July 16th, 2009 at 11:07 pm (Travel)
We flew from Newcastle to Jersey on Flybe. I had been very nervous about the weight restrictions – because of my Qantas Club membership, I had come to the UK with 30 kgs of checked baggage, but Flybe only allows 20kgs, and charges a lot for excess baggage. Before I made the booking, I had been advised by email that I would be allowed to register my fencing bag as “special sporting equipment”, which would make it exempt from the weight restrictions, but when I attempted to do so, I was told that the person who had first emailed me had made a mistake. They refused to change their position on this, so after much to-ing and fro-ing I just registered a second bag, and hoped for the best. But when we checked in, she didn’t even blink at the weight (although Michael was told that his cabin bag was too large, and would have to be checked). So all that stress for nothing!
We had decided not to stay at the “official” hotel for the Veteran Fencing Championships, as it seemed rather expensive, especially for staying more than the 3 days of the event. But Jenny had found a place in the village of Gorey – the Maison Gorey – where a few of us from the Australian team decided to stay. It was outside the main town of St Helier, but in terms of getting in for the competition it was only about a 15 minute drive.
And the accommodation came with free car hire – the car was a Ford Ka, so we weren’t entirely sure we would be able to fit everything in it (fencing bag, suitcase, large backpack, and two wheelie cabin bags) but amazingly, when we put the back seat down, it all went in. (See photo – and note the colour of the car. It doesn’t show all that clearly, but it was a pinkish burgandy shade, described as “blush”.)
After we had taken our bags up to our room, we walked down to Gorey Harbour. The tide was out, and I was amazed at just how FAR out it was. This was to strike me time and again during our time on Jersey – someone told me that Jersey has the second lowest tides of anywhere in the world, and I can well believe it. The below photos show Gorey Harbour (with Orgueil Castle in the background) first with the tide out and then with the tide in. And the tide-out photo doesn’t really give a good impression of just how far out it went.
We had some drama in the hotel room that night. Jenny had arrived a few hours after us, and we had agreed to watch Torchwood together in our room. Just before she got there, the shower suddenly started to leak water. A bit later, it did it again, and on closer inspection we realised that it wasn’t the shower but the bathroom ceiling that was leaking! And we then found that there were no staff in the hotel! (It was a small, family run concern, with not that many staff – though it did prove to be quite unusual for there to be nobody there at all.) After looking everywhere – and even phoning – without success, Jenny had the bright idea of going to the house next door and asking if they had a contact number for the people … which, fortunately, they did. The owner turned up in about 10 minutes, and we were moved into another room. It appeared that there had been a burst pipe. (Sadly, shuffling bags around meant that we missed the start of Torchwood.)
There was further excitement the next morning, when, just as I was about to step out of the shower, the light fitting came crashing to the floor, right where I would have been standing a few seconds later. Fortunately nothing else went wrong for the remainder of our stay. And it actually was a very nice place to stay – the people were lovely, and it had much more character than a big hotel.
The plan was to spend the day seeing the two main castle – Elizabeth (on a tidal island off St Helier) and Orgueil (in Gorey). We went to Elizabeth Castle first, which can be accessed by ferry, or, when the tide is out, by foot. However, we were told that because it was rough and windy the ferry wouldn’t be going until 11:00 (the tide would be out enough by 11:30 or so). So we grabbed something to eat and dropped in at the nearby Radisson, to leave a message for Meredith, another Australian fencer, who was staying there. But when we got back, the 11:00 ferry was already fully booked, and it would be half an hour for the next one. So we decided to change things around and see Orgueil Castle first.
Orgueil was a medieval castle, with additions and expansions up to the 17th Century. There were so many rooms and passages that I’m not sure we actually saw everything, but we had a great time exploring it. It was relatively busy, but (with a bit of patience) we were still able to get photos without other people in them.
We then went back to Elizabeth Castle … only to be told that the ongoing wind meant that they were closing up early.
As an alternative, we went to La Hougue Bie, a 12th Century chapel, built on top of a Neolithic mound, which was itself built over a dolmen. Unlike Maes Howe in Orkney (and Newgrange in Ireland) we didn’t have to go in as a group with a guide – we could just explore on our own. The layout was not actually dissimilar to Maes Howe – a long, low entrance opening out into a chamber with three chambers off it. Though this was smaller and distinctly more damp. The entrance seemed lower and longer than Maes Howe, though this could partly be because we didn’t have someone to tell us when we could stand up, so not only did I have to shuffle through hunched over, but I also had to run my hand along the (damp) ceiling to see when it would be possible to stand up. Much more exciting! Particularly for Jenny, who thought she had reached the end of the passage, stood up, and then found (the hard way) that there was one more bit of ceiling jutting down.
The building on the top of the mound was actually two separate chapels – one built in the 12th Century (Chapel of Notre Dame de la Clarte) and then an oratory (Jerusalem Chapel) added to the existing chapel in about 1520. Both chapels were fairly plain whitewashed rooms: the Notre Dame had a simple piscina (the ancient altar stone had been removed in 1931 when the chapel was rededicated), and the (unfurnished) Jerusalem still had the very faint remains of the early 16th Century wall paintings.
We noticed on the map that we would be passing close by another dolmen, La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, on the way back to the hotel, so we diverted to have a look at it. Unfortunately, it was clearly on the map for hikers and cyclists, as there was no parking, and the road was far too narrow to stop. But we drove down a bit further, to an intersection, and then Michael stayed with the car, while Jenny and I ran back to have a look. It was a passage grave, with a double chamber (apparently quite unusual).
The next morning we met up with Meredith, again planning to go to Elizabeth Castle … and again being told it was opening late becasue of the winds. So Meredith, Michael and I went to the Jersey War Tunnels, while Jenny went into town. The War Tunnels are a museum about the German occupation of Jersey during World War II, set up in an underground German Military Hospital. The museum took us through the start of the war (matching world events with events on Jersey) through the optional evacuation, the occupation and then the emancipation. It was a very well put together museum, with a well planned mix of artefacts, archival video and sound effects, and more recent video interviews with people who lived through it. The focus was mainly on day-to-day life, and it was absolutely fascinating.
We then met up again, and this time actually made it to the Castle! We decided to walk along the causeway, which was fully exposed by the tide. I had forgotten my camera and had to run back for it – while the others were waiting for me, they met up with Jane, another member of the Australian team. So we all went around the castle together. This was a much later castle than Orguiel, but the really interesting thing about it was that the Germans had used it as part of their defence network during the occupation, so we kept coming across German bunkers and fortifications surrounded by 17th century stonework. Extending out beyond the castle was another causeway, so flat and wide we thought it had been put in by the Germans, but it turned out to be Victorian. This let to a small hermitage, which I think pre-dated the castle (there was also German blockhouse). The photos below show the tidal causeway to the castle (tide way out), the castle itself and the hermitage and blockhouse.
We finished the day by driving back to the hotel along the coastal road. This was our last full day of sightseeing, as the next day marked the start of the Commonwealth Veteran Fencing Championships (the actual reason we were on Jersey). However, we did manage to get in to the Jersey Museum the next morning, before weapons check.
I won’t go into details about the Championships, except to say that with 105 competitors it was the largest Veteran Championships since the event began in the 1990s, and it was very well run and enjoyable. The Australian team consisted of 6 women and 3 men. I fenced in the individual and team foil (12th in individual and the team got silver), the “B” epee team (we had fun, while the “A” team was winning gold) and the individual and team sabre. I placed 5th in the individual (would probably have made the top 4 if the Championships had been a week earlier, as the winner only turned 40 a few days before the event), and we got the bronze medal in the teams. A good time was had by all!