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Taking a walk with Patrick Barkham - Jersey

Blog | By Patrick Barkham | Jul 04, 2023


My walk around east Jersey was governed by sparrow time.

On a gloriously fresh, early summer morning, the whole island seemed to run on it. Time was stilled by the desultory, monosyllabic chirp of plump brown birds in the shrubbery.

‘Time?’ they seemed to say. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Calm.’ ‘Down.’

I set out from Gorey Pier, an achingly pretty row of old stone houses built mostly during the 19th-century oyster boom when 250 boats brought back 12,000 oysters on every trip, soon exhausting the wealth in the shallow turquoise seas just off the coast.

Above them loomed the hulking medieval castle of Mont Orgueil, once the seat of power in Jersey, built on the closest outcrop to France.

Small boats slumped in the low-tide harbour, beyond which was Gorey Bay, a great sweep of pale sand. The light was bright, the air superbly fresh, and a brisk wind gave the sycamores beside the castle the gift of sound.

It was just before 7am, and it had been a struggle to leave my bed – but how could I regret getting out to enjoy an early summer’s morning? How lucky to be alive on a day like this!

I climbed the path to the castle and gazed east, where France looked unexpectedly close, barely ten miles across the sea. Then I turned up a little lane, its banks filled with hogweed throwing its flying- saucer-like flowers to the heavens.

The wind wafted the scent of May blossom from the fields, and after a moderate incline I was in a maze of intimate lanes that could’ve been miles from the coast. The pink granite walls of fine old farmhouses were sprouting bright pink valerian and pinkish Mexican fleabane, which resembles daisies and loves Jersey’s wealth of old stone.

I turned into one of the island’s designated green lanes, where traffic must slow to 15mph (anything over 30mph feels wrong here), and it

delivered a tunnel of oaks still leafed in their brilliant green of early summer. The shaded banks were filled with the creamy, bell-like flowers of three-cornered leek. The summer breeze continued to worry the treetops, but in the lane all was still.

After a short time traversing the high ground, where tiny fields carried neat furrows of Jersey Royals, the lane wiggled down one of the little valleys that run from the high north to the low south across the island. The first easyJet of the morning moaned gently as it climbed into the blue. In the valley bottom, I found an even deeper peace, broken only by blackcaps and blackbirds and an astonishingly loud melody from a song thrush high in a poplar.

Then the winding-lane walk turned into a lakeside stroll, and I chose a path along the sunny west bank of a little reservoir, on which two goldeneye swam. A strong smell of cow drifted into the woods beside the water.

I crossed the bridge over the middle of the reservoir and joined a new network of tiny lanes, enjoying glimpses of the castle. A miniature holloway plunged down the hill, into the green gloom of a ferny gully, and then I was catapulted

back into the little town of Gorey, where the air was scented with jasmine from immaculate gardens.

I’ve taken a couple of walks in Jersey before and the intimacy of its landscapes – the sheer density of tiny fields as well as the intermingling of both England and France and present and past – is bewitching. In an hour, I’d encountered a fishing port, a castle, a Cornish-style coastline and a deep green lane walk; woods, a lakeside stroll and finally, back in Gorey, a Victorian seaside promenade reminiscent of genteel southern England, as well as an English pub and French restaurants for refreshment at the walk’s end. Nowhere but a small island can deliver such variety in a short stroll.

Phew. And the sparrows continued to chirp, reminding me to slow down.

Take the path up the hill to the castle. Turn onto the lane beside Jersey Crab Shack heading north-west. Cross two larger roads onto La Chasse Mallet, then two lefts onto Rue de la Chouquetterie down to Queen’s Valley Reservoir. Take the bridge over its middle, follow the lanes east back to Gorey. Three miles/ two hours