Then, abruptly, the path stopped and all I saw below me was a ravine. One of our guides, Val, took the plunge and eased her way down on the rocks. We all followed. We had to work our way carefully across the solid rock, avoiding where possible the scree that could plunge us to our deaths below. She took care to drop into the protected gaps between the rocks, sometimes having to ease down forwards, other times turn around and climb down as if on a ladder. After about fifteen minutes of this combination of techniques we were at the bottom of the ravine. Only now did I look up and see how far we had dropped down what was, once more, a dry waterfall. Our nurse friend was struggling. I don’t think she had quite appreciated that often the idea of a walk in St Helena could turn into a scramble and possibly a rock climb. We watched her coming down for a while and where possible guided her down the right path. I spent the time looking up at the route and wondering how easy it would be to get back up to civilisation. I really hoped no-one would have an accident down here as it would be a near impossible job to get back up.
We were still not at the bottom and the walk continued steeply. There was barely a scrap of vegetation down here, even the lichens and mosses cowered away on the underside of stones. Pat pointed out a scorpion here (yes one of those mythical creatures I had never believed in). What it managed to eat down here was difficult to fathom, but it was a fat plump one so there must have been enough other insects or maybe a stray animal that had lost its way from the uplands.
The roar of the sea echoed up the valley; at first I thought it was coming right up from the sea, but then I noticed that directly below where we were walking, there was a large hole in the rocks and sea waves were rocking in and out at regular intervals. It just goes to show how porous the geology of St Helena is. We dropped a little further, took a turn to the left and found ourselves at the beach. I say beach, in fact it was another of these wave cut platforms but at least we had something solid to sit on for lunch. Val scouted around for a while – it had been a year or two since she had been down here , but eventually located the post box behind a rock. Like many of the post boxes on St Helena, it was simply a long piece of white plastic piping. When you took the lid off, you would find a long piece of string. Pulling this brought up a plastic bag in which the log (an exercise book) a pencil, rubber stamp and ink pad were placed. We signed our names and stamped our books, but Pat noticed that the ink pad was almost dry. He brought our his little post box first aid kit from his own haversack, and topped up the ink, sharpened the pencil with a knife, but decided against having to refresh the jiffy bag.
The sea was choppy, even by St Helena standards, and the platform was frequently wetted by the spray. We walked on a short distance to the east and found a dry niche out of the worst of the wind and settled down for lunch. What a view. Surprising to say so considering we were at sea level. But there are so few places where you can even walk to the sea, let alone drive to it, that you cherished those few locations where you were close to the waves. They flooded into the gaps and weak points on the rocky beach, forcing up a mini bore which thrashed against the cliff faces, sprayed over the tops, then sucked backwards towards the ocean.
Just a hundred metres from the land was a small stack, and beyond was a larger one. Both were coated white in bird guano and a range of boobies and noddies were squawking away the whole time we were there. It had been dull when we arrived but as the sun came out these rocks looked more and more like elaborate wedding cakes. After lunch people ambled around the little bay and explored the sea caves on one side, or wondered at the power of the waves. We also marvelled at the view to the west. While Gill Point could be technically claimed to be the most south easterly point on St Helena, the next headland along was far more impressive. A great spired peak rose nearly 500m in a single step. Called the Great Stone Top it shimmered magnificently in the sunlight.
As with most of these coastal walks, the return trip had to retrace all our steps. Back up the first valley past the huge blowhole, scrambling up the steep ravine, rising up the valley and then finally back onto Prosperous Bay Plain. We became very spread out, our nurse was just not fit enough for the steep climb. Here we did deviate a little. We walked over to a line of oil drums, filed with sand and with little flags planted atop. The marked the proposed route of the new airport’s runway. At this time no physical work had started on the airport. The runway would cross most of the length of the plain; Rebecca had been working hard to ensure that the unique habitats on the plain were conserved as best they could. The most controversial element would be that part of the gut we had just walked through would be filled up. I wondered if the walk would still be able to exist, whether an alternative route would have to be mapped out. But also how awesome it might be to be walking deep in the valley and have the daily jet to South Africa take off over your head. As usual with these developments, mixed feelings.