Channel Islands 2014/09/23-26: Exploring Guersey and Jersey (approx 125 km)
My knowledge of these islands consisted, until only very recently, of such basic facts as that the larger islands (Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney) each have their own breed of dairy cattle, and they have become home in recent decades to an array of banks and associated financial industry professionals. Not only were the islands on our route to France, but our curiosity had also been fuelled by having a certain Jersey Islander fairly recently become extended family.
We walked with Sarah to the terminal – pushing our bikes – and she waved as we rolled onto a Condor ferry for our first ever visit to any of the Channel Islands. Our crossing to Guernsey was a smooth one, but any advertisements in onboard brochures for accommodation offered a level of luxury far beyond our needs. Disembarking on Guernsey, we headed to the tourist information for maps and with the basic question: are any campgrounds open? Only one, we were told, and sent off to find something that was scribbled onto our map as “eco-camping.”
Making our way across the island was as good as any way to begin exploring it by bike. We set out from St. Peter Port on narrow roads enclosed by steep banks and dense hedges. There was lots of traffic. At one point I squished myself just a little too far to the left and caught my front pannier on the bank. I spread myself onto the road in front of the truck that had been tailing me, but the driver braked quickly and got out to inquire if I was OK. As I dusted myself off, he drove ahead to tell Chris to wait. My pride was more injured than anything, but I was reminded of the need to take the lane rather ride too close to the banks. Riding on the unaccustomed left was still adding to the challenge of aligning oneself.
We arrived at the “eco camping”, an odd place with no one in sight, but evidence that someone would likely appear as there were goats, ducks, as well as toys strewn everywhere. We settled to wait as I nursed my minor wounds. A young woman with two small boys appeared, and she said we could pitch our tent despite their recent licensing problems.
Chatting with our hostess and her husband was a glimpse into the challenges of those who try to live a life in a slower lane in these islands. Among their many projects was an in-progress restoration of a huge glass house (i.e. traditional greenhouse) originally built in 1911, which protected mature lemon trees and more. The climate here is almost Mediterranean, and a little shelter and wind protection allows a range of tender plants to grow.
In the morning, the two and half year old boy who was helping feed ducks solemnly announced “That’s Pluto. He pecks you.” A useful warning. We returned to St. Peter Port by the north coast, stopping often to take in sweeping views. and lined up for the ferry with an assemblage of cyclists.
Leaving St. Helier as we came off they ferry, we rode more cautiously than we had on Guernsey. We arrived at the family of extended family and were plied with tea, delicious supper, and sightseeing suggestions.
The next morning we walked on sunken lanes to a beach and by a neolithic dolmen, and in the afternoon we cycled along the north and west coasts looking at fortifications that included many from the German occupation era. In the evening we we taken out for a fine dinner. The range of topics covered left us with a better understanding of Channel Island lives and history. To hear details of the wartime occupation is one thing, but when someone you are staying with describes her father’s Percheron horse that the Germans left behind, somehow it seems more real.
For our last day, we explored Gorey Castle at a leisurely pace. This iconic piece of Jersey’s history was built in the 1300s on strategic Mont Orgeuil. I had heard there were green lizards endemic to Jersey and in fact learned they only lived in certain areas, local contacts telling me Gorey was one. As they renewed mortar in the castle’s stonework, they deliberately left deep crevices to create welcoming lizard habitat, I was told. As I’m a great fan of herptiles, we walked around alert to the possibility of spotting one, but they’d all tucked themselves out of sight on a cloudy fall day.