St Helier and the South West Coast of Jersey

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Anyone who follows me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter will be aware I recently spent some time in the Channel Islands. My first stop was Jersey to catch  up with some friends.

As I arrived in Jersey 24 hours before the remainder of our group, I had a whole day to explore on my own. I had hoped to visit Sark, but unfortunately I was there on a Friday when there were no boats running. If your goal is to visit other islands, my top tip would be to plan well. It’s easier to visit both Sark and Herm from Guernsey than Jersey, although there are some ferry connections between Jersey and Sark. However, locals don’t seem too interested in travelling between the islands, so ferry schedules can be infrequent, especially out of season.

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My original plan scuppered, I headed into Liberation Square to see what else was on offer. Liberation Square is easy to identify by the Liberation Monument that stands on it’s own little island (watch your step) in the centre. During World War II, the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied by German troops when Britain claimed them indefensible. The statue marks their liberation on 9th May 1945.

Although it is a tourism hub on the island, don’t expect Liberation Square to be an overly busy place where you’ll be harassed by ticket touts and local entrepeneurs like in other destinations. I visited in May, and there were 2 stands selling excursions, both run by very laid back locals. Unlike my trip to Iceland, where people were so laid back it was difficult to buy tickets for the excursions I wanted to go on, I felt that in Jersey they’ve got it just right. They’re happy to sell to you, but if you decide to go somewhere else they’ll wish you a nice day and probably even give you directions to their competitors.

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I knew we would be hiring a car to explore the rest of the island, so I thought my solo day would be best spent on a boat. My only option was the Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus which departs from the Albert Pier at 10:30  and 14:00 every day (free hotel pick-ups on request). The company also offers various bus tours around the island, and bike hire if you’re feeling fit. Complete with English commentary from the skipper, the boat excursion is well worth the £20 ticket price. Jersey is a windy place, though, and the sea can get choppy, especially when the ferries pass back and forth. So, the boat trip is maybe not a good idea if you struggle with sea sickness. The 2 hour(ish) trip takes you west along the coast from St Helier. Although it’s the capital of Jersey, St Helier is only small. The permanent population is around 33,000, over a third of the total island population. Because of it’s size, there don’t seem to be any particular touristy or local areas. Everyone just mixes together, and the locals are so polite and friendly that you don’t really notice. I sat and ate my lunch in Royal Square, now a very picturesque sun spot that was once where prisoners were punished and alleged witches were burned. The main, pedestrianised shopping area is King Street and it’s off-shoots.

Once on the boat, we headed out of the harbour. There are actually several harbours in St Helier, the names of which our skipper did reel off to us and after listening to him I began to realise why you have to take a local test to work as a commercial skipper here. This is very much a working port, so it’s normal to see container ships, ferries of all sizes and multi-million pound yachts sharing the water. There is one marina that has instant access to the sea, the waiting list to get a spot there is currently more than 20 years.

As we headed out to the open water, I was sad to see lots of the cages that fishermen use to hold lobsters and other sea creatures. Once the lobsters are caught, they are stored alive in these tiny cages for up to 5 days, when they are sold to restaurants and locals. Lobsters are clipped to prevent them from fighting whilst crammed together in what must be a very stressful situation. To our skipper, as with most of the people on the island, this is seen as something positive that brings money to the local economy. He proudly told us that the price of lobster has recently doubled. To a vegan, however, the whole process sounds barbaric.

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The most noticeable landmark on the St Helier coastline is Elizabeth Castle, which has guarded the harbour since 1600. Elizabeth I decided that building the castle was the best defence against cannonballs, which were the height of modern technology at the time. As with a lot of the smaller islets off the coast of Jersey, at low tide you can walk out to Elizabeth Castle. Jersey has the third largest tides in the world after Alaska and the Bristol Channel in England. When the tide is out, the island almost doubles in size. You can also access the castle at high tide via a ‘duck’ tour. The same amphibious military vehicles used for tourism all over the world, the World War II DUKWs to give them their official name will ferry you across to the island for around £15 for one adult.

A little further along the coast from St Helier is St Aubin’s Bay, which was the original (tidal) airport  here until 1937 when they built a more permanent runway in St Peters.

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Normoint Point stands at the other side of St Aubin’s Bay. If wartime history is your thing, this is one of the best palces to go. The German’s used the point as a strategic strong point, complete with a four-storey concrete tower from where they could manage their artillery batteries. There are lots of these ugly, concrete structures dotted along the Jersey coastline. Their presence goes against the strict planning regulations Jersey enforces today, but they are such an important part of the local history I can understand why they are still there.

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The next bay from Noirmont Point is the smaller, but very beautiful, Portelet Bay. I was lucky to get to visit Portelet from both the sea and the land, first on the boat trip and then again the next day in our hire car. You have to be very fit to access the beach from inland, the only way is via a very steep staircase. I’m sure someone told me there are over 200 steps, but I didn’t count and I can’t find anywhere to verify the answer. In the centre of the bay is a tiny island with a single-storey, single-cell tower on top. It is the last resting place of a local sea captain, Philippe Janvrin, who dies of the plague in 1721. Upon returning from his last voyage, his ship was not allowed to dock on Jersey for fear the plague  would spread across the island, and he and his crew were quarantined on their ship. They all succumbed to the disease, and the rest of the crew were buried at sea. As the son of a wealthy Jersey family, Janvrin was due to receive a much grander burial, but authorities were still concerned about the threat and wouldn’t allow his coffin onto Jersey. So, he was buried on the rock in the bay, within sight of his home. The tower was added in 1808, one of three built during the Napoleonic Wars. It was at Portelet Bay that the difference in tides became very apparent to me. One day I sailed right the way around Janvrin’s tomb in quite a sizeable boat, and 24 hours later at low tide I walked out to the little rocky islet from the beach with my friends and we climbed to the top.

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Further on again from Portelet Bay, and our last stop on the south coast, is St Brelade’s Bay. This is one of the busiest beaches on the island, but it’s big enough that you’re unlikely to be bothered by crowds. As well as visiting on the boat, this is also where I got to try stand up paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time. OK, I admit, for me it was more like kneel up paddleboarding but I still managed to keep up with my more experienced friends and it was a lot of fun. As a beginner, I also received excellent instruction from Jono’s Watersports where we rented our equipment. I have nothing to compare it to, but my friends who SUP a lot in Norway told me that the water in St Brelades is more choppy than they’d usually expect.

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St Brelades is home to an example of the insane wealth to be found on Jersey. At the western end of the bay is a house that, 2 years ago, was sold for £11 million. The family who bought it are spending a further £10 million on renovations.

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Corbiè Lighthouse marks the end of the south coast and the corner of Jersey. The first concrete lighthouse in the British Isles was built here in 1873. It’s no wonder there have been so many  shipwrecks on the point, and that they decided to build such a sturdy lighthouse here. During storms, ocean spray is known to go right over the top of the lighthouse.

To look at the south west coast of Jersey on a map it seems such a small area, but there is so much of interest there. I couldn’t wait to find out what the rest of Jersey and the Channel Islands had to offer.

 

Useful Info

One-way flight from Bristol to Jersey with Flybe: from £70

Bus from Jersey airport to St Helier: £2 (all stops are announced on a matrix screen well in advance, so the local bus service is super easy to use)

4 nights accommodation at the Stafford Hotel, St Helier: from £180 bed & breakfast

Jersey Bus & Boat Tours Waterbus excursion: £20

1 hour SUP and wetsuit rental at Jono’s Watersports: £17

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