Thursday, 31 March 2011


This bay, on the west coast of Jersey. has a vast sandy beach stretching for 5 miles from end to end which is very popular for surfing due to the fact that it is right in the line of fire of the westerly winds which prevail here. There are many relics of the German wartime occupation dotted around Jersey, and several of them can be found in St Ouen’s Bay. At La Carriere there is a twin bunker complex housing a tank turret, railway truck and searchlight. At Val de la Mar there is a heavy machine-gun turret bunker, and there are gun emplacements and underground bunkers at Les Landes. These and the other wartime relics on the island are lovingly cared for by a voluntary society called the Channel Islands Occupation Society. Whether or not you are interested in the history of the Second World War, they make a different sort of tourist sight. An earlier relic in this part of the island is the Kempt Tower, a martello tower dating from 1834, which is now an interpretation centre for Les Mielles conservation area.

Map of the area.

File:St Ouen's Bay, Jersey.jpg
Photo by Man vyi, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 30 March 2011


There are a number of theories about the origins of the name Bonne Nuit Bay, or “Good Night Bay”. One version suggests that it was so named because of the shelter it offered to sailors overnighting there. Another claims that Charles II, on leaving the island from this bay before it came under Cromwellian control at the end of the Civil War, exclaimed “Bonne nuit belle Jersey”. However, the latter version is blown out of the water by the fact that the name Bono Nocte was recorded as early as the 12th century, having a medieval chapel as its origin. Whatever the reason for this rather charming name, the bay is a beautiful stretch on the north coast of Jersey, between the headlands of Frémont and La Crête. It is ideal for walkers, who have a choice of paths to wander along and admire the views out to sea. There is a distinctive little round stone building on La Crête which was once intended as a fortification, but is now available as a holiday let.

Map of the area.

File:Bonne Nuit Bay.jpg
Bonne Nuit Bay. Photo by Andy Hawkins, via Wikimedia  Commons

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Rozel is a picturesque little beach village in the north-east of the island of Jersey. As well as being a lovely spot to go for a swim, it also makes a great lunch spot, being the home of a famous cafe called The Hungry Man, a colourful little kiosk with outside tables on the harbour wall. This spot is also known for its friendly ducks, and if you’re lucky they may accompany you on your swim. Rozel is a popular base for sea kayaking.

For walkers, there is a path starting at Rozel which stretches along the whole length of the north coast as far as Grosnez. The first bay along the route is Bouley Bay, which is reputed to be haunted by a big black dog with eyes the size of saucers. The sound of its chains dragging along the ground would precede a vision of the beast itself, which terrifies its victims by circling round them at great speed. Funnily enough, Bouley also has a history of smuggling, so one can’t help but wonder whether this is another instance of a ghost story being made up to keep prying eyes away from the activities of the smugglers.

Map of the area.

File:Rozel Jersey 2015.jpg
Phtoto by Unukorno, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 28 March 2011


The picturesque small harbour town of Gorey is just 30 kilometers from the coast of the Cotentin Peninsula as the crow flies, and as such was right in the line of fire during the wave of invasions by the French. This is surely the reason for the building of the impressive castle of Mont Orgueil which towers above the town, and which has served as protection for the island since the early 13th century. The site had in fact already been fortified long before that, since prehistoric times. The main part of the town, nestling at the foot of the castle, forms a row of harbourside buildings in an attractive palette of pastels, many housing enticing restaurants, pubs and hotels.

Each year in August, Gorey hosts one of the biggest events in Jersey, the Gorey Fête, which is a merry whirl of live music, beach-based games and competitions, eating and drinking, fireworks and a funfair. Another popular festival, for seafood fans, is the Fête de la Mer in May, while in June there is a regatta.

Map of the area.

File:Gorey Jersey Mount Orgueil and Harbour.jpg
Photo by Unukorno, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 27 March 2011


St Helier is the main town on Jersey, the largest island of the Channel Islands. It lies at the eastern end of a lovely bay called St Aubin’s Bay. The town’s name originates from the name of an abbey which was built on a tidal island just offshore. The abbey has since been replaced by a castle called Elizabeth Castle, named after Queen Elizabeth I by Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor of Jersey at the time. However, the town’s earlier origins are believed to date back to Roman times.

It is impossible to visit the Channel Islands without coming across stories about what happened there during the Second World War, when they were subjected to a Nazi occupation. One of the reminders of this time in St Helier is a square called Liberation Square, which was the scene of great rejoicing when the occupation ended. There is a sculpture in the square which was erected in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the liberation. Seemingly in imitation of the Bayeux Tapestry for which their near neighbours the French are famed, the local people produced a 12-panel Occupation Tapestry, also in commemoration of the 50th anniversary, which is housed in the Maritime Museum. There were plenty of earlier conflicts which took place here, not surprisingly involving the French, given the proximity to France. Another square in St Helier called Royal Square, which houses a statue of George II, was the scene of the last attempt by the French to seize Jersey during the Battle of Jersey in 1781. Happily, those turbulent times are now easily forgotten as one takes pleasure in the continental atmosphere and benign climate which reign supreme here.

One of the most spectacular annual events in Jersey is the Battle of Flowers, which takes place in August. For more events on Jersey, see here.

Map of the area.

