It's a great time to go to Jersey
In an extract from his guidebook to Walking on Jersey, Paddy Dillon explains why It's a great time to go to Jersey; an ideal destination for walking.
Victor Hugo charmingly referred to the Channel Islands and ‘Pieces of France fallen into the sea and picked up by England.’ Paddy Dillon, only slightly less charmingly, calls them 'beautiful and abounding in interest.' In an extract from his guidebook to Walking on Jersey, Paddy Dillon introduces us to this beautiful 'peculiarity of the Crown' and gives us all the information on how to get to Jersey, as well as information on the language, currency and wildlife of the island.
Small and often very busy, but also beautiful and abounding in interest, the Channel Islands are an intriguing walking destination. The self-governing ‘Bailiwicks’ of Jersey and Guernsey owe their allegiance to the Crown and seem outwardly British, but are in fact an ancient remnant of the Duchy of Normandy, with Norman–French place-names very much in evidence. For British visitors it is like being at home and abroad at the same time. French visitors, however, find it a quintessentially British experience!
Walkers will find magnificent cliff and coastal paths, golden sandy beaches, wooded valleys and quiet country lanes. Flowers will be noticed everywhere and there is a rich birdlife. There are castles, churches, ancient monuments and fortifications to visit, as well as a host of other attractions. There are efficient and frequent bus services, and easy onward links by air and sea between the islands. This guidebook describes 24 one-day walking routes on Jersey, covering a total distance around 225km (140 miles), plus a long-distance coastal walk around the island, measuring almost 80km (50 miles). There is also a note about the Channel Island Way, a long-distance island-hopping route embracing the entire archipelago, covering 178km (110 miles).
The Channel Islands lie south of Britain, but not everyone immediately appreciates how close they are to France. The islands fit snugly into a box bounded by lines of longitude 2˚W and 3˚W, and lines of latitude 49˚N and 50˚N. This puts them well and truly in the Golfe de St Malo off the Normandy coast of France, The French refer to them as Les Îles Anglo-Normandes, and that is the clue to their curious place in geography and history. They are the only remnants of the Duchy of Normandy to remain loyal to the Crown. Jersey is the largest and southernmost of the islands, yet has an area of only 116km² (45 square miles). No point on the island is more than 3.5km (2 miles) from the sea, yet it can take weeks to explore the place thoroughly.
When to go walking on Jersey
Jersey is suitable as a year-round destination and generally enjoys slightly milder weather than the south of England, but the weather is still highly variable and impossible to forecast accurately. Winters are mild, but there may be frosts and, very occasionally, snow. Very bad weather at any time of year can upset ferry schedules, while fog affects flights. The peak summer period can be very hot and busy, which may not suit those looking for peace and quiet. The shoulder seasons, spring and autumn, are generally ideal for walking, with bright, clear days and temperatures that are neither too high nor too low. In fact, these are the times of year that the Jersey Walking Weeks are arranged, featuring plenty of guided walks led by local experts.
The Channel Islands are a quirky little archipelago, with startling divisions among themselves. They are neither colonies nor dependencies. They are not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union. They have been described as ‘Peculiars of the Crown’ meaning that they are practically the property of the Crown, and they owe their allegiance to the Crown, and not to Parliament.
The Channel Islands are noted for their flowers, and it is possible to find wild flowers in bloom at any time of the year. The southerly, maritime disposition of the islands and their range of habitats, from fertile soil to barren rocks, ensure that a wide variety of species can thrive. Even attempting to shortlist them is a pointless exercise. The sand dunes of Les Quennevais support around 400 species, and even an old cemetery in the heart of St Helier is graced with 100 species. Bear in mind that the sea is also a bountiful source of marine plants. Add to this the plants that are cultivated in greenhouses and gardens: there are 60 varieties of roses in the Howard Davies Park, and orchids from around the world bloom at the Eric Young Orchid Centre. The study of Jersey’s floral tributes becomes a vast undertaking!
Even walkers who have no great interest in flowers cannot fail to be amazed at the sight of narcissi and bluebells growing on the northern cliffs of Jersey. Add abundant swathes of sea campion, red campion, blazes of gorse and broom, nodding ox-eye daisies, and the result is a riot of colour. The sight of fleshy-leaved mesembryanthemum colonising entire cliffs is impressive and unusual. A comprehensive field guide to wild flowers is an essential companion on any walk, but make sure that it encompasses not only a good range of British plants, but also plants from the Mediterranean, which are at their northernmost limits around Jersey. La Société Jersiaise, www.societe-jersiaise.org, gathers plenty of information about Jersey’s botany.
Mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and deer are known to have flourished in the past on the Channel Islands, but today Jersey is devoid of large wild mammals. Rabbits do well almost everywhere, but little else is likely to be seen except for evidence of moles and small rodents. Red squirrels were introduced to Jersey by local naturalists in 1885. The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust features a splendid range of exotic species, but look to the sea for other species, such as dolphins. Local differences occur between the islands, such as the fact that toads are found on Jersey, but not Guernsey, though green lizards live on both islands. Insect life is abundant and varied, with a range of colourful butterflies.
