A couple of days in Jersey (Day one)

With much of the country having been battered for the last couple of days by storms and torrential rain, summer seems but a distant memory. So I’ve been cheering myself up by looking through the photos from Natalie’s and my recent trip to Jersey, our first (but definitely not last) visit to the Channel Islands.

We hadn’t had time for a summer holiday, so we decided to take a short midweek break. With flights and guest house booked, we got our skates on and headed south. As luck would have it, we’d chosen one of the sunniest weeks of the year. And the kids had already gone back to school, so things were nice and quiet, too.

We started off by having a look around St. Helier, the main town on the island and where we were staying for the duration of our visit. Here’s proof that we were there…

While one could be forgiven for thinking that Jersey is little more than a tax haven for the uber-rich, it has quite a significant maritime heritage. It also has a very excellent maritime museum, with a wide range of interactive exhibits highlighting the island’s close links to the sea. Adjoining the maritime museum is the, erm, tapestry museum. Not so much my cup of tea, to be honest, but OK if you’re into that kind of thing. I suppose.

Around the marina, whoever comes up with such things had been very busy developing some rather inspired maritime-related art. All along one side of the harbour, for example, were stone panels illustrating the Beaufort wind scale. Also making an appearance at various points were Morse code, international code flags, semaphore and the names of famous ships built in the boatyards that have long since been replaced by a shopping arcade.

As the afternoon drew on, we hopped on a bus to St. Brelade, a small town towards the western end of the island. It was a cracker of a day and the long, sandy beach was particularly appealing. But for once, rather than just loafing around on the sand, I was looking for something in particular. I’d read in a guidebook about an old parish church at the foot of the town (on the right in the photo below) and had been attracted in particular by the description of the old fisherman’s chapel next door.

There’s a strong bond between fishing communities and the church. Anyone who regularly sets out in small boats will know just how vast and unpredictable the sea is. And anyone who has ever wandered around the graveyard in a coastal town will know just how many seafarers go out but don’t come back. Faith – and superstition, too – is part of everyday life.

Anyway, here’s the chapel. Simple, I’d agree, yet all the more powerful because of it.

Outside, meanwhile, the sun continued to shine. And both the sea and the sky were such a vibrant blue, I seriously considered taking up banking and moving over permanently. (But don’t worry, the temptation was short-lived and my conscience soon regained control.)

Here’s looking the other way along the beach, back towards St. Brelade. For future reference, you can hire kayaks and paddleboards here.

Anyway, it was getting on time-wise by now, so we took the bus back to St. Aubin, half way between St. Brelade and St. Helier, and had dinner overlooking the harbour there. And after dinner, as the sun started to set, we wandered slowly along the promenade back towards St. Helier.

While the tourists headed to their hotels or hit the bars, the locals came out to walk their dogs or to jog along the beach. After a hectic day of financial wheeling and dealing, it was as if the island was taking a deep breath and settling in for the night. Which, on our arrival back at our hotel, is exactly what we did.

A little light paddleboarding

Whilst on holiday in South Devon a couple of years ago, Natalie and I were taking an evening walk along the clifftops when we came across a small cove. There was a light onshore breeze and the waves were washing gently onto the sandy beach. And riding these waves with effortless grace was a bloke on a stand-up paddleboard. I didn’t know at the time that it was a stand-up paddleboard. I just knew that it looked amazingly cool and that I wanted to have a go.

As regular readers of my blog will know, it can sometimes take me a little while to get around to doing things. But I usually get there in the end. Which is why last Saturday I ventured down to Lyme Regis in Dorset for an introductory paddleboarding lesson with instructor Jake at watersports specialists Boylo’s, who are based on the marine parade overlooking the beach.*

It was a fantastic day weather-wise, with temperatures in the high twenties and wall to wall sunshine, so I was keen to get out on the water. Luckily, so was Jake, and after a quick briefing we were soon lugging our boards down to the water’s edge. And five minutes later I was up, paddling and trying desperately not to fall off. (Yes, it really is that easy!)

