When visiting somewhere like the UK from somewhere like Australia, it seems mandatory to get involved in as much historical activity as possible. Whether its visiting museums, frequenting archaic tearooms or walking round relics and ruins, it seems traveling from the “new world” to the “old world” unearths in many the sudden and deep need to explore as many connections with “the past” as is feasible possible.
Being a born and bred European, this urge on our recent trip to Jersey in the Channel Islands, was not quite as strong in me, as in my Antipodean boyfriend. Saying that however, we both got pretty excited by the prospect not only of visiting a castle, but by actually spending a night in one too. That’s right, when visiting Great Britain darling, one simply must stay in a castle.
Ok, so maybe the use of the word castle is slightly overegging our stay in Archirondel Tower on the east coast of Jersey, but nevertheless it felt as rustic and old and creepy as a castle might. With basic sleeping and dining conditions it certainly imparted an eerie sense of us having stepped back in time. This was further aided by the wet and windy weather, which brought with it an added layer of drama and atmosphere. Yet plenty of blankets, some candles and a good amount of local sloe gin soon had us relishing this incredible experience.
Archirondel is what is known in Britain as a Martello tower, defined by its round structure and thick stone walls. Built at the edge of a beach with the same name, Archirondel Tower was originally constructed in 1794 as part of Jersey’s defence against attacking French armies.
Just 12 miles from the coast of Normandy in France, Jersey is in fact a lot closer, geographically, to France than to the UK, despite having been loyal to the British Crown for over 800 years now, Before that however, English and French forces were continually fighting over this small island in the Channel and all around the island various fortifications pay testimony to this.
Indeed, Archirondel Tower gives a wonderful view across the sea to nearby France. Despite the awful weather when we were there, the mainland was easily visible and on a clear day it even possible to see French cars driving about! There is no question, Archirondel Tower would have been excellently placed in order to defend Jersey, not least given the fact you could clearly see the French sailing towards you! Gun placements and windows designed to accommodate archers within Archirondel Tower, give clear indications of this legacy within the fortification itself and its windswept location has you feeling sorry for the poor men who would have been on the lookout in those days!
More recently, the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War has also left it mark on Archirondel Tower, with concrete strengthened walls and floors as well as machine gun placements giving clues as to its use in the 1940’s. Heavy iron doors add to this sense and all around you in the Tower history asserts itself.
Nowadays however, Archirondel strictly remains a tourist attraction and one of many historical sites around the Island of Jersey that is now under the care of its heritage association.
Wonderfully, Jersey Heritage has loving restored many its island properties and now makes them available to those looking for a slightly different experience during their time in Jersey. Frequented by islanders and tourists alike, many of the Jersey Heritage’s properties can be rented out for overnight or longer stays by individuals, families or groups.
While some of the Jersey Heritage sites have been given a slightly more modern makeover, many of them, like Archirondel, remain basic in their facilities, but large in their authenticity. Sleeping up to 10 people, Archirondel Tower itself hosts a number single beds between 2 levels. Down in the ground floor of the tower, a simply dining area as well as kettle and fridge make up the rudimentary kitchen area.
In keeping with this however, many of the originally features of the Tower remain and enduring a windy night there ourselves it was brilliant to see the thick stone walls in action and just how great they were at keeping you warm against the elements. Blankets were provided, but we certainly brought a few extra, along with hot bottles to make our stay more comfortable,
Without running water, staying in Archirondel, was almost like a camping excursion and it’s in this spirit that you have to enter into the experience. Those looking for luxury might be better placed to select one of Jersey Heritage’s more amenable properties for hire.
Not afraid to rough it however, we loved the rustic feel of the place and the sense of living history it affords. We also love the cost, which was very reasonable given the rarity of the opportunity you are being afforded. On a beautiful sunny day, where you could enjoy the neighbouring beach and coastal walks, a stay in Archirondel Tower would make a delightful getaway. For us, not lucky enough to see the sunshine, it was still a great experience and certainly one that we’ll remember for a long time. After all, its not everyday you get to sleep in a castle!