Jersey: Original Flavour
So I went to Jersey (the original Channel Island variety rather than the much larger south-of-New York version) and it was lovely. It was the first time I’d ever flown solo, but I’ve done it so many times in my head I didn’t even consider this fact until just about ten seconds ago when I wrote it down. My only hiccup was that at the last minute before leaving the house I threw my pencil case into my carry-on bag, only to realise when it was going through the x-ray machine that there was an old pen knife in it – not something they usually like you taking onto planes. Thankfully they decided to let me off and even let me keep it on the flight! That’s possibly something to do with the fact that I don’t look much like a terrorist and you’d probably struggle to cut melting butter with that knife. Also the Channel Islands aren’t very high up on the list of potential terrorist targets. I always feel so guilty when I go through security though, as if I’d suddenly filled my knickers with skag and donned a ticking backpack. An attendant’s index finger never looks bigger or more terrifying than when you’re wandering past with a glistening forehead, fists clenched firmly in pockets, muttering “be cool, be cool” to yourself.
It was also the maiden voyage of The Pack, which I have decided to name Luggage after Terry Pratchett’s many-limbed, “half suitcase, half homicidal maniac,” in the hope that mine will stay as attached. For those who are unaware; Luggage is a fiercely loyal character from Discworld that will eat pretty much anyone that threatens its owner and also press his underwear and leave it smelling lovely. Most pertinently though, Luggage is able to follow its owner anywhere; including such places as inside its owner’s mind and to hell and back. When it gets lost it always tracks its owner down again.
Whilst, however, I was sitting at the airport bus-stop after touch-down, silently toasting mine and Luggage’s first journey together; a sea-gull did some fly-by redecorating of him and spoiled the moment. And we’re off.
Jersey itself is a beautiful place, full of caramel-coloured cows with pretty faces, and surrounded by miles of pristine, beautiful coast. Its central town of St Helier falls in similarity somewhere between the beach end of Bournemouth city and old Rouen with the olde-worlde nestling up to the modern shops and centres of commerce near the waterfront. For me as a suburban girl, the islanders’ local pride manifests itself most obviously in the spotlessness of St Helier’s streets and Jersey’s beaches. It would not surprise me if the ancient Jersey patois had no word for litter; it just doesn’t seem to exist here.
It was a nice kind of holiday, of the sort I haven’t had in many years, that involves large quantities of wandering and reading. I stayed with my friend Laura and her family and whilst they went to work in the day I explored the island alone and then generally met up with Laura as and when she finished work. The week of early nights and early mornings agreed me. I never go to bed before one am and then I drag myself kicking and screaming from my bed every morning for work at seven thirty so it was nice to hit the sack at ten every night and lie on my cosy little pull-out bed reading. I couldn’t possibly do that at home, there’s always too much to be done what with work and the small business I run painting bags and trainers and other such arty sundries. I’m also always writing for something or other or trying to finish one of a billion different projects I’m liable to have going at any particular time.
At the start of the week the weather was glorious and I spent my first day solo walking from Laura’s house on the east coast to Gorey Harbour slightly further up. I adventured around Gorey castle in the sunshine and the magnificent, bright coral-coloured skinny jeans that I’d bought in St Helier – immediately throwing out my budget on the first day. It was bliss; it reminded me of all my childhood trips around castles; my brother Alex always with some sort of toy or imaginary bow at the arrow slits and me imagining myself to be some sort of tormented lady-in-waiting anticipating the arrival of my knight-in-shining-armour cliché. Either that or fantasising about myself as some sort of badass warrior-woman – either way the knight scenario ending was always the same. Wandering around Gorey castle I could practically hear the imaginary bodices ripping. Of course if there were horses there to distract me I never gave a monkeys’ about knights back in the day. I never rooted for the coolest or most dashing knight but always the one with the prettiest, most feisty horse.
I made it right up to the top, although only temporarily, as a combination of vertigo and extremely strong coastal winds hurried me back down the terrifyingly steep steps again. I stayed long enough to take some photos and play with the panorama setting on my new camera and get my hair whipped up into a bird’s nest. It was only around about the time that the wind convinced me that my scarf, camera or entire person was about to be blown over the battlement like some sort of ancient murder re-enactment that I scuttled towards to archway that led back down.
Once back on the soft sand of the beach in Gorey harbour I bought myself a bag of proper seaside chips and sat enjoying the salty air and the sound of the sea sucking at the shore. Bliss.
Little did I know that it was to be one of my last opportunities to do so because that night the coastal winds turned to rain and didn’t stop. The next morning when I woke the family had already left for work and the rain was hammering onto my skylight window. After dressing slowly and making my way downstairs I sat on the sofa and watched it thunder onto the conservatory roof with a feeling of perplexity. I hadn’t really counted on rain; Jersey is a lovely place but most of the best things to do are outside and it’s supposed to be much more Mediterranean in its climate than mainland Britain. Eventually I pulled on my coat, eternally grateful that I’d brought it, and caught the bus to St Helier as that’s where you need to be to go to most places anyway. I had planned to wander round Le Mare vineyards that day and eventually decided to head there anyway, theorising that if the worst came to the worst I could always hole up in the café with a book until it stopped.
