Travel: Jersey blossoms for holidaymakers

Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. Picture: Complimentary
Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. Picture: Complimentary
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WITH extreme care, I placed and pressed a glued burgundy chrysanthemum head on to a float, for the Parish of Trinity, Jersey.

Daniela and Alison watched to make sure I was doing it correctly. A lot hung on my flower.

It was the day before the Battle of Flowers, an annual event when islanders compete for the ultimate prize, the Prix d’Honneur. It’s a huge community event where young and old get involved for most of the year. The name originates from the tradition of tearing flowers off floats and throwing them to spectators, who then throw them back.

The heady smell of glue decanted was overpowering as volunteers from a team of about 120 worked in the ‘battle shed’. ‘Flowering’ had been going on for five days, with the team planning the float since last October.

Our design was a circus-themed float, complete with big top and 12ft prancing horse and elephant, both fashioned from pampas grass and hair gel. It took some 100,000 chrysanthemum heads from Holland, hares tails from Italy, and £25,000 to create, all funded by a grant, pantos, a summer fair, bingo, scavenger hunts and quizzes.

Leaving the battle entrants to their sandwiches and celebratory glass of champagne, we enjoyed a peaceful evening at Hotel Cristina, with its terrace and agapanthus-filled gardens. From our bedroom balcony, as we awaited sunset, we looked over the outdoor swimming pool to stunning St Aubin’s Bay, dominated by the floodlit Elizabeth Castle.

Next day, John McColl, Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, shouts out, “Let battle commence,” and in 26-degree heat, more than 20,000 watch the Grand Day Parade. The Band of the Island of Jersey play Hava Nagila, clowns fire blue, silver and gold confetti as the crowd cheers and claps the procession of floats, with names like the Muppet Show, Gnomeville and Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. Cheerleaders, gnomes, stilt-walkers and Auto-Matik the robot, whip up the crowd as Miss Battle and Mr Battle (Emmerdale’s Matthew Wolfenden) float by.

But Jersey’s not just about flowers, tomatoes, potatoes or delectable brown and white cows with doleful eyes and flirty lashes, brought by the French in 1760. This largest and most southerly Channel Island, measuring only nine by five miles, is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has the best sunshine record in the British isles.

This means plenty of sunny days to visit our top attractions, including St Ouen’s Bay, Elizabeth Castle, Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey War Tunnels, Corbière Lighthouse and museums.

And Jersey’s not just for oldies. Children love it too, as the youngsters on our ‘moonwalk’ prove. At La Rocque on the Royal Bay of Grouville, the site of the French landing that led to the Battle of Jersey in 1781, we meet Trudie, our Jersey Walk Adventures guide for a unique, four-hour adventure.

We are to walk on part of the Ramsar-designated wetland of rocks, sand and shingle. It is a mile on the exposed seabed to the 18th-century Seymour Tower, which was built as a defence against French attacks.

On our way, we collect treasures such as the scallop shells Trudie hands to wide-eyed Benjamin, Ella and Millie, and, as we squelch on seaweed and wade in gullies and pools, we stoop to admire minute crabs collected by the children, or a choice yellow periwinkle.

“We’re walking on a sea jungle. This was the tidal way to France,” Trudie says, as she points out the Normandy coast. As we approach a potentially treacherous area, she adds, “It’s like a big labyrinth in there. You have a moment of panic when you don’t know where to go.”

And for those unlucky enough to be stranded when the sea rushes in, there’s a welcome refuge on the platform of a 30ft-high rescue tower. Jersey has strong currents and its tides of up to 40ft are the third-highest in the world.

We see a green-wellied man carrying a bucket of cockles and Trudie points out an oyster jammed against a rock – millions of oysters are harvested annually. Take an oyster anywhere in the world and it’ll open and close to the rhythms of the Jersey moon, only forgetting after three months.

The children climb inside a barnacle-covered arch to investigate and press damp orange sponges. “It has wee’d on me,” one of them gleefully calls. Trudie breaks fragments off one of Jersey’s 240 varieties of seaweed (only one is inedible) and offers it up for us to savour its pepperiness.

Benjamin pops a bladderwrack bubble and the girls gaze at hermaphrodite American slipper limpets. We wade through a pool inhabited by guppies and worms and tramp past a moonscape of rock formations, before crawling up stone steps to Seymour Tower’s parapet to marvel at the lunar landscape.

Just a 20-minute walk along the promenade is St Aubin, with houses named after ships. Traders took Jersey salted cod to places where Catholics wanted fish for Fridays, and brought back sugar, coffee, mahogany, leather and metal. Great prosperity was brought to the area, and dwellings here are known as ‘cod houses’. At the Salty Dog Bar and Bistro by the 18th-century harbour, we tuck into a feast of black bream and sea bass. Delicious coconut sorbet completes a perfect meal.

To round off our seven-night holiday with more sense sensations, we stop off at Jersey Lavender Farm, a convenient 15-minute drive from the airport. Jersey heat, combined with the heady fumes of distilled lavender makes us feel like we are floating home, filling the plane with scent.

• Flybe (www.flybe.com) fies from Scotland to Jersey from £91.88 return

• A week’s car hire costs from £180 with Hertz (www.hertz.co.uk).

• Double rooms cost from £64 a night at Hotel Cristina, St Aubin, Jersey (www.dolanhotels.com/Hotel-Cristina)

• Jersey Walk Adventures (01534 853138, www.jerseywalkadventures.co.uk)

• The Salty Dog Bar and Bistro, St Aubin’s Road, St Brelade (www.saltydogbistro.com)

• Elizabeth Castle and Mont Orgueil Castle (www.jerseyheritage.org)

• A Jersey Pass, with discounts on top attractions, cost from £39 for two days (www.jersey.com)

• This year’s Battle of the Flowers (www.battleofflowers.com) is on 8 August

• Jersey tourist information (www.jersey.com)