Jersey, Channel Islands
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Jersey, Channel Islands
Jersey is the largest and southernmost of the Channel Islands, an archipelago which sits in the English Channel. Legally known as the Bailiwick of Jersey, the island is a self-governing dependency of the British Crown, not administered by the United Kingdom. The closest of the Channel Islands to France, Jersey is a fascinating blend of French and English culture on a beautiful and verdant island.
The history of the strange legal status of the Channel Isles begins in the Middle Ages, when Jersey and the other islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy, whose dukes went on to become the kings of England from 1066. After Normandy was lost by the kings of England in the 13th century, the title of Duke of Normandy was surrendered to France, but the Channel Islands remained attached to the English crown.
In the intervening years, Jersey and the other Channel Islands became home to privateers fleeing the law in Britain and France. Jersey also played an important role in the English Civil War, remaining loyal to the King. After the execution of his father, King Charles I, Charles II was crowned in 1649 in Saint Helier, the capital of Jersey.
Jersey’s loyalty to the monarchy would shape the history of the distant colonies in the New World. Charles had been granted the region between New England and Maryland in the United States, which he then gave to his brother, the Duke of York and the future James II. James then gave the colony to two friends who had remained loyal during the Civil War, Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley of Stratton. In honour of Jersey’s loyalty, the province was named New Jersey.
Jersey also gave its name to jersey, a close-fitted and machine knitted garment, mostly associated with football jerseys; and the jersey cow, bred on the island and renowned for its ultra-creamy milk. Though Jersey cows can now be found around the world, the best products are still found fresh on the island.
The Channel Islands were the only British territory to be occupied by the Nazis during World War II, from 1940 to 1945. The British Government decided not to defend the islands, leaving locals to either stay put or flee to the mainland. The Nazis used slave labour from Eastern Europe to build tunnels and fortresses around the islands. The moving story of Nazi occupation is today told at the Jersey War Tunnels, a museum located in a former German underground military hospital.
Despite the long years of rule by the British crown, Jersey never fully Anglicised, and Jèrriais – a dialect of Norman – remained the everyday language of most people until the 19th century. While English is the main spoken language today, around 3% of the island’s population speak Jèrriais today.
Contemporary Jersey fuses English and French culture. Place names with French and Norman origins abound, and the landscape – all overgrown country lanes and apple orchards – is reminiscent of Normandy. At the same time, the locals watch the BBC and ITV, drive on the left, and play cricket.
The beautiful scenery and mild weather (by the standards of the British Isles) have long made Jersey a centre of the tourist trade. A hotel in St Helier is an ideal departure point for trips around the island, which can easily be explored by car or by bike. For the best coastal scenery, head to the golden sands of Portelet Beach, framed on either side by rugged cliffs. To explore the island’s past, head to Mont Orgueil Castle, Elizabeth Castle, and the neolithic coin hoard and burial site at Hougue Bie. But make sure to leave plenty of time to enjoy the island’s fresh food and French cuisine at St Helier’s cafes and restaurants, and at the La Mare Wine Estate, Jersey’s only working vineyard.
Jersey is also a great launching point from which to explore the rest of the Channel Islands – Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, and Herm. Guernsey, Sark, and Herm can each be reached on a day trip by ferry from Jersey, as can the charming town of St. Malo on the French mainland.
Articles about the Channel Islands published by Odyssey Traveller:
- Channel Islands: Wildflowers, Potato Peel Pie and Rebels.
- Walking Tours for Active Travellers: Tips for Seniors
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.