Trust me: just jump

We find that putting on a wetsuit is a great way to get around.


By Jessica Elgot, August 4, 2011
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The only way to get to the cliffs is by kayak

The only way to get to the cliffs is by kayak

My Sunday mornings aren't usually cliffhangers, unless I'm trying to remember the night before.

I'm more at home drinking strong coffee in my local greasy spoon.

But this particular day, with the wind whipping my hair, swaying above the deep azure sea, I am actually cliff-hanging. On the edge of a cliff in northern Jersey.

They call this pastime 'coasteering'- a mixture of cliff diving, free climbing along the cliffs, swimming and caving. Clad in a wetsuit, a helmet and six very fine looking instructors, I'm perched on the edge of a sharp jutting rock, above deep water. I'm expected to jump off.

"The thing is," I stutter to John Fox, the lead instructor, "this kinda feels like the sort of thing they warn teenagers NOT to do in Brighton. Isn't it called, um, tombstoning?"

"It's exactly like that," he says, "but they're idiots who don't know where to jump. I do."

Getting there

Flights: Blue Islands fly twice daily Monday to Friday and once on Sunday from London City Airport to Jersey from £96 (inclusive) one way. www.blueislands.com, 08456 20 21 22
Where to stay: Atlantic Hotel (see Hotel of the Week) offer a double room based on two sharing, with breakfast, from £250 a night. www.theatlantichotel.com, 01534 744101
Activity: Go coasteering with Jersey Adventures from £25 per person with all safety equipment included. Suitable for age 8 and over. www.jerseyadventures.com, 01534 498636

"Right," I say. Gulp. Fine.

"Make sure you push your toes right over the edge, and jump forward, away from the rocks," he says smiling.

Sure, fine. Another gulp. I'm worrying I might shortly be seeing my hotel breakfast again.

I start thinking wistfully of my normal Sunday in my greasy spoon, even if it meant going without the Atlantic hotel's smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

It was time, as they say, to take the plunge. Holding my nose and keeping my eyes skyward, I bomb down into the sea.

It's exhilarating. The cold water hits and then I emerge, gasping into brilliant sunshine. With such a violent shot of adrenaline, I'm soon clambering up even higher peaks to jump down, swimming in deep water and coming to rest in little inlets and hidden beaches.

"The only way to get here is by coasteering or kayaking," John says as we reach the copper-coloured, unblemished sand of a tiny cove, surrounded by high cliffs. It's a beautiful beach, perfectly hidden, and I'm expecting the cast of The OC to waltz up at any moment. It's a few seconds before I remember this isn't California, it's the Channel Islands.

Islanders love the sea. There's plenty of it; Jersey's landmass is just nine miles by five miles. Putting on a wetsuit is a great way to get around. It was Europe's surf capital in the 1970s, churning out championship surfers, and surfing is still the sport around St Ouen's Bay, on the west of the island, where pros peddle out into the Atlantic. Along the coastline, the tidal range is up to 40 feet.

The outdoor spirit is still strong in Jersey's 92,000 inhabitants. Yes, in the capital St Helier, there are fancy wine bars, designer shops and serious types in suits too. Banking and finance are the dominant industries and prices at the restaurants and hotels reflect that. But you're still as likely to come across serious cyclists, sailors and surfers as you are stockbrokers - and the two combined. That dreadlocked surfer on the beach is probably a hedge fund manager, or a tax-dodging rock star.

If you prefer your outdoor pursuits a little gentler, Jersey has fine walking, and excellent local produce for picnicking. I took a stroll along St Ouen's Bay, along a short stretch of the Five Mile Road, admiring the postcard-perfect view from the bay. But my eyes started to wander towards the land, and the breathtaking properties along the coastline. Many a millionaire has also been seduced by the view, enough to reach into his or her deep pockets to buy a small slice of the land.

St Aubin's is another beautiful coastal walk, where you might spot the creations of Simon the Sandcastle Wizard and his sand sculptures. A lazier stroll is one along the harbour at Gorey on the east coast, with views of its medieval castle.

Local sweethearts hang out on the south-west tip of the island, overlooking Corbiere lighthouse at sunset. There's often concerts there, or just couples picnicking. Pack yourself up a bag of produce from Genuine Jersey, an organisation that certifies local produce like bread, Jersey cream, the ubiquitous Jersey Royals, fruit, vegetables, herbs and salad, fudge and locally brewed beers. It's an opportunity to try Jersey black butter, a traditional preserve with apples, cider and liquorice. If you venture into the upmarket world of St Helier, then make sure it's to visit the Genuine Jersey market, which takes place on Thursdays at Liberation Place.

Whether it's a boarder or a banker, everyone's keen to remind you how "fiercely" and "proudly" independent Jersey is. They may be part of the British Isles, but they certainly aren't "English", they aren't part of the United Kingdom or the European Union. Only 19 miles from France, the islanders seem a world apart from both sides of the Channel.

They aren't governed by Westminster, meaning an island smaller than London's tube network has its own government, health system and, crucially, tax system. But flights to London City Airport mean that city boys can practically commute to Canary Wharf, in just over an hour.

You might be sick of hearing about Jersey's independence by the end of your trip, but, standing on the edge of the cliff, it's hard not to get drawn into the frontier spirit of the island, even if your wild coastal experience ends, as mine did, with a very English cream tea on the Atlantic hotel terrace.

    Last updated: 12:08pm, August 4 2011