PETER AND ANN FROST explore the fascinating island of Jersey.
French beaches, French food, a French holiday in fact; on an island just a few miles off the coast of Brittany where they speak English, use the pound sterling, weigh food in pounds and ounces, and don’t worry at all about passports or the Euro exchange rate – that’s Jersey.
It used to be difficult to take a caravan or motorhome to this millionaire’s holiday island but thanks to some hard lobbying by the Camping and Caravanning Club and the De la Haye family, owners of the superb Beuvelande campsite in St Martins, it’s now really quite easy.
The Club can book a ferry, the campsite and do all the paperwork for you. Even better they organise a friendly rally each June at Beuvelande where you can share your discovery of the island with other Club members.
We joined the rally this summer and after long tiring days exploring everything the island has to offer it was nice to sit down over a cup of tea or a glass of wine in the rally marquee and compare notes, exchange tips, and get some good ideas on what to do tomorrow.
The Rally stewards were a fund of knowledge. They had walked most of the islands extensive network of coastal footpaths and could point you in the right direction, lend you a map, and even lead a group ramble on some of the most interesting routes.
From our campsite island base we headed out every day. As the island is only nine miles long by five miles wide we never had a long journey, by bike, on foot or by car, but we also never ran out of interesting things to see and do.
You are never far from the rocky coast with high cliffs looking down on hundreds of golden beaches and sun trap coves. We took advantage of these un-crowded places to cool off in the blue waters and top up our tan.
When that got too lazy we looked for something more active, all kinds of water sports are easily available including kayaks and canoe hire with instruction.
But enough of all this enjoying ourselves, we have places to see. We’ll start with a tour of the La Mare vineyard. Wine, cider and many other delicious items are made here but we had come for the Jersey Black Butter, a kind of cider jam that is unique to the islands.
At the fragrant Lavender Farm we strolled among rows of purple sweet smelling plants and at Samares Manor we explored what many people believe is the most comprehensive herb garden in the world.
Jersey is justifiably famous for its plants and flowers. The horticultural star of the islands however has to be the amazing Orchid Foundation. Their glasshouses are home to some almost unbelievable blooms.
All this sweetness and light didn’t really prepare us for our visit to the Jersey War Tunnels. They tell the harrowing story of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands.
Earlier on the cliff tops we had seen the still impressive remains of what Hitler called ‘Fortress Jersey’, massive gun emplacements to build an impregnable wall against the allies counter attack.
In the tunnels, built by slave labour, we heard the thought-provoking tale of what life was really like under the heel of the jackboot. It isn’t a happy story.
Even in those dark days however the human spirit and the islander’s indomitable humour shone through. Jersey Resistance leader and later Communist member of the Jersey parliament – yes amazingly this millionaires paradise had a Communist MP – Norman Le Brocq said “We should have taken up our arms and gone to the mountains to fight. But Jersey has no mountains and we had no arms.”
So from the serious to the silly; the late Gerald Durrell did great conservation work at his Jersey Foundation. He worked to save many rare species notably the mountain gorrilla. So what is the most popular animal here today? Why the meer-cat of course, star of a TV car insurance website commercial.
So have we mentioned the steam museum, the unbelievably pretty harbours, the amazing Lalique glass church, Neolithic tombs, Gorey’s mediaeval castle, the green lizards, the battle of the flowers, sand yachting and the scores of other things to see and do on Jersey? No actually we haven’t.
Why not? Well the fact is we are far too busy sitting here in this rather nice restaurant eating local soft shelled crabs, drinking island cider, and watching the sun set over the lighthouse. Truth is, there is sure to be a rally here next June and we’ll be back.
The need–to-know stuff
For a visitor to take a caravan or motorhome to Jersey you need a special permit issued by the island authorities. These need to be booked at least three weeks in advance and there is no fee. You cannot get the permit yourself, it must be organised by a authorised campsite or through the Camping and Caravanning Club. In fact the Club can arrange all this for you along with booking a campsite pitch and a ferry crossing. The permit must be displayed in your windscreen and copies will be needed to board the ferry and to give to your campsite reception.
