Saturday and Sunday, 12 -13 October
We made the decision to put aside property searching and go and explore the island a bit. Firstly we went looking for Jonathan, the ancient giant tortoise approaching his 200th birthday who lives in the grounds of Plantation House, the Governor’s residence. Last time, I was free to walk round the paddock and get ‘up close and personal’ with the tortoises. My companion on that occasion even had his foot stood on by a young whippersnapper of less than 100 years. He was heavy enough though! How disappointing to see that the paddock is now fenced off and visitors are restricted to a ‘tortoise-viewing corridor’, along with strict instructions not to touch the tortoises. We hear that the current governor is fearful that Jonathan might die on his watch and is doing all he can to prevent harm. Our view is that Jonathan is more likely to succumb from lack of human contact and the chin tickling that he so obviously enjoyed last time. We only saw two of the five tortoises: one young and one who might possibly have been Jonathan; but looking from a distance was not the same as crouching down beside him to have eye-to-eye contact and a conversation. Sad face…
The weather has been quite bright and warm since arriving, but on Saturday the air was breezy and there seemed to be cloud cover up on the tops. On continuing west up to High Peak territory we found ourselves surrounded by swirling wispy clouds with the wind whistling through the branches of stunted misshapen trees and shrubs. This is the land of the St Helena Donkey Home. The rescued donkeys had been abandoned after the collapse of the flax industry when Royal Mail chose to substitute flax twine with those ubiquitous red rubber bands we find dropped on pavements and stairwells all over the place. The organisation set up to care for the donkeys is very active, with its own website (http://wikivillage.sh/st-helena-donkey-home) and Facebook page. Weekly ‘walk the donkey’ experiences are offered to the public. The donkeys are also used by the St Helena National Trust whose members go out regularly to plant endemic species, clearing the flax and sisal that have naturalised and spread all over the island, often in inaccessible places. I was impressed to find a proper shelter in the place of the open rough piece of ground I remembered. I have since discovered that Basil Read, the company building the airport, donated the materials for the shelter. Waiting to head home after walking the donkeys were some of the mums and children we’ve met both on the boat and through work. I had explained about the rescued donkeys to Alan and had emphasised that the boy and girl donkeys were kept apart as there were no plans to allow them to breed. Imagine my surprise when we found alongside the donkey walkers a jenny and her beautiful baby donkey! It seems the policy has changed.
A bit further on, continuing in a westerly direction towards Blue Hill, past the arboretums not explored this time, past the outline of the Boer prisoner of war camp, past St Helena of the Cross church, we stopped and walked up a small path along Hooper’s Ridge discovering an old military bunker tucked away on the top surrounded and semi concealed by shrubs, including local raspberries and tall ageratum. There is more to explore there – a path leading down beyond where the eye can see which was too strenuous for my fragile state; but we will go back to ‘do’ it properly one day.
We got back to Jamestown and headed for a siesta. I slept for a couple of hours and woke to find Alan gone. He returned around 4 pleased to announce that he had been to the top of the ladder and back. The famous ‘inclined plane’ consists of 699 steps (there were 700 but the resurfacing of the road at the bottom absorbed one of them) and is a taxing climb. It was built in 1829 by the St Helena Railway Company (fascinating that there should ever have been a railway company here) as a cableway to lift supplies up to Ladder Hill fort from Jamestown nearly 200m below. The Royal Engineers rebuilt it as a steep staircase in 1871 and named it Jacobs Ladder. Every year there is a timed race with the record standing at just over 5 minutes (http://sthelenaonline.org/2013/01/23/graham-beats-jacobs-ladder-record-hands-down/). Alan forgot to time himself but tells me he completed the ascent “quite quickly”! He is paying the price! I have never seen him suffering so much from stiff muscles, particularly on walking down hill or stairs. Even two days later, he still looked like he was fitted with double metal calipers as he struggled to move around freely.
On Sunday morning, we took a phone call from the Tourist Office. The owner of the Half Tree Hollow property had contacted them to say that a 2 year rental had been agreed since we first expressed an interest so that was being preferred to our meagre three month rent. We can’t blame them, but it was another blow.
Alasdair, the descendent of one of Napoleon’s guards and fellow Wellington House resident, has been a great distraction from the woes of accommodation searching. He joined us on a drive to Rosemary Plain and Mount Eternity so I could introduce Alan and him to one of the favourite parts of my last visit’s discoveries. We walked up to the top of Mount Eternity, a little peak that continues on to Friars Ridge, a narrow rocky tongue which peters out high, high above the Atlantic. We stood a little along the ridge, looking back towards the wooded community of Scotland and out to the ocean far, far below and beyond, hoping to catch a sight of sea life. Our other fellow Wellington residents, here to investigate setting up an airline to use the airport, had seen whales and dolphins from the shore the previous day. We were too high up and far away, however, to spot sea life, even with binoculars. We did spot at close range a pair of fairy terns, the beautiful snowy white birds that are all over St Helena. This pair considered that we were too close to their nest and put on a half-hearted show of ‘dive bombing’ us to scare us off. I was sorry that they were alarmed, but delighted to get such close views of these pretty birds.
After driving back round Scotland up to White Gate and St Pauls, we headed again out along the High Peak road stopping at both the George Benjamin and Clifford arboretums. Alan and Alasdair had a walk round the former. We took a look through the entrance of the Clifford arboretum and made the decision to postpone the circular walk for another day. It looks like a good couple of hours would be necessary and a picnic stop was recommended. Along the roadside and into the woods, multiple patches of arum lilies in flower brightened the dark over- and undergrowth.
I wanted to pat the baby donkey so we headed on to the donkey sanctuary only to find that they were all at the top end of the field and could not be cajoled into coming to the gate. Ah well – another time..
Back in Jamestown, we headed to Ann’s Place at the back of Castle Gardens which are beautifully prolific just now with petunias, fuschias, amazing amaryllis and many other plants in flower. Loud dance music emanated from the restaurant due to a children’s party in full swing. We were able to sit a little away from the happy chaos and enjoy a light lunch and further chat with Alasdair before heading back to Wellington House.
As we were preparing to set out in the morning, Ivy the proprietor of Wellington’s who has been very sympathetic about our accommodation plight found us to tell us that she had thought of an accommodation possibility. Someone, currently visiting family in the UK, had an empty cottage in New Ground which might be available, though she was a little reluctant about letting it out when she is not around. Her son owns a sandwich shop just down the road from Wellington House. While we were out, Ivy had made an enquiry about the availability. We hoped there would be an answer when we returned, but Ivy had heard nothing back yet. So Sunday finished with more rest and another lovely supper. We had to be patient for another night before we would know the answer to Ivy’s request on our behalf.