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Choppy trip to Channel Islands has tourists hugging the rails

Choppy trip to Channel Islands has tourists hugging the rails

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 8:02 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

“Winchester Cathedral,
You’re bringing me down.
You stood and you watched
As my baby left town.”
—New Vaudeville Band
Geoff Stephens 1966
———
An early start was necessary on Day 6 of our two-week Perennial Plant Association garden tour to England in late August-early September. We had a five-hour bus ride from our hotel in the east of the country to Weymouth, southwest of London, our departing point for two of the islands in the English Channel.
On the way, however, we took a quick stop at legendary Winchester Cathedral, which was extant quite a few centuries before Geoff Stephens was so much as a gleam in his parents’ eyes. It was yet another one of those magnificent edifices that dot the British Isles, in cities and the hinterlands as well. Many are, alas, mere tourist attractions, what with the precipitious plunge of Christianity in much of Europe.
Winchester is one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the longest nave of any Gothic church. Jane Austen is buried beneath its nave.
In Weymouth we boarded a “ferry” (actually a huge cataraman) hauling 375 walk-ons and 75 cars. Even at a speed of nearly 40 knots it would be a four-hour ride to the island of Jersey. Later we would sail to a sister island, Guernsey. Yes, that is really where the cows come from.
We got a taste of the vagaries of weather in the Channel. Though the day was mostly sunny, prevailing westerly winds were attacking broadside as our conveyance sailed south. The broad, flat design of the catamaran made it vulnerable to the resulting 10-foot seas, and it was pitched violently almost the whole way. Some of our party suffered considerable seasickness. I ventured topside to an aft deck to try to get some air and was nearly blown away.
Our landing pier was in calmer waters and we unloaded uneventfully, took a coach for our hotel, and arrived at the Pomme d’Or hostelry in the town of St. Helier in time for a late dinner.
The two islands we would visit are closer to France than to England, though they have been a British Crown dependency since the historic year 1066. In fact, we saw France but never touched it. The French influence is strong, with many street names, prominent sites and businesses having French names. Hence the “Pomme d’Or” hotel. I think it translates to “apple of love” or “candy apple” or something like that.
Aug. 28, 2011 (the date is significant): After getting our land legs back and a night’s sleep, we had a late morning start, giving us time to explore the city and its parish church (Anglican), where the grounds were maintained to perfection, with gorgeous beds of flowers and precisely trimmed topiary.
Later in the day we visited Jersey Lavender Farm. Yes, they actually farm lavender there. We observed the distillation of lavender oil in a contraption that looked for all the world like a miniature whiskey still. The oil is used in soaps and other products and shipped worldwide.
Then came one of the highlight gardens of the entire tour, the cottage garden of Judith Queree, named Creux Baillot. (French, remember.)
This gal was a walking plant encyclopedia, and could bark out the botanical name of any of the more than 2,000 varieties and species of her plants from all over the world. This is astounding, since the property is less than one-fourth an acre surrounding an old granite cottage built into a steep hillside.
The garden abounds in whimsey, including wire birds and a donkey, and is pulled off with such aplomb that no feeling of “too much” ever occurs.
On the drive back to the hotel, our coach stopped for a visit to the Channel Islands Military Museum. Hitler’s evil empire occupied the islands before the U.S. became involved and held them throughout the duration. Der Fuhrer falsely believed any invasion into Europe would come via the islands. Of course it didn’t, so enormous fortifications there are intact and appear just as they did 70 years ago. A guide there was a child during the occupation and gave us eyewitness reports.
Remember that significant date? Well, I will admit it isn’t so important to you, but to My Assistant and me it is. It happened to be our 54th (what?!) wedding anniversary and the happy occasion was announced at dinner that evening, whereupon the old groom presented his bride with an emerald ring, denoting her May birthstone. It was exactly 10 years earlier that we and some of the group were present at a dinner in Wales when our 44th anniversary occurred.
Next: From Jersey to Guernsey.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 10.18.11

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