From Guernsey it was a short hop to Jersey. We had a relaxing wait as we were able to use the rather plush Blue Islands (our airline) lounge, which had nice leather seats, free drinks and snacks, and decent wifi. We were concerned that it might be a very full flight, as the flight before ours had been cancelled and the passengers transferred to ours. However the helpful member of staff clarified that this meant our flight now had a grand total of 15 people; so low that when we boarded the plane they asked us to sit in the back few rows so as to balance the weight out!
Jersey was clearly a bigger prospect than Guernsey; that was apparent from the airport. So Greg had decided to hire a car – an unusual event for our city visits, but we had a packed schedule and this would make the travel logistics much easier. From Avis we drove into the capital, St Helier, and parked in a central car park. Parking in St Helier is apparently scarce, and the system – involving some weird local scratch-cards – notoriously complicated for visitors. Thankfully we’d arrived late enough on the Saturday to hit the free period, Sunday was free, and so was Bank Holiday Monday; result!
We were staying in the very opulent Royal Yacht Hotel, on the top floor (we got a flavour of this later in our trip when a local used the Royal Yacht as an analogy for something very posh!). It was an impressive hotel with a very high standard of finish, and the room was very pleasant indeed. There were comfortable shared rooms available such as the lounge and free office facilities including computer and printer. The hotel also had a spa, but unfortunately it didn’t open particular early or stay open particularly late, and so we weren’t confident that we’d get to use it.
It was now getting past my normal dinner time, and I was definitely getting into grumpy territory. So Greg quickly took us to a local restaurant he’d heard about called CocoRico, which was a mixture of restaurant and deli, with a small number of covers after the shop section. It had been a very popular lunch spot for years apparently, and more recently started opening in the evening too. It was French style, so we ordered the charcuterie and cheese sharing platter, together with a galette (filled with bacon, Roblochon cheese and caramelised onions), and a glass of house red. The platter was sublime – really tasty selection of cheeses, and of the meats the duck terrine was truly outstanding. When the galette arrived we didn’t have much room left, but made an effort and finished most of it – made harder by how unexpectedly large it was, and easier by how tasty it was! I skipped dessert, but Greg was persuaded by the owner to try a crepe with Nutella and homemade caramel topped with salted caramel ice cream. The chatty owner treated us to a ‘french expresso’ before we left – which turned out to be a shot of liqueur. So we left replete, and headed back to the hotel to bed.
In the morning we both woke up a little early, so rather spontaneously we decided to nip down to the spa and enjoy a brief visit to start our day. We didn’t have much time, but we managed a short swim and a few minutes in the steam room and sauna (though the sauna was not quite up to temperature).
We had been pleased to discover at check on that our rate included breakfast, which Greg had not expected. It turned out to be a well executed buffet, with excellent pastries (clearly a local theme!) and a chef station for fresh omelettes, scrambled eggs etc. On our morning the egg chef was clearly feeling stressed and getting a bit tetchy – so much so that I overheard one customer advising their fellow diner in the queue that it was much safer to have decided what to ask for before reaching the chef (including specifying the number of eggs if ordering an omlette)!
Our first stop that morning was to Orgueil Castle at Gorey. This was over on the other side of the island on the east coast; or about 25 mins drive! We arrived fairly promptly, noting along the way that Jersey was more built up than I’d imagined (probably as I’ve fallen for the ads and imagine it as sparsely populated with happy cows!). We parked up near the castle, and went to explore. The Castle had an interesting history, and a correspondingly interesting architecture, which had evolved over many years and owners. The castle itself was never taken, but it was down graded when a new residence, Elisabeth Castle, was built by Walter Raleigh at the new capital of St Helier. Scattered throughout the castle were various art exhibitions, and when we bought our ticket the lady encouraged us to seek out all 5 that are often missed – the dance of death, mysterious creatures, the wounded man, the witches, and the wheel of urine! All in all it was an interesting visit, albeit hard to navigate around.
After the castle we needed to grab some lunch, so we wandered down to the village and found a restaurant that offered a take away service. So we ordered two sets of crab sandwiches with chips, and enjoyed these as we walked back to the car. We had a date with the far south-westerly tip of the island which was time critical, so we made haste back across the island and soon found ourselves parking on a somewhat desolate headland, with La Corbiere lighthouse standing stark against the gray sky joined to the mainland by a dramatic causeway. This was to be our destination, and the timing was dictated by the tides; most of the time the causeway is underwater, and the tour we were on only runs a few times every year because of that. We met at the old lighthouse keepers cottage (technically we went across the causeway first, waited there at the lighthouse, and then rushed back, but heh!). There were about 10 of us on the tour, which was given by a nice lady who clearly knew and enjoyed her subject. Over the next hour and a half we then slowly progressed across the causeway, into the outbuildings and then into the lighthouse itself. There was a fascinating history to the place; sometimes tragic. On 28 May 1946 a lighthouse keeper had drowned tying to save a tourist who became stranded on the causeway. And on 17 April 1995 emergency services and a host of local boats worked together to save passengers of the French catamaran “Saint-Malo” after it hit a rock when navigating round the headland carelessly whilst en route to Sark.
