I was pleased to get to the Barn. I was also pleased to head out to Gill Point, which is about the most south easterly point of St Helena. It was only a week after the Barn and many of the same people were with us that day, including a nurse from England who had come down on the ship with me to take up her post at the hospital. Our rendezvous point was just beyond the Millennium Forest, close to where the Public Works Department had a depot. From this compound full of rusty bits of metal and piles of gravel, we soon headed out towards Prosperous Bay Plain, which is the same as the compound without the rusty bits of metal. That is unfair – it can have that appearance at first sight, but in fact has a unique ecology and landscape that makes it rather special. We dropped down gently in to Fishers Valley and found, nestled in amongst a patch of old gumwood trees and other low trees, there was a permanent stream. It was another example of how St Helena turns your world upside down. In many countries rivers start small and grow bigger as they get closer to the estuary, but so often in St Helena, streams build up in the wet highlands, push out into the drylands and either evaporate or disappear into the highly porous volcanic rock. This one which comes from a catchment in Diana’s Peaks was more resilient than most and I think may have flowed to the sea from time to time. That also explained the trees able to find enough water to grow this far down the slopes.
We rose gently on the other side and the ground opened up onto the plain itself. When you are so used to the island being up and down (you never got out of third gear in the car), it made a refreshing change to see a flat area of land, and to walk around without watching every single step. It did not last for long. We entered the valley that would take us to the coast, and by its name, Dry Gut, we knew that we weren’t going to see a permanent stream here. We were back on stony ground and the path started to gently descend eastwards. We did not follow the gut closely – it obviously did flow sometimes and we saw some high dry waterfalls that dropped the gut deeper in a gorge. The path circumvented the steep cliffs then dropped down to join the gut again. But at about 250m above the sea, we hit one place where we could not avoid a clamber. We reached a sharp edge and could see almost straight down to two small stacks in the sea. To me there was no obvious way down but fortunately we had a few people on the team who had walked the route before. They pointed out the faint indentation in the stones which marked where a pathway had been worn away. It zigzagged steeply for several hundred metres, managing to avoid the first cliff, but we could see another steep drop ahead of us. We were now deep in the gully and the land, including Prosperous Bay Plain was towering above us. On a map it appears as a tiny valley but the map cannot convey the vertical distance we were dropping.