The birdlife is amazingly rich, with a range of residents and a host of migratory species. While the landmass is rather small to support many raptors, there are owls, kestrels and sparrowhawks. The coastal margins abound in interest, attracting a range of waders which probe the beaches and rock pools for food. The cliffs and pebbly beaches provide safe nesting places for a variety of gulls and terns, and puffins can be seen on some of the smaller islands and stacks. There are areas of heathland where the rare Dartford warbler might be seen or heard, and there are a few areas of dense woodland, marsh and grassland sites which attract particular species. The range of bird habitats is under pressure from human development and recreation on such tiny islands but, even so, there is plenty to see.
Listing a couple of hundred species of birds is a pointless exercise, and so much depends on the time of year and prevailing conditions. A good field guide to birds is useful, and there are titles specific to the Channel Islands. The Jersey Museum has exhibits relating to natural history, and visitor centres such as the Kempt Tower offer specific information about the plants and animals. La Société Jersiaise, www.societe-jersiaise.org, produces the annual Jersey Bird Report, or see www.jerseybirds.co.uk for information.
There is no national park on Jersey, though for many years the species-rich sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques near Les Quennevais have been regarded as a ‘special’ area, even referred to as a ‘trainee national park’. There are several small nature reserves on Jersey, from marshland to woodland. The National Trust for Jersey has already been mentioned, owning 1.6% of the land area of Jersey, which they are dedicated to preserving. There are also large and very important marine reserves, some of which are particularly difficult to access. They include the south-east coast and the rocky reefs of Les Ecrehous, Les Minquiers, Les Pierres de Lecq and Les Dirouilles.
Getting to Jersey
A map of transport routes makes Jersey look like the centre of the universe, with ferries and flights converging on the island from all points of the compass. Bear in mind that there are seasonal variations, with more services available in the summer months than in the winter.
Who can go?
People who hold British or European Union passports or identity cards do not need visas to visit Jersey. All air travellers must produce some form of photo-ID or they may be denied boarding. People who have obtained a visa to visit Britain can also visit Jersey during the period for which their visa is valid. Dogs and other pets can be brought from Britain to Jersey, subject to any conditions that might be imposed by ferry or flight operators. Usual practice applies to walking dogs in the countryside; keep them under control, especially near livestock. Dogs may be barred from beaches during the summer months and anti-fouling laws are in place everywhere.
Flights to Jersey operate from about two dozen British airports, and from a handful of European countries, such as Ireland, France, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. Scheduled and charter flights are available. Scheduled flights are mostly operated by Flybe, www.flybe.com, and Blue Islands, www.blueislands.com, while Blue Islands and Aurigny, www.aurigny.com, operate most inter-island flights. Summer charter flights are offered by Jersey Travel, www.jerseytravel.com, and other companies. This is not an exhaustive list and choices are quite bewildering, so it takes time to sift and sort between various operators, schedules and prices, but with patience some extraordinarily good deals can be sourced.
For centuries the language commonly spoken around the Channel Islands was a Norman-French ‘patois’ which had distinct forms from island to island. The Jersey form is known as Jèrriais, and while it is rarely heard, it is still spoken and many people are keen to preserve it. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘Jersey French’, but a French person would struggle to understand it. It also goes by the name of ‘Jersey Norman French’ and ‘Jersey Norman’. It should not be confused with ‘Jersey Legal French’, which is mostly modern French, with a few archaic Jersey words, used for drafting legal documents.
Visiting walkers may hear nothing of the language, but will be very aware of the roots of the language preserved in place-names all over the island. Some modern signs are bilingual, in English and Jèrriais. The latest banknotes produced by the States of Jersey are trilingual – English, Jèrriais and French – so that ‘one pound’ is also rendered as un louis and une livre. Visitors with a good knowledge of French will probably pronounce the place-names with a French accent, but in fact the ‘correct’ pronunciation would be different. In all other respects, English is spoken, written and understood everywhere, but there are also sizeable Portuguese (mostly Madeiran) and Polish communities on the island, as well as resident and visiting nationals from many other countries. It is increasingly common to hear French, German, Dutch and Japanese spoken on the streets. If assistance is needed with the pronunciation of a place-name, the best person to ask is a Jersey person!
The States of Jersey issue their own banknotes and coins, which are inextricably linked to Sterling and come in exactly the same denominations. However, Jersey one and two pound coins are rare, while Jersey one pound notes are common. Bank of England Sterling notes and coins can be spent in Jersey, and currency issued by the States of Guernsey is also accepted. In theory, Sterling banknotes from Scotland and Northern Ireland are accepted, but this depends on whether the person to whom you are offering them is familiar with them. Some businesses will accept Euros, but the rate of exchange may be poor. Change given at the close of a transaction may be a mixture of Jersey and British currency. Remember that Jersey currency is not legal tender in Britain, though British banks will change notes at face value. It is common for visitors approaching the end of a holiday in Jersey to request British currency only in their change. Your last few Jersey coins can be dropped in a charity box on departure, or saved as mementos of your visit.
So, why not go Walking on Jersey? It truly is an intriguing destination with lots to interest walkers.
Paddy Dillon is a prolific outdoor writer with over 90 guidebooks to his name, and contributions to 40 other publications. He has written for a variety of outdoor magazines, as well as many booklets and brochures for tourism organisations. Paddy lives near the Lake District and has walked in every county in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; writing about walks in every one of them. He enjoys simple day walks, challenging long-distance walks, and is a dedicated island-hopper. He has led guided walks and walked extensively in Europe, as well as in Nepal, Tibet, Korea, Africa and the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the United States.View Articles and Books by Paddy Dillon