Jersey boy

So here’s a tale my wife Caz has become so sick of hearing this last week or so. A  little over 60 years ago when I was a lad of about 6 my parents took me and my younger 2 year old brother Dave away to Jersey on our first ever flight and trip outside the British mainland. I was a boy from PlF near Blackpool in Lancashire and the general scenery was flat and rainy and red brick Victorian/early c20th. We boarded a propeller-powered Dakota at Blackpool’s own airport  – I can’t remember if it was a Jersey or Channel Airways flight or an early BA/BEA one. But what an adventure, my first flight on something like this…

The flight must have taken some 3-4 hours but I loved it. We landed in Jersey and I was spell-bound by the tiny roads, palm trees, French names everywhere, higgledy-piggledly houses, lovely clean beaches, turquoise seas and sunny climate. My m&d checked us into probably the most exclusive hotel on the island, the Hotel du France. How on earth they afforded it I’ll never know but my mum never concerned herself with costs. Her belief was buy the best you can afford. There must have been over 1000 B&B’s and cheapo hotels on the island but she was used to that in Blackpool and for her first overseas trip she wanted something non-Blackpool like. The chateau-like 4 star H du F was right up her street. She just wanted to enjoy the very best experience for a few days and it was stunning. With the largely French-speaking staff I felt like we’d moved into, well, a French chateau. And the food, wow. Breakfast time in particular was amazing. For the first time in our lives we got to try tres chic stuff like croissants, baguettes, yoghurt, brioche rolls, charcuterie, milky coffee, soft cheeses with a crust, apricot jam, muesli and so on. Our usual fare was corn flakes and jam on toast so you can imagine the culinary shock. But I loved it all, still do.

It wasn’t just the food and the hotel, my mum insisted on a hire car so we could explore the island and Bob my dad negotiated a deal with the hotel manager for a convertible Morris Minor. A rather cool car on the island in those days. Bob, a breadman, must have been sweating heavily over the costs but he always agreed with my mum that we boys should experience stuff that he and mum never had the chance to do as kids.  We explored the whole island over the next few days and it was just wonderful  – castles, Nazi occupation sites, golden beaches, fortifications against French invasion, Norman churches, prehistoric stuff. For a tiny island it packed a real punch and many of the details remain with me to this day.

Anyhoo we were sat here a few weeks ago thinking how crap life had been under lock down, with no sign of visiting our grandkids in NYC. But things were beginning to open up and Caz said to me that it’d be nice to get away after so long without a break. So I suggested Jersey as it had been on my bucket list of things to do once more and let’s face it it was somewhere away without leaving the UK, so hopefully the travel issues wouldn’t be so arduous. Caz bought into the idea and booked us some fights and a room at the H du F. Now I know Caz likes to be as close to a beach as poss to enable easy shore walks but I just said I can’t recall this hotel’s particular location but it was very important to re-trace my family steps. How far could it be from the sea on a tiny island?  As it turned out the hotel sits atop a hill overlooking the island’s main town of St Helier – the view’s the thing to the French rather than access to the beach. It was about a mile from the shoreline. Sorry Caz.

The flight itself took 35 minutes: it’s that quick. The thing is I had started to get a headache and sore throat 48 hours before the flight. There was a lot of cold-like symptoms around before we left and I was praying that was all it was. I felt alright just a little fuggy in the head and I was determined to have this break. One thing I hadn’t realised was that we needed to take a PCR covid test upon arrival. I did it with a sense of unease because to have to isolate in a crappy hotel for 10 days at our expense would have been too much. Several hours later I got the results message. Fortunately the test proved negative woo hoo.

The hotel was as I remembered, very chateau like…

The complex had sold off a lot of land over the years losing a wing and a night-club complex to modern developments but it was still impressive. There was one change that was very welcome; a whole new leisure wing had been added which incorporated a drinks terrace overlooking the lovely gardens, and beneath that a fantastic leisure complex with main pool, hydro-therapy pool which was like an Icelandic thermal geyser (sensational, our favourite), plunge pool (least favourite), super warm kids pool (first stop after the plunge pool), steam room, super showers, spa complex, gym etc. We headed down each morning around 7am and had the place to ourselves bar on or two lonely blokes doing endless lengths in the main pool. It was simply sensational and this pic doesn’t do it justice…

The staff were excellent and the food was pretty good and reasonably priced. So to exploring. We were going to hire a car a la Bob and Helen but our cabbie on the way from the airport told us all the small hire companies had gone under during lockdown It seemed that the pandemic had hit the local economy really hard with many businesses and retail outlets going under. Let’s face it Jersey’s economy is almost completely based on tourism and without it for 18 months the whole financial fabric of the island had been massively undermined. We walked into town the first morning and it was at least a mile trek. Too far for us. We then discovered the bus station  and the fact several routes stopped right outside our hotel. So we bought a couple of rover tickets offering unlimited bus travel and we couldn’t have made a smarter choice. The routes went everywhere on the island and were frequent. Fact is the roads are all tiny and you cannot go faster than 20-30mph anywhere so the bus is as fast as any mode of transport.