We headed over first to quiet corner behind the sea wall, where Jake showed me various ways of steering the board and of making tight turns without losing momentum. I practiced these for a little while until I was confident in my ability to go where I wanted to go (and I only fell off once!), at which point Jake suggested that we paddle out into the bay. He pointed out a large cardinal buoy a few hundred metres distant and off we set.

Here we are… (I’m the one on the right.)

And here we are again. Note that I’m still upright. (Just)

The great thing about being upright on the board was the visibility that this position affords, both horizontally and down into the sea. Paddling over a shallow reef, we saw all kinds of fish and other marine life.

I may be biased, but I think I’m starting to look a little more confident in the photo below. (I’m still on the right.)

With my hour up, we paddled back to the beach, much to the bemusement of the families tucking into their lunch.

From start to finish, I had an amazing time. And I shall definitely be going paddleboarding again. I just hope it doesn’t take me another two years to get around to it.

* If you’re near Lyme Regis and you’d like to have a go for yourself, I’d very much recommend that you give Boylo’s a call.

A day at the seaside

A couple of weeks ago, Natalie, Molly and I headed out to Weymouth for a day at the seaside. In case you’ve never been there, Weymouth is a medium sized town on the Dorset coast, now famous for having hosted the sailing events for the 2012 Olympic games. I spent several of my childhood years growing up in Dorset, so feel a close connection to the area.

We’ve been to Weymouth a few times before and have always been impressed by the town’s ability to be a tourist destination while also having it’s own identity and sense of purpose. The big draw, clearly, is the beach. It’s big, sandy and protected from the worst of the weather by the Isle of Portland to the south. Here’s what I’m talking about…

And here’s some more. As you can see, it’s a pretty family-friendly place, with the gentle slope of the beach making it ideal for adults and kids alike to play around in the water.

At the southern end of the beach, there’s an area where dogs are allowed, too. So this is where we inevitably ended up. In fact, Molly had seen the other dogs from about a mile away and had dragged us there at top speed. She’s not always a big fan of the water (I think she’s put off by the breaking waves), but today was an exception.

Nothing says ‘I love you’ like 32 kilograms of high speed, soaking wet Labrador…

But she seemed to be enjoying herself. So did Natalie. And so, for that matter, did everyone else. Including me.

Weymouth also has a very picturesque and incredibly busy harbour, with a good mix of working and pleasure craft. Here’s what greets you as you come in from the sea. Just the thing after a hard day’s sailing.

And here’s the view looking out from the main quayside area. The town is on both sides of the harbour, with the two areas managing to be both picturesque and bustling at the same time. In these current austere times, it’s nice to see a coastal town thriving like this. (And yes, I have considered moving there. I fact, I still am considering it…)

As we walked along the southern side of the harbour towards the sea, we came across some gig rowers taking part in a regatta. As coincidence would have it, this is a team from the Clevedon Pilot Gig Club, which I have recently joined. I don’t know how the team did in the race, so we’ll assume here that they absolutely destroyed the competition and won by several boat lengths.

And as we walked further, we came across a veritable nest of boats as they changed crews for the next race. Having now been gig rowing twice, I can confirm that it is, indeed, as much fun as it looks. Possibly even more fun, in fact.

We stopped for a little while to watch the rowers. Molly, for one, was enthralled.

At the entrance to the harbour is the imposing Nothe Fort, a massive fortified structure built in the 1860s and designed to protect nearby Portland Harbour. It’s now a popular tourist attraction as well as a reminder of the role that Weymouth and Portland played up until very recently as a major naval port.

The views from the area around the fort are fantastic. You can see why this part of the world is so popular with watersports enthusiasts and why the National Sailing Academy is based here.

We also stumbled across the rest of the gig racers, taking a break while their team mates took their turn at the oars. There was an incredibly sociable atmosphere, with people from the various teams sharing war stories over a beer and a barbecue. This, it struck me, is what sport is all about. Molly had the same idea, so I dragged her swiftly away from the barbecue and we continued on our way.

But not without a parting glance at the gigs waiting patiently at the start line for the next race. One day soon, this could be me…

The ‘bear’ essentials

I took the train to London earlier this week and shared the first part of my journey with a very unusual individual. I don’t know his name, I don’t know where he came from and I don’t know where he was going. But I very much doubt that I’ll ever forget his face. And I certainly won’t forget the day that I travelled with a bear.

