By: Euan Stretch, The Daily Mirror on 26/06/2013
Wrapped up in Jersey
Wrapped up in Jersey
It was with a sense of some trepidation that the Stretch family arrived on the shores of Jersey for an early spring break. For the little island farmed for its woolly jumpers and a small breed of dairy cow had just suffered its coldest winter since records began in 1894.
Hopes of building sand castles on its famous golden beaches and licking melting ice creams in the shade were dashed by a stubborn easterly wind which chilled the bones.
To be fair, in true Scout fashion, we came prepared with snugly anoraks and furry tappers’ hats to explore the 47 square miles of the largest of the Channel Islands. And we soon found plenty to occupy our two little energetic boys – Rory, seven, and Connor, who is five.
Firstly, there were two smashing castles to explore. We enjoyed a thrilling 30 minute walk along a narrow causeway to the tide-bound Elizabeth Castle in St Aubin’s Bay off the island’s capital St Helier.
The boys had a great time exploring the castle ramparts, tiptoeing through the gloomy concrete bunkers built by the Germans during the Second World War occupation and seeing Dad help fire cannon for real.
There was the equally imposing Mont Orguell castle which for 600 years has overlooked the pretty little harbour of Gorey, which is just a short drive from St Helier. We spent hours exploring spooky staircases and wandering through a maze of rooms with fascinating exhibits such as the Wheel of Urine – a replica medieval medical device which supposedly diagnosed your illness by the colour of your wee.
And on a cold day, where better to spend time than 100ft underground in one of the maze of tunnels constructed by the Germans using forced labour. The Jersey War Tunnels museum (www.jerseywartunnels.com, adult £11.20/child £7.20) ticked all the right boxes for our two youngsters with its display of guns and munitions.
They were also fascinated by an exhibition telling the real-life stories of escapees, collaborators and Nazi persecutors and featuring their black and white photos from their identity cards.
Indeed it is very difficult to escape reminders of the island’s four years under the Swastika.
Every bay and headland featured the overgrown and crumbled remnants of a machine gun post or gun emplacement built to repel an Allied invasion. Most impressive of all were the command bunker, gun posts and ammunition stores still intact at Noirmont Point, St Brelade.
But what about the weather? Well, despite the chilly wind the sun did shine for most of our five day break. We enjoyed a lunch in a cafe overlooking the stunning and endless sands of St Ouen’s Bay on the Island’s west coast and watched surfers tumble out of 5ft waves. There is also one attraction that stands out as a must-see for all visitors to Jersey. The 30-acre Durrell Wildlife Park (www.durrell.org/wildlife-park, adult£13.50/child £10) was set up by the late, pioneering conservationist Gerald Durrell. We arrived just in time to see baby Janto, born to the parks family of rare Sumatran orangutans just a few days earlier, and the boys got to handle a corn snake and learn all about reptiles.
During our stay we took advantage of a special tourist ticket deal called a Jersey Pass (www.jerseypass.com) to visit all the attractions we fancied. The pass is for adults and gives them free entry to the island’s top 17 tourist spots for the period of the pass. A four day pass costs £55 per person which works out to about £14 a day while children pay the normal entry rate for the individual attraction.
Each night we returned to the three-star Merton hotel in St Helier where we had taken a family room comprising of one double room for myself and my wife Karen and a separate room with two bunk beds for the kids. Set five minutes’ drive from the centre of St Helier, the Merton is large but inviting, with a vibe that immediately made us feel comfortable and at home. With unfailing friendly, efficient staff, and lots of space to sit, draw or read with the boys, there was no need to just stay put in our room.
As well as themed nights, such as ballroom dancing, and a wrestling evening, the venue put on entertaining nightly children’s shows, featuring the Kids Zone staff and lots of audience participation.
Rory’s dancing and musical chairs prowess even won him a strange green mocktail complete with umbrella, which he was very proud to share with his younger brother. Even the bar and lounge seating area had a nightly musician, adding that extra touch to post meal drinks.
And over the road in the hotel’s Aquadome, we had a fabulous time splashing around in the indoor and outdoor pools, swimming around the current of the lazy river, watching older children testing out their moves on the Flowrider surfer’s wave machine or just relaxing and taking it easy in the steam room and sauna.
Such a packed itinerary, combined with lungfuls of Jersey fresh air, ensured our two went off to bed without the slightest protest each night. When we left the island on Condor Ferries’ giant catamaran Vitesse for the four-hour crossing from St Helier to Poole, Dorset, it was with many warm memories and a genuine desire to return one day.
It was amazing how much such a small island can offer-even when the weather is not behaving itself.