Monday, May 26, 2008

Jersey on foot

Well, I’ve been out and about in and around Jersey these last few days, and just as well, for it now looks as if the weather may turn nasty.

I’ve even been to the theatre. On Thursday night the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society was giving The Sorcerer at the Opera House and, since it must be 35 years since I saw that piece, I decided to give it a go. And I’m glad I did. I enjoyed the show (its always been one of my preferred G&Ses), and the performances were mostly very respectable. As so often in amateur productions there was one singer who easily outshone all the rest but, surprisingly, in this case it was the tenor. A splendid voice, with no break, ringing out and easily filling the auditorium. He also had the burlesque style of the piece down to a ‘T’, looked nicely almost stout and young in his red uniform, and in the days of the Carte company I suspect he would have been swiftly exported to London. Not all was up to his level. The direction was – as so very often chez les amateurs -- fairly awful, and for some reason some of the cast were dressed up semi-1920s style as if they had costumes left over from an old production of The Boyfriend. Also, the leading lady had voice production problems and was quite outshone by the excellent Constance of the evening. But all in all, an enjoyable night out, with the tenor being the cherry on the cake.

Friday, having inherited a Tourist Card with three ‘live’ days on it from my friend Kerstin who was returning to Geneva, I started touristing with a visit to the Jersey Museum. I see this museum has won lots of awards and I’m not surprised: it’s great. Its nicely housed in just one C19th ex-dwelling, and wonderfully laid out with everything explained in a clear and relevant way which I was soon to find is typical of the sites run by Jersey Heritage. There wasn’t a room which wasn’t interesting, and at the end of my visit I felt as if I’d read a 10-volume illustrated history of Jersey and its people.

Saturday the rain came. It was my day for a little sight-seeing with my local friend Ann-Marie and her car, but alas! there was little to see – although Saint-Ouen beach, with the tide out and glooming clouds roiling around was rather impressive. We toured to the Old Smuggler’s Inn at Noirmont – near to Portelet where I holidayed forgettably in 1969 -- for a splendid (but huge!) fish pie and Guinness which required a two-hour snooze to work it off.

Sunday, being the last day of my Card, and also a beautiful sunny one, I thought I had better get on my feet and be a real sight-seer. So I set out after breakfast and pounded out into the country. First stop, the Neolithic site of La Hougue Bie (no, I don’t know what it means), set on one of the island’s highest points and thus also used as a command bunker in the second war. I spent 45 minutes around the Christian chapel and the ancient burial mound, with swift visits to the little museum and the bunker, now set up as a memorial to the slaves used by the Germans to fortify the islands, and I particularly liked an exhibit devoted to the neo-Gothic tower and house which was built over the chapel in the C18th. Alas, some dumb local worthy who thought Gothicism out-of-fashion ripped it down in 1924.

From La Hougue Bie, I headed on through some really delightful countryside to Gorey. Last year when I visited Gorey, Mont Orgeuil castle was closed, today it was open, I had a ticket, and in I bowled. I am very glad I came back – Gorey is delightful, especially in the sun – and most of all I’m glad that I didn’t miss the castle. I wandered up and down battlements and stairs and ramps, through endless rooms filled with interesting little exhibitions and tales, the most striking of which was a colourfully gory wood sculpture (taken, I believe, from a mediaeval drawing) illustrating the how and where to wound a mediaeval fighting man.
The view from the castle, too, stretches out over the bay in a most picturesque way, and Mont Orgeuil really is a fascinating and beautiful place to spend an hour or two.

Ten-pounds’ worth of beer (not cold enough) and sandwich (Mother’s Pride and shop ham) on the waterfront (at the yellow hotel in the picture) and, rejecting the idea of the bus, I turned my feet back towards St Helier. Last year I walked the sea-coast, this year I took an inland road, and some small lanes. Much, much better.

I rolled in at 3pm, put my tired feet up, and debated whether to take the walk out into the harbour to Fort Elizabeth, the 17th century successor to the originally 13th century Mont Orgeuil, before my card ran out. Well, I did. I dragged myself down to the waterfront, finally found the little causeway that leads into the sea (everything here is labelled for the motorist but, alas, not the pedestrian!), and plodded across. Fort Elizabeth is wholly different to Mont Orgeuil. It has none of the older place’s magnificence, also – as an active fort until the 20th century -- it has suffered much more modern batterings and refortifications. The 17th century keep is crowned by a 1940s concrete emplacement. The thing that made the visit worthwhile for me was another outstanding historical exhibition, over which I (who am accustomed to zoom through such things with little care) lingered until, as the tide rose, it was time to walk back across the causeway and limp home.

I had just enough energy left to limp to the Roseville bistro for crab cakes and bubbly.

So, that’s my sightseeing done. Today I may go to the races – its Bank Holiday and race day – if the weather clears… and I think it may be doing so…
We shall see.

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