A bear on a train

When I first saw him, he was perched on the bench on the station concourse. His dark eyes were fixed straight ahead, as if in an attempt to avoid the stares of his fellow passengers. His companion, a furtive teenager in trendy clothes and a baseball cap, was immersed in his phone. There was something admirable, I felt, about the way the youth was able to project an aura of normality, as if hanging out with a bear is just what one does on a Monday morning.

On board the train, I managed to nab a seat near the bear. I didn’t want to sit too close, as bears are notoriously volatile travellers, but I needed to know more. At first, I thought I was perhaps the only person in the carriage who could see him, as everyone else just walked on by as if nothing was amiss. Even the conductor checked the teenager’s ticket without a word*. But as he continued on his rounds he grinned to himself and let out a slight chuckle, so I knew that it wasn’t just me.

Sadly, after just one stop, the bear and his companion alighted from the train and disappeared into the crowd. I tried to watch where they were headed, but soon lost them in the melee of the morning rush hour. Where were they going? What were they doing? Would our paths cross again? It seems I’ll never know. But I certainly won’t forget the day that I travelled with a bear.

* The bear, you will be pleased to note, travelled for free.

A weekend in Dublin (Part 3)

This will be the last Dublin-related post, I promise. It’s just that I don’t get out as much as I would like, so a weekend away gives me plenty to write about. Well, I guess I always have plenty to write about, so perhaps what I should have said is that a weekend away gives me something interesting to write about.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you a little bit about our visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican communion, if you’re interested). There’s also a catholic cathedral, Christ Church, up the road. I did mean to visit that, too, in the interests of balance and general comparison, but got distracted by the opportunity for some last minute book shopping. Sorry.

I won’t go into the history of the cathedral, as you can read about that on its official website or on Wikipedia. What I wanted to tell you about, though, is the thing that I love about all churches and cathedrals. And that is how they make me feel. Because while I’m not a particularly religious person, places of worship like St. Patrick’s fill me with a deep sense of serenity that stays with me for days afterwards.

I don’t know whether it’s the cavernous size of the building, or the striking architecture or the sheer mass of stone that makes up the place. It might be the profound silence. Or perhaps it’s the sense of history, a reflection of all those who have gone before. Whatever it is, it gives me the ability to shut out my everyday worries and to think more clearly about the things that matter.

Before I risk sliding into some kind of spiritual epiphany, lets look at some photos. I only had a little camera with me, I’m afraid, and no tripod, so the pictures are a little grainy. But hopefully they’ll help you to get some sense of the place. Here’s the nave leading towards the altar.


And here’s the altar itself. The seats to either side are where the choir sits. I guess it’s deliberate, but I really liked the way the altar was lit up so brightly while the rest of the cathedral was in comparative darkness. Like a beacon on a distant hill top or a lighthouse shining out over stormy seas. (OK, that’s perhaps too much, now…)


The choir stalls used to serve as a chapel for the ‘Most Illustrious Order of the Knights of Saint Patrick’. Now that’s what I call a name. The flags are those of the families of the Knights of the Order. Apparently, the order still exists, though the last surviving Knight died in 1974.

(This lack of new members might be because they’d have to swear an oath to the Queen of England, which – for entirely understandable reasons – Irish people tend to be a bit funny about. The other question, of course, is why my family doesn’t have a flag. I don’t have an answer for that, though, I’m afraid.)


Here’s one of the smaller transepts. I think that’s the right name, but don’t quote me on it. I loved the window, but what especially caught my attention was the vacuum cleaner in the corner. I really wouldn’t want to be the one who has to do the dusting here.


And here’s the view back down the nave. You can’t really see the colours very well on the photo, but it was like standing under a multicoloured tree with the late autumn sun shining through the leaves. Which is, again, no doubt entirely deliberate.


There were a great many memorials around the edge of the cathedral and I nearly wandered straight past this one. But I stopped to read it for some reason and it instantly made me very sad.


Over a hundred and fifty years ago and we still haven’t learned the lesson. Perhaps we could all do with thinking a little more clearly about the things that really matter.