The Consulate HotelAs I would say to the Governor ….
No sign of the Governor at the bar
It’s amazing what a spot of sunshine can do! I have been following the trials and tribulations of folk in the UK suffering (or, sometimes enjoying) the first few winter flakes of snow and have felt just a tinge of regret that I can’t be there to witness it. Then I look out of my window and see the impact that the summer sun has on the colours of the landscape and sea around me. One thing that I have only just realized (and I’m sure that it’s one of those things that everyone in the whole wide world realized when they were only knee high to a grasshopper) is that the sun doesn’t set in the same place the whole year round. When I first arrived on St Helena, the April sunset gave me a brilliant technicolour display from my sitting room window as it disappeared into the Atlantic (yes, I know that it doesn’t really sink into the sea!). Now in mid-summer January it disappears around the headlands of Goat Pound Ridge and Half Moon Battery (I promise you) before we are thrust into the pitch dark
From Diana'S Peak
Looking towards 'Lot's Wife' and Sandy Bay
of night. Sunday evening and the sky is fairly clear so we have a good chance of a spectacular night sky. Earlier last year a very eminent astronomer came to visit St Helena – not to stare at the stars but to examine the blackness in between Apparently the blackness is blacker in St Helena than anywhere else on the planet.
The summer warmth (and readers in the UK will be pleased to read that whilst they are gathering around the fire I am sitting here in my shorts and T shirt anticipating my evening tipple of an iced ‘Shipwreck’ – spiced rum and coke – a proper drink for a summer’s evening) brings the senses alive. I have just returned from a most delightful walk that is fast becoming my evening perambulation of choice. I drive down to the Plantation (Governor’s residence), park my car and begin my evening walk. Uphill past St Paul’s Cathedral, under the cedar arcade up from Lufkin’s until the vista opens up to the left – and what a view this is. Towards the north-west there is the barrenness of Prosperous Plain overlooked by the twin-peaked hills of Flagstaff and the Barn. If one then looks to the right, greenery takes over on the central ridge of sub-tropical forest. The high peaks of Diana and Mount Actaeon covered with tree fern and flanked by the ubiquitous flax dominate the centre of the island. Then, further to the right, Sandy Bay Ridge (again covered with flax) reflects the late afternoon sun. But no time to stare – the gently uphill route of the road beckons and a good hour and a half walk lies ahead. It doesn’t take long before I am out at the road junction of Bates Branch – take the right fork and you would soon be in the rolling pastureland towards Head o’ Wain and Blue Hill – perhaps the most picturesque part of the island.
But, no, this afternoon’s walk takes me further south along the Sandy Bay Ridge. Unusual for the island, this walk is mostly a gentle incline. Up into the high hills that open out to the south towards Sandy Bay itself. Whatever the weather, the views here are spectacular. But today, with the rapidly disappearing sun, the views are astonishing. The deep greenery ahead is overtaken by the grainy barrenness towards Sandy Bay and Lot’s Wife. Apparently in Colin’s bar at Sandy Bay you can buy Guinness from a cask. From South Africa and not Ireland I understand but probably worth the trip if one is so inclined. The giant pillar of Lot himself overlooks this moonscape area – the volcanic rock given some warmth from the sun.
Upwards, upwards until the road branches. Further uphill (but not difficult) the walk takes you through the flax area until it descends rapidly past the illustrated signpost directing walkers up Diana’s Peak, to the right of Swampy Gut until you reach the road junction at Lemon Gut. Perhaps it’s the high humidity, but the walk is accompanied by the rich natural smells of the island – pine of course but, also, the rich decaying smell of fruit that has dropped from the trees. Lively, not pungent and somehow less laden than the autumn smell of end of season fruit at home. Everywhere is silent, the only birds are the occasional grouse, pheasant and chicken – yes I walked past a hen and her young brood today. Can you get wild chickens? The walk concludes with a sharp decline on the ‘W’ road until I get to the only steep part of the walk. A long, gently winding climb past the Boer War Cemetery, Knoll Combe Baptist Church and fine examples Thorn Trees with their wondrous red-brown trunks. There, unlocked, is my car waiting to take me home to New Ground.
Whilst walking with my senses today I was reminded of that dreadful ditty by Alan Sherman (I think) ‘Hello Mother, Hello Father’) that used to be played on Children’s Favourites by that grumpy old Uncle Mac – if you now have that appalling song lodged in your brain like I have then I apologize. It has taken a bit of summer sun and warmth to knock that ‘one degree under’ feeling I had on arriving back on the island. Living out here, if only for a couple of more months, is a real personal adventure and I have live every possibility that this year has to offer. This week I have 2 new ventures – late Monday afternoon is the beginners’ choir for all those people who doubt that they can sing; Tuesday is a go at the shooting club. My fellow radio presenter Jean and I will fill our Tuesday radio spot with a spot of target shooting. With my record of sporting and cultural success on the island I can’t possibly fail to be something of a hotshot! I will let you know.
So poor old Uncle Mac – I thought he was just a grumpy old man but I read that he has rather belatedly become embroiled in the Jimmy Saville investigation. Little did we know that whilst we were listening to Michael Holiday warning us of the devastation caused by the Runaway Train (which of course would mean nothing to the young folk on the island) some poor little child was being bounced on grumpy uncle’s knee. The world is full of surprises!
Apparently I have disappointed a couple of readers who understood that my more than occasional evenings at the ‘Consulate’ have not been spent in the opulent home of the Governor but in the rather fine hostelry in Main Street, Jamestown. Don’t worry – in the most unlikely circumstance of HE inviting me round to his home for a drink and discussion on ballroom moves you will be the first to hear. Don’t hold your breath!
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