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Published: December 19th 2018
Greetings from London! I am not currently travelling, but have just returned from a short three-night visit to the nearby Channel Island of Jersey! I plan to write up my mini-adventure there in two blog entries, after having had a really lovely time there, despite (although actually often because of) pretty much the worst weather that the island could offer. It was refreshing, invigorating, and just wonderful to be out in the fresh, blustery air, refreshing the mind once more after the long autumn term stint at school. In this entry I plan to write up on my first two days there, exploring the west of the island. In my second entry, I plan to write up on my second two days there, exploring the east.
To many people not from the UK, I imagine that when mentioning “Jersey”, the American state of “New Jersey” would probably spring to mind. In fact, when I’ve mentioned to people that I’d be visiting Jersey this December, I’d often need to clarify “Jersey the island”, not the US state. There is in fact a link between the two, when New Jersey was named as the third US state, in honour
La Rocco Tower, St Ouen's Bay
of Sir George Carteret, former Governor of Jersey, who had been given the colony by King Charles II’s brother James in 1787. A number of “islanders”, as Jerseymen and –women are called, had also emigrated there, apparently leading to a number of modern-day New Jersey Americans visiting Jersey to trace their history.
But the island is a far-cry from the vast open areas and gritty urban centres of the third American state – it is a tiny island of 46 square miles, lying just 14 miles off the Normandy coast, far closer to France than its parental country of the UK. It is mostly rural, with dramatic coastal scenery, sweeping bay vistas and peppered with quaint little fishing villages and small parish church communities. It has a population of 100,000 people, nearly 30,000 of whom live in its principal town and capital St Helier on the south coast.
Amazingly enough, the Lonely Planet doesn't appear to have any publications, or even chapters, covering Jersey, or any of the Channel Islands. I find it quite surprising to consider, that of all my travels, this is the one place which I have been to which the Lonely Planet just doesn't
cover. I had to content myself with some rather dusty books dating back to the nineties from my local library, and even these were pretty unremarkable.
Upon arrival, and mostly down I think to my inability to source any useful pre-travel literature, I realised I really knew very little about this tiny distant neighbour of ours, other than once in a while having a Jersey coin or note end up in my pocket, and vague memories of a fantastic TV programme which was popular here in the UK when I was growing up in the eighties, “Bergerac”. Indeed, the show’s haunting melody and French accordion in the background has played in my head a number of times over the past few days. Ah, they don’t make them like they used to…!
And so, upon arrival, I headed straight to the island’s major museum, the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, bang in the middle of St Helier, to educate myself on the place, before planning to travel around it for the next few days. The weather was blustery, windy and rainy, making for a bumpy landing at the cute little airport on the west of the island, so I
made good use of my backpack’s built-in rain-cover, zipped up my raincoat and headed straight off the airport bus, across Liberation Square in the centre of town, and towards the cute little beige building in the distance, built to incorporate an old 19th
century merchant’s house.
The museum was great, and as with most of my experiences there, I was only one of a handful of visitors, pretty much having the whole place to myself. I stowed my backpack behind reception, and educated myself on the fascinating history of the island, using its wonderful interactive displays and very informative film.
I learnt that after millions of years of prehistoric settlement, the first major settlers on the island were in fact the Vikings, referred to as Norsemen, which later transliterated itself into the word Norman. I do not believe I actually made this link between the Vikings and Normans before, but found it fascinating, particularly as I have just recently discovered the amazing TV series “Vikings”, that the Normans were really descendants of the Vikings, and through the Norman invasion of England in 1066, we are in fact a nation with strong connections to the Scandinavians, not just due
to their raiding forays into the north of England. The name Jersey has Viking origins, being derived from “Geirr’s Island”, Geirr being most likely a Viking first name. After the Norman invasion of 1066, the north and west of France were pretty much incorporated into the same kingdom of England, with the Norman kings ruling over both England and France, as well as the Channel Islands. The really fascinating part of this story for me, as for islanders I’m sure, is that when war broke out between King John of England and France at the beginning of the thirteenth century, England lost all its French possessions, and in 1204, the Channel Islanders were given the choice of who to pledge their allegiance to - they chose England. And thus began the amazing anomaly of the English history of these Channel Islands, despite being so close to the coast of France.
