Channel Island Hopping
As a keen and regular traveller, I think it can be too easy to focus on the next adventure and forget about some of the ones that have already passed. I admit to spending a large part of my life planning and saving for the next trip, wherever and whenever that may be. Sometimes it can feel like the next adventure is just around the corner, and other times it feels like it’s a lifetime away. I’m currently undergoing one of those prolonged phases where I have to knuckle down and earn some money. My partner finds my grumbles highly amusing: after all I’m doing no more than the average worker in the Western world does but for anyone with itchy feet, staying at home can be frustrating. In the Southern Hemisphere it is currently winter, and the cold and rainy weather makes even weekend adventures a rarity. I long for some snow to break up the tedium, but as yet, none has come.
Looking through old photos one rainy day, I stumbled across a trip that I had almost forgotten that I had done. A whole week away somewhere new relegated to a little-looked-at album on my laptop. It is not that it was a terrible week or a banal week, it’s simply that so much has happened since then that it got pushed to the back of my mind, and looking through those photos reminded me of what an enjoyable week it was.
There was only one city in Scotland from where I could fly there direct so I made the drive down to Edinburgh from Aberdeen to catch the plane down to Jersey in the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are a quaint and unique group of islands that are nearer the continent than they are to the country who’s crown they sit under. They are self-governing, yet are dependents of the British Crown, and Jersey in particular has a rather French flare to it. Flying over the English Channel, out of nowhere, Jersey appeared, its rugged northern cliffs plunging down to the sea below. There was a spectacular aerial view of the island which measures just over 118 square kilometres, before we descended into the airport near the western end of the island. From there, St Helier (my home for the week) was just a bus ride away.
It was just me and my two legs for the week. With no transport of my own, and a stubborness to avoid public transport, I decided to explore as much as I could on foot. St Helier itself had a sandy beach and just offshore was a small island upon which stood Elizabeth Castle. The harbour was where ferries left for Guernsey and France and the parish centre resembled an English town with the likes of Marks & Spencer and other British high street chains. Despite using the British currency of the Pound, the stores there refused to accept my Scottish bank notes, accepting only those that bore the Bank of England on it. Both Jersey and Guernsey have their own notes also, but like the Scottish counterpart, they are not accepted as legal tender in the United Kingdom.
I was staying in a nice B&B and made the most of the cooked breakfast to fuel me for the day ahead. On the first full day there I headed east, following the coastal road roughly 18km to Mont Orgueil Castle. For the most part the walk involved following the route of the A4, but wherever I could cut down to beaches, I would, and the final approach to the castle itself was along a stretch of beautiful sand. It was far from a sunny day, very overcast with occasional showers, but it was a good walk nonetheless and the castle was interesting to walk around, both inside and out, with fantastic views over the coastline. By the time I was ready to head home again, the clouds had broken and the sun was finally out. After another 18km walk back to St Helier, I limped back to the B&B after grabbing some dinner.
I knew I had as equally a long walk the next day so again made the most of the cooked breakfast for energy. This time I was not so lucky with the weather. Heading west this time, I skirted the long stretch of sandy beach round the bay from St Helier to St Aubin, briefly joining the road across the land for a bit, before descending down into St Brelade’s Bay. I barely got beyond there before the heavens opened and despite it appearing to be a very pretty place to be on a sunny day, there was little to keep me here whilst the rain fell. Winding my way through the streets, I followed the Rue de la Corbiere to the most South-Western tip of the island where a causeway went out to the Corbiere lighthouse, 13km away from my starting point. It had stopped raining by the time I got there although it was still quite overcast, but there were plenty of people about here, and with the tide out, I took the walk out to view the lighthouse up close. Following the coast north I continued on to St Ouens Bay, walking as far as the beach bar & diner before the next lot of rain turned me back. The return walk was in the rain nearly the whole way, and I was a bit miserable by the time I got home. With over 60km hiked in two days, I was definitely covering a good amount of the island.
Thankfully the next day was gloriously sunny, and I’d picked a fantastic day to book the ferry over to Guernsey, nearly 42kms away. It took about an hour to travel from St Helier to St Peter Port on Guernsey, and arriving there filled me with that feeling that I always get when I arrive somewhere new and unexplored: pure and utter excitement. At 78 square kilometres (which includes some smaller, neighbouring islands), Guernsey is much smaller than Jersey, but it was still too big to explore in the time that I had before the return ferry that evening. Leaving St Peter Port behind I headed north up the coast through St Samson and up across the northern coastline, skirting round to the west to reach the beautiful sand of L’Ancresse Bay. It was too nice a day not to just enjoy it, so I lay back on the sand and soaked up some rays for a while before cutting back across the island to St Peter Port where I spent the last of my time before boarding the ferry again to return to Jersey. Guernsey was such a magical place, beautiful and glorious in the sunshine, and with lots more to explore, it firmly earned a place in my unofficial list of places to return to.
It was another early morning rise for another ferry, this time to head south to France. With Jersey being so near the continent, it seemed a shame to not go that bit further, and so I decided to take a day trip to St Malo in Normandy. St Malo was a stunning place to visit, and again, I did my best to see as much as I could whilst I was there. It was another sunny day, and it was lovely and warm.
The ferry docks near the walled city and round a bay from an expansive marina. I wandered round the cobbled streets of the walled city past boutique shops and cafes and restaurants and people everywhere. I headed round the marina in search of somewhere to get a bite to eat. I always dread practicing my foreign language skills, especially after a previous trip to Paris where I was laughed at for my attempt to order. This time proved no better. I stood in line at a baguette stall, and on my turn I misunderstood a question and again got laughed at by the vendor who obviously spoke about me to the elderly gentleman standing behind me. It knocked my confidence again. I always felt that it was better to attempt the local dialect than brazenly speak in English and assume everyone can understand me, but with the French, I’ve found myself the object of their ridicule every time.
Nevertheless, I headed off to explore the surrounds of St Malo. From the marina, I followed the coastline round a headland to the mouth of La Rance where Tour Solidor stood proudly on the shore. Near here was a beach where many topless bathers lay soaking up the sunshine. The waterway was littered with yachts as far up river as I could see, and at the river mouth, it was a broad waterway with the opposite side a good distance away. I walked for a while up river before looping back and cutting through the streets to head back towards the ferry terminal and the nearby walled city. This time, I kept to the outer wall of the city and walked round to the beaches on the coast of the English Channel. With the low tide, a causeway was exposed snaking out across the sand and I wandered out on it before heading back to catch the evening ferry back to Jersey. In the height of the summer, the daylight was still plentiful and it was a beautiful view as the French coastline receded into the distance. Back in Jersey, it was just another night’s sleep and a plane ride away to get home to Scotland.