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Published: December 20th 2018
Mont Orgueil Castle
Greetings again from London, for the second of my two blog entries on my mini-travels to Jersey earlier this week. Here I plan to write up on my second two days on this lovely little Channel Island, which although were not quite so exhilarating and enthralling as the first two days, were pleasant and agreeable enough. I believe it was the weather which made a difference, which although I’m not complaining too much, was really quite sunny and bright on Monday. This meant that I stayed dry for the whole day, but in fact the day was more genteel and calm – I know that this really shouldn’t be a problem, but compared to the windswept exhilaration of Sunday, felt a bit mundane. Still, mustn’t grumble, and I enjoyed very much my final two days on the island, probably experiencing my time there as most tourists do, as the wild weather over the last few days has been apparently quite far from the norm.
I believe I haven’t yet written up on the reason why I chose a few days in Jersey, so before I continue, I will indeed go there. I think I mentioned in a
previous travel blog entry that this time last year, I joined the amazing Travellers’ Century Club as a Provisional Member. The Club is open to travellers who have visited 100 countries or territories as defined by the TCC, but Provisional Members can join at 75 countries. By my own count, mostly based on the UN list of recognised countries, I have reached 78, but since the TCC include territories beyond the 196 listed by the UN, for example the UK being divided into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as a number of offshore islands, I have by their count now reached 92! Jersey, and Guernsey, are both included as separate territories, and thus, as a fellow member mentioned at my last meeting with them, adding Jersey to the list is like picking off low-hanging fruit. Thus it helps me reach my goal of 100 TCC countries, and full membership in the not too distant future. Jersey was also the honeymoon destination of my wonderful grandparents back in the early 1950s, and my Granny continues to talk of what a lovely little island it is and what a wonderful time they had there. And as this continues to
be my 40th
birth-year, I continue to celebrate by increasing my travels this year not just with a big summer trip, but with a number of smaller trips throughout the year – a trend which I feel will continue beyond my 40th
birth-year. I thus booked my trip to Jersey a couple of months ago with all of these reasons and intentions in mind.
On Monday morning I woke up once more refreshed and headed down to the hotel restaurant for another cooked English breakfast, amiably brought to me by the portly Portuguese gentleman working there. The day had again started sunny and fair, but this time was set to continue for the whole day. I walked the usual route to the Liberation Bus station once more, stopping off at a quaint little electronics shop to buy a new SD card for my camera, as my current one was quickly filling up, and since I hadn’t taken my laptop on this trip, I had no way of downloading the photos to make space for more. I had tried the evening before to search for an Argos or a similar chain store which would sell camera goods, but failed, and
noted once more the wonderful old-world charm of the island in being free from such consumerism back on the British “mainland”. Most of the retail transactions are carried out in locally-owned, family-run businesses which seem to have been there for generations. Thus, a short visit to the Fotosound electronics store on the tiny intersection called Charing Cross, enabled me to acquire my new SD card, to be assured that I could continue to snap away freely for the rest of my time there.
From here, a bus journey took me along the stunningly scenic route along the south-east coastal road out of St Helier, and towards the eastern fishing village of Gorey. I noted for much of the journey the huge swathe of sandy beach, covered in seaweed and exposed rocks, extending for hundreds of metres to the south, and recalled that I had read somewhere that Jersey has some of the highest tidal fluctuations in sea levels in the world, and this was most evident here. Half an hour later, we arrived in Gorey, and I had nearly four hours to spend there, until my next bus was due to take me northwards for another coastal walk along
the rugged north Jersey coast. I thought that this would be far too much time to spend in such a small place, even though it did have a mighty castle there, but I ended up spending three hours in the castle, so it was perfect timing really.
And what a castle it was! This was Mont Orgueil Castle, perhaps Jersey’s most iconic site, and regularly featured on many a postcard from the island. Indeed, if I had one vision in my mind’s eye before visiting there, it would have been this stunning medieval castle built into a huge outcrop of rock, rising up powerfully, and proudly (Orgueil is Jerriais for “Pride”), above the quaint and very cute fishing village of Gorey and its picturesque harbour below. I was very fortunate, having done my research, that the castle was open during my visit. In winter months it is only open from Friday to Monday, and was in actual fact one of the island’s very few tourist attractions which remain open in the winter. I was really quite disappointed that other famed attractions such as the Elizabeth Castle back in St Helier (more on that below), the Jersey War Tunnels (with
history on the island’s occupation during World War II), and La Hougue Bie (Neolithic tomb pre-dating the pyramids) would all be closed during my visit, but revelled in the fact that this wonder of Mont Orgueil would actually be open. And once more, aside from around five other people at various points, I had the whole place to myself for my three hours there.
This was sheer boyhood heaven – exploring an exciting and dramatic medieval castle, very much intact, all parts of it very much open to the public, and exploring it completely at my own pace in my own world, devoid of irritating tour groups and loud voices. I whiled away an amazing time there, exploring every nook and cranny, from its numerous towers and turrets, to its cellars, prisons and chapels, and finally the cavernous keep, with endless rooms, corridors and stairwells, each displaying either something really very historically interesting, or a beautiful and tasteful piece of artwork created by a local artist. A highlight for me included a long, dark staircase downwards, being greeted at the end by a slowly turning turntable on which stood a skeleton, lit up from behind so that a spooky
A much quieter traffic intersection than its London counterpart. The toad, or "Crapaud", is the animal symbol for the island of Jersey, due to its abundance there.
