Monday 18th September 2017
Our first outing this morning was to one place but with two attractions,
The first of these was La Hougue Bie, a Neolithic passage grave or dolmen built about 6000 years ago. It is not as large as Newgrange in Ireland nor quite as sophisticated but that may be because it’s about a thousand years older. Both, however, predate the Pyramids.
The passage too is smaller and lower and accordingly, for some inexplicable reason, I was unable to stoop low enough to enter it. So you’ll have to do with pictures of the mound in which was built and of the entrance to the passage.
One significant difference from Newgrange, however, is that on top of the mound are two medieval chapels, one from the 12th Century and the other from the 16th Century.
As you will have noticed from the photo they appear to be a single structure, and it’s only clear that there are two distinct elements by visiting them.
Perhaps I should have read the accompanying sign first!
The second attraction was in the archaeology and geology museum on the site also managed by Jersey Heritage. This was the Grouville Hoard. It comprises an estimated 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins thought to belong to a Curiosolitae tribe fleeing Julius Caesar’s armies around 60 to 50 BC.
The hoard also includes some gold and silver jewellery and ornaments one of which, a torque, is shown below:
From there we were delivered to Mont Orgueil a large castle overlooking the harbour of Gorey about 8 kms east of the capital, St Helier.
It is also known as Gorey Castle by English-speakers – but whatever it is called, it is absolutely massive.
Before we started our climbs to the top of the fortress we were given an entertaining history of the Castle by one of the volunteer guides, Roger. Whether he had been an actor or not – or just a frustrated one – he enlivened his narration with very good characterisations of notables in the castle’s history from King John, Elizabeth I and Walter Raleigh amongst others. It was a wonderful “performance”.
In summary, the castle has, as Roger put it, cast its imposing shadow over the harbour for more than 800 years and is said to be one of the finest examples of a medieval fortress anywhere.
I have it on the very good authority of the only couple on the tour that made it to the very top that the climb involved over 220 steps. As a rank amateur, I managed only 180 of those which I must say was considerably more than I thought I’d be able to do. But I did get a goodly number of photos, some of which appear below.
By the time I reached ground level again, somewhat later than the other more youthful members of the group it was time for a late if well-earned lunch of a really thick cream of vegetable soup.
Our final visit for the day was to St Matthew’s church between St Helier and St Aubin. Tony had flagged it as a surprise and it was only when we made it inside the church that we could see why it might rate such attention. Certainly from the outside it was as plain a church as I’ve ever seen.
It was built in 1840as what is known as a “chapel of ease” but in 1934, Lady Tate (widow of Jesse Boots of Boots the Chemists) commissioned an extensive renovation of the church which just happened to be decorated by Rene Lalique.
As you’ll see from the photos, the work is quintessentially Lalique – but for me the decoration that I assume was meant to enhance it as a place of worship ended up more as a quite a cold and, as such, not particularly welcoming gallery of his work. I’m less sure that others in the group saw it quite as I did, but I know a couple who did.
But to that important foodie news. Dinner a vast improvement on last night and I enjoyed an entrée of Ballotine of Duck and Foie Gras, a main of Coq au Vin and a Trio of rich Jersey Ice Cream with fresh strawberry coulis for dessert. Yum time again.
Tuesday 19th September
Our last day in Jersey before leaving Britain for France on this evening’s ferry. And Tony means for us to make the most of it.
Packed and away by 9:30 am we were off on another of our coastal route circumnavigation.
Our first disembark and viewing leg-stretch was at what Tony told us was one of the most photographed buildings in Jersey, the lighthouse at La Corbiere – meaning “gathering place of the crows” on the south west coast of Jersey. Completed in 1873, the lighthouse was the first in the British Isles to be made of concrete rather than the traditional stone.
Try as I might I was unable to screen out the rather ugly lean-to type appendage at the base of the lighthouse and leading me to doubt whether it will continue to hold its most-photographed title.
Our next stop – for a comfort and coffee break was in a very up-market shop selling pearls – and as you might expect it was called “Jersey Pearl”. Despite my wicked suspicions as to why we called there, we only had time for a coffee and a quick sortie across the road to view some more German bunkers and pillboxes behind the sea-wall.
Our return from our round-the-island tour was our first visit to the centre of the city of St Helier and our first sight of the statue in Liberation Square. The sculpture depicts the moment when the status of the Island changed from occupation to liberation. As a matter of interest to me, the sculptor was Philip Jackson whose work we had admired in an exhibition in Wells in England some years ago.
