TV presenter Chris Hollins and Strictly Come Dancing winner has a reputation as a bit of an action man. Chris and his wife Sarah came to Jersey on a late-season break, which ended up being quite water-based. Find out why Chris ended up buying a wetsuit.
Always in a rush? No time to spare? Desperately trying to fill every second? Doing the same thing weekend after weekend?
These are symptoms of Cityitis, an affliction my wife and I have been suffering for many weeks. But this weekend in Jersey was going to be different.
’Don’t bother bringing your golf shoes, you won’t need them. Don’t panic, you’ll have some fun,’ she said as we hurriedly packed after work. And just over two and half hours later – that’s all it took – we were in the Grand Jersey Hotel and Spa on St Helier’s seafront. In the luxurious Champagne Bar, with a glass of white in hand and the catch of the day on a plate in front of me, I was ready to party. But I was told it was time for bed because I had to conserve energy for the next day’s adventures.
Sadly when we awoke the clouds were in and it was chucking it down. ‘This is it for the day,’ I thought. ‘Don’t you worry,’ said ever-optimistic Sarah. ‘Rain doesn’t stop play when you’re paddleboarding.’ Perhaps I should explain that paddleboarding involves lying down on a surfboard and, well, paddling with a swimming motion. There’s also a new – and fast-growing – variation known as stand-up paddleboarding where you use a long, single-bladed paddle to propel you along. In watersports-mad Jersey they’ve taken to it like a duck to water.
We made our way to St Brelade’s Bay. The city dwellers were early. Of course we were. We didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic. You can take the people out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the people. So we went for a cup of tea at the cosy Wayside Café. I was about to order a bacon sandwich when Jono walked in.
’Are you ready for it? The waves are pretty good today. You’ll have fun. And don’t worry about the rain. When you’re wet, you’re wet!’ We made our way down to the beach. A quick warm-up and we were on our boards and on the water. Exactly 15 seconds later I was in water. But I was soon back on the board, and then back in again, and that was the pattern for the next 30 minutes.
As Sarah and Jono paddled away comfortably, and I began the process of emptying the ears and throat of water for the umpteenth time, I had a good look around. The colours of the early autumn coastline combined with the rich caramel sands of the beach were spectacular. They always say the mark of a place is how stunning it can appear on even a poor day. What would this bay be like on a summer’s day?
I struggled back on board and, thanks to Jono’s patience, was not only paddling but surfing too. I’ve been trying to do it for 10 years and never managed it. But today I made it and stood on the board.
A quick shower and we headed to the famous Crab Shack on the seafront overlooking the bay. It was our type of place. Fun, buzzing and packed. It was full of families and we couldn’t wait to get stuck in.
There’s something for everyone, but the fish courses were incredible. I opted for the crab bisque and then a selection of battered fish in a coconut dressing. Hey, I’d earned it! The bottle of sauvignon blanc also helped us rehydrate and definitely took the taste of that seawater from my mouth.
Then it happened.
London, work and the desperate need to plan disappeared from our minds. We started to giggle, tell stories and forget about the clock. We imagined living by the sea and somehow I ended up buying a wetsuit. He’s a persuasive man that Jono.
He continued in a similar vein: ‘You’ll need it when you come back – and you will be back. Sarah, you’re a natural. Chris… you’ll get there!’
That evening, we were booked into the Grand’s Michelin-starred Tassili restaurant and I have to say I was slightly concerned. I wasn’t in the mood for a formal dinner, but Tassili is a little different. It’s intimate but not claustrophobic. It’s smart but not too starchy. We were recommended the six-course menu with the sommelier’s choice of wine with each one. It was extraordinary.
Admittedly, I was a little tender as I opened my eyes the next day, but it was great to see the weather was a lot brighter than me. At last we could see this island at its best. We were off for a drive. We decided to follow our noses and the coast. No plan? No satnav? What’s happening to us?
The Jersey Marathon, taking place that Sunday, was sending us all over the island on various diversions. But far from being a pain it was an adventure. Even when we were directed inland we weren’t disappointed. The French influence was on display as we weaved our way through delightful villages or along tree-lined roads. I’ve never had so much fun being lost.
We found ourselves in Cornwall-esque Gorey Harbour on the east coast in the shadow of the imposing Mont Orgueil Castle. Wherever you go in Jersey you’re faced with a great choice of places to eat. Gorey is typical, its quayside lined with bistros, restaurants and cafés, all doing a roaring Sunday lunch trade. We liked the sound of the one that said ‘it’s all about the ingredients without being too fussy’. And they were right. Sarah chose her favourite, mussels and chips. Lovely!
It was finally time to conquer the castle. The little boy in me made an appearance as I tried to engage my wife in a sword fight. But she was having none of it. Sadly no falconry for us to enjoy today but it didn’t matter. This fortress has been here for 800 years, and has many gripping – not to say gruesome – stories to tell. And where else could you enjoy a ‘wheel of urine’, one of its weirder exhibits? Oh come on, they didn’t have television back then.
Our trip was nothing like we expected or even planned. And that’s what made it perfect for us. No agenda, no deadlines, just fun.
I may be back in London now and the Cityitis symptoms are slowly returning, but I only have to open my wardrobe and see that wetsuit and the smile comes back because I know that one day soon, we will return to Jersey.