I smiled at the irony of a man in a Panama hat, accompanied by a woman swathed in silk scarves, stopping their convertible vintage sports car to give way to our Number 1 bus as it left Liberation Station in St. Helier. I was taking the green route across Jersey, travelling by bus, bike and boot power, not only to discover its eco-friendliness, but also to allow myself a holiday where I truly slowed down. Some might say this is also a vintage approach to travelling, but with the emphasis on green rather than glam in my case.
My journey began on a train to Poole, where I picked up the ferry to St. Helier. It may have taken longer than flying, but with time and space to study my maps, create an itinerary, finish a novel, and expose my vitamin D-deprived skin on deck, I arrived rested, with a healthy glow and ready to go. Check out all the best sail rail deals here, on Mark Smith’s brilliant Man in Seat 61 website.
My first morning’s bus stop was, rather aptly, called Green Island, just a few miles east of St. Helier. “Just pop down that lane for the beach” the bus driver said, either seeing me drool over the sight of crystalline waters on the coast road out of town, or perhaps just spotting my towel tucked into the top of backpack. I always carry a swimsuit when exploring as you never know when the calling may come. And boy, did it come. Green Island is, in fact, a peninsula, with soft white sand and gentle waves. At 9am there were a few young families paddling already, with sleepy parents clutching caffeine fixes from the shoreline’s gorgeous Green Island Restaurant. I was particularly impressed by the Homefield Foods delivery van outside, a local food supplier whose displayed motto is “from seed to plant to field to plate”.
After a wake-me-up swim did just that job, I headed off in the direction of Gorey, jumping on the next bus which, although he was already at the stop, kindly waited for me to cross the road and run down to jump on. This was my experience of bus drivers throughout the island, always keen to help, answer any questions, let me know when my stop was coming, and always with a smile.
Gorey is a small fishing village with boats of every size and shade bobbing merrily, and where the view of the impressive medieval castle of Mont Orgeuil almost made me miss my connecting bus. In search of the island’s natural rather than cultural heritage, I was heading to St. Catherine’s Woods, just outside the eponymous Bay. Otherwise known as Rozel, the short walk up from the coast road brought the many coves into view, all segueing seamlessly one into another to create one big mother bay.. She must have been some saint to have got all of these named after her, I thought to myself.
The woods were divinely serene too, with just a couple of families playing on stepping stones and rope swings. With most of Jersey’s trees felled during the German occupation, it was delightful to see not only the remains of ancient ferns and broadleafs, but careful woodland management at work through coppicing and clearing, which was allowing the likes of Sparrowhawks, Red Squirrels, Bluebells and Foxgloves to thrive. I soon forgot the map I had downloaded of the woodland, and just followed my nose as it adapted to the ever-changing, delicious aroma of mossy stones, pine, wild Sorrel and dried wood, eventually spotting the azurian shades of sea peaking through the trees.
I could have hopped on another bus back to Gorey but the coastal footpath, which was heading in my chosen direction, was enticing me onto its pink granite walkways along the rocks and then back onto shaded, woodier tracks. I finally emerged at the Archirondel Tower, where that siren-like sea beckoned one more time. Delicious swims merit delicious lunches, and no better place than the Driftwood Cafe at the top of the beach, with a fresh crab salad to make my morning complete and, indeed, replete.
Hopping on a bus just a few stops back to Gorey, the next step of my bus journey was easy, with about three different buses heading from different directions to La Mare Wine Estate in St. Mary in the north And after sampling some of its products on the superb tour of the vineyards and distillery, I was very glad that I wasn’t driving. It’s always a treat to drink local wine when travelling, but with red, white, sparkling, cider and apple brandy on the menu here, I really didn’t want to leave. I was particularly struck by La Mare’s commitment to revive apple orchards on an island where, in the early 1800’s, over eight million litres of cider were produced. La Mare is planting new trees every year, just one of many initiatives contributing towards them being the island’s only Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold Award holders.
The most impressive green scheme to have happened on Jersey, however, started in 1987 with the designation of fifty miles of Green Lanes, a network of country roads where the speed limit is clearly restricted to 15mph and where walkers, cyclists and horse riders are given priority. Keen to explore the west, I had a hire bike delivered to my accommodation, the Best Western Royal Hotel in St.Helier which, also a Green Tourism Business Scheme member, was more than happy to organise for me.
Following the 3.5 mile esplanade cycle lane from St. Helier to St. Aubin, which runs parallel to sandy beach all the way. I then welcomed the shade of a disused railway line, now a four mile cycle and walkway connecting St. Aubin to Corbière, where I picked up the coastal cycling route which clings to the headland round as far as St. Ouan’s Bay. From small, granite bays with children rock pooling, to the massive expanses of kite surfing heaven, I got to see every nuance of this eclectic geological mix, all within an hour of coastal cycling.
St. Ouan’s is a hive of activity, but I locked my bike at the Water Splash Centre, and walked just a few minutes inland along a quiet path hidden between marram grasses and wild orchids just behind the dunes known as Les Mielles, where abundant butterflies and birds seemed to be enjoying this solitary, and consolatory spot.. Indeed, I even found a bird watching shelter from where I quickly spotted a pair of Marsh Harriers, elegantly gliding to and fro, as if to show the kite surfers how it should really be done. This area, a haven for Lapwings, Sand Martins and Oyster Catchers is managed with excellent conservation management schemes by The National Trust and, as I looked out on the grasslands, ponds, dunes, ancient potato fields, orchid fields, and seascapes, I thanked the ‘green gods’ that all this has just also been included in a region recently designated as Jersey’s first National Park. There is also a brand new wetland centre opening there February 2014.
Leaving the coast, I turned inland straight onto a Green Lane, clearly marked on my map and also by very visible signs on the lanes themselves. Within minutes I was cycling up lavender lined paths, past flower filled gardens and fecund fields, greeting other cyclists and walkers, all of us reveling in the fact that, for once, we had right of way over cars. I cycled for about twenty minutes to St. Peter’s Village, with the incentive of a reward at the Classic Herd Farm shop, famous for its own cheeses and yoghurts, beef and pork, so it must have its own ice cream, I thought. I was not to be disappointed, as I tucked into a creamy, vanilla well-earned treat, in the knowledge that it was one big, breezy downhill cycle back to the south coast, for my other long awaited treat of the day. One last swim in the bay at St. Aubin, where the tide was high and, after my quick green hit of this beautiful island, so was I.