Until only recently too, the people spoke a dialect of French called “Jerriais”, which apparently some elderly islanders still speak today, though for the most part they speak English with quite a southern, slightly countrified twang to it. The museum had a fascinating recording of an elderly gentleman reading
One Pound, or "Une Livre"
a passage in Jerriais, and it sounded just like an English person speaking French with a very strong English accent, “mercy buckets”.
The other quite remarkable thing about the history of Jersey is that, along with the other Channel Islands (mainly Guernsey, Sark, Alderney and Herm), they were the only part of British soil which was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. There are thus remnants of German fortifications and watchtowers all over the island, and its liberation by the British from the Germans on 9th
May 1945 is an annual celebration all over the Islands, with the name “Liberation” being given to the main square in St Helier, and the nearby central bus station.
After thus being filled with fascinating information on this tiny island, I headed upstairs for an equally, if not more enjoyable, temporary exhibition “Bergerac’s Island – Jersey in the 1980s”. This was just pure childhood reminiscence heaven for me, with a beam on my face throughout the whole floor – from Nintendo Game and Watches, to BBC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers with rubber buttons, shell suits and Bergerac clips and memorabilia, and music such as "You
Liberation Square, St Helier
Spin Me Right Round" playing in the background, I was in my own little childhood world of glee throughout. Ah, the memories! A final walk through the attached old Victorian merchant’s house, with actual working gas-lighting in all rooms, brought me to the end of my time there, and a really remarkable museum indeed.
I headed back out in the wind and rain again, towards nearby Royal Square, home of the Island’s self-ruling government buildings. The island is remarkably quite independent in that it looks to Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State, but not the UK Parliament. The island even has its own mint and money, the Jersey pound, being directly equivalent to the British pound, and although it is in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and is classed as a British Crown Protectorate, it doesn’t even belong to the European Union! I found these facts really fascinating, what a plucky little “country”! Anyway, with it being a Saturday, there was no way of visiting any government building, but I was in luck as the square was holding a lovely little Christmas fair, complete with live band rocking out all the Christmas hits. There were many local people
there, decked out like myself in raincoats and hoods, and not letting the driving rain spoil their fun. Everyone really did seem to know everyone, and I noticed this on a number of occasions throughout the island – plenty of “hellos” amongst themselves, and also being really friendly with myself, an “outsider”. I found the islanders really very lovely people, like the English of a bygone era – polite, courteous, considerate – I think I have lived in London too long…
After enjoying the Christmas atmosphere, I decided it was time to head north to my hotel, the Hampshire Hotel, a 42-room establishment situated about a ten-minute walk out of the centre of town along a pleasant road called Val Plaisant, and checked into my very quiet, old-school, and very comfortable lodgings for the following three nights. I was definitely visiting outside of the tourist season, and beside myself on the first two nights, there was only one other guest, a Norwegian gentleman who yawned very loudly, apparently and rather enigmatically “waiting for a package” for a few days. The third night saw about three more guests check in. I had three very peaceful, quiet and comfortable night’s sleep
Sunday, my first full day on the island, was definitely my favourite and most enjoyable day there. It started out quite sunny and fair, but by around lunchtime, the clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and the rain drove down so hard it felt like hail hitting my face. This didn’t bother me in the slightest, and in fact made the day even more exhilarating and enjoyable, and my hotel room even more welcoming for the night.
