Why winter is actually the perfect time to visit summer holiday favourite Jersey

Standing on a ribbon of mustard sand, the muted petrol blue of the sea mirroring the sky, I feel utterly remote. A row of houses in delicate pastel shades lines the curve of the bay in the distance, while the menacing mass of Orgueil Castle – my eventual destination for the morning – looms above them, a hulking great guard dog of a thing.

Several hundred metres away, a hound gambols happily in the spray; his owner strides behind him, head down, hood up. And that’s it, company-wise.

Inspired by the near-perfect solitude, I start to sing, tentatively at first, then less so, crescendo-ing into a full-throated rendition of “Bread of Heaven” (well, it is Sunday after all).

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This starkly beautiful strip of beach is on Jersey’s idyllic east coast, and come summer the place will be stacked with bodies sunbathing, swimming and surfing, drawn here by the biggest Channel Island’s sun-soaked climate. But this is late November – and that means I have the whole coastline pretty much to myself. It is euphoria for a city kid in need of some hermit time.

My only previous experience of the island was a visit to a university friend during the summer holidays, and I’ll forever associate the place with long, lazy days, driving from beach to beach, paddling, scrambling over rocks and jumping from cliffs into the deep water below. We ate burgers and drank milk fresh from a Jersey cow under a cloudless sky; it was more Enid Blyton novel than real life.

A decade and several seasons later, winter-time Jersey in 2018 offers a different prospect altogether. But one, I’d argue, that’s equally charming.

As I skip on towards the castle from my drop-off point at the Seymour pub (even out of season the island has a refreshingly regular and reliable roster of buses), the air is fresh yet mild, sun-tipped, on the brink of spring-like. I quickly warm up, stripping off unnecessary winterwear as I go. 

A couple of hours later I’m wandering the maze-like grounds of the imposing, 800-year-old behemoth. Hiking up a multitude of stairs brings me to Orgueil’s pinnacle – the view takes in the quaint fishing village of Gorey below, eye-poppingly green fields, the supple blue of sky and that bay, an elegant, concave stretch that delicately cups the ocean. Turn around and you can see all the way to France, its shadowy presence partly obscured by cloud.

The afternoon involves me swapping legs for two wheels as I speed westwards along the coastal bike path from the capital of St Helier to St Brelade’s Bay. There’s a rush to it as I fly along the smooth track, cheeks flushed pink by the wind. The beach is burnished with gold, the promenade alive with pedestrians and fellow cyclists making the most of the clement weather – it feels more like LA than the UK.

Adrenaline-doused excitement continues in the form of sea kayaking with Absolute Adventures. I’d worried about being cold, but dressed in full wetsuit, boots, windbreaker and beanie, I find I’m unseasonably toasty, especially when the sun fully emerges to set the sea a-glitter. Affable Irish instructor Sean leads me out across the waves – another benefit of coming off-season is getting a one-on-one tutorial when no one else is bonkers enough to sign up for a November paddle – and we cruise west, dipping and pulling, dipping and pulling, until we draw up alongside a secluded beach. 

“Let’s stop here,” Sean says, “and just listen”. There’s nothing save the soft lapping of water on rock and the crooning of myriad birds. We catch sight of a gliding peregrine falcon – there’s a nest on the nearby cliff – while just metres away an egret stands patiently to attention as lone sentinel of the cove behind. A little further on we encounter a pair of oystercatchers, their distinctive orange bills popping against the teal ocean backdrop.

“It’s not like this in summer,” Sean says. “There are so many boats, so many people – you can’t get up close like this.”

Buoyed up by my brush with nature, I zip back into town as the sun descends, turning all to dusky amber, and the bare bulbs strung alongside the path guide my way. The sky fades from denim to midnight as I ride; St Helier is lit up like a fairyland.

Though my day has been charged with heart-racing energy, Jersey has its own inexorable pace of life – one that cannot be rushed. Time has an elasticity here, as I’d found when hiring my bike that morning: the woman on duty kept up a slow but steady stream of chatter, the whole process taking far longer than need be. It was the same story when I dipped into Moo, a wantonly millennial café with a focus on healthy eating and signs saying “Eat up babe!”. Customers chatted for what seemed like hours to staff behind the counter while I felt my foot start to tap and my heart rate steadily increase – when was I going to be served my avocado bagel with chilli and Himalayan sea salt, dammit? But shaking off mainland impatience is all part of the fun – once you surrender and reset to Jersey time, it’s a relief to be forced to slow down a little.

If all this talk of leisurely living sounds a bit, well, unsexy, a counterpoint comes in the form of Jersey’s burgeoning nest of trendy bars, designed to appeal to the island’s community of young professionals working in the finance sector. One such venture is Project 52, an “exclusively-inclusive establishment” made up of a members’ lounge and public bar that opened two years ago. It’s fiendishly difficult to find, but once I stumble across the entrance down a cobbled backstreet I’m rewarded with a bespoke cocktail from head bartender Chris, who puts my love of tequila to work in the intimate, upscale bar, complete with flattering lighting and hip furniture that looks like it’s straight out of a Made.com advert. 

“We didn’t have any history in the bar business,” co-founder Sarah admits. “We just wanted to create a bar we’d actually like to come to.”

She, like many of the younger generation of residents, wasn’t born here, but came to stay and never left. I’m starting to relate. 

Before I leave the next day, I duck into the Jersey War Tunnels, an attraction which charts the Nazi invasion of the island during the Second World War with a range of genuinely fascinating interactive exhibits strewn across more than 1,000m of underground tunnels. The invading force felt like they were on a permanent summer holiday in Jersey, and it’s easy to see why, even in winter, as I later stroll past palm trees and Mediterranean-style shrubbery, all of it more Mallorcan-looking than British.

The only difference is that in winter there’s no queue to enter the tunnels; no problem getting a seat on the bus; no wait at the bar to sink a mulled cider before my flight. Summer may bring guaranteed sun, but it also brings guaranteed people. 

Off-season Jersey, meanwhile, has it all for the entry-level loner – a different kind of winter sun, and not a soul in sight.

Travel essentials

Getting there

British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Jersey from £68 return.

Staying there

The four-star Pomme d’Or in St Helier offers comfortable rooms in a prime location, and guests get free access to the spa and gym facilities at sister property the Merton Hotel. Doubles from £105, room only.

More information

A Sea Kayak Tour with Absolute Adventures costs £38pp for two hours, including all gear. Bike Hire with Zebra Car & Cycle Hire is £16 for a day. 

jersey.com

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