Sunday, August 31, 2014

St Aubin's Bay Circuit

An early Sunday morning from Belcroute allowed a paddling circuit of St Aubin's Bay.  High tide meant that it was an easy launch of the pebbles, sheltered from the NW wind, which was blowing over the cliffs. After rounding St Aubin's Fort the wind, on our sterns, speeded our journey to Elizabeth Castle, our second major military fortification of the day. The return, into the headwind, wasn't as easy but the sun was out and it was a great morning to be out on the water.
St Aubin's Fort was our first target.  It was completed in the 1540's when St Aubin's was the main harbour on the island.  Additional fortifications were added by the German's during the Second World War.  Today it is operated as an activity centre by Education, Sport and Culture.
 Heading east across St Aubin's Bay we avoided the hobie cats, which were racing around the Bay.  Elizabeth Castle, offshore from St Helier, was built in the late 16th and 17th centuries.  Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor of the Island named the castle in honour of his Queen.
 In the 1970's and 80's members of the Jersey Canoe Club used to leave St Helier every Thursday night and usually included a circumnavigation of the castle on their paddle.  It is an area we venture into less frequently nowadays, which is pity is it is a fascinating historic paddle.
 Elizabeth Castle is well worth a visit on foot.
The end of the 19th century breakwater is painted as a navigation mark
 Crossing St Aubin's Bay was straight into the north westerly wind.  Offshore a cruise ship, of which there have been many more in Jersey this summer, lies at anchor.
 There was a slight swell having an impact on visibility, at times.
 We finished with a visit to Noirmont, returning to Belcroute along a pleasant section of
coastline.  A great 6.5 nautical miles.

Jersey Guide Book

After a disastrous paddling trip to Sweden at the beginning of August, when our luggage didn't arrive and therefore we missed the opportunity to get on the river, I was able to spend some time in Jersey putting the finishing touches to my latest book.  
Jersey: A Visitors Guide is available for Kindle, written with the general visitor in mind, although it does have some information on sea kayaking and other outdoor activities.  Available from Amazon, for less that a pint of beer, I think it would be useful for anybody considering a visit to the Island.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hong Kong Surprises

A quick visit to Hong Kong to visit our younger daughter who has been working there, was a week full of surprises.  There is the constant rush of the urban area but with a bit of effort it was easy to find a different side to this region.
Our first excursion was to the island of Cheung Chau, reached easily by ferry from the Central Piers, on Hong Kong island.  The 10 kilometre crossing taking about 30 minutes.  The central part of the island is well developed and appeared pretty crowded so we made our way to the east coast beaches, with the intention of doing some paddle boarding.
 The first surprise was the presence of shark nets, they can be seen running out to sea from near the rocks.  In 1995 3 swimmers were killed by sharks in 10 days so the Hong Kong authorities installed shark nets on a large number of beaches.  There have been no fatalities since.  This was the area that Hong Kong's only Olympic Gold medalist trained.  Lee Lai Shan won gold in windsurfing at the 1996 Olympics. 
 The southern and northern portions of the island consist of granite hills, just like paddling in Jersey, just the sea was a bit warmer.
 Taking a break with the main urban area of Hong Kong visible behind, hopefully the sharks have taken a day off as we dangled feet in the water.

On another day we visited Lantau Island to see the statue of Buddha at Ngong Ping, the cable car ride is nearly 6 kilometres long and gives great views.  After seeing the statue we dropped down to the village of Tai O, which many people also do.  After a walk around the village we left the crowds behind and headed into the hills, for the Tai O infinity pools.

The first section of the walk followed the coast west and south, fortunately most of the route was in the shade but it was still very hot.
After several kilometres of reasonably flat walking, the trail headed upwards.  Every now and again there were distant glimpses of some waterfalls.  On the walk in we only saw 4 other people.
On arrival at the waterfalls it was obvious that quite a few people had made the effort to walk to this delightful spot.
 The pools provided a great place to cool off, following the heat of the walk in from Tai O.  Technically you are not supposed to swim here, there is a sign saying that swimming is not allowed but I think in reality it can be ignored.
Looking over the lip of the dam.  The water behind is part of the Pearl River estuary
 and it was possible to see the building works for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge link, which went it opens in 2016 will be 50 kilomtres long.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Millennium Day

