By David Barnes

It was brilliant blue skies and sun and then it was warm, horizontal rain. The psychedelic seaweed sodden seawall looked iffy. I trod precisely and carefully down the concrete steps onto the squishy green mass then sprang nervously the couple of feet down onto the deserted beach.

I looked back up at the Nazi era concrete architecture of the sturdy gun emplacement which seemed as ready for action now as it had been almost 80 years ago.

Back then the structure would have been bristling with anti aircraft guns, boat busting canons and jammed with German soldiers. As far as the eye could see on this dreich day there were more concrete constructions in a line along the sweeping St Ouen beach.

Hours earlier we’d boarded a slick Condor ferry at Poole. The craft was so very different to the more familiar cross Channel type craft we’re more familiar.

For a start, the space on the single upper deck was almost entirely taken up with passenger seats of varying degrees of comfort - although there is a duty free a small kid’s area and a canteen. Secondly the vehicle parking arrangements are, to say the least, creative. And thirdly, it’s an all together more ‘immersive’ experience.


Well, once the ferry had pulled slowly out of port, past Harry Redknapp’s Sandbanks pad and Brownsea Island on the way out, the captain turns on the power and if you’re standing or even seated at the rear of the boat out in the open you can really, in Star Wars terms, feel the force and see the wake churned up by the powerful engines. This is a craft built for speed.

The crossing to first Guernsey and then Jersey was across smooth waters but once we really got going there were brief instances when, for example while perusing the duty free, when a sudden jolt forced one to grab whatever was at hand. I’m so sorry madam!

Seated in the pre-booked Ocean Plus Horizon Lounge with security-code entry, airline-style fold down tables and panoramic views, was pure comfort. Excellent space, leg room and comfy armchair-like seating, made for a very pleasant experience. Note to self for next time - those in the know had even brought pillows and blankets.

There were drinks and snacks at the bar in our cabin, some excellent local brews, and a typical English meal from the restaurant in another section of the craft.

The on board parking may have appeared higgledy piggledy but the stevedores really knew their stuff directing me to squeeze the MX5 into an impossible space. Other more larger vehicles were parked at some alarming angles taking up what space was left.

No matter, we were in and out very efficiently. And despite us being pulled aside for a customs and police security check both on leaving Poole and arriving in Jersey we were soon pootling around the challenging narrow roads and lanes in gorgeous Jersey.

Driving in Jersey is a real experience. Some road laws, for example filtering in order at crossroads and allowing people out at junctions, are novel and the actual roads are really quite narrow. There is a speed limit but frankly you’d be deranged to want to travel at any great speed. First because you’d soon come a cropper and secondly… why?

We’d been booked in to the four star Hotel De France & Ayush Wellness Spa, which is one of the largest on the island set in 11 acres of land. Opened in 1866 and shut less than 20 years later due to lack of custom, the palatial building became a Jesuit college for 60 years before being requisitioned by the Germans in 1940 as a training base for their NCOs. It returned once more to become a hotel in 1954 as the Hotel de France.

In our double room almost at the top of the 129 en-suite roomed hotel we could see the sea.

The hotel has a couple of really decent looking restaurants, Indian fusion Saffron’s and the Garden View and also a huge space where it would seem the entire hotel’s guests take breakfast simultaneously, the Orangery. Breakfast was a military-style operation carried out with consummate professionalism and efficiency by the small army of waiters and waitresses. The Wellness Spa, which seemed very popular with well-heeled locals, offers 17,000 sq ft of space along with indoor pool, terrace and a heady mix of treatments.

The first night we explored St Helier on foot. The centre is mainly pedestrianised and was curiously very quiet. There are some splendid shops. We ended up having a meal in Pizza Romana, a typical Italian restaurant in a building reputed to be the city’s oldest.

Next morning after our eat-as-much-as-you-like breakfast (I did) we set off amid sunshine and showers on a sometimes open-top tour of the island in true John Nettles’ Bergerac style.

Now, everyone knows about Jersey and its occupation during the entire length of the Second World War by the Germans. It’s really brought home when at almost every piece of accessible and inaccessible coast there is a towering or cowering concrete gun emplacement or communication tower. These imposing monsters are so well built that they look as though the Nazis were planning on staying for the duration which, indeed, was their intention. Thankfully Churchill and the Allies had different plans.

Out of the built up areas the roads are pretty much empty. There are some seriously expensive looking properties, well most of them actually, and some achingly beautiful ones positioned on cliff tops surrounded by the rugged coastline and fields which in the season would be filled with green fronds of Jersey’s ubiquitous, arguably most well known produce - Jersey Royal potatoes.

You tail tour vehicles with no chance, even if you wanted to, to pass the charabancs. One of them is a former London Bus.

We stopped to inspect the German remains, or stroll on a deserted beach, or scramble up a cliff, watch a bloke fishing for mackerel or just gaze out at the azure ocean.

You’re really spoiled for choice in terms of restaurants in Jersey. We dined at the Merchant House Brasserie in the centre of St Helier, on the second evening which is an altogether more fine dining-ish restaurant with price to boot.

For our lunch on the final day we ate al fresco and enjoyed the best food of the trip with a sumptuous sharing fresh-as-the-sea fish platter and superb real ale and all very reasonably priced at The Tenby overlooking the gorgeous harbour at St Aubin.

There is just so much to do in Jersey. Our hotel room was heaving with magazines and pamphlets advertising all manner of places to visit and activities to try.

But we were only on the island for a few days so we couldn't do it all.

One thing we made sure we fitted in was a trip to the Jersey War Tunnels. We were very glad that we did.

Constructed mainly by Eastern European slave labour, the 1km of tunnels has been converted into a museum charting the German occupation, collaboration and resistance. Its first hand approach spares no secrets or blushes for that matter.

It’s a chilling, wonderfully presented, thought-provoking exhibition detailing the grim years of Jersey’s occupation. Why did the people of the Channel Isles, British people, put up with the German occupation? Go along to the tunnels and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it was really like in Jersey and some frank answers to those many awkward questions.

A whistle stop tour of Jersey gives just a taste, a very good one but nevertheless you’re left wanting more, much more and we will most certainly be back very soon ‘in’ Jersey of that there is no doubt.

Condor Ferries operates a year-round service to the Channel Islands from Poole with its fast ferry Condor Liberation, alongside a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth. Prices start from £69pp each way with a car. To book, visit or call 0345 609 1024.