I took a bus up to the rugged north coast, to a place called “Devil’s Hole”, a rather dramatic title for a deep cavern which had been eroded from a blowhole to a cave linking the large hole to the sea. A rather grim statue of a devil greeted me on the path down to the hole, and given that there were no other tourists around, felt rather morbid and dark. It was really quite impressive arriving at the hole though, with spectacular views both west and east along the rugged coastline of the north of the island. From here, a two-hour walk took me westwards, over dramatic cliffs pounded by the waves below, and to the gloriously
St Helier Street
Towards Fort Regent
out-of-season tiny touristy fishing village of Greve de Lecq. I really do enjoy visiting a tourist place out of season, and this was just that. The rain really started pouring whilst I was there, and aside from a few dog walkers and some ice-cream shops closed for the winter, I had the place to myself. Lunch was a sandwich bought earlier in the day, under the plastic awnings of a huge establishment dedicated in the summer months to fudge and ice-cream, with numerous leakages in the roof and waves crashing out the front, below. It was very atmospheric.
I then caught two buses, waiting for the first out of the rain in a nearby telephone box not far from the bus stop, and changing buses via a comparatively very refined café latte at the posh café back in the airport, towards the island's huge swathe of a bay facing west, St Ouen’s bay.
Upon arrival and stepping off the cosy bus, the wind and rain had really picked up by then, and I’d say the wind speed was a sustained 40mph from the south-west for pretty much my whole time there. It was magical. I first headed to
the National Trust’s Wetland Centre, which the bus driver told me he’d let me know when we were arriving at, but he forgot and I ended up walking back about half-a-mile! This was a very simple, bird-watchers’ hut overlooking the reed bed of St Ouen’s Pond, with numerous migratory waders and other bird life. I enjoyed a good half-hour there, with the howling of the wind and creaking of the wooden building adding to the remote atmosphere. From here, I headed to the bay itself, starting from a remarkable white building called “Le Don Hilton”, and aiming to walk the three miles or so southwards to the south-west pinnacle of the island, marked by the famed Corbiere lighthouse. This walk has to be the highlight of my trip to Jersey. The wind and rain were at their fiercest here, feeling much like hail against the face, and often causing me to nearly blow over, and the crashing waves and open bay added beauty and starkness to the wild atmosphere. It was an exhilarating walk along the sand, with one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. I took so many photos of it, and have uploaded the best
ones here – none of these are digitally remastered or coloured in any way, the light just seemed to change for each photo – there are vivid reds, oranges, yellows, greens and blues in the photos, it was just a real pleasure to see.
By this time though, darkness was drawing in (approaching the winter solstice, the sun sets in the UK around 4pm), and it looked like I wasn’t going to be able to make it all the way to the Corbiere lighthouse. The last part of the way followed a path through cliffs and heathland, which would have been tricky to navigate in the pitch-black that was approaching. Fortunately I spotted some lights in the distance, marking the site of a tiny settlement which turned out to be “La Pulente”, a collection of a few buildings overlooking the sweeping bay. The village had a bus stop, and a more-than-welcome pub called the Koru Arms. The Australian owner welcomed me heartily, and I felt it must have been like arriving at a wayside tarvern or inn back in the old days, after several hours of walking a lonely highway. He told me the next (and last!) bus back
Towards Fort Regent
to St Helier was in about 40 minutes, giving me just enough time to warm up, dry up, and enjoy a half a Guinness. It was sheer bliss reminiscing on the wonderful day I had, next to a roaring fire, hearty owners, and Christmas music in the background. Half an hour later I headed out into what had become pitch black, found the bus stop which was merely a white line marked into the road, and hoped that the bus driver would see me. He came along bang on time, but right behind a car, and I was worried that he wouldn’t see me. After holding my hand out for a while, I began to wave it, which then caused him to put his indicator on, filling me with a sense of relief that I would shortly be safely on my way back to St Helier, and back to my cosy little hotel to warm up and reminisce further on what an amazing day it had been.
Safely back in my hotel room, I ordered room service, warmed up with a brandy, and laid out all my wet clothes all around the room, ready to dry up again for
Bus station, St Helier
more of the same the next day.
It was lovely! A wonderful first couple of days in this tiny, and rather beautiful, island of Jersey. I was looking forward very much to my second full day there, where I planned this time to explore more of the east side of the island.
I plan to write up about my adventures in the east in my next one, in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, thank you for reading, and all the best for now!
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