Say ‘Jersey’ and most people will think you’re referring to New Jersey in the United States, but the original is a rather interesting place in its own right. One of the Channel Islands (the other being Guernsey of Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society fame), the Bailiwick of Jersey has an unusual political status in that it is self-governing, but its defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. All this has to do with the fact that it is part of the Duchy of Normandy, and so was in the then-duke’s possession when he conquered England and became William the Conqueror. Today, the monarch of the United Kingdom also holds the title Duke of Normandy, though the greater portion of the historical duchy is now part of republican France, noted for camembert, cider and D-Day.
What did this mean to me as a traveler? Flying from London, I didn’t have to produce my passport at all — it’s counted as a domestic flight. Jersey uses the pound sterling but has its own issue, the Jersey pound, with different designs and a pound note rather than a pound coin. You can pay for everything using UK currency, but your change usually comes back in Jersey pounds which aren’t legal tender in the UK. Your UK mobile will think you’re roaming, but your UK debit card won’t. Lastly, English is used everywhere, but many/most of the place names are of French origin.
The main reason why I decided to visit Jersey (and managed to persuade my friend Ra to go with me) is because it is the home of the Durrell Wildlife Park, founded by Gerald Durrell, one of my childhood heroes. The park focuses on endangered species and is renowned for its conservation breeding programmes, either at the park or in the animals’ native habitats. It’s been a dream of mine to visit the Jersey Zoo (as it was called until 1999), so that’s one off the bucket list!
But what about the rest of Jersey? From my research, I anticipated that it would 1) have great seafood (especially given the restaurant recommendations I got from the wonderful Kerry Glencorse) and 2) have gorgeous coastlines. In both respects, it did not disappoint. What I did find… disconcerting, however, is how similar Jersey looks to, of all places, Singapore. More specifically, parts of Jersey look almost exactly like landed neighbourhoods such as Bukit Timah, from the general architecture of the houses to the well-maintained, litter-free roads, to the particular type of stone wall that borders the immaculately manicured gardens. In fact, I almost titled this post ‘Singapore in Europe’, but decided I didn’t want to saddle Jersey with the uptight connotations of that (although it must be said that Jersey seems to be a very wholesome, low-key sort of seaside destination that attracts old people and families — nothing at all like, say, Brighton, never mind the New World’s Jersey Shore).
The weather was very English (i.e. rainy) on our first day there, but things had cleared up by the next morning and so we got two full days of Vitamin D-replenishing sunshine.
July 5: We hopped on an early flight out of Gatwick and a little over an hour later were at St Aubin’s Bay, eating breakfast and watching the tide come in (top: before breakfast; above: after breakfast).
I’ll just get the food pix for the whole trip out of the way — clockwise from top left: full English breakfast at The Boat House in St Aubin’s Bay; Grouville (Jersey) oysters at Crab Shack in Gorey; seafood linguine at The Navigator in Rozel; more Grouville oysters at Crab Shack in St Brelade (yes, twice because it’s so nice).
And here’s my requisite people-with-their-dog photo.
It’s fine weather for water sports, at least for these people.
Our hotel was in the eastern village of Gorey, and after checking in, we took a bracing stroll to Mont Orgueil, a storied castle that has been turned into a kind of site-specific art gallery.
Some of the art (clockwise from left): Owen Cunningham’s The Wound Man, showing the various ways a man could die in medieval times; one of Chris Levine’s holographic portraits of Elizabeth II; Brian Fell’s Tree of Succession (the family tree of medieval monarchs). There was also a urine wheel (not pictured) as I’m afraid it was less interesting than it sounds (spoiler: real urine not involved).
July 6: At La Rocque harbour, we spotted a man walking across the exposed sea bed, carrying a large fish. No doubt he is a manly man who simply waded into the sea and caught the fish with his bare hands. That’s the sort you get in these parts.
You could hardly distinguish sky from water if not for the rocks.
During WWII, the Channel Islands were seized by the Germans, making the islanders one of the few ‘British’ communities to live under Nazi occupation. A physical reminder of this chapter in Jersey history is the series of tunnels built by the Germans to form an underground hospital complex. It’s now a very impressive museum that uses a mix of artefacts, re-creations and multimedia to tell the story of the occupation. Here’s an entrance to the tunnels, with the propeller of a downed American plane mounted on the wall.
One of the more striking artefacts.
Then on to Durrell! The zoo is just wonderful — huge spaces for all the animals, with the big ‘uns such as the gorillas, orangutans and other primates having both indoor and outdoor quarters. The star attraction is undeniably the gorilla family, but the meerkats have my vote for cutest critters.
Silverback stud Badongo in the indoor quarters. This sounds silly, but I really hadn’t known gorillas were that big until I saw him in person.
Mummy Hlala Kahilli with baby Indigo.
Grumpy Badongo showing us his rump.
There’s also a great mini-museum about the man himself, including this excellent artefact.
We still had some time before dinner at Rozel, so we drove to the north coast and did a little cliff walk near Les Platons, Jersey’s highest point.
We spotted some cows from afar although they were not, alas, Jersey cows, which are brown (we did drive by some brown cows at one point but couldn’t stop).
At Bouley Bay, one of the island’s destinations for scuba-diving.
But we only saw sunbathers and a happy dog.
July 7: On our last day, we ate breakfast efficiently and checked out quickly so we could make it to La Corbiere lighthouse, all the way on the other side of the island, at low tide (I’m making it sound like a long journey but Jersey is small and it took us a maximum of 40 minutes) . The lighthouse is on a tidal island, and so at low tide you can walk to the lighthouse.
Looking back at the causeway from the lighthouse’s base.
I saw three ships come sailing in…
… followed by a whole fleet.
Nice fat seagull sitting atop a monument that celebrates the successful rescue of all souls on board a wrecked ferry in 1995.
At St Brelade, Jersey’s most popular beach. This couple shows what old age should be like: the seaside, a dog and each other.
Kayakers make the most of the great weather.
After lunch, we headed back to La Corbiere to catch it at high tide. The difference is indeed impressive. No before-and-after composite though, as I failed to take a relevant pair of pictures at the same spot 😦
The road into the ocean…
We still had quite a bit of fuel left in the tank (Jersey is small and the speed limit is low), so before we headed for the airport, we took a ‘long’ drive up the west coast to Grosnez, where stands the ruin of a once-mighty castle.
We ended up not visiting St Helier, Jersey’s largest town and the capital, except for driving through on the way to elsewhere. But my guess is that Jersey’s charm lies in its villages and coastline — if I wanted a city, I would just stay home. We had a lovely long weekend, and Ra is even thinking about going back to jog along its north coast. As for me, I’ve satisfied my curiosity as to what it’s like on a Channel Island — not much different from England, but with better infrastructure, tastier food and brighter flowers. What’s not to like?
(Addendum: At Victoria train station, the turnstile for the restrooms accepted my Jersey 10p coin! So it’s legal tender for the loo, at least.)