In the outbuildings was the old diesel generator, used for when power was lost, and despite being replaced with a smaller more efficient model still looking very impressive. We also saw the room where the foghorn was, complete the with instrument used to create the unique sound. Within the lighthouse it was immaculate; with brass so clean we all had to wear gloves so as not to smudge it! We also met the current lighthouse keeper, in a way, though there wasn’t much in the way of conversation – just a bit of a hum, flashing lights, and a rather tidy set of network leads. People are apparently so last century. The guide proudly showed off the light bulbs that still power the beam – just like old traditional bulbs but almost as big as your head. With new EU regulations they have to import than from the US, and we were told the amusing story of how on the occasion of the first import the box arrived containing bulbs with a pearl matt finish, which the US company had felt would provide a superior soft glow. After repeating the requirements again – “we are a LIGHTHOUSE!” – replacement clear bulbs were soon sent. The visit took an interesting towards the end, as the weather worsened and a mist moved in. The guide looked slightly nervous, and soon enough a trigger was tripped and stuff started to happen. We were at the very top at that point, so the guide suggested it was better to come down from the platform, and advised us to not look at the prism as the light warmed up!
Unfortunately we had to leave just before the end (we’d hit the scheduled end time but the guide was still going strong!). We left across the windswept causeway to the sound of a blaring foghorn. Greg had tickets to a show and we didn’t want to be late. The show was held on the pier, and was a long running and well regarded local drag act. The food was rather bland; the show was anything but, and consisted of two drag queens miming to various well known Hollywood numbers and 70s/80s pop songs. I’ll never be able to hear Kinky Boots or Wuthering Heights quite the same way again!
We had an early start on the Monday; no spa for us. It was also before breakfast started. Fortunately we’d had a word with the hotel the night before, and they’d prepared a take-away breakfast for us with pastries and drinks etc. The receptionist even remembered our hot drinks, and appeared with hot chocolate and freshly brewed coffee at the agreed time – perfect! Greg drove north this time, and soon we were parking at the Gerald Durrell Wildlife Park. This was effectively a zoo, and the centre of the Gerald Durrell (he of My Family and Other Animals fame) conservation effort. It was 8am and I was somewhat confused as the place didn’t open till 10am. We strode towards the entrance, and noticed a member of staff waiting. Greg did introductions, and it turned out that Will was our personal tour guide for the day.
So without further ado we entered the park and commenced our tour prior to official opening – all the better to see the animals without other guests getting in the way Will explained with a grin. As you may remember from previous blog posts, Greg and I enjoy a good zoo and this park was certainly that. It did something we heartily approved of – it specialised, and tried to do a reasonable number of things really well, rather than trying to be too broad and doing a less good job. The focus here aligned with that of the conservation fund – Madagascar, primates and within that endangered species. It was a wonderful tour – Will had grown up on Jersey, visited the park as a kid, and worked there for a while now. He was very knowledgable about the animals and a very accommodating guide as he chatted to us, discovered our preferences, and created a personalised tour just for us.
As he showed us round we found ourselves very impressed with their use of space, the imagination and effort that they put into the various animal habit, and how seriously they seemed to take their conservation goals. We were also interested to note that the wife of Gerald Durrell, Lee still lives on the park – you walk past her house – and is still involved in their work. Will proved to be a great guide, and his enthusiasm for the place really impressed us.
After visiting Asian otters (who all rushed to meet us before muttering to each other as they left again realising we did not have their breakfast with us), and a selection of apes, we had two of the high spots which were special visits to the lemurs and the gorillas. Apparently twice a week they allow visits to the lermurs, and Greg had arranged that for us. This meant that we got taken into the lemur enclosure by their keeper, and spent about half an hour in there, admiring the lemurs from very close hand, and chatting with their keeper. We’ve always had a soft spot for lemurs, and it was magical being so up close with them. From time to time they came to say hello, but mostly they sat around a couple of feet away seemingly oblivious to us. I was able to get some decent photos, which you can find here. The gorillas were also very interesting to visit, though unsurprisingly our visit didn’t entail entering the enclosure. Instead we chatted to their keeper for a good period, whilst he talked us through the different gorillas, their personalities and the clear hierarchy. Amongst the group was a powerful silverback male called Badongo, and a baby called Indigo (named for the sponsoring company – much to the disgust of the keepers). At one stage we were taken up onto the roof of the main habitat and the keeper threw down some food which meant that the gorillas came pretty close and allowed us to get a really good look.
Alas, our visit to the park had to end at about 2pm, as we had an afternoon flight back to Bristol. So we thanked Will very much for his excellent guide, and headed home after a busy and extremely fun long weekend, and our City adventure now over the half way mark!