Monday, September 30, 2013


There are two places in the world where the tides do this:

Port Gorey, Jersey

One is along the Bay of Fundy and the other is in the Channel Islands.

The Channel Islands also hold the distinction of being the only part of the UK occupied by German forces during WWII. It's shocking to think that Jersey was essentially a large prison for its residents 70 years ago. Today it is all rolling green fields, wild cliffs, friendly towns, and lighthouses. Bunkers and machine guns have no business in such a place, but there they are, still standing today, dotting the landscape like angry scars on a face.

Note the bunker at top left.

It is especially shocking to find German detritus in places like Elizabeth Castle. Parts of the castle date back to the 16th century. Smack on top of it now is a big concrete monolith that was supposed to be a watchtower for the occupying troops. Machine guns still point out of some of the loopholes. How heartbreaking it must have been for the people of Jersey to see their island defiled with so little regard for its history.

The German watchtower is the round concrete thing with the white pole.

The Maritime Museum in St. Helier's has a big twelve-part tapestry on display, painstakingly stitched by the survivors of the Occupation and their descendants. It tells the story of life on the island during the Occupation. In one frame, there's a group of kids sitting in a classroom, all bundled up in their winter clothes because they had no way of heating the school. In another, there's a grocery man standing beside his delivery van - horse-drawn, because there was no petrol for the engine. There's a black-market tea sale, families getting their Red Cross boxes that saved many from starvation, and a mother sitting at the dinner table, listening to the wireless she's not supposed to have as her son watches for soldiers at the window.

I walked along Jersey's northern shore, almost from end to end, during the course of two afternoons. The first trek started at L'Etacq, in the northwestern corner of the island. It was a relatively short bus ride there from St. Helier, but when I stepped off the bus, I felt like I was somehow back in the northernmost reaches of the Scottish Highlands. No furry cows; just heather, a seafood cafe that looked to be entirely empty, waves crashing against some brilliant cliffs, and gale-force winds. The sun came and went all afternoon. The wind stuck around. At one point, there was torrential rain coming down parallel to the ground and I had to take cover in a German bunker.

Not that bunker. But you can see the rains approaching across the water. A couple minutes after I took this picture I had to start running, cause that storm was chasing me down. The second afternoon, I started at Bouley Bay and headed east. I was shivering with a fever, but what kind of person would I be if I let that stop me? It was a bit drizzly, but I had appropriate footwear.

Jersey is a place that requires quite a bit of time to properly experience. There is a lot of history to sit and ponder. I haven't even mentioned La Hougue Bie, the multilayer history cake (German bunker + 16th century chapel + Neolithic passage grave, all in one big pile). There are several fantastically desolate lighthouses to investigate, two brilliant castles, and all shapes and angles of cliffs. And the real kicker is that you have to see everything three times: once at low tide, once at high tide, and once at mid-tide.

It's a big undertaking, a visit to Jersey. When you go, and notice I say 'when', not 'if', I have three recommendations: 1) don't forget your gumboots, 2) watch out for ghosts, and 3) remember to spend all your cash before you leave, because as pretty as it may be, Jersey's special money doesn't go down well in the rest of England.

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