Towards the end of the 1990's the States of Jersey gave each Parish ( the island consists of 12 parishes) a wayside cross based on a medieval design.  The Societe Jersiaise presented to each Parish a granite standing stone, to be placed at various locations designated by the Parish.
Ronez Quarries donated the granite stones, which are between 9 and 12 feet high and the Jersey Field Squadron agreed to transport the stones and to help erect them.
The project was first suggested by Societe Jersiaise member Philip Le Brocq who said, "The standing stones will be giant fingers pointing to the future and inspiring people to think what the future holds for them."
Today I took the opportunity to cycle to all of the Millenium Stones, in one continuous circuit.  It actually took a bit of research to decide which was the most effective route, eventually deciding upon an anti-clockwise track, finishing with the St Brelade stone, which is the closest to where I live.
First stop St Lawrence.  Part of the way up Waterworks Valley, just below Dannemarche Reservoir, built in 1909 it was the second of the islands reservoirs
  Weather still wasn't great when I reached stone number 2, St Saviour.  Also located by a reservoir, Grands Vaux, constructed in 1952 it was the first big project from the Waterworks Company after the Occupation.

St Helier was next, on the waterfront at Havre des Pas, close to the seawater swimming pool.
 St Clement was next, after nearly 50 years of living on the island I had never seen this rural corner of this south coast parish.

 Grouville is next, looking towards Mont Orgueil Castle, one of the islands finest historic monuments.

 Half way through, St Martin's stone is on the breakwater at St Catherine's.  I am probably closer to France than my house.
 It was a long stretch to Trinity.  Hidden away in the trees it is not that obvious to find, somewhat spoilt by the proximity of the rubbish bins.
Sorel is the location for the St John stone. Sark is just visible behind, the scene of some great kayaking a couple of weeks ago.
St Mary is the smallest parish in terms of population.  The Parish placed its stone close to the North Coast Footpath.
It was a reasonable distance to the St Ouen stone, looking out over the whole of the west coast.
Most people think of the airport when they think of St Peter.  The parish stone was placed in front of the local primary school, a personal connection as my dad was head of the school when he retired.
 The last one, I arrived at the same time as a rather spectacular Marsh Harrier.

All that remained to do was to sink a quick pint at the La Pulente and then complete the journey home.  A total of 48 miles, which was surprisingly further than I expected but it did take me to some interesting parts of the Island.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thoughts of sunnier days - Comino

Another weekend with a less than favourable forecast, force 6 westerlies blowing through frequent rain showers is not an encouraging scenario on a Sunday morning.  It does allow time to reflect though on some of the paddles that I have been fortunate enough to undertake this year.
One destination which has been particularly memorable is the small island of Comino, situated midway between Gozo and Malta.  Only covering about 3.5 square kilometres in area it is a relatively straightforward paddle from Gozo, the crossing from Hondoq is less than 1 nautical mile.
Many people head to, and probably stay around the Blue Lagoon, but if that is all they do they are missing out on some interesting kayaking and exploration.
During the summer months it isn't possible to kayak through the Blue Lagoon so it is necessary to approach that section of coast from the west which does  allow the opportunity to explore the numerous caves and inlets in that area.  There is a cave running through the small island of Cominotto, which does give access to the Blue Lagoon.  On one occasion we moored the kayaks outside the cave and swam in to the small sandy beach.
In the area around the Blue Lagoon there are numerous caves, arches and stacks waiting to be explored but you are going to have to share the experience with the numerous other watercraft particularly during the warmer summer months.  There is some superb diving in this area including on the wreck of P31, a former East German  patrol boat, which also saw service with the Maltese armed services.  It was sunk on the 25th August 2009, it's location makes by yellow buoys in the centre of the bay
The most obvious building on the island is probably Santa Maria (St Mary's) Tower, in the south west of the Island.  Built in in 1618 it overlooks the channel towards Malta.  The walls are 6 metres thick and 12 metres high, it is a very substantial structure.  The south west of Comino is marked by a low narrow peninsula, the end of which is marked by a small lighthouse.
The south coast has limited landing places but increasingly high cliffs until the south east corner is reached, close to the Redoubt.  This was built in 1716 to help protect the South Comino Channel.  It was allowed to fall into really poor condition but was restored in 1996.
The east coast of Comino consists of high cliffs, with one area in particular looking like an elephant, the north east corner is marked by some great caves and narrow channels, many of which are only accessible by kayak.
Santa Marija Bay is normally a convenient place for lunch, pleasant swimming off the sandy beach just to the west of the slip or the opportunity to wander off to the east coast where there are some jumping spots and good caves to explore.
During the winter months Comino has an official population of 4, which is swelled considerably during the summer months as the visitors arrive from both Malta and Gozo.  Generally though, it is possible to miss the crowds when paddling, by avoiding the area around the Blue Lagoon and exploring the rest of the coastline of this delightful Mediterranean Island.
 Preparing to leave Hondoq, in common with so many slipways in the area it was incredibly slippy.
 Some of the many caves in the area just to the south of Blue Lagoon

