Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

A laid-back island bailiwick that's part British, part something else

Tomas Mackle from Armagh in action at the Bol Chumann na hEireann senior Mens All Ireland road bowling final at Lyre, Clonakilty Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Tomas Mackle from Armagh in action at the Bol Chumann na hEireann senior Mens All Ireland road bowling final at Lyre, Clonakilty Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

Everyone we told that we were going to Jersey on holiday responded with some version of "watch out, there's an awful lot of crime for such a small place."

This was meant to be a witty reference to Bergerac, the rugged TV detective - played by John Nettles - who vroomed around the 9 by 5 mile island in a vintage roadster for over a decade in pursuit of a relentless stream of baddies.

Despite the warnings, we got back last week without any major mishap, having enjoyed a relaxed and pleasant, if pricey, sojourn.

A major reason for the relaxing atmosphere is the low road speed limits.

The maximum is 40mph and that is only on the dual carriageway along the south coast near the capital St Helier while the limit on the Green Lane network which gives priority to pedestrians and cyclists is just 15mph.

Once you actually get behind the wheel, these limits make sense.

The curly wurly roads are often unexpectedly steep and boreen-narrow.

Rather than a soft grass margin, they are more likely to be bounded by the unyielding wall of a granite dwelling house.

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Jersey has a rich history and, given its location, has often been the battle-line between forces from north and south.

Most roads still have French names while the island was the only part of Britain occupied by Germany during World War II, a legacy which is still keenly felt.

Of course the question on everyone's lips is what happens now with Brexit, which Jersians did not vote on. Jersey is part British and part something else, a crown dependency but self-governing.

The population tops 100,000 and the economy is often described as a three-legged stool, financial services, tourism and agriculture. The financial sector accounts for around 40pc of employment.

However, it was badly hit by the 2008 worldwide recession and is struggling to re-establish itself.

Prior to its financial rise, tourism was the biggie. Being just 14 miles north of France, Jersey was long popular with visitors from mainland UK, some 87 miles further north, because they could drive on the left and eat chips while enjoying miles of sandy beaches and more sunshine than at home. In the 1970s, visitor numbers hit 1.5 million.

Today's Britons are more likely to check into a high rise in Magaluf where they can get toasted even faster whilst drinking cheap booze so visitor numbers have slumped to under 400,000.

Visitor attractions abound and we were charmed by the friendliness of the people but there is no disguising the fact that prices were high, presumably a combination of the exchange rate and because most everything has to be imported.

Agriculture accounts for under 2pc of GDP and less than 5pc of employment but it still plays an important export role and there is a lot of pride in the sector.

I was, obviously, familiar with the breed of dairy cow named after the island but what I didn't realise is the importance of the potato, specifically an early variety called the Jersey Royal, which is the major export crop, to the UK, where it commands a premium price.

Honesty boxes are used by many farmers to sell their excess fruit and veg including the likes of strawberries, apples and tomatoes but they have been increasingly replaced by farm shops.

Often these are also the location of other connected businesses, such as a vet, café or dog kennel.

We are glad to have gone but happy, too, to be home. Not least for the open roads.

Indo Farming