STEPHEN WEBB discovers the delights - and the sobering history - of the island of Jersey

I'M a great believer in the old adage "size isn't everything".

The lovely island of Jersey is just nine miles from east to west and five miles north to south, but boy does it cram a lot into that little bit of land, an island just 14 miles off the Normandy coast yet is resolutely part of the United Kingdom.

And it is now so easy to get to for those of us on mainland Britain that Jersey has become a popular tourist destination.

There really is something for everyone. Sandy beaches for family bucket-and-spade holidays? Check. Challenging coastal walks with breathtaking views? Check. A fascinating history to delve into? Check. Pleasant country drives with surprisingly varied scenery? Check. Great places to eat and drink? Check. Shopping? Check.

And believe it or not, we managed to do most of that during our all-too-brief four-day visit (scratch the bucket and spade bit though, and the "children" bit of the family - all were left at home).

With our base a short hop from the beach at St Aubin's Bay, we wasted no time in getting out and about at the first hint of sunshine.

A stroll on the sand and a 10 minute walk took us to the delightful harbour village of St Aubin, where you can enjoy pleasant views across the bay to St Helier, the island's capital, as well as visiting a range of attractive shops, pubs and restaurants.

Then it was back to the car for a short drive (well, everywhere on Jersey is a short drive) to Noirmont Point. Have I used the word "breathtaking" yet? The views from this clifftop promontory are stunning, with a shimmering sea ahead of you and beaches and small towns and villages either side.

It occurred to me as I was exploring this location that it is every bit as spectacular and, er, breathtaking as Land's End in Cornwall - but without the theme park. Not that there isn't anything else to see other than the cliffs and sea - this clifftop is dotted with remnants of the Nazi occupation in the Second World War, strange concrete structures that housed artillery, munitions and troops.

They should look out of place amid this glorious scenery, but oddly they fit in and give an important historical perspective to the location.

With the breath having returned to our bodies, it was about to be taken away again as we wove our way along some country lanes to Corbiere, another stunning viewpoint. It's more commercialised than Noirmont Point - there's an ice cream van there - but is every bit as spectacular, with a lighthouse a short distance out to sea from the headland making this place popular with photogaphers (I'd already made a mental note to return with my camera at sunset).

With sun pouring from an azure sky, we felt the need to kick back and relax for the rest of the afternoon and so headed for St Brelade's Bay, a delightful location of sweeping sands and rolling surf that made me wish I'd brought that bucket and spade and "children" after all. Overlooking the beach is a row of bars and restaurants, and nestled into the cliffside is St Brelade's Church, the origins of which date back to the 11th century and has its own medieval chapel, the Fisherman's Chapel, in the grounds.

Morning on day three of our stay saw cloudy skies and the threat of rain so, in the words of Paul Weller, we were going underground.

The Jersey War Tunnels are another sombre reminder of the wartime occupation by the Germans. Hohlgangsanlage 8, or Ho8 as it was known, is a network of tunnels dug into the hillside, originally to provide barracks and storage space for ammunition, but towards the end of the war became a hospital complex.

Work on the tunnels was never completed, although 1km of them remain and now houses a fascinating museum chronicling the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands.

I don't think I have been so affected emotionally by a museum as I was on emerging into the daylight after leaving the War Tunnels. I have gawped in wonder at the uniform - complete with musket ball hole and bloodstain - Nelson wore when he fell at the Battle of Trafalgar at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. And the dinosaur skeleton at the Natural History Museum widened my eyes in astonishment.

But the Jersey War Tunnels are a choker.

The story this museum tells is sobering and not a little shocking - not simply by the fact that these little islands were subjected to Nazi subjugation, but also because they were virtually abandoned by the Government on mainland Britain. Churchill believed the Channel Islands held no strategic importance and British troops were withdrawn; Hitler did see stratetic value to the islands and on June 30, 1940 they became the only part of the United Kingdom to be occupied by enemy forces during World War Two.

The museum is superbly laid out, with the subterranean layout intensifying the atmosphere with the displays well designed and captivating.

