Take the long way round these little isles
A new walking route, the Channel Islands Way, launches next month. Kate Simon stepped out with its author in Jersey
Sunday 08 May 2011
There's more to money than spending it. On the cliff path between Bouley Bay and Rozel, on the north coast of Jersey, the local currency provides a handy aide memoire for Blue Badge guide Arthur Lamy.
He fishes out one of the latest States of Jersey £20 notes from his wallet. It bears an illustration of a reredos depicting four praying angels, designed by the French glass sculptor René Lalique for display in the Glass Church – St Matthew's, to give it its proper name – in nearby Millford. "It's where you'll find the world's only glass font, too," says Arthur.
The Glass Church – which I'm unable to visit because it's currently closed for restoration – is one of the island's favourite tourist attractions. But Arthur and I are on the trail of something new. We are walking along a short stretch of the Channel Islands Way, part of a 110-mile route just devised by Arthur. ("Well, I notice on the proofs they've cut a bit of it, so it might be less," he cautions.) It loops around the coast of five of the six Channel Islands, which help to put the Isles in British but are, in fact, so close to France.
Arthur has spent the past year or so researching and writing the new route. He has expanded earlier notes that he made on Jersey's rugged coastal paths, and drawn on established walks, as well as seeking out new trails on four other Channel Islands – Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm – some of which he visited for the first time in order to complete the project. The end result is a round-islands tour that will be published next month.
"I've styled the walks as short bites," says Arthur. "They're all between two and four miles, so, easy to do in an afternoon. I didn't want to deter people keen to take a walk around a little bit of the island they were visiting."
In another user-friendly move, Arthur has embellished his step-by-step instructions with information on car parks, cafés and handy stopping points. The guide will also attempt to enlighten walkers about any sights they see along the way.
We stop to admire two such landmarks, Fort Leicester and L'Etacquerel Fort. "They date from the 19th century, when Louis Napoleon was fortifying the French coast from Brest to Dunkerque," says Arthur. "See the walls are on the landward side? That's because shipborne guns were not as powerful as those on land, and the forts had a massive height advantage over ships. The walls are there to defend against a concerted land attack." These forts are now regularly invaded by holidaymakers, who hire them through Jersey Heritage.
The path continues along the cliffside, tracing its way around the bay. The steeper stretches are hardly arduous but there are wooden steps fixed with looped nails to stop walkers from slipping. "Some of these paths were laid by prisoners," says Arthur, who remembers seeing the men toiling on the cliffs in his youth.
Arthur has become even more familiar with the paths since he began guiding in 1994, a job that has included leading more than 3,000 people on the Round-Island Walk since 2001. This island may only be nine miles by five, but the trek, spread over five days, covers 50 miles. That coastal trail is part of the Spring Walking Festival, which begins this Saturday and runs for a week. There's an Autumn Walking Festival, too, from 10 to 17 September, with a similar mix of self-guided and escorted routes and themed tours. And the annual Itex walk, which has raised more than £1m for local charities over the past 20 years, takes place on Saturday 18 June.
The clouds hang low today, so we can't see France, which Arthur says would be in clear view if only it were sunny. Still, there is enough around to please the eye for my springtime visit. The ragged cliffsides are shedding their brown winter coat for the more colourful garb of purple thrift; yellow and green sea campion are beginning to fringe the pathway; and though the daffodils are fading, the bluebells are still putting on a good show where the path drops inland briefly to dip through a wooded copse.
Get away from the towns and you'll discover Jersey's prettiest corners. Its urban spaces have something of the British suburbs about them – blighted by ugly new buildings and a penchant for the regimented civic floral display. And then there's the incongruity of the French street signs. I ask Arthur if the local psyche has become a little confused by the influences of its two bigger neighbours and if Jerseyness has got lost in their midst.
"Most people in Jersey don't have deep roots. I'm not being rude; it's just a fact," he says. "The 2001 census said 53 per cent of the population was born in Jersey. I wonder if that might tip to less than 50 per cent this time." He guesses that probably only about 2 per cent now speak the local patois, Jèrriais. "My great-grandfather was Norman, and I had a Breton grandfather. I consider myself French, but my wife says I'm a Jerseyman," he adds. That's clear, then.
We abandon these delicate philosophical matters to concentrate on the surroundings. Arthur points out an 18th-century gunpowder magazine with a dogleg slit designed to let air in to keep the powder dry, but keep fire out. He halts in front of a long hump of land that I would have walked straight past, then he reveals that it is the remnants of the wall of an Iron Age fort, known as Le Câtel de Rozel, one of many prehistoric sites hidden in Jersey's undergrowth.
Finally, we turn inland, stopping at a cotil – one of the steep south- and west-facing slopes where the delicious, multi-eyed Jersey Royal potatoes grow, rather like a vineyard – before finally working our way down to the quaint harbour of Rozel to conclude a pleasurable morning.
I've only had a small taste of the new Channel Islands Way but I reckon it promises to be a big hit with walkers.
How to get there
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) offers return flights from London Gatwick to Jersey from £99 in June. One week's self-catering at Amani (01534 608062; amani- jersey.com), in St Brelade's Bay, costs from £850 in a two-bedroom mews house, including a small hire car (insurance and petrol cost extra).
Holiday Extras (0800 1313 777; holidayextras.com) offers a night at the Sofitel Hotel at Gatwick Airport and eight-days Meet and Greet car parking from £158.
Arthur Lamy is available to escort walks, cycle rides and other tours (arthurthebluebadgeguide.com). The Channel Islands Way, £9.95, is due to be published by Coast Media (coastmediaci.com) in June. Itex Walk (itexwalk.je). Jersey Heritage (jerseyheritage.org).
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