Cycling around Jersey: Part Two
Up early and exploring St. Helier...
I woke up early on the Sunday morning as I only had about 6 hours to complete a loop of the island, drop the bike off and catch the bus to the airport for an early evening flight. I am always conscious of trying to do ‘too much’ on departure days and potentially create a last-minute panic at the airport.
My night in the retro hotel was comfortable and came down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast earlier than the official time. This caused a bit of a kerfuffle for the friendly waiting staff but was dealt with swiftly and smoothly in the end.
I ordered a cheese and ham platter and received just that! A plate of sliced cheeses and various hams was thrust upon me and garnished with grapes! It was all a bit random, but extremely tasty and the coffee was great.
I checked out of the hotel around 0830 and began a short cycle ride around deserted St. Helier. There were very few people around and I had the place to myself.
My initial impressions were of a small town in a British provincial county such as Dorset. The main shopping street has all of the British high street names you’d expect to see along with smaller independent businesses.
An unlikely place to find a brutalist hulk...
As I rode around, the one building that caught my eye as a fan of brutalist and modernist architecture was the former Odeon cinema. Built-in a style typical of cinema architecture of the 1960s, this is a giant hulk of art deco inspired concrete in an otherwise brick and stone town.
There was a local campaign to demolish the building in 2014, but its recent conversion into an evangelical church has safeguarded its place in St. Helier for now.
Along the Coast Road to Gorey Castle...
I started to make my way out of the town in an easterly direction by following the Coast Road towards one of Jersey’s most famous landmarks – Gorey Castle. There were a number of cyclists out just as the morning weather was starting to get warm and the early morning mist began to clear.
I slip-streamed a couple of riders heading in the same direction for most of the way and my hybrid bike was an equal match to their speed. I could have overtaken them but would have looked fairly silly waiting at a set of red traffic lights just a mile up the road.
Gorey Castle is one of Jersey’s most visited and photographed spots, so I decided to press on and climb up one of the steepest roads on the island to re-join the official cycle route to make my way back over to the north-west of the island to visit another one of the German look-out towers at Grande Nez.
Joining up with the Jersey Rouleurs...
For speed, I decided to stick to the main road rather than the meandering cycle route and asked a local cyclist for directions. He turned out to be part of the Jersey Rouleurs club run and I was shocked to see twenty or so riders appear from a country lane with such high-end bikes and kit!
There is a lot of expensive carbon out and about on the roads of Jersey taking full advantage of the limited road network, but varied topography and sunnier weather.
I stayed with the friendly group and were happy that I had come over to cycle around their island and learn about the history of Jersey.
My hybrid bike was fine for keeping up with the peloton of riders (probably the fastest shopping bike in Jersey that morning!?), but I was conscious that my brakes were razor-sharp and some of the early morning dew had settled on the road.
The last thing I wanted to do as an ‘unofficial’ club run rider was taken out another cyclist on a corner with my tank of a bike and destroy someone’s carbon dream machine!
To Grande Nez and the watchtower...
Jersey does suffer a bit from an issue that I have seen before in another British influenced island - Malta where there are too many road users for the size of the network which means that having groups of cyclists on the road can cause long car tailbacks in certain places.
That said, I never had any close calls whilst cycling in Jersey, local traffic generally remained behind me and no one attempted a close pass on a narrow lane as is so often the case when riding around the green spaces of Greater Manchester.
I left the group as they were turning for their cafe stop near the airport and made my way up to Grande Nez to see the watchtower. This one was perched high on the cliff and only accessible from a small path that crossed a nature reserve.
I didn’t have much time to take photos here or traipse down to the cliff edge, so after getting the desired shot, I made the fast descent back towards St. Ouen and through the centre of the island to St. Aubin’s Bay.
The last bunker was located on a headland and is the most complete structure remaining with machine gun turrets, trenches and the tall watchtower looming over the English Channel. The site is now a memorial dedicated to the workers that built the structures for the Nazi occupying forces under terrible conditions.
A tiny island, but an international banking hub...
After riding back into St. Helier along the promenade to return my bike to the rental shop at Liberation Square, I noticed a large number of offices servicing the banking industry.
Despite being one of the smallest islands in Europe, Jersey is an international financial hub with the headquarters or subsidiaries of many global banks located in St. Helier. There is a staggering £258bn held on the island through deposits and banking receipts making Jersey one of the most important monetary centres in the world. It is clear that this is a wealthy place and strolling around the town felt like walking around a low-rise extension to the City of London.
After handing my bike back and catching the bus back to Jersey’s 1930s airport, I had a chance to reflect on the weekend and my time in Jersey.
Out of all of the places that I have been cycling around this year, this is certainly one of my favourites. I really enjoy going to places that have a mix of history to discover, a unique national identity and have good quality cycling infrastructure.
There has clearly been an effort to make cycling a priority by the local tourism office as there are plenty of maps and route details available. The cycling network is well signed and you are never far away from a town or village to ask for directions or local advice.
St. Helier is the hub of the island and certainly has the busiest roads to ride on, however, once you are on the quiet lanes and rural roads there is very little traffic and it can feel quite remote.
If I went back to Jersey again, I would like to do a wider cycle tour taking in Guernsey and some of the other Channel Islands. I’d also perhaps head to nearby St. Malo in France with my Brompton if I went on the ferry from Portsmouth.
Final thoughts on Jersey...
As I boarded the EasyJet flight back to Liverpool, I ended my time on the island with a conversation with a local girl who had just moved to Chester for work but was back home with her parents in St. Helier for the weekend.
She said to me that she had done everything that there was to do in Jersey and needed to leave, but she comes back more frequently than she thought she would have done given the wider opportunities on the 'mainland'.
Why did I ask? She said that Jersey is a special place and has a ‘pull’ like a magnet. Even after my short visit and with memories of the views above firmly in my mind, I’d quite happily agree with that...