We thought St Helier was about as exciting as Morecambe. I visited the town’s main museum and art gallery which had 3 paintings in it that I counted. It was ok but across 4 floors it had just one small feature on the German occupation which is the one element of the island’s history that really fascinates UK mainland visitors. I was obliged to listen to a summary of the museum’s key features from a lady in a wheel chair sat beside the entrance which I’d heard twice whilst I was queuing to get an admission ticket. When I v politely asked if she could give me the short version she just continued with the whole speech, I had to cut it short as it was 15 minutes long, very boring and I’d already heard it. She wasn’t impressed. I explained that I just liked to explore. Caz tells me I’ve lost my lovely manners and become so abrupt as I’ve gotten older. She’s right but I just feel like I can say it like it is these days. I was half way up the floors when a gaggle of young school girls were admitted to destroy the peacefulness of an empty museum. Within 5 minutes the evacuation alarm had been sounded – kids eh – so I made my way to the loos for a quiet spell before heading outside.  There was no fire of course.  We headed back to the hotel for lunch and drinks on the terrace in the beautiful sunshine – it was v popular that afternoon. We had a few drinks and it was delightful.

Next day we explored the lovely little harbours/bays of St Aubin and St Brelade to the west of the island with a walk on the beach too. We were smart enough to book into the crab shack early and it paid off as we had a prime spot on the balcony in beautiful weather and the food/wine/beer were great…

Next day we headed over to Gorey on the eastern side of the island, It’s a lovely harbour overlooked by the fabulous hilltop castle Mount Orgueil. I recognised it immediately as the one where my brother Dave and I swung on some metal bars all those years ago. I was pondering climbing up the several hundred steps to the castle entrance but Caz was not minded to. Me neither to be honest. We took some pics and headed out along the pier. If anything the weather was even more beautiful and I had to buy a baseball cap to enjoy a lovely lunch on a restaurant terrace, without burning. Seriously. And I look like a twat in a hat.

I’d planned to spend some time checking out some of the Nazi fortifications I’d visited as kid all those years ago like this one…

But we came to realise that many were now privately-owned and viewings were by appointment only. Others were now closed for the season after end Sept. So I headed off to visit a couple of places; the Jersey wartime tunnels, which was a Nazi military hospital built underground to protect it from airstrikes. It was several kilometres in length and built by slave labour, many of whom died in the process. A few pics…

I remember visiting this facility very distinctly from all those years ago and my anger and repulsion has never subsided. I later visited a fantastic site called Hougue Bie which had 4000 years of history in one location. If you ever go to Jersey check out this site; it’s the best £8 you’ll spend. It consists of a passageway built underground with a central chamber built in Neolithic times. Nobody quite knows what the purpose of these chambers is; it could be a refuge or for food storage or most probably for ritual purposes. And it sounds an awful lot like similar passageways found in SW England called a fogou.

Anyway on top of this prehistoric man had built a 150ft high earth mound. And around 1000 years ago Christian faith leaders did what they often did by building a chapel on the site of a pagan centre. The Norman chapel here is small and incredibly pretty. The Germans used this mount as a look out post to view over the French coastline. At the same time they were occupying a nearby Manor house with troops. Fearing a possible airstrike they dragooned in a load of slave workers to build an underground bunker immediately beneath the Norman chapel, believing the English would never bomb a religious site like this. Today the bunker has been preserved as a memorial to the slave workers who created it, many of whom died in he process. Finally on the site is a newly-constructed Long House from the Neolithic ages to show how the locals would have lived in those days. It was fascinating…

And so we headed home after 4 fantastic days of glorious weather, historic scenery, great food, great swimming and island living. 60+ years later I’m still a confirmed Jersey boy and can strike off another item on the bucket list.



2 thoughts on “Jersey boy

  1. What a lovely report Paul. we visited in 84 and still have fond memories of the night I enjoyed a five course meal at our hotel ( plus two of Al’s courses he didn’t want), went for a 12 mile walk and topped it all off with a late dinner out at a Greek Taverna. I was less than 8 and a half stone back then ☺

    • Ha! Many thanks L. We were all a lot lighter then. Couldn’t believe how nice the place was – once we got past the evidence of lockdown closures etc. Hope you guys are all well


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