When leaving work for the long weekend, friends would ask “Where are you headed?”. I’d respond “Jersey” but I could tell by their responses they were thinking “Newark is a little out of character for you…” I found that the original Jersey and Guernsey are unknown and overlooked destinations for most Americans.
The Channel Islands are a series of islands in the English Channel off the coast of France. the two major islands are British Crown dependencies but they’re not part of the EU. The bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey have been administered separately since the 13th century yet the ties to Great Britain are evident in their currency. They are tied to the Pound Sterling yet print their own unique bills and coins. You can freely spend currency from England, but try to spend the Channel Island bills on the islands before you leave.
We flew British Airways from our “hometown” airport of Toronto to London Heathrow, took trains to Gatwick, and flew into Jersey.
We arrived late on a Friday and were hungry from a long day of travel. We walked downtown looking for a restaurant and we found the town to be quite lively. Notice anything about the photo below, though?
Nobody has any food! We were told that most people just drank beer when they went out and that dinner on a Friday night would be difficult. We learned that the residents of St. Helier supported their pubs as a point of pride, working diligently to keep the bartender from going out of business. The doors open at 11 AM on Sunday morning, and the patrons are on the porch at 10:45, waiting patiently. A pint for each hand gets the day going.
We flew out the next morning (delayed a few hours due to fog) on a twenty minute flight from Saint Helier, Jersey into Guernsey and rented a car.
We have been fascinated with dolmens since our first trip to Ireland, so we navigated all the way across the island to see one mentioned in the tourist information.
Dolmens are passage graves, and the one is Guernsey was very well preserved. It was unattended, with a sign asking visitors to kindly turn off the light and close the door when leaving.
There was a figure carved on the underside of the ceiling so we spent a few minutes trying to capture an image. It proved to be quite difficult.
We found a nice restaurant overlooking a secluded port on the east coast.
We only had a few hours in Guernsey so we spent much of it driving around. We spotted another on the northern coast, overlooking a golf course.
Not far from the entrance are some concrete structures that hint at some of the more recent history of the islands.
The location off the coast of France made the islands a strategic location for German forces during World War 2. We were surprised to see how much influence the Nazis had on the region.
The view returning to the car was breathtaking, just try not to be hurt by errant golf balls.
Flying back to the big island of Jersey was uneventful.
One of the most interesting sites on Jersey is a dolmen site called La Hougue Bie. The woman selling admission tickets described the area as having a dozen dolmens scattered around, like parish churches, but La Hougue Bie is the grand cathedral. It starts with a trip through the museum describing the ancient history of the region and is capped off with a recent find. Two amateur archeologists unearthed a cache of Celtic coins underground in a local farmers field. The analysis of the hoard is still underway in the museum on the property.
The rings and bracelets were gorgeous.
After the museum we headed to the actual dolmen.
The christians built a chapel on top of the dolmen in the 12th century and added another on top of that in the 16th century.
Even the Germans found the site to be compelling. They built here too.
The Nazis brought slave labor to the island, housed them in the tunnels, and most never left. In the tunnels was a pretty sobering display of the horrors the residents endured.
We left there, hungry for a midday snack. We ate overlooking the bay. I’ve never seen so many boats grounded, waiting for the the tide to raise them.
We drove the length of the island in about 20 minutes, and found more abandoned military structures.
Along the southern coast we found the beautiful beaches.
Returning to St. Helier we saw the city’s defenses.
We really enjoyed the pub culture, spending the evenings at our chosen pub, striving to keep them in business each night. The food was great and the revelry was memorable.
Leaving was an adventure. We were socked in by fog, delaying our departure for hours. We were able to get out eventually, with barely an hour for us to make it from Gatwick back to Heathrow. To compound the problems, British Airways had computer problems the day before, grounding many flights. The news reports looked like chaos.
Needless to say, we didn’t make our flight to Toronto. BA was gracious and provided accommodations for the night after rebooking us on a flight the next day.
It was a fun trip, despite the weather delays. The food was great, the sights were amazing, and the people were great fun.