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A ringside seat for Jersey’s battle royal - Patrick Barkham

Blog | By Patrick Barkham | Apr 02, 2024

Walk inland from Rozel Harbour, taking the first right up the hill. After half a mile, follow the ‘Footpath’ sign, right to White Rock. The coast path is a clear trail to Bouley Bay. You can return along the path or the (smoother) small roads. This walk is allegedly four miles long, but feels much further. At least the ‘Hungry Man’ and ‘Mad Mary’s’ cafés will refresh you at each end!

Patrick Barkham imagined a walk along the north coast of Jersey would deliver the ghosts and ruins of distant wars with France. He did not expect to encounter real, 21st-century Royal Navy ships dispatched against restive French sailors

Current affairs have resembled an overblown satirical novel for a while now. The latest chapter, in which navy patrols were dispatched to ensure French fishermen did not block Channel Island ports, was one of the more improbable recent plot twists.

This turbulence did not quite reach the little footpath that wiggles around the north-eastern edge of Jersey, but the island was abuzz with the dispute. Locals took their children to various rocky promontories to scan the horizon for the Navy boats.

France looms large from most points on Jersey, not least Rozel Bay, where I began this walk.

The skies were mostly blue. The dazzling water was streaked with turquoise. Past the turtle-like rocks of the Écréhous, the beaches of Normandy shone gold. The grand scale of mainland France –with its big farm buildings and towering wind turbines – looked closer than 14 miles.

Here on Jersey, everything was diminutive and tightly packed: houses, fields, hedges, May blossom, bluebells and white campion. The island is Normandy with a twist of Cornwall – or Cornwall with a twist of Normandy – but, more than that, it is countryside and coast in concentrate.

No wonder many islanders are reluctant to drive ten miles across their homeland for an evening out; such an expedition has the intensity of a 50-mile journey.

This walk from the Hungry Man to Mad Mary’s is marked on maps and signs as being two miles each way, but it feels more like six. In a good way.

I took the twisty lane north out of Rozel Bay, past an old-style bungalow with an immaculate, floral rockery dotted with signs – ‘Wife and dog missing. Reward for dog’.

The coast path began at White Rock, a distinctive splodge of pale rock on Jersey’s mostly mauve-hued geology – as if spilt on by a careless painter. This superlative coastal trail combines the best of the coast path in both south and north Cornwall: valleys of verdant oak woodland and vertiginous sections of open heather moorland, tipping into black rocks and ocean froth.

At first, the path scurried into little tunnels of green and gorse. Overhead, accidentally-sown apple trees were turned into limbo dancers by the prevailing wind. Above us, tatty-winged crows, buzzards and kestrels surfed the breeze with equal extravagance.

Everything seemed to be flowering simultaneously: not only broom, sea pinks and Alexanders but oaks, elms and unusually beautiful sycamores, their green flowers sheathed in pink.

We passed the ruins of L’Etacquerel Fort, built in 1835 to guard the eastern side of Bouley Bay. It once boasted four 32-pound cannons. Perhaps the Prime Minister will be kitting it out again.

Bouley Bay was dominated by a huge hotel from Jersey’s holidaymaking heyday, which continued into the 1980s, when Alan Whicker sipped G&Ts here and the Bergerac boom was in full effect.

Unfortunately, the hotel has long been derelict (there are plans to redevlop it) – a shame when the island is likely to enjoy a tourism boom this year as visitors (like my family and me) are attracted to its sunny vision of France without the COVID paperwork.

Fortunately, Mad Mary’s was open for tea, cake, ice cream and excellent conversation with Mary about the state of the island, from Bergerac to today. It seemed that French fishermen were the least of islanders’ troubles when they have to endure the ignominies of their latest depiction on television, ITV’s The Real Housewives of Jersey.