We came out of the shed and past a few barriers to where a hundred or so people were waiting. In amongst the parked cars there were smiles and looks of surprise. Families coming down specifically to pick up one or two passengers would recognize old friends coming ashore. You never get that at an airport. One saint had come back for a surprise visit to St Helena as his mother was having a landmark 70th birthday. He was working as a merchant seaman and had got dressed up in his best uniform to doorstep her later that day. My first contact on St Helena was Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, an English lady who had conducted environmental research down on the island, fallen in love with a saint and now was a permanent resident.
She handed me a set of keys and showed me the car she had hired for my stay on St Helena, an old blue escort. I loaded up my case and then looked out for her small truck to go in convoy to my accommodation. With some apprehension, I started the engine. Already overwhelmed by the change of pace from the ship, I was now, in my woozy state, being asked to drive the precarious roads. There was a lot of busy activity down here on the wharf as gradually the passengers were taken away by their hosts, and some of the retailers and business owners of the island were eagerly getting their hands on long awaited perishable goods to whisk them off to their freezers and storehouses.
I negotiated the narrow gateway into the town, passed the main square and then almost immediately parked up in the centre of main street. Rebecca wanted to introduce me to the office I was to use as my base. She worked part time for the National Trust of St Helena, and they had a lovely old building in the centre of the main street. In a high ceilinged room there were a couple of desks and a large round table. I was introduced to the darling Phyllis, who was the administrator for the trust, and a statuesque English lady called Cathy. They knew all about people coming off the ship and kept the introductions to a minimum – they could see I was a bit shell shocked. We then popped over the road to a small supermarket and I bought a couple of essentials to get me through the next day or two, and then Rebecca led me out of town to my accommodation for the next three weeks.
Our route took us up one of the two main ways out of Jamestown. Called Side Path, it zigzags up the ridge on the east side of Jamestown, the views becoming more and more spectacular as you ascend. But I kept my eyes firmly on the road ahead and where Rebecca was heading. While the cliff faces around Jamestown were almost bare, I saw that up on the ridge there was a scrubby vegetation, and as we went higher it got greener. By the time we reached the scattered houses which make up a district called Alarm Forest, I was driving through thick woodland and open green pastures. We turned off the main road and skirted a small valley before rising to another ridge. Where the road turned at right angles, Rebecca turned off to the right and we descended a well made gravel track, a little overgrown but firm and with few potholes. It hairpinned left and dropped steeply into an open pine woodland and stopped in an open car park beneath a substantial house frontage.