Cycling around Jersey: Part One
Going offshore for the weekend...
Visiting Jersey has been on my travel wish list for a long time and I used to look at the Condor sailings from Portsmouth to work out a plan of getting there using the limited time I have when I go down to visit my family. The night sailing works out fine, but the long day crossing or return catamaran to Poole takes too long to be practical.
When I saw that EasyJet had a sale on back in June, I knew that I had to go. I just hoped that the weather would be better than my soggy cycle tour around the Scilly Islands!
I booked my flight to Jersey with EasyJet back in June as part of an early summer promotion for only £35 return. The only downside was that I would be flying from Liverpool in mid-October and I would have to cycle to Manchester Oxford Road train station from Rochdale at 0530 to make the connecting train to Liverpool South Parkway in time for the mid-morning flight.
Flying from Liverpool to Jersey...
The 1-hour flight over to Jersey was full and a mix of people going on holiday, residents of the island heading home from the ‘mainland’ and a loud hen party sat in the seats to the front of me. My time on the island was only short as I was returning on the afternoon flight the next day and I had a full-on cycling itinerary pre-planned to ensure I made the most of my weekend there.
Jersey is a small island under British jurisdiction measuring just 9 miles across and 6 miles long and has long been a popular tourist destination for British and European holidaymakers. In fact, the island is much closer to France as the French coast is a mere 14 miles away.
England’s south coast is approximately 100 miles to the north and there is an evident blend of both cultures on the island from currency to road signs to architecture. Given the small geographical size of Jersey, it is an unlikely cycling destination, but in my opinion, the island is an excellent spot for leisure cycling.
Collecting my bike from Liberation Square...
After an airport transfer bus journey to reach the island’s main town of St. Helier just 4 miles away, I hired a bike from a local tourism company - Jersey Bus and Boat Tours located close to the historic Liberation Square and offer boat tours in addition to bicycle rental. I was pleased to see that the bike was a modern and well-maintained Raleigh Pioneer hybrid and would be ideal for covering many of the islands official and unofficial cycle routes.
I set off around 1330 and planned to explore the western half of the island on Saturday and then do a full loop of the island of Sunday before heading home in the evening. I had been reading up on the history of the island prior to my visit and decided that my main aim of the weekend was to visit all of the remaining German gun towers and defensive positions that formed part of Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall’ stretching from Northern Spain to Norway.
The only part of Britain occupied by the Nazis...
In a propaganda coup for the Nazi regime, Jersey and the surrounding Islands were the only British territories occupied by Germany during World War II and life during the Occupation became progressively tougher.
Once the British government had decided that the Channel Islands held no strategic importance and wouldn’t be defended early on in the war, Germany launched an invasion from occupied France in 1940 with almost no resistance. The 5-year occupation brought in a series of draconian laws on Jersey’s residents that even criminalised cycling two abreast.
With these thoughts in mind, I left St. Helier by following the smooth, promenade cycle path along the route of the old railway line alongside St. Aubin’s Bay. The weather was lovely and warm with great views over the English Channel.
I couldn’t believe that after leaving drizzly Rochdale only a couple of hours before, I was cycling on a beautiful cycle path in glorious sunshine heading out towards the lighthouse at Corbiere.
From Corbiere and along the 'Five Mile Road'...
Each tower is unique to Jersey and wasn't replicated elsewhere in Europe. A giant hulk of concrete towering over the Channel that has an almost robotic form is perched on the rocky cliff edge. Each 16-metre tower is formed of a smooth curve and despite getting battered by the elements far more than in battle, they are extremely well preserved.
Incredibly, 10% of all the concrete used in the Atlantic Wall construction project was set in Jersey. The island became a fortress for both outsiders and residents. No escape was possible for the locals. No surrender wasn’t an option for the occupiers.
I cruised along the ‘Five Mile Road’ next to St. Ouen’s Bay which has one of the most impressive beaches I have seen in a long time. Large waves with the full power of the Atlantic crash against the exposed shoreline that is ideal for surfing.
I’d never thought of Jersey as a surfing hotspot like I would Cornwall and there was certainly a disproportionately high number of Volkswagen camper vans zipping around the island. This is always a tell-tale sign of a place being a surfing magnet!
As I rode up the coast, I started to climb over hillier roads to St. John. Since leaving St. Helier, I had been following the number 1 cycle route that loops around the island for 40 miles, but took a detour off the route down to St. Lawrence at the village to visit the vast German Underground Hospital.
Visiting the Jersey War Tunnels...
As the weather was forecast to be nice all evening and the sun was getting lower in the sky, I decided to head underground to make the most of the sunshine predicted for Sunday. I only had time for one museum visit and this was the one to go to.
The German Underground Hospital was hollowed out of the landscape by thousands of prisoners of war drawn from other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. Today, it is one of the best-preserved Nazi built structures in Europe and is a permanent reminder of Jersey's war story.
Many of the workers building the bunker were held under slave-like conditions under the control of the construction arm of the Nazi war machine – Organisation Todt. I parked my bike outside and spent two hours walking around the tunnels learning about the history of the island under occupation.
I particularly liked the thought-provoking section about being or becoming an informant to improve your own situation and how you would react if a friendly-looking Nazi soldier greeted you in a friendly manner on the street in St. Helier or asked if he could use your washing machine.
Possibly the most retro hotel I've stayed in...
I left the museum about 15 minutes prior to closing and rode along the quiet roads back to St. Helier to the hotel with an amazing sunset for company overlooking the Bay.
After booking the flight, I couldn’t believe that there was no inexpensive dorm-style hostel in St. Helier, so I had to book a hotel room which was a bit more expensive than normal for me at £45 per room.
I chose a hotel on Booking.com located close to the main street in St. Helier as it was the cheapest, most central option and discovered quite possibly the most retro hotel I had ever stayed in!
Like a living lyric from a Pulp song, there was wood-chip on the walls throughout and a stainless steel room control panel above the bed.
Unlike most hotels which strive to actually recreate this look to be cool or hipster, all of the features were painstakingly original and immaculately clean. The owner of the hotel was full of charm, proud of her island and she was interested in my short cycle tour.
Before heading off to bed after what had been a long day overall, I went to a locally recommended Thai restaurant around the corner for noodles.
Eating alone in a restaurant is never ideal especially on a busy Saturday night, however, what I didn’t realise is that I would be brought to tears by the intense spiciness of the dish and how the bowl of Thai crackers seemed to amplify the intense flavour.
Somehow I managed to finish the dish and I happily paid the bargain price of £13 for such an excellent (if painful) meal.
Before making my way back to the hotel, I stopped at the local shop for yoghurt made using milk from the internationally famous Jersey cows and got prepared for my loop of the island in the morning.