Motorhomes must be no wider than 2.3 metres excluding mirrors. They can drive on all island roads but must be brought back to the booked campsite every night to sleep in. If you have friends on the island you can park your motorhome on their property overnight but cannot sleep in it. The island does not impose any length limit on motorhomes but the site at Beuvelande has a 9.3 metre length limit reducing to 8 metres in July and August.
Caravans are allowed just the single direct journey between ferry and campsite pitch on the day of arrival and the same return journey at the end of the stay. They are not normally allowed to use island roads.
Caravans must be no wider than 2.3 metres and have a maximum body length of 6.7 metres and a maximum combination length of 16.5 metres including any projections
Tents, trailer tents, and camping trailers have no restrictions but large solid sided folding camper owners should check and perhaps organise a caravan permit just in case.
Some delicious Jersey delicacies
Apart from the fact it isn’t black and it doesn’t contain any butter this unique delicacy from Jersey is perfectly named. In fact it’s a very dark, very stiff delicious preserve made from the by-products of the Island’s famous cider industry. Main ingredients are apple pulp, cider, spices and liquorice. Traditionally it is boiled down in a huge copper pot over an open fire at a ceremony in November to celebrate the end of the cider making season.
This curious, and delicious shellfish, sometimes known as the mutton fish or sea ear, is related to the larger abalone. Once common in the Channel Islands, both over-fishing and its delicious flavour threatened its future. Today this gourmet’s delight is being farmed to ensure both its survival and its availability on the menus of Jersey. It is still very rare indeed.
The main Market in St Helier was obviously a French market, colourful with fresh salads, fruit and vegetables. Lobsters, giant crabs, pink prawns and shellfish glistened next to bright eyed mackerel, sea bass, white fish, squid and octopus. Most interesting were the price labels. Prices were very low, much lower than in France or back in Britain, and the prices were in pounds (£) and so were the weights offered (lbs).
Jersey’s rocky shore, so popular with holiday makers bring another benefit to the island. It’s in these tiny coves that Jersey’s fisher folk catch the lobsters, crabs, prawns, octopus, conger eels and a few dozen other fish species that make up such an important part of the Jersey menu.
…and the rest
Add to that, famous Jersey Royal potatoes, gold top Jersey milk, butter and cream and great island beef and you can see that any visit to Jersey could easily turn into a gourmet’s tour. And we haven’t even mentioned the wonderful ice-cream
Jersey fact box.
Although most street and place names have a definite French feel about them and the island has its own ancient language ‘Jersey French’ this is definitely an English speaking island. Newspapers, radio, signs and menus are all in English.
Jersey has its own money based on the Jersey pound. There are colourful pound notes and all the coins are the same shape and size as British money. The exchange rate is really easy. One Jersey pound is always worth exactly one pound sterling.
UK Visitors are not covered by the health service in Jersey, nor are you covered by the E 111 card. You will pay about £50 for a consultation with a local doctor and more for any treatment or medication. It is essential to take out good medical travel insurance.
The island has over fifty miles of very narrow roads designated Green Lanes. These have a speed limit of just 15 mph and priority must always be given to the many walkers, cyclists and horses along the way.
Quite simply there are none anywhere on the island so no problem for big motorhomes or over-height roof racks on tow cars.
Out of town there is no problem, in town and village centres the whole island uses an inexpensive scratch card system. Our £7 book of cards purchased at the camp site shop lasted all week.
With Jersey’s narrow roads and even narrower Green Lanes owners of large motorhomes might be more comfortable hiring a small car to get around the more inaccessible parts of the island. Your campsite can organise it and the cars are delivered and collected. We paid just £20 a day for a brand new air conditioned Ford Focus.
Jersey has a remarkable bus service. Frequent buses leave Liberation Station in St Helier and serve all parts of the island including remote attractions.
This article was first published in Camping and Caravanning Magazine in 2011