Fantastic place, people and buses…

by BOB EVANS

Jersey Market

ABOUT 15 years ago my wife and I spent a couple of days in Jersey in early September.

We did not get far from our St Helier base on Liberation Square, but I remember the weather was lovely and shorts were de rigeur for long walks down the beautiful beach.

When we returned home we decided it would be nice to go back and do the island justice.

Well, it took a long time but we finally made it. Only this time it was early December and it rained — a lot, accompanied by gale force winds.

So how did we find our return visit — we loved it! Especially the people and the buses.

A little advance research can be very worthwhile and this winter break certainly proved the point.

It started when we got off the plane after our 55-minute flight from Robin Hood airport.

Our airline had recommended return transfers from the airport to our hotel in St Helier at a cost of £31 per person.

Taxis were priced at around £12 each way, but we chose to make use of the brilliant public transport system — the bus.

Buses run every 15 minutes, not just on the airport route, but all routes on the island.

And every journey costs a flat rate of £2, meaning that our transfers cost a total of £8.

They pick up immediately outside the arrivals area and drop off 10 yards from the departures area doors.

Jersey is not a big island so it took about 25 minutes each way — a few minutes longer than a taxi, but a few more minutes to take in the views.

The driver said he would tell us where to get off, but he didn’t have to — the passenger seated behind us had heard our conversation with the driver and passed on the required information well in advance. He also pointed out our hotel, about 200 yards from the bus stop.

Bags dropped off we embarked on a quick tour of the city centre and tried a couple of pubs on the pleasant Royal Square, namely the Cock and Bottle and the Pierson.

I can highly recommend the local brewery’s Liberation Best and Liberation Mary Ann, a stouty, dark mild-type ale.

We then stumbled (not literally) across the Jersey Museum. The young man in the reception area politely informed us that the museum would be closing at 4.30pm, just half an hour away.

He followed us around and pointed out various things of interest from the island’s historic past before telling us we had to see the Merchant’s House, which was located in the museum.

He was obviously well into his job as he told us he was not rushing off and gave us a guided tour of the Merchant’s House, pointing out exquisite pieces of furniture along the way.

The tour completed, he urged us to return to see a specially made film about the island, covering thousands of years.

We explained that we were on a tight schedule and that might not be possible, but he said that would not be a problem and showed us into a state of the art cinema room and provided a private showing.

We finally exited the museum a full hour after the normal closing time — all down to a courteous, helpful young man who took customer service to another level.

The following morning, after a good feed at the quirky Revere Hotel we took the five minute walk to the interchange with the intention of getting the bus to the formerly German-occupied war tunnels and underground hospital, which had been highly recommended.

A wasted journey was avoided when the lady on the information desk told us that the tunnels had closed the week before for a couple of months.

A hasty change of plan, then, so we decided to head for the Gerald Durrell-inspired Jersey Zoo, as much famous for its conservation work as the animals who live there — and there’s no shortage of them.

Surprise, surprise, there was a bus waiting and within five minutes we were on our way. The bus route terminates in the zoo car park and within 20 minutes we were at the reception desk.

On our tour of the zoo we had encounters with the gorillas and orang utans, including talks from the keepers and experts. There was also the chance to discover a multitude of rare frogs, toads, birds and other animals brought back to the zoo by Durrell and friends from all over the world in an effort to avert extinction.

For anyone genuinely interested in wildlife, this is a must see — and do — attraction.

After a hot chocolate to die for, it was back on the bus and a return to St Helier, where we had another pleasant surprise — we discovered the indoor market and its fantastic collection of shops, stalls and smells from the hot food outlets.

Speaking of food, eating out in Jersey is an absolute joy — making the choice of where to eat is the biggest problem — with culinary offerings ranging from corner cafés to Michelin star standard restaurants (one even has two).

Having returned to the hotel on Kensington Place at the end of each sight-seeing excursion, we did not have to go far to get fed — we ate at three restaurants within a stone’s throw from our base, an Indian, Italian and bistro and all were excellent.

On our last full day it was a trip along the south, then east coast to the beautiful little harbour town of Gorey, which sits in the shadow of the magnificent 12th century Mont Orgueil castle.

The castle is no longer inhabited but contains a myriad of secret staircases and passages which make it fascinating to explore. From the top you can make out the Normandy coast — Jersey is so much closer to France than England, explaining why it has changed hands so many times.

Queen Elizabeth I sent Sir Walter Raleigh to Jersey with the instruction to destroy the castle, but he refused, judging it was far too valuable.

What he did do was develop an 11th century monastry in the bay off St Helier into Castle Elizabeth, which became his base when he became Governor of the island.

Castle Elizabeth has become a major attraction in its own right with tourists taking the mile or so stroll across a walkway to get there.

On our way back from Gorey, almost in the centre of St Helier, the bus passed a brightly coloured (maroon) pub called the Lamplighter.

It looked very busy and obviously deserved a visit — which it got!

A sign in the entrance tells you that it has been awarded the accolade of Jersey pub of the year for four years in a row — and I’m not the least bit surprised.

The larger than life landlord sits at the corner of the bar beside a framed caricature of himself wearing a Welsh rugby shirt.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of tankards are suspended from the ceiling in a net, there’s a vast array of guest beers on the bar and another sign recommends any number of the 180 whiskeys on offer.

The place was humming, but we still got served within a couple of minutes and then managed to find a couple of seats at a half-occupied table.

As soon as we sat down the couple opposite were talking to us and showing genuine interest in our trip, even throwing in a few other suggestions of places to visit. Perhaps next time.

One of the regulars issued an expletive and was immediately fined 50p by the landlord for swearing in front of a lady — my wife (it wasn’t her turn anyway).

The regular immediately uttered a few more and threw in £2 to make it worthwhile.

It was all done in a humorous, non-offensive fashion.

So that was it then, just one more trip on the bus left — to the airport for the same price as a few swearwords!

At the airport we checked in immediately and were through security and at the bar all within four minutes of stepping off the bus. That’s efficiency for you.

We shall return.

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