Turtle Bunbury

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Jersey - An Island of Potatos & Pretty Cows

 


Situated 14 miles off the north west coast of France, the Channel Island of Jersey is a surprisingly enchanting place. At 9 miles wide and 5 miles long, it's only a couple of inches bigger than our own Clare Island. Whack in 350 miles of warreny roads, a bunch of Norman and megalithic ruins, the prettiest cows in the world and a stunning surf-soaked coastline and there's plenty to keep you amused for a short holiday.

Jersey is all about potatoes. The island's soil is rich and productive but there's no point growing barley because you can't fit a combine harvester on the island. So they grow spuds. Jersey Royals, tiny labour-intensive, frost-proof, blight-resistant critturs, allegedly the second most popular in the globe. In 2003 they exported 31,600 tons of the stuff. It's amazing how proud Jersey's citizens are of their spuds. In the pubs, people discussed the Queen eating Jersey potatoes at a banquet in Paris a fortnight earlier.

If it's not potatoes, its cows. With their sandy hides, long eyelashes and doe-like eyes, Jersey cows are the cutest cows in existence. They're so docile they can calve, moo and eat grass simultaneously. The bullocks are more volatile and can gallop at speeds of up to 40 mph, which, as it happens, is the Jersey speed limit. The breed was invented in 1833 to produce milk with a high content of butterfat. Alas, in these glum polysaturated days of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!" (and I can), Jersey milk is less in demand.

The 40 mph speed limit makes sense on an island this size. Which is why it's so extraordinary that Jersey has the highest number of Porsches per head in the world. What on earth is the point?! On 10 out of 10 roads, drivers are obliged to pull over every time they see a horse, bicycle or pram. Mind you, my abiding memory of "Bergerac" is himself tapping the steering wheel of his Armstrong Sidley waiting for a donkey to turn left. "Bergerac", a tour guide confides in me, "is the best thing that ever happened to Jersey. The reruns in Scandinavia are bringing Danes and Finns down by the hundred".

Jersey's history is impressive. In a cavern called La Cotte they've found a heap of bones - mammoth, rhino, elk and human - and lots of axes, indicating a community with extravagant dietary tastes living here 8000 years ago. In due course, Jersey was conquered by the Normans and, in 1204, given a choice - to be English or French. England had more cash and so won the toss. The island's official title is "a peculiar of the Crown" which allows them to make their own tax laws although quite how they'll fare should Britain opt for closer ties with Europe in next year's referendum is anyone's guess.

Although a hint of Gaul pervades, the overall ambience is very much olde England. Lush rolling meadows, gorse blossoming yellow on craggy granite cliffs, rickety red tractors bumbling down country roads, well groomed stallions and handsome stone barns, crystal waters lapping chestnut coloured beaches, potato furrows and cackling geese, green fields and Jersey cows chilling in the breeze.

The Germans conquered the Channel Islands a few days after the British fled Dunkirk in June 1940. Hitler was thrilled; a fortnight into the campaign and he'd already scooped a chunk of Britannia. By December 1941, 11,500 Germans were stationed on the island. A better bet than Stalingrad anyway. One must-see on Jersey is HO8, one of sixteen tunnels built during the war, lately converted into a state-of-the-art Occupation Museum. Hitler's plan was to build a defensive wall all the way from Norway to the Pyrenees. Jersey formed an integral part and the island is thus peppered with cement bunkers and inter-connecting tunnels.

There's a theory doing the rounds that the tunnels were designed for gassing British Jews once London was conquered. A thousand Jerseyans were deported to prison camps as the war ran on but, remarkably, only twenty died. A few managed to jump on rafts and paddle back to Blighty. Most accepted their lot and got on with things. Some women, known as "Jerry-bags", struck up romances with the young Aryan officers, got married, had babies and settled in Germany after the war. The Jerseyans didn't bother dismantling the bunkers after liberation - they stand now, like sentries of the past, occasionally sharing the limelight with one of the Martello Towers built by the British during the Napoleonic Wars.

Jersey is probably an odd place to fetch up, unless you're a well-to-do tax exile like Nigel Mansel, Jack Higgins or Cilla Black. But it is really very charming, perfect for walkers and birdspotters. A magnificent stretch of moonscape appears when the tide is out and can be prowled upon with a marine biologist as your guide. Kids can play soldier games in the bunkers. Dad can sup on a very drinkable Jersey Ale and Mum can absorb the life and times of Lily Langtry, the Jersey Lily, with whom Edward VII was once so besotted.

Jersey Toursim
T: 00 44 (0) 1534 500714
F: 00 44 (0) 1534 500899
W: www.jersey.com

 

This article featured in Abroad in 2004.

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