But what really makes it memorable is that the museum tells the stories about the people of the Channel Islands, about how their daily lives were dictated by the occupying forces, with an early civility gradually being replaced by suspicion, threat and even cruelty as the war progressed, with the islanders living with the knowledge that their government had virtually turned its back on them.

As you leave the museum, you hear the strains of Vera Lynn singing about bluebirds and the white cliffs of Dover as a large photograph of Churchill and the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace is revealed. Irony is alive and well on Jersey.

But it didn't end there. On buying tickets for the museum, each visitor is given what looks like a replica identification card. Inside each is a photograph of a wartime islander and ID card-type details on that person. Mine was for a clergyman called Clifford Cohu, who it says was born on December 20, 1883, was married and, among his "Physical Peculiarities", was a tattoo of a tiger on his left forearm.

We were told that when we had finished looking around the museum, we could go to the cafe, where there is a "wall of faces" - there we could trace our particular islander and read their story.

Quite a clever marketing idea to sell some cream teas, I thought. Well, we did go in the cafe, we did have a cream tea - and then we spent almost as long browsing that wall as we did in the museum.

I found Clifford's photograph and read about him with interest, and sadness. It turns out he was a thorn in the side of the occupying forces, spreading information and news in his sermons and generally preaching against the Germans. He was arrested on March 12, 1943 and sentenced to a year and six months imprisonment for failing to surrender leaflets and spreading anti-German news.

He was sent to various camps on mainland Europe, ending up at Zöschen, a camp under SS authority. On September 20, 1944 Clifford died from the brutal treatment he suffered. A small Bible was found pressed to his chest.

Clifford is my new hero from history.

Other stories on the wall are no less moving - there was the young woman sent to a concentration camp, where she later died, for slapping the face of a German soldier who molested her; the man deported for listening to an illicit wireless set and aiding and abetting his sister in sheltering an escaped Russian slave worker; and the elderly sisters who were arrested for "unlawful possession of a wireless set and camera, and spreading hostile propaganda with the intent of inciting troops to rebellion".

Our final day gave us a chance to explore St Helier before our ferry departed. The town does have a lot of charm, but much of that has been diminished by modern development, which rather swamps some of the more attractive locations. But it is still worth spending a day here, so get a map and guide book and wander at will.

Particularly popular is Elizabeth Castle, which can be accessed by foot at low tide, or by amphibious vehicle when the castle is cut off by the sea.

There are also museums dedicated to the town's history, some peaceful and characterful squares in which to sit and people-watch, and of course plenty of shops, with Central Market well worth a visit, if only to admire the architecture and variety of stalls.

WE stayed at the Lynhurst Hotel during our visit. Located on the busy road between St Helier and St Aubin, the Lyndhurst is a lovely guest house facing the beach with fabulous sea views. The breakfasts are special too - they make lunch pretty much irrelevant.

Our room, one of 11 en-suite, was clean and comfortable, and looked out over the bay.

Our hostess Annette, who only took over the hotel with partner Angelo last year, couldn't do enough for us - she will gladly book tables at restaurants, find tickets for attractions, and she'll even help with the island's fiddly "scratchcard" type parking tickets (these things are a real pain in the bum and about the only negative thing about our stay in Jersey - they are not at all tourist friendly and need to be rethought).

Nearby St Aubin is a great place to dine out and we tried two very nice restaurants - The Tenby, which is clearly popular with tourists and locals alike, and The Old Court House, which we later discovered doubled up as the local for TV detective Bergerac when it was filmed on the island.

WE travelled to Jersey with Condor Ferries, which operates a year-round service to the Channel Islands from Poole with its fast ferry Condor Liberation, alongside a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth.

We were passengers on the Liberation for this trip, a journey which takes about four and a half hours. On board there is a lot of space and comfort, and there is a restaurant, bar and shop. It was a pleasant crossing, although it can get a bit choppy at times.

Prices start from £59pp each way with a car. To book, visit or call 0845 609 1024.

For further information about The Lyndhurst Hotel visit and for email bookings click here