Jersey was a place I hardly knew anything about until my husband had to go there for work with me in tow. I didn’t know what to expect. We had previously lived in Argentina, where I am from originally, and in Dallas, Texas. This was a new destination and the beginning of a new adventure. Jersey is the biggest of the Channel Islands in the English Channel.
Surprising finds along the way
Since we were staying at a hotel, I was unencumbered with boring housework and was free to explore. Jersey has a very long and interesting history that goes as far back as the Stone Age. There are traces of it everywhere: from Neolithic passage graves and medieval castles to World War II observation towers built by the Germans during the Occupation.
One is confronted with its history everywhere and anywhere. On one occasion, I was taking a leisurely stroll in the gardens of a Victorian Anglican church when something in the middle of the garden caught my eye. When I got closer, I realised I was looking at a five thousand year old Neolithic gallery grave. A unique garden feature to say the least.
One of my favourite places was Gorey Castle, also called Mount Orgueil. It was built in the thirteenth century to defend the island from French invaders. Jersey once belonged to the Duchy of Normandy and was bandied about between France and England until it became an English Crown Dependency.
The castle sits on a hill above the village and looks out to sea like a proud sentry. The contrast between its drab stone walls and the pastel coloured houses built along the pier at its feet is simply beautiful, especially when the tide is in.
Gorey is one among the many picturesque, essentially British villages. One of my favourite things to do was to take long walks along country lanes, through fields, up and down lush green hills, and visit the village churches, most of which date from the Middle Ages. They are tiny, made of stone, with whitewashed walls inside.
Lovely parish churches
These churches are invariably immaculately kept and smell of candle wax and wood polish. I made sure to read the visitors’ books. I must admit I am rather nosy and wanted to know where visitors came from and what they thought of the place. It wasn’t only tourists that left comments on those books, though.
I remember a heart rending note written by a local little girl asking God to make her dad came back home from England because she missed him so much. At the risk of sounding creepy, I’ll admit I also enjoyed walking about in the adjacent churchyards. I liked read the inscriptions on the headstones and made up stories about the people buried there.
This beautiful island is a hop, a skip and a jump from the coast of France in the English Channel. A short ferry ride away is the port of St. Malo, the gateway to Brittany and Normandy
A rambler’s dream
Walking is one of the best ways to know a place. Jersey, with its network of 50 miles of green lanes is an ideal place to indulge in this healthy and rewarding activity. Green lanes were introduced in the late eighties and crisscross the rural areas of the Island and walkers, cyclists and horse riders have priority.
Walking on main roads is possible, but I found it somewhat daunting when there was no pavement and had to walk directly on the road, looking out for traffic.
Sometimes the bends were quite sharp or there was a garden wall that obstructed the view making crossing the street an ordeal. I loved going for long walks taking in the atmosphere, listening to the birds, watching Jersey cows graze lazily, and breathing in the scent of ripe apples in autumn and of flowers in the spring.
Cliff walks deserve a special mention. I bought a handy little guide book called “Jersey Jaunts” and would plan a different walk along the cliffs every weekend. The paths were clearly marked and well maintained. It was a treat to feel the gentle sea breeze, watch the shimmering sea, and breathe the clean air whilst taking a bracing walk.
We had a fairly set routine: we would choose a route, look it up on the map, drive to the starting point, park the car, walk and take lots of photos, find a place to eat and walk back to the car or occasionally take the bus back to the car.
I especially enjoyed whichever walk ended in Greve de Lecq, a tiny bay in the north side of the island which has the best beach cafe I have ever been to. The food is scrumptious, their fry-ups are to die for and their chocolate fudge cake is unrivalled. Since we had to trek back, it was a guilt-free feast.
A rather uncomfortable moment
There are a lot of different guided walks to choose from in Jersey. I decided to join one around St. Aubin, one of my favourite villages. The guide was knowledgeable and clearly loved his island; he was a true “Jersey bean”, as islanders are called. Unfortunately, he considered himself a funny guy. Most of his jokes fell flat and people would smile politely, secretly wishing he would give over.
He made a jocular remark I found particularly distasteful when he was showing us a traditional Jersey farmhouse, which happened to be up for sale. I asked how much a property like this cost in Jersey because I had no idea about real estate values and was curious.
The guide said “It’s listed for about four million pounds. Look, Ana, our prison is full. Are you smuggling drugs?” I was aghast! I was thankful that no one laughed at that pitiful joke. A couple of people even looked away in embarrassment. I heard a nervous laugh.
I was dumbstruck. Was he actually accusing me of dealing drugs so that I could afford such a house? Was he voicing his own prejudice against South Americans? Or was he just trying to be funny? He must have realised he blundered big time because he later apologised.
Anyway, this did not put me off the place and would come back to Jersey in a heartbeat.