Jersey

A couple of weeks ago – and right at the end of the incredibly-busy development cycle that preceded Three Rings‘ Milestone: Krypton – Ruth, JTA and I joined Ruth’s mother on a long-weekend trip to the island of Jersey. I’d been to the Channel Islands only once before (and that was spent primarily either in the dark and the rain, or else in the basement meeting room of a hotel: I was there on business!), so I was quite pleased to get the chance to visit more “properly”.

The Bay of St. Helier, looking out towards Elizabeth Castle.
The Bay of St. Helier, looking out towards Elizabeth Castle.

Of particular interest was the history of the island during the Second World War. Hitler had been particularly pleased to have captured British territory (after the islands, which were deemed undefensible by the British, had been demilitarised), and felt that the Channel Islands were of critical military significance. As a result, he commanded that a massive 10% of the steel and concrete of the Atlantic Wall project should be poured into the Islands: Jersey was, as a result, probably more heavily-fortified than the beaches of Normandy. In the end, this impregnable island fortress was left until last – Berlin fell before Jersey and Guernsey were liberated – and this was a factor in the great suffering of the islanders during the occupation. We visited the “war tunnels“, a massive underground complex built by the German defenders, and it was one of the most spectacular wartime museums I’ve ever experienced.

The main entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels: a tunnel cut directly into the mountainside, painted as a hospital entrance.
The comparatively-small main entrance to the Jersey War Tunnels doesn’t even begin to do justice to the warren of criss-crossing corridors, rooms, and bunkers that span the underside of the hill.

The tunnels are, of course, an exhibit in themselves – and that’s what I expected to see. But in actual fact, the care and attention that has gone into constructing the museum within is breathtaking. Starting with a history of the islands (in a tunnel filled with the music and postcards of the 1930s), you can just about hear the sounds of war, echoing distantly from the next chamber. There, you walk through a timeline of the invasions of Poland, Denmark, Norway and France, and see how – even with the enemy just barely over the horizon – Jersey still marketed itself as a holiday destination for Britons: a place to escape from wartime fears. Then comes the evacuation – the entire population given barely a day to decide whether they’re staying (and doubtless being occupied by Germany) or leaving (and never knowing when or if they’ll return to their homes). And then, the story of the occupation: framed in a wonderfully “human” context, through exhibits that engage with the visitor through storytelling and hypothetical questions: what would you do, under German occupation?

JTA and Ruth play adventure golf
As a result of politically-correct amendments in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it’s become unacceptable to use the word “crazy” to describe minature golf courses with obstacles.

Certain to ensure that the whole trip didn’t turn into an educational experience, we played a fabulous round of adventure golf under the glorious sunshine of the Channel Islands. I did ever so well, up until the moment where I lost my ball and, swiftly afterwards, my ability to play the game in any meaningful capacity whatsoever. Eventually, Ruth and I tied, with JTA just a little behind… but we were all quite-embarrassingly well over par.

Ruth lining up an adventure golf shot
The landscaping was actually really impressive. The fake cave had successfully fooled a family of ducks into taking up residence: we found a nest full of confused-looking ducklings when I explored around a corner, looking for a lost ball.

Jersey is apparently moderately famous for its zoo. Ruth’s mother had apparently been looking forward to visiting it for years, and – despite it only being of a modest size – had opted to spend an entire day there, and considered taking another half-day, too. Once the rest of us caught up with her there, we certainly had to agree that it was a pretty impressive zoo.

A pair of komodo dragons in an enclosure at Jersey Zoo
A young pair of komodo dragons use their forked tongues to smell a sack of meat that has been hung in the centre of their enclosure.

I was particularly pleased to visit their pair of very active young komodo dragons, their bat cave, their tortoises, and their remarkable aye-ayes – Jersey hosts one of very few successful captive aye-aye exhibits anywhere in the world (and let’s face it, aye-ayes are a fascinating enough species to begin with).

Ruth under a dome in a meerkat enclosure.
The crawl-through tunnel and dome within the meerkat enclosure seemed like a good idea, but once inside it became apparent that it was basically a tiny, airless greehouse… and no closer to the animals than we were from the outside.

Ruth, her mother and I also got out for a little geocaching, an activity that I’d somewhat neglected since last summer. It turns out that there’s quite an active community on the island, and there were loads of local caches. We hit Not much room? first, which turns out to be among the best cache containers I’ve ever seen (spoilers below; skip the remaining photos if you’re ever likely to go ‘caching on Jersey), and certainly a worthy find for my 100th!

Not much room? - there's a geocache hidden in this picture.
We were certain that we were within 5 metres or so of the cache, and were – in accordance with the title – looking for something small, or concealed in a crack. But this cache was smarter than that. Can you see it in this photo?

Later, we set out for View over St Aubins (which I’m sure must have been at a great viewpoint, once, until the trees grew taller and cut off the view), and a quite-enjoyable puzzle cache called Dear Fred… all in all, a great excuse to stretch our legs and to see a little more of the island than we might otherwise have.

A mushroom-shaped geocache
Here it is! Did you find it? Amazingly, Ruth’s mother was the first of us to spot it, despite this being her very first geocaching expedition. Yes, that really is a wooden mushroom with a micro cache hidden within it.

I’m pretty sure I spent most of the holiday, though, catching up on sleep (interspersed with tiny bits of Three Rings work as we came to the tail end of the testing period – the WiFi at our B&B was, by-now-unsurprisingly, faster than that which we get at home). Or drinking. Or one, then the other. After a hard run of Three Rings development, coupled with “day job” work and the ongoing challenge of buying a house, I was pleased to be chilling out and relaxing, for a change.

Jersey Quaker Meeting House.
We also got the chance to visit Jersey Quaker Meeting House: a light, modern building near the middle of St. Helier, sandwiched discretely between the grand hotels and tall townhouses of the island’s capital.

Most-importantly, I reflected as we passed back through airport security on our way back to the mainland, nobody felt the need to kill anybody else the entire trip. Ruth’s mother and I, for example, haven’t always seen eye to eye (something about me ‘stealing’ Ruth from a life of monogamy, or otherwise being a bad influence, might have been an early issue), and it’s not unknown for relations to be strained between her and her daughter or her and her son-in-law, either. But even as we bickered our way through the departures lounge at Jersey Airport, at least I knew that we’d all survived.

Liz gets her bags searched at airport security.
Amazingly, I didn’t hold us all up by getting stopped and searched at airport security, which is usually my speciality when I travel. However, Liz did so on my behalf, by failing to remove everything metal before she went through the metal detector.

All things considered, then: a successful trip. Fun times were had, lots of exciting history was learned, tortoises were prodded, and nobody killed anybody else, however much they might have been tempted.

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