Diana’s Peaks perch higher than most of the island, but so much of the inhabited area is on a high plateau studded with more ridges and pointed or flat hilltops. To the south west of the national park runs a particularly large ridge. Remnants of the endemic species have managed to cling on to various clefts along this route. A road precariously runs along the ridge top to the most remote of St Helena’s settlements, Blue Hill. Rebecca took me along here to see more work to restore the natural vegetation at a spot called High Peak. A single triangular mountain rises up to an altitude barely 30m less than Diana’s Peak itself. But it is both treacherously steep and exposed to the Atlantic gales from every direction. Clearing flax here has become an exercise in mountaineering. Conservationists had to abseil off the ridge edge, and still attached to their safety ropes attempt to cut out the flax tenaciously clinging on to any piece of soil it could find. The waste was dropped to be picked up later by teams working in the safer environment of a pathway at the foot of the slope.
The cliff edges and dells of High Peak provided niches that had examples of some of the rarest endemics on the island including a curious creature called the Yellow Spiny Woodlouse. It also contained the largest stand of black cabbage woodland still extant. Another peculiar plant which existed here was a curious hybrid. There was a very rare endemic plant called the ebony, but there appeared to have been hybridization with the more common redwood tree producing a plant christened rebony.
The endemic plants being reintroduced here at one time were once extensive over the higher altitudes, but other land uses now preclude any attempts to do widespread planting. Despite them not being native, the transformed nature of the areas at the fringes of the national park were to me an attractive landscape, maybe as it had echoes of the south west of England or west Wales. The narrow roads were situated down in shallow trenches, I suppose to give a little shelter to people travelling along them. The grassy banks either side were lush (although of course covered in invasives!) and either side lined with rolling pastures for sheep and cattle. Trees lined some of the roads again to give shelter and shade, and were dotted around the fields to give a parkland effect, but there are also substantial forest plantations at this elevation. Houses were generally of two types here – either they were grand Georgian structures where the well to do once lived, or they were curious elongated single storey farmsteads crouching down against the elements. I found out there was a habit of building rooms in a long line as resources permitted but for a time there was no inside connecting hallway – you had to go out and back in to get from, say, the bedroom to the kitchen.