THE Reader Offer Break advertisement in this newspaper was so tempting. Fly direct from Inverness to Jersey at a cracking price to a great hotel – irresistible. It was a "last-minute" deal and we left on the following Saturday.
The featured hotel, the Royal, in the middle of the capital St Helier, is named after a monk who wanted to be left alone, and who lived in a cave on a small, rocky lump which is added to Elizabeth Castle. The hotel is out in the bay, reached on foot at low tide, or by a special amphibious bus/boat, to give you a unique experience.
This very long, sandy bay curves round to St Aubins where there used to be a railway along the promenade; today its legacy is a wide prom with a "train" of tractor and wagons, taking tourists through the resort, where there is another castle in the bay, reached by a causeway at low tide. The splendid railway station next to the harbour was a terminus, then it was decided to continue the railway to Corbiere, which meant running a line round the station, across the road and up through a short tunnel. Today this route is a walking and cycling route, apart from the tunnel which is used by a bicycle rental and repair company.
During the Second World War, the Germans turned Jersey into one huge fortress and even now everywhere you go there are bunkers. Corbiere has a massive circular tower communications post, and more massive bunkers built into the rocks. There is also a lighthouse, which again you can reach at low tide. When we were there, the council workmen were busy cleaning the causeway of accumulated seaweed and making it safe to walk across, which is typical of the high standards everywhere on Jersey. It is British, of course; has excellent toilets, good hot tea available everywhere, yet it has that foreign feel. It has its own money (the Jersey Pound, Scottish pounds equally welcome there) and French names on most streets.
Getting about is easy. By the harbour in St Helier is Liberation Square, next to the old railway station that incorporates the bus station. The small buses (Jersey roads are not very wide) go all over the island, and the maximum fare is £1.70 – a bargain. The buses go to all the attractions, and also have circular routes.
The attractions themselves are many and varied. In the centre of the island the Steam, Motor and General Museum has many fascinating vehicles, old tractors and motors, and a steam railway. The tank engine has two ex-North London Railway compartment coaches that it pulls round a loop of track. It is hard to believe that this is all new – the original two railways never came to here. You can never get away from the wartime influence. Apart from the inevitable bunkers, there are the war tunnels, built as a hospital, and are open to the public – a grim reminder of troubled times.
There are so many attractions, rather than list them all here, have a look at some websites, such as www.jerseypass.com (this card is very useful) www.mybus.je www.itravel.co.je www.sthelier.je and www.condorferries.com This last one lists all the various ferry trips that you can take. As well as the other Channel Islands of Sark, Guernsey and Herm, there are trips to nearby France to St Malo, Dinan, Dinard and the world famous Mont St Michel; so remember to take your passport.
A full range of activities includes rambling, water jet racing, just about everything you can imagine, including sand yacht racing on the fantastic beach at St Ouens, which also has a tower on a rock in the bay, La Rocco Tower, and more massive bunkers, one of which is now a museum. The northern side of the island is more rocky with caves and small ports reached by steep winding lanes. The eastern side has more lovely ports, including Gorey. Its natural harbour curves round a bay, with a colourful row of shops and hotels nestling under the huge battlements of Gorey Castle, a massive, centuries old fortification standing on the rocky promontory, and which has featured in countless paintings, postcards and photographs over the centuries. It is certainly striking, and well worth a visit.
Jersey is a comfortably unusual place. It is the sunniest place in the UK, firmly British, but with its own money, customs and rules, and does things its own way. A daily Jersey newspaper appears every afternoon and the Post Office organisation has its own stamps. There is the Co-op everywhere, but it is Jersey's Co-op and does not count towards your "divi" from our shops. The churches in Jersey work together very well, true ecumenicalism. They produce a joint newspaper so that each congregation can see what is going on.
Jersey's traditional industries of tourism, fishing and agriculture (the famous potatoes, and early flowers and tomatoes) is supplemented today by the finance industry. On St Helier's main pedestrianised shopping street, the tee-shirt and flip flop wearing tourists mix with squadrons of French school children over for the day to practise their English by buying something in a shop, mingling with the sharp business-suited, sun glass wearing young financial services city slickers.
The local people are friendly and happy to help tourists. We walked from one small port across the top of the island and ended up at a crossroads feeling quite lost. A lady in her car stopped and asked if we were lost and could she help with directions or take us somewhere. She pointed out, just behind us, where we wanted to be – the Durrell wild life park, a world renowned centre for the protection of endangered species. You will easily spend a full day here. One young girl was disappointed that there are no elephants, lions or giraffes. One of the young guides explained that Gerald Durrell would never put an animal in a small, constricting space; he wanted them to be in as natural an environment as possible. To give those animals that she wanted to see enough space, it would take the whole island. The animals are all very natural looking.
There is a lot to see and explore in Jersey, and it is easy to see why many people go there year after year and never get tired of it. The direct flights in the summer from both Aberdeen and Inverness make it easy to get there – so look out for the Reader Offer Breaks in this paper!