Our walk started by us passing through the Gates of Chaos. It conjures up all sorts of Hieronymus Bosch style visions, but in fact was a different interpretation of hell. It was one which was devoid of vegetation or water, and simply rock after rock stretching across steep sided valleys, jagged peaks and long ridges. The weather was not the best and we rose up into a mizzly cloud, but as we reached the pass, blue sky started to break through and soon it was a hot sunny day. We descended the far side in full sunshine and was able to see right along the coast to the south western tip of St Helena. We were heading for the shore, but all I could see were deep ravenous valleys and sharply pointed ridges, and no sign of where the path was heading. It drew a thin line across the scree in front of us, barely a child’s foot’s width and was another of those famous St Helena pathways that not even total concentration of one foot after another could guarantee your safety.
The path started to become lower in elevation. Above us to our right , we were now almost below Lot’s Wife; its top still obscured by swirling cloud. It could have been mistaken for a live giant watching our progress and ready to pick off the juicier walkers when the others had gone by.
As I said, the route was devoid of vegetation; well almost. A few lichens managed to cling on, battered by the salty winds; they stuck close to the rocks and gave them orangey or red hues. And one little plant hid away in any shelter it could find, a beautiful succulent called Devils Baby Toes. The particular species is endemic to St Helena. It has green fleshy and bulbous protuberances which could almost be baby toes apart from the colour, but their ends are reddened, which is why one of the common names added Devil on the front. Everything around this part of the island seems to have more to do with Hell, or at least God’s vengeance. In some places the baby toes had formed an extensive carpet several metres across but they were very endangered. More common species of baby toes were prevalent elsewhere in the island but here, isolated on the south west corner was the largest known habitat of these special endemic forms.