Particularly on the first visit to St Helena, which was at the bottom of their winter and rain and cloud often shrouded the island, I could often forget I was even on an island. The deep valleys and twisting turning roads did their best to deceive you that you were nowhere near the sea. Unless you walked down to the coast as I suggested, rarely did you get extensive views of the ocean. The north west coast looking down from St Paul’s or Half Tree Hollow was one of those areas. A patch of rubbly grassy land called Horse Pasture , a popular camping and holiday spot for the Saints, was on where the rolling hillside just continued to drop away and there was nothing to impede the hugeness of the sea beyond.
It seemed funny that on an island so small people would go away for the weekend or longer. But I suppose like everyone, a change is as good as a rest and to leave your domestic life and go somewhere else helped their psyche enormously. I heard from others that this was not the most extreme case of this. On one of St Helena’s dependencies, Tristan Da Cunha, about 250 people live in the capital and only real settlement of Edinburgh-by-the-Sea. Many take their summer holidays a couple of miles away at the end of the only road on the island. A fertile plain allows people to plant vegetables, particularly potatoes, and here they pack their cars up and head towards to stay in little wooden chalets in amongst the plots. And on Pitcairn the 50 or so people who live there like to live dangerously by boarding a big wooden boat and rocking around on the waves for a few hours. The thought that half the population of the island might be wiped out if something happened to that boat seems not to cross their minds.
Half Tree Hollow was another place where you looked out at the ocean, and I went to Ladder Hill Fort at the bottom of the town (but the top of Jacob’s Ladder) and sat on the cliff edge looking out north westwards – some 750 miles back to Ascension Island then nothing but ocean till you got to Bermuda and North America. This side of the island was a good spot to look out for the RMS coming in from Ascension. Cathy Hopkins and her husband, Keith’s house at the foot of Alarm Forest had a great view out over James Bay and Keith told me he often would await the coming of the RMS with his binoculars trained on the horizon and watch it approach for the last hour or so of its long journey.
While on the island I had kept busy, enjoyed the scenery and the people, and not thought too much about how far away I was from anything else. But when you saw the ocean stretching off for miles in any direction, no distant island in site and no ships passing by, you did get that feeling of isolation well up inside you. The sky was silent too – Cathy did tell me that once a week you might get to see a plane go by. It had been worked out that it was some American airline flying a weekly service from Johannesburg to New York. People knew roughly what time it would head over and would specially go outside to see if they could spot it. Sometimes it came right over head, but more often you had to look off out to sea to the north to get a glimpse of its contrail.