After taking a massive fat drop of horizontal rain directly in the ear on the run to the cashpoint for a wad of technicoloured Jersey money (I didn’t know it was different), I did a very British thing and joined a queue at the bus stop. I wasn’t sure if it was the right queue or if I needed to have already bought a ticket but it seemed like a popular queue and was full of 50-something couples with frizzy hair and Berghaus cagoules; the women carrying enough gear to sink a boat whilst the men carried OS maps and looked important. Heaven knows we Brits do like an orderly queue; everyone in their right place and time. When the bus arrived (and transpired to be the right one) there was a low English rumble as the driver called out that the bus was full but he could fit one more on, was anyone alone? The integrity of the queue was being questioned. This was met with looks of British OCD bewilderment at the idea of someone getting to go out of turn. I scrambled onto the bus as submissively as possible to avoid enraging the queue gods. Hah! Score one-nil to singles!
Le Mare was gorgeous and lulled me into the delusion of actually being a grown-up for the first time ever as I supped the free wine and divine cream apple brandy and tried to come up with good adjectives to describe the bouquet; better ones than “yummy,” “less yummy” and “more yummy”. As per usual in such environments I start to get delusions of grandeur and forget that I’m actually a starving artist/public sector worker and start acting under the fantasy that I am actually flush. I’m a salesman’s wet dream in that respect; hence I avoid them like the plague. I came away with three jars of Jersey black butter (a sort of liquorice, spicy apple jam), a bottle of cider pressed on site and the house dry white wine. Also a funky brushed chrome bottle-stopper thing. The rain was still bouncing off the ground so I sat in the restaurant and ate an absolutely delicious meal, beautifully served. The rain was relentless and in the end I took my wares and headed back to St Helier, I could see how beautiful the place must be to walk around in the sunshine but I resigned myself to the fact that I was only going to see the indoors areas on this visit. I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful place it would be to come as a couple; it was very romantic.
The rest of the week was seen out in an easy succession of steely grey skies, rugged rocky outcrops and trying to find activities which didn’t involve being out in the rain too much. I spent an evening sitting on a beautiful beach watching the sun set and not feeling inclined to do anything much whatsoever except watch the wild white horses come galloping in under the cold, majestic sky. The next afternoon was spent sitting in a caravan with excellent banana cake and bucks fizz; listening to deliberation over the radio until the island’s annual Battle of Britain celebration was declared officially rained off for the first time in 28 years. The weather stopped me being able to visit Elizabeth castle, the larger of the island’s two, the first time I tried as the causeway was too dangerous, but on the day before I left, the skies cleared long enough for me to get “the duck” (one of two amphibious vehicles specifically for the purpose) over to the castle.
From a distance Elizabeth castle is much larger and more majestic than Gorey. It juts out into the sea and its imposing walls can be seen from far away. Once on site though, Elizabeth was not what I was expecting. For a start everything was so much newer than Gorey, of course when I say newer I still mean hundreds of years old, but this was not the medieval fantasy of witches and knights and princesses that enveloped Gorey. Elizabeth castle was a working fortress right up until the end of the Second World War when it was occupied by the Nazis and the signs of this are clearly visible across the entire complex in the form of bunkers and gun turrets. Beautifully maintained and restored, the only remaining elements of the original 16th century castle are the walls. The rest is a well-provisioned reconstruction of 18th and 19th century barracks and an extensive museum dedicated to the history of gunpowder and canon. Fascinating and without a doubt one of the most comprehensive military history displays I’ve ever been to but lacking in all the romance and mystique that I’d been expecting. There were to be no Guinevere daydreams here.
History piles upon history here in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else. Every historical site has layers of significance; La Hougue Bie for instance, is a Neolithic ritual site with an impressive grave tunnel and chamber. On top of the mound covering it are two medieval chapels and to the side is a Nazi bunker and signs where they used it as a look-out point. It would seem that on an island with limited space a strategic point is always a strategic point and every one is a complete cross-section of the island’s significant history. Signs of the Second World War occupation, during which the islanders were subjected to atrocious suffering and abandoned to the Nazis for having no strategic value, are everywhere and in everything; perhaps still stamped on the community consciousness even now. A visit to the Jersey war tunnels is a haunting reminder of what was endured and the bunker at La Hougue Bie made a knot tighten in my stomach; its walls are lined with accounts of the tragedies that befell the thousands of Eastern European slave labourers brought to the island to reinforce its defences. Many of them lost their lives as Jersey was left to starve by both nations once they realised its strategic insignificance in modern warfare. It was the last place in Europe to be liberated from Nazi control.
In any case, Elizabeth castle was not what I expected although definitely still worth a visit. A charismatic costumed chap drilled a group of chubby middle-aged volunteers in how to march and the ways of barrack life (pretty awful). The display culminated in firing one of the canons across the bay which is always entertaining. Being quite close however, and unable to take a photo and cover my ears at the same time, I did end up quite deafened.
All in all Luggage and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I’d love to go back in better weather and with more money, it’s not really a place to go on a budget but there were lovely places to eat and drink and things to see and do. I felt relaxed and refreshed in a way I haven’t felt for a long time when I returned. There’s something to be said for this 8 hours sleep a night malarkey, although obviously I immediately reverted to my usual 5-6 when I got home. I’d never get anything done but my day job if I spent 8 hours a night sleeping!