly talented, but an amazing bloke to talk to! He gave me a disc of theirs, from which I have selected the song below … check it out also on ‘YouTube’!
I returned to my hotel to
sober freshen up … for the night was not over. Whenever I have a lengthy stay in a place, I always like to ‘catch a show’ … supporting local theatre is very important to me. I had bought a ticket for the Jersey Opera House, conveniently located on the next street to my hotel, to watch “The Elvis Show”, tracing the musical career of the singing icon. I was in the exquisite company of Islanders Pam and David … it was a joy and privilege to have met them!. The sell-out audience helped rock the house down … it was a spectacular performance and the ‘icing on the cake’ for an incredible week for me.
DAY FIVE – North West Sector (walk)
An inevitable sense of melancholy had descended over me … for this was my last day.
Once again I picked up yesterday’s thread … Destination Coast-Path was back ON! Although the temptation was to think about the past week, there was still a delightful day’s walk ahead of me.
Coastal walking has a special place in my heart … my aches and pains were masked by the forever changing views and moods of the sea!
I stumbled across a place called Devil’s Hole, a huge and spectacular natural crater that is home to an unusual character(???) … following a shipwreck in the C19th, a wooden figurehead was washed up here! It was subsequently carved into the shape of the devil, its modern replica stands here to-day!
Wildlife Corner … I knew that my time was coming to end … I was limping very heavily towards the ‘finishing line’ when I was suddenly overtaken by this chap! >>>
and when I did eventually reach the bus stop, guess who was in the queue? … this cuddly ball of fun!!! <<<
A final word …
I could not help thinking that this place could be marketed so much better(?), it has every possible outdoor activity to offer! Do not think that you can just turn up here and everything will be laid on for you, you have to do your homework (the tourist information centre is a very friendly and helpful source on arrival).
I was now in a position to answer my original question … “… had my beloved Jersey changed? ..” … yes it had, it was far more cosmopolitan than I remember and the area around the waterfront had been developed beyond recognition. However, this was not for the worse … it still retained its unique character and the plethora of things to do here is staggering.
Did it live up to my expectations? … NO! … it EXCEEDED them (a million fold!). Thank you Jersey (and thanks for your Green Lanes), seeya next time … VA