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Colourful history of green island.

THE big brown eyes of endearing Jersey cows gazed at me over hedges as I walked along the island's "Green Lanes", passing pink granite farmhouses, neat fields of Jersey Royal potatoes and palatial houses in large gardens.

On foot you really feel part of the countryside and notice details invisible to motorists as they speed along.

Only nine miles by five miles in size, Jersey is certainly suited to walking as well as cycling, especially as it has few uncomfortably steep hills.

Yet the islanders themselves don't seem to agree. They have the world's highest car ownership - 64,000 for a population of 85,000.

Many of the island's roads have been designated as Green Lanes where walkers, horse-riders and cyclists take precedence over cars. One day I joined a tour organised by the tourist office.

Our guide filled us in on the island's varied history, explaining that it was once part of Normandy but then chose to become British. Occupied by the Germans during World War II, it now thrives on off-shore banking.

He took us to the German Underground Hospital, the 300-year-old Hamptonne farm owned by the National Trust and the charming Battle of Flowers Museum which displays some of the award-winning floats made by Florence Bechelet (who is now over 80) for the annual Battle of Flowers (August 12 this year).

Staying at St Aubin's beside its little fishing harbour, I had a superb view across the four-mile bay to St Helier, Jersey's bustling capital. Elizabeth Castle, built in the 16th century on a tiny island, guards the approach to its harbour.

On the town's newly-built waterfront, the upturned hull of a wooden ship catches the eye but on closer inspection it proves to be the strikingly-modern La Fregate cafe. The mellow cedar boarding exterior contrasts dramatically with the crisp white decor inside.

Ariadne, one of only two performing steam clocks in the world, takes pride of place on the quay. Decked out with funnels, paddle-wheels and ship's rails and surrounded by water, it marks the hours by blowing out bubbles and steam, spurting water and clanging.

Several old customs warehouses nearby have been transformed into Jersey's new Maritime Museum which answers every question you could possibly think of about ships and the sea. There are gadgets to operate, inter-active video screens and specially-commissioned models, paintings and photographs.

For a day out further afield, ferries make the 45-minute crossing from St Helier to Guernsey four times a day.

Or you can fly there in just 15 minutes.

Fact file: Holiday guide available from Jersey Tourism in St Helier, tel: 01534 500700. Jersey European Airways flies from Birmingham to Jersey twice daily. For Guernsey information ring 01481 723552.
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Author:Thomas, Gillian
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 20, 1999
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