shadow image of it appeared in front. This was a piece of artwork named “Dance of Death”, depicting the issue of plague and death in the Middle Ages, with extremely spooky music. After being transfixed by the sound and eeriness, I literally ran out of the dark tunnel at the end as I found it quite scary to be there alone! Another highlight was the amazing view from the top of the keep, out to sea, and back towards Gorey and its lovely harbour, the tide having returned by then and lifting all the boats up off the sandy shore. The final highlight was a series of holographic portraits of the Queen, commissioned in 2004, and having once been quite famous in England during their displays at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012 to mark her Diamond Jubilee. I didn’t realise it, but the series was originally commissioned to celebrate the 800 years of Jersey’s relationship with the royal family and the British crown. A bit of history I feel is in order here…
As mentioned in my last, Jersey pledged its allegiance to the English crown in 1204, and ever since played a major role in Britain’s relations
with, and defences against, the outside world. Mont Orgueil castle was built in the 13th
century as part of a first line of defence against the newly-made enemy of France. With the advent of cannon warfare during the Tudor period, the castle was deemed unfit for defence of the island, and thus a new castle was built in the 16th century on the south coast, just off St Helier, named Elizabeth Castle after the Tudor queen. The island played a major part in the English Civil War (1642-1651), as it sheltered the future King Charles II of England after his father was executed by the roundheads. When Charles II was restored to the throne, the British Crown continued to look favourably on the island of Jersey, and as mentioned in my last, islanders look to Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State, and not to the UK Parliament. It thus retains its status as a British Crown Protectorate.
The 2004 holographic images of the Queen were thus commissioned in celebration of the island’s unique and 800-year old relationship with the British crown, and although I indeed had heard of such portraits, I had not learnt of their provenance
until this point. It was quite unusual to see them there, though, in the cold, stone rooms of a medieval castle keep, but I believe that was indeed the right place for them.
After a wonderful three hours of medieval castle exploration, I enjoyed a sandwich lunch on the seafront promenade of Gorey village, with wonderful views across the harbour and towards the castle in front of me, before making my way up to the rugged north coast once more.
This time, I planned a walk from the bay around L’Etacquerel towards Rozel Bay, in the north-east corner of the island, said to be one of the island’s most attractive fishing villages and bays. Maybe I was just a bit more used to Jersey coastal walks at this stage, but I felt the scenery wasn’t quite so attractive as the day before from Devil’s Hole to Greve de Lecq, and the fine weather didn’t make it feel quite so windswept. I do believe that the east part of Jersey is quite different from the west, it seemed greener, more homely and village-like, whereas the west felt more open, sparse and rugged. Still, I enjoyed a genteel walk along
the coast eastwards, and as with the day before, was quite surprised at how quickly the evening drew in and dusk approached. The final part of my walk was through the twilight of evening, past very cosy-looking cottages whose lights lit up the enfolding darkness around them, and downwards towards the enticing fishing village and lights of Rozel Bay. I arrived just as the evening had closed in, and enjoyed very much spending an hour there waiting for the bus, admiring the cosy feel of this tiny village, Christmas decorations brightening up the stone-built cottage windows, and watching a final fishing boat arrive back from its day’s work out at sea. At around 5.20pm, the bus arrived to take me back through the island interior once more to St Helier, and after a short stroll through the shopping streets of the town, I cosied up once more for a brandy, room service and a hot bath back in my hotel room for the night.
Tuesday morning I woke up quite ready to return home again. I had spent a really enjoyable few days in Jersey, but felt that a few days was just enough time to spend on the
Mont Orgueil Castle
island. Whilst a visit was wonderful, I’m not sure I’d like to live there. I felt ready to return to London once more. I enjoyed my final breakfast of sausages, eggs, bacon and the like, packed my backpack, and checked out of the hotel. My final morning on the island was greeted with the return of the wild weather – very windy, but fortunately no rain this time. I had an hour or so before I was due to take the bus back to the airport, so I took the time to walk a little further west of the town centre to a vantage point where I could see the afore-mentioned Elizabeth Castle. As mentioned earlier, this was another stunning castle built for the island’s defence, on a very small rocky islet just off the coast from St Helier. It is usually reachable in the tourist season by a regular ferry from the harbour, but as also mentioned, it was indeed closed for the winter. I had read that it is also possible to walk to the island at lowtide, across a causeway called Le Chemin du Chateau, and was intrigued to note that the current low tide had actually
made this causeway visible. It was really quite tempting to walk the kilometre-long causeway to the castle, but time was not on my side. When I had caught the bus and passed by that spot again, only 20 minutes later, the causeway had actually been covered once more by the rising tide, and I felt quite relieved that I had not taken the enticement up on its offer. I later read on the castle’s website that visitors who find themselves stranded by the “extremely quick” incoming tide are told not to panic, and call the Jersey Coastguard. I am sure I would not be able to explain this to my insurance company had I missed my flight because of the rising tide…!
After making it to the airport, my BA flight back to London endured the windy conditions once more upon take-off, and brought me safely back to London Gatwick. From here, I measured an amazing 1 hour and 10 minutes door to door return journey, from stepping off the plane to stepping through my door. This would have been even shorter had I taken the usual taxi home instead of walking and stopping off at Tesco for some
milk…! I continued to feel very content at being so close to such a well-connected international airport.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my mini-adventures on the island of Jersey. It is quite a remarkable little island with much to offer the visitor, having a very unique history and position in the international political arena, and my time there is very much filled with memories of windswept, exhilarating adventures, and cool castle explorations.
I look forward very much to my next adventure. I have booked myself to spend four nights in Denmark in February, to explore Copenhagen and places in the north of the island of Zealand. I have never been to Denmark before, so not only will this add another country to my TCC list, it will also add a further one to my own (proper) country count list. Yay!
So until the next time, thank you for reading, and wishing everybody all the best!
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