File:St Helier Views.jpg
Photo by Amanda Slater, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Weymouth was reincarnated as Budmouth Regis in one of Thomas Hardy’s novels, The Trumpet-Major, and the town also featured in other books by him. One character called Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native was particularly effusive about the town’s charms, declaring: “I was happy enough at Budmouth. O the times, O the days at Budmouth!” Hardy actually lived there for a while, at No. 3 Wooperton Street. There is a building on the sea-front which now houses apartments that used to belong to the brother of King George III. George III stayed there during his Grand Tour of the South West, and on several occasions thereafter. There are all sorts of stories surrounding the King’s visits to the town: that he was an enthusiastic sea-bather, using one of the earliest bathing machines, and that he was so revered by the local townsfolk that whenever he entered the sea the local band started playing the national anthem, and the bathing ladies of Weymouth reportedly had “God Save The King” embroidered on their belts. However, these stories have recently been discounted by a local historian, who has unearthed evidence that, far from lingering in the town to sample its bathing delights, the King was forced to leave in a hurry after an assassination attempt, and that the subsequent visits were prompted by a need to quell the activities of the troublesome local Republicans.

Since those exciting times, Weymouth has settled into the role of the traditional family resort with the arrival of mass tourism. However, there is now a new source of excitement in the town due to the fact that Weymouth has been selected as one of the major venues for the 2012 Olympics. Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour will be hosting the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. Whoever was in charge of the building work for these events should be put in charge of the national economy: the work was completed ahead of schedule and within the budget, nothing short of a miracle in 21st century Britain.

Weymouth has many attractions worthy of its resort status. As well as the numerous shops, restaurants, bars and pubs the harbour makes a nice contrast, with a more traditional feel to it. At the entrance to the harbour is Nothe Fort built in the 19th century. Among the attractions aimed at families, one of the more unusual is an International Sand Sculpture Park called Sand World .  Another attraction on the seafront is the Sea Life Adventure Park, with a variety of sea creatures, including the much loved penguin.  Weymouth Pavilion puts on a variety of shows, plus wrestling and other events.  For nature lovers, Radipole Lake, adjoining the town, is an RSPB reserve with wetlands and paths for viewing waterfowl.

For a list of events in Weymouth and Portland, see here.

Map of the area.

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Weymouth beach and seafront. Photo by E. Gammie, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 25 March 2011


Following on from Chesil Beach, our magnificent coastline continues to display its amazing variety as this flat sandy stretch is replaced by the imposing lump of rock known as the Isle of Portland, which can be seen from miles along the coast. This name is a bit of a misnomer, because it is not really an island, but is reachable by a narrow piece of land connecting it to the mainland. There are wonderful views of the coastline from a hotel at the summit of the ‘Isle’. At the foot of the landward side of the bill is the port of Portland, which used to be a naval base, with a Naval Air Station, but this has now closed. The site has now been regenerated for the 2012 Olympics, with the building of Osprey Quay, which will play a part in the Olympics sailing events. Stone quarried from Portland is highly prized, and was used in the construction of St Pauls Cathedral and Buckingham Palace and, on the other side of the Atlantic, for the United Nations Headquarters building.

At the end of the Isle of Portland is the promontory known as Portland Bill. There is a lighthouse which can be visited which helps to warn passing ships of the presence of Shambles Bank, three miles offshore. There are two other lighthouse buildings in the vicinity, one of which is used by birdwatchers, who flock (pardon the pun) here in great numbers to view the wide variety of birds, including hoopoe, reed bunting and red-throated diver, to name but a few. The other lighthouse building is available as a holiday let.

Map of the area.

File:Portland Marina, Isle of Portland, Dorset-9455.jpg
© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


The section of shore stretching to the east of West Bay is probably one of the most famous beaches in the country, Chesil Beach, which stretches for 29 miles between here and Portland. For much of its length it forms the outside edge of a long, thin lagoon called The Fleet. The beach was the setting for a novel by the acclaimed British author Ian McEwan called “On Chesil Beach” about a couple on honeymoon in Dorset.

There are a number of small villages and hamlets along the stretch of land backing onto Chesil Beach, but probably the most famous is Abbotsbury. As well as being an attractive village in its own right, Abbotsbury has a famous Swannery, a unique visitor attraction which is the only place in the world where it is possible to walk right through a colony of nesting Mute Swans. Fans of these beautiful, graceful birds might be distressed to learn that the swannery was originally started by Benedictine Monks from Abbotsbury Abbey, who farmed the swans for food. Happily, the swans no longer grace the banquet tables of monks or anyone else; instead visitors can watch the swans themselves being fed twice daily. Alongside the swannery are some beautiful subtropical gardens and a children’s farm, which can be booked along with the swannery on a combined ticket.

Map of the area.

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Chesil Beach from Portland Bill.  Photo by Geoffrey Lloyd, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


West Bay is the port area serving Bridport, and is situated at the mouth of the River Brit, from which Bridport got its name. No blog about Dorset would be complete without a mention of its most famous literary son, Thomas Hardy, and Bridport/West Bay featured in several of his works including The Mayor of Casterbridge, reincarnated as Port Bredy. There is a golden beach here dominated by the distinctive yellow sandstone cliffs rising up to the east of it, and to the west, fine views back towards Lyme Regis. For seafood lovers, West Bay boasts one of the best fish restaurants in the country, The Riverside. Older readers may remember a comedy series starring the inimitable Leonard Rossiter called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin; the opening sequence of this, depicting Perrin abandoning his clothes on the beach and swimming out to sea, was filmed in West Bay. Bridport, just over a mile inland from West Bay, used to have a port of its own, and it was an important rope-making centre, so much so that the expression “Bridport dagger” was used to refer to the hangman’s noose.

For a list of events in West Dorset, see here.

West Bay and Bridport webcams.

Map of the area.