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Starting the Morning's Adventures
From where we were having breakfast at the Somerville Hotel we could fully appreciate the wide sweeping arc of St Aubin’s Bay as it stretched around to St Helier. The buildings waiting and watching for the tide to come back in glinted in the sun. The beach was a pale pastel yellow that only Turner could do any artistic justice to. The water was a pale wash of green and blue with a border of pure white where the waves hit the shore. This was too good a day for staying in.
A Beach Walk, Barry, And Three Dogs
The walk from the hotel to the shoreline is down a very steep hill which is even steeper on the way back up. Once around the gentle left hand turn near the top and before the serious descent starts there is St Aubin’s Bay again and at the base of the hill St Aubin’s Harbour. Beyond the harbour is St Aubin’s Tower and its surrounding fort standing on its own private island in the bay. Even in the bright sunshine it didn’t look inviting as if it was trying to repel curiosity so it didn’t have to reveal any dark secrets.
The tide was out leaving an expanse of beach between the harbour walls and the fort. The tide was so far out the fort was an island in a plain of wet mud and sand joined to the mainland by a causeway.
Maybe, just maybe I might go out there and see if it is as dark as I feel it threatened. Maybe.
Where the shore road becomes a car park there is a set of steps near the yacht club that lead down to the beach. The surface is a mixture of sand and stones and not difficult to walk on. On my right on hillsides in patches where there are no trees or undergrowth are low cliffs of sandstone coloured in various shades of yellow and red all melded into each other as if a giant hand smudged them. To my left the tower and the fort dominate the horizon standing both proud and menacing over the mudflats of low tide with the ocean still further out. Along the beach are outcrops of black granite type rock formations waiting to be eroded by the ocean.
I had the beach to myself. At least I thought I did until I was suddenly aware of two terriers scampering around my feet and sniffing my legs. Satisfied I did not pose any threat to them they then scuttled off through rock pools and around rocky outcrops. They scrambled up to the base of the cliffs where they joined a spaniel in hot pursuit of something. I don’t know what and most likely nor did he but he was in hot pursuit.
I looked around for their owner and back at the base of the steps I went down about five minutes ago was a man walking towards me. I slowed down and he caught up with me. My new walking colleague was ‘Barry’. He was born on Jersey and had only just retired. He was enjoying his new-found time with his family, friends and of course his dogs. All three dogs were his and all three of them had been rescued from near their holiday home in Spain. Although he was retired, he worked as a teaching assistant at one of the local schools and he told me a story that surprised me.
His spaniel was apparently adept at trying to catch oyster catchers as he disturbed them from their feeding on the mudflats. When they were breeding, he always had to keep it on a lead as the oyster catchers were quite vicious towards the spaniel and had nearly attacked it once or twice with their razor-sharp bills.
During one of Barry’s days at school the class was being taken to the very beach we were walking on to look for fossils and to learn about the ocean. The class he was with were five or six years old. They walked in crocodile lines from the school to the beach which was about a twenty-minute walk. One little girl latched on to Barry and was very confused about something. Barry asked her what the problem was and she asked where they were. He was a bit taken aback as he assumed all children on Jersey had at one time seen the beach and the ocean. This is an island that is about ten miles long and five miles wide with a culture, history and heritage based on the ocean. Yet, this little girl in all of her five or six years of life had never ever been to the beach. That was what surprised me. He told me he could have cried for her as all of his children, now grown up, and his grandchildren were on the beach at every available opportunity.
Going behind the facades of the hotels, beach front apartment blocks and restaurants there is an island population of just over 100,000. So, the image of Jersey to outsiders is one of glamour and wealth which was helped along by the TV series in the 1980’s Bergerac. Behind those fronts and facades and based on data from earlier this decade that show that in 2013 some 9,000 households were classified as being in poverty along with 3,700 children up to the age of fifteen, 4,400 pensioners and 10,000 adults totaling nearly 20% of the entire population.
Back with Barry
My visit was in mid-December just at the time Britain’s BREXIT seemed to be reaching new depths of chaos and confusion. I asked Barry if he thought we had gone mad on the mainland. He told me the residents of both Jersey and Guernsey had always thought we were mad and what was happening just confirmed it.
We shook hands and parted company. He carried on with his mixed pack of gamboling dogs towards the next headland. I headed back towards the steps up from the beach near the yacht club. The fort loomed darkly proud and silhouetted against the clear sky. The entire beach it stood guard over and the causeway were drying out in the sunshine.
St Aubin's Fort
The Fort Finally Tempts Me
I walked along the harbour wall to the end where I looked out across the bay to St Helier and then across to the fort. A man stood by me wearing yellow oilskins. He looked like a serious local with his grizzled face and its three or four days of bristly whiskers. I asked him about the fort and if it would be safe for me to walk over there and back if I left ‘now’.
‘No problem……you should have a good couple of hours’.
‘You’ll come and get me if I get stuck’ I replied.
‘You won’t…you’ll be fine’ he answered.
Although the fort did look dark and foreboding it still held my interest. Not visiting it would be something I would regret especially if I never returned to Jersey again. So, off I went along the causeway whose surface was about three or four inches above the sand. Oyster catchers screeched by looking for new feeding grounds. The spaniel had probably disturbed them near the headland Barry was walking towards.
On either side of the causeway were rock pools glistening clear and bright. In less than ten minutes I was at the base of the slipway that lead up to the fort. The slipway was made of large flat flagstones which were slippery from where seaweed had colonized it's cracks and crevices. I walked carefully not wanting to fall over and risk injury.
The fort dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The tower, that looked so imposing from the shore, was only about the same height as a two-story family home. Not big or menacing at all. It was all locked up as it was the storage area for the local adventure and sea scouts. Around its base were kayaks and stripped down hulls of small sports sailing dinghies. I walked to a small aperture in the long wall and looked out to the open ocean. Looking down were more big rocks and I decided not to venture across them.
Somewhere in my mind was a tone of anxiety about getting back to the harbour wall where I had met the 'serious local'..
I walked down the slippery slipway and where there had been beach about twenty minutes ago there was now water. In the background of sound around me I could hear water travelling inexorably as it crossed the sands and mudflats of the beach and surrounded the rocky outcrops. I looked up at the harbour wall to see if the ‘serious local’ in yellow oilskins was still there. He wasn’t. Luckily the incoming tide had not quite breached the top of the causeway so my feet stayed dry all the way back to the slipway below the harbour wall. I walked up it feeling quite relieved. I looked back to see my route but by now it had already been submerged.
Above the rising water the fort still looked darkly imposing. It had attracted me. I went there like a moth to a flame. It didn’t make me welcome and how fortunate I was to respect that and head back to the shore when I did.
As for the ‘serious local’ in yellow oilskins he was still nowhere to be seen.