Looking down on P31 with air bubbles from divers rising to the surface.  The location of the wreck is marked by a yellow buoy.
 Rounding the south west corner.  Hardly a memorable lighthouse.
One of the few places on the south coast where it is easy to land.  The group are busy doing a navigation exercise on a BCU course.
Some delightful rock architecture on the south coast.
Just about to round the south east corner of Comino.  The Redoubt is just visible above the kayakers. 
A narrow passage on the north coast, just prior to crossing back to Gozo.
If you want to avoid the crowds, it is probably best not to visit the Blue Lagoon during to tourist season.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dolmen Day

Another day of fairly constant westerlies at around force 5 encouraged another day on the cycle as opposed to being out on the water.  Rather than just a random ride around the Island I selected 5 dolmens and decided to join them together, using as many of the cycle routes as possible.  
I headed east from St Helier, following the coast initially before heading inland.  Mont Ube was reached first, in just under 3 miles.  The route to Faldouet went through some of the most pleasant countryside of St Saviour and St Martin, using small lanes to cover just over 5.5 miles.  It was then 3.5 miles to Dolmen du Couperon.  I stopped for drink and food because it was over 13 miles to Grantez, overlooking the west coast of the Island.
The route to the final dolmen dropped into St Ouen's Bay before a short climb to the headland above La Pulente, to visit La Sergente.  From here it was onto the Railway Walk and the cycle track back to St Helier.  Following the route that I took was exactly 37 miles.  It gave a real purpose to visiting some of the most fascinating historic sites on the Island.
A great day out.
First stop was the Dolmen de Mont Ube, to the east of St Helier.  Approximately 6,000 years old, the dolmen was excavated in 1848, sadly there had been significant damaged to the structure by people quarrying.  It had also suffered abuse as a rubbish dump and a pigsty.

La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, is pretty close to Gorey, although it would be quite a strenuous uphill walk.  It was first recorded as a site of historic interest in 1682 and was excavated several times before the start of the 20th Century.  Built about 6,000 years ago and has an unusual double chamber.
Le Dolmen du Couperon, overlooks the north east corner of the Island.  Approximately 5,000 years old it was first excavated in 1868, although not very well.
 Grantez, is located in a quiet corner of St Ouen the north west parish.  6,000 years old it was excavated in 1912, 8 human skeletons as well as bones from a variety of animals.  Grantez is a very special place for many people.
 La Sergente, on a headland between La Pulente and Corbiere, is possibly the oldest dolmen on the Island, at approximately 6,500 years old.  It was excavated in 1923, prior to this it was covered by a mound.  This was the last stop on the cycle route, it was pretty much all downhill to St Helier.

Looking across to Corbiere, it was clear from the sea state that the wind was still blowing fairly constantly from the west.  Cycling seemed like a good choice.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jersey Cycle Rides

As the remnants of Hurricane Bertha brushed past the Channel Islands, leaving a showery, blustery airstream in its wake, it was clear that conditions were going to be less than pleasant for a few days. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get the bikes out and to see something of the interior of the Island as opposed to the coastline. 
What a revelation, we cycled down roads we had never been down before saw hardly any traffic and had a couple or really memorable days.  We followed Route 1 and Route 3, information about the routes is available from Jersey Tourism, but we were pleasantly surprised how clearly signposted they were. 
 Corbiere, with a sea state which isn't typical of August.  Just heading out on Route 1, 40 miles right around the Island
Heading around Petit Port headland, one of a couple of short sections which were off road.
A steady climb out of St Ouen's Bay.  I had never been on this road before.
 We stopped off at Greve de Lecq for breakfast.  It would be great one day if the island authorities put up a sign which encourages you to enjoy the beach.  Everything on these signs is telling you not to do something.
 Hamptonne is in the middle of the Island.  There are exhibits regarding the agricultural heritage of the Island.  Route 3 passes by the entrance.  It is one of a number of properties which are looked after by Jersey Heritage
 The entrance to one of the finest passage graves in Europe, at Hougue Bie.  Another fascinating stopping point on Route 3.
 Another short section of off road, a hidden corner of St John's
 This stone is supposed to be in the centre of Island.  Cycling the other way you would miss this.  It is part of Route 3, which winds its way through the centre of the Island.
 On Route 1 you spend a considerable amount of time wandering around the narrow lanes of St Martin's.  Some of the climbs are pretty steep. 
Mont Orgueil Castle sits overlooking Gorey, on the east coast of the Island.  It is well worth a visit if you are cycling Route 1, it is one of the finest castles anywhere.