You didn’t know you wanted to go to Jersey? Neither did I. But right now this pretty Channel Island, just a few miles off the coast of France, is your best option for an almost-foreign holiday involving sun, sand and some of the kindest people you could ever meet.
This is not an exaggeration. I was astonished by the good manners and natural warmth of the islanders. With roughly the same population as Bath, Jersey is a tiny place (five miles long and nine miles wide) where everybody knows everybody.
‘That’s why we’re all so incredibly nice,’ says Sean Kinsella, our good-natured kayaking guide. ‘You have to be or the island wouldn’t work.’ As he leads me and my partner Georgia, both in wetsuits, across the beach, he is greeted by a dozen locals.
Shore bet: Thomas dines on soft scallops hand-picked by a diver from waters just by Mont Orgueil Castle (pictured)
The iconic La Corbiere lighthouse, which stands sentinel on Jersey’s south-western corner
POUND NOTES, RED SQUIRRELS & KNITTED JUMPERS
- One-pound notes still exist.
- The population of Jersey is about 106,000.
- Some residents can speak Jerriais (also known as Jersey French, a variety of Norman).
- Any potato that is sold as a Jersey Royal potato must be grown on the island (it is a protected food name).
- Red squirrels live on the island.
- It was part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204.
- Knitted jumpers, it is said, are known as jerseys because of wool sourced from the island.
- King Charles II gave the governor land in America in return for help during his exile — this became New Jersey.
- Lillie Langtry was born in Jersey in 1853 (and nicknamed ‘The Jersey Lily’).
- The great French writer Victor Hugo lived in exile on the island from 1852 to 1855.
- There is no VAT.
- Jersey is 14 miles from France (on the amber list) and 85 miles from mainland Britain.
Soon after, we’re out at sea in our kayaks, gazing at the crazy spires of pink granite that rear out of the clear waters, listening to the shrill cry of the oystercatchers overhead, and wishing we’d discovered Jersey years ago.
The reason the island is exempt from travel restrictions is that it’s a British Crown Dependency, so it doesn’t count as abroad. Yet because it isn’t part of the UK, it makes its own rules.
If you’re from one of the majority of UK regions classed as Covid-safe, you can just fly in and take a free PCR test at the airport.
Tony, the nurse who did my test, said he liked my straw hat. I offered to swap it for his face shield, but he declined. This, however, was my first taste of Jersey charm. It’s not easy being likeable while swabbing a nose.
The only catch is that those who have not had both jabs have to isolate until their results come through by text, which can take up to 12 hours — and in our case, it did.
Luckily, our berth at the swanky Atlantic Hotel had a balcony, so we watched the sunset while making the most of room service. By the time we woke up the next morning, we had the all-clear.
Putting aside recent squabbles with French fishermen over post-Brexit fishing licences (involving a blockade of the harbour at St Helier, the capital, and the deployment of two Royal Navy vessels), everything on the island really does seem nice.
Jersey is like wandering into an advertisement for Werther’s Originals, the old-fashioned toffees whose sentimental branding includes images of grandfathers dandling toddlers on their knees.
That’s how it feels as we drive slowly (the speed limit is 40mph) around the winding lanes of the island, past wisteria-clad cottages, while in the near distance the sunshine twinkles on the surface of the sea.
Actually, it occurs to me at some point that I should buy an actual packet of Werther’s Originals. But more sophisticated culinary delights are in store. That evening, taking her first bite of the mind-blowing banana soufflé at Samphire restaurant in St Helier, Georgia emits a noise that is not unlike the call of an oystercatcher.
We are similarly excited the next day during lunch at Sumas, on the island’s east coast.
We sit out on the terrace and the sun — seen more often on Jersey in 2020 than anywhere else on the British Isles — dutifully reappears. Across the bay looms the castle of Mont Orgueil.
Jersey is a tiny place, just five miles long and nine miles wide. Pictured is Portelet Bay
The mighty Elizabeth Castle, built by Sir Walter Raleigh on a rock in the bay at St Helier
With a squeeze of lemon, the oysters from Jersey ‘taste as fresh as a sea breeze’, writes Thomas
The War Tunnels network, built by the Nazis during their four-year occupation, is now a museum
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- You must complete a ‘travel form’ — found at gov.je.
- For unvaccinated tourists coming from red ‘locales’ in the UK, you must quarantine for ten days on arrival. These areas are listed at gov.je on its ‘Country and regional classifications for travelling to Jersey’ page.
- However, if your locale is green, you must have a PCR test on arrival — they’re free and take 15 minutes.
- Then you must self-isolate at your accommodation until you get your result (up to 12 hours), after which you’ll be free to explore the island.
- Fully-vaccinated arrivals will still need to take a PCR test but are not required to self-isolate.
- However, from June 29 all of Scotland and England will turn red for two weeks. Arrivals who have been double jabbed will not need to quarantine, nor will under-18s.
- On return, you do not need to quarantine or be tested as Jersey is In the Common Travel Area.
My rock oysters were sourced from one side of it. With a squeeze of lemon, they taste as fresh as a sea breeze.
We learn from Paul Dufty, Sumas’s suave owner, that Georgia’s soft scallops were hand-picked by a diver on the other side of the castle. With a main of turbot and a glass of crisp Spanish Albarino, it adds up to the best seafood lunch either of us has had in years.
There are other surprises, too, not least the coldness of the sea. When I take a dip from a beach on the east coast, it’s my turn to squeal like an oystercatcher.
Later, we learn that among the famous inhabitants of Jersey — as well as the society beauty Lillie Langtry and Superman actor Henry Cavill — was one Sir Walter Raleigh, who was governor of the island for three years at the start of the 17th century. The great adventurer came at a time when he was out of favour with Good Queen Bess.
His tobacco habit dismayed the islanders, who feared smoking might be unhealthy. But they were grateful for the mighty castle he built on a rock in the bay at St Helier. He called it Elizabeth Castle in the hope of flattering the queen — but she died soon afterwards and her heir, James I, threw poor Raleigh back in the Tower of London.
We walk out to Raleigh’s castle at low tide over the damp sand and marvel at its battlements. It’s wise not to stay long, though. On the shoulder of the Atlantic, the island has an immense tidal range. In a few hours, the place where we’re standing will be deep underwater. Back in St Helier, we reward ourselves with a pint of Stinky Bay ale at the Prince of Wales pub.
Jersey has its attractions for the young. The surfing is supposedly excellent. But its appeal is perhaps more geared to an older demographic. I was particularly interested in the War Tunnels, a network built by the Nazis during their four-year occupation.
A quiet country road in Jersey, where the speed limit is 40mph. Jersey is like wandering into an advertisement for Werther’s Originals, says Thomas
Designed as a hospital and for sheltering troops from Allied attack, it is now a museum telling the story of what happened during that era. The personal stories — such as that of young June Sinclair, who was sent to a concentration camp for slapping a Nazi soldier — are extraordinarily moving.
The quaintness of Jersey is such that you might be tempted to wonder what lurks behind it. The answer is nothing. Even the Devil’s Hole turns out to be just a large crater caused by coastal erosion.
Beside the path leading to this curious beauty spot is an enjoyably understated sign: ‘Devil’s Hole — well worth a visit’. Without hesitation, I’d say the same about the whole of Jersey.