The rest of the day was ours to have lunch and visit what appealed to us of a number of options, some of which were included in the Jersey Heritage Card that Tony had bought for us. My choices were the Maritime Museum and, next door to it and covered by the same Jersey Heritage card, what is known as the Tapestry Collection.
The Maritime Museum was a real surprise. Although I expected lots of paintings and ship models I hadn’t expected how interactive a Museum of this nature could be made. There were exhibits where you could simulate the effect of wind on the sea, where you could build the hull of a model ship putting together the jig-saw of wooden components, demonstrate your skill in sailing – be it tacking or wearing or whatever- with a directional fan and a model yacht and on it goes. It was excellent and if it made even me sit on a stool to have a go, it must have been engaging.
The Tapestry Collection sounded like an exhibition of locally woven tapestries demonstrating the skills of the needle-workers. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It is, in fact, a collection of tapestries woven by Islanders to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation from German occupation. There are twelve richly coloured panels depicting the life and hardship under military rule and were created from the memories and stories of islanders who had experienced it,
As a follow up to what we had heard and seen in Guernsey, it provided a graphic summary of those times – and, as such, I found it a telling example of people trying to exorcise their unwanted memories by, in their way, “talking about them”.
All this was followed by a smooth and very relaxed ferry ride to St Malo and, as a result of an unexpected change in our hotel for the three nights we are here, a much longer than usual delivery trip. Because our ferry didn’t arrive in St Malo until 9:00 pm and half an hour later at the hotel, most of settled for a quick drink – and bed.
Wednesday 20th September 2017
We started our day with a wonderful walk around the top of the city walls with views both out to sea and inward to the myriad of tiny streets – many cobbled – and the Cafes, Creperies, Boulangeries, Pizzerias, and more. The views were wonderful and once we got up on the wall not too taxing.
Tony then lead us through the Main Street most of which is traffic free. All the big names seem to be represented including a branch of France’s main supermarket chain Carrefour – and, no, I didn’t make a surprise supervisory visit. Tony told us that at the height of the season, the streets are shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists but fortunately for us the walk was an easy and “unbumped” one. Overall, St Malo has a lovely relaxed feel and I would gladly revisit it.
We then went our separate ways to shop or visit whatever appealed to us – and in that respect, I have never been on a tour with people who really have no interest in shopping at all other than essentials.
My first call was to St Malo’s Cathedral, La cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Saragosse de Saint-Malo. You can see that I’m getting the hang of the language, now.The cathedral was built in the mid 1100s and is in a mix of Roman and Gothic styles. It also listed as a “Historic Monument”.
The city of St Malo suffered much bombing and artillery fire by both Germans and Americans during fighting in early August 1944, and the Cathedral suffered significant damage.
On my leisurely walk through the Cathedral, three features that attracted my attention if not admiration were:
1. The Great Rose window which in 1968 replaced the great rose window destroyed in 1693 during an attack on the cathedral by the English. And here was I thinking that it was a victim of World War II
2. The modern bronze high altar supported at each corner by the four Evangelists appearing in animal form. The high altar furnishings include desks, an armchair and two stools, an elaborately carved stoup and a candlestick.
3. The tomb of the explorer Jacques Cartier who was born in St Malo in 1491 and died there in 1557. And, “as every schoolboy knows”, it was Cartier who claimed what is now known as Canada for France.
It had been my plan to visit the Museum, purported to be a very good one, but by the time I had finished with the Cathedral – or vice versa – the Museum was closed and would not re-open until 2:00 pm.
There was nothing for it then but to go mussel hunting. After all it would probably have been unthinkable not to indulge when you’re in the heart of “Fruits de Mer” country. Anyway that’s what I did at Le Cafe de Saint Malo, one of Tony’s recommendations. While the moules were tiny compared to the green-lipped variety of a country I’m familiar with, the café made up for this with a serving of what seemed to be a hundred of these tiny but toothsome critters. Did I enjoy them and the accompanying crusty bread? You bet!
After such indulgence I traded a Museum visit for the half hour walk back to the hotel and some creative (?) writing.
Foodie News. I ate in-house tonight on, Entrée: Huitres Creuses de Cancale, oysters of course – huge shells, but small, slender and relatively bland; Main: Filet d’agneau au thym, Lamb fillet with herbs and Chariot des fromages affine de France, a selection of French cheeses. All nice enough but not worthy of “Hatting”, for lack of a better term.