Fairyland-Flax-Mill

Our Sunday Morning Stroll through Fairyland and Sandy Bay

What a glorious morning in Sandy Bay! If I doubted that this was my favourite corner of St Helena, a brilliance under cool dreamy skies established that this is indeed my favourite part. Every time I see the embellished version of the island I have to stand and stare. “Behold, the beauty of St Helena Island”.

Enroute to the Fairyland Flax Mill, we passed through a lush, green life-long sanctuary for cows, well that’s what Ed said, so I am going to take his word for it that none of the cows we saw gazing at us through sad eyes will be killed for the meat market. I think life-long is right but not a long life. If my life was going to be short, I’d want some sort of caveats attached to the deal, feasting on good food with dazzling views in the background would be one of them.

Welcome to Allegra from London who is visiting the island for six weeks whilst working for the Health Directorate. Two days out of quarantine and she has found her way to the walking group, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of North London. This wasn’t a ‘beefy’ walk but there were various elements of it which could take a person’s eye out.

A great injustice was done to me when Azra mistook me for a cow. Open to opinion of course but top points for actually suggesting it in person. One has to be careful with Azra, she comes up with insults when you least expect it. 🙂

The last time I was in a flax mill on St Helena I was camping as a child at Glenmore in Levelwood. Fairyland Mill is the one of the suggested eight mills which operated from the early to mid 20th Century. Islanders would be employed (for pittance) to produce flax by the bundles for export. The job was at times dangerous and one man died from a job-related disease. His family were given land and a home as compensation for their loss.

Still remaining in the mill is the scutcher, baler and stripper. Outside is an attempt at a modern dryer for the flax which did not work and so was disregarded and the outdoors remained the main process for drying. Now that I understand the damp conditions in the countryside, I cannot imagine the drying process being that easy during winter if at all.

Across the way is Cole’s Rock, story has it that Mr Cole, a Land Owner, was killed by his slave Samson. With Ruth, a gothic fictional writer / story teller among us, these snippets of information will add some flavour to the imagination. Watch this space as I’ve asked Ruth if she would share some of her stories with Saint FM Community Radio listeners, so whilst she does readings in the Consulate Hotel every few months, we would be most fortunate I am sure to have some of her work relayed across the airwaves.

The island has some bleak heritage indeed. One story told to me was of a slave who’s wife died in the fields and he was not allowed to bury her until the weekend as he had to work during the week. Her body lay rotting until it could be given the proper burial rights. “Indignation!”

The hill that runs down into the valley would make a perfect location for a cheese-rolling race (like they do in Gloucestershire, England every year). Note to brittle older bodies – don’t attempt this. It’s quite soft and lumpy in places although I’d be a bit concerned about the barbed wire fences at the bottom. We wouldn’t want more than the cheese getting grated. It’d be fun though, I remember as a child rolling down a grassy hill on camping trips. “Sigh”.

Just when we thought that Ed had bared all, he takes us on a ramble through the jungle. Well, not quite a jungle but we needed the machete in places.

The Girl from the Rock cannot possibly do a walk like this and not find some rocky pinnacle to stand on. Thankfully, as we emerged from the undergrowth, on the edge of the clifftop was a flat rock.

I’ve had a few drunken nights out at Sandy Bay Bar, with no bar open, we thought we would pop along to Betty Knipe but she was out and about and met us on the hill later coming back from her failed attempt at getting to church through car mechanical challenges (so she says). “Next time Betty”. The little cottages that nestle into the hillside are quite idyllic and these scenes remind me that to own a home on St Helena Island in any of these locations is to be one of the luckiest people in the world! Picture postcard stuff. I heard one or two people suggesting that St Helena retirement was definitely something they would consider.

Further along we bumped into Kanisha and her lovely little family, apparently the children would like to do a program on Saint FM. I am definitely up for that, although I won’t be playing ‘Savage Love’ uncut. Her youngest daughter loves old music, girl after my own own heart! What a beautiful smile Kanisha and thank you for supporting Saint FM.

Fairyland-Flax-Mill

I think the secret to living on St Helena is to find a bit of land tucked away in some stunning part of the island with views that could never be brought in cities (cause you don’t have ‘em) and build upon it or if you’re really brave, you could go in for a bit of restoration of a very old property.

Joe Hollins, Veterinarian for St Helena has done just that. With over 3.5 acres of land across a hilltop he has a mammoth task ahead of him, but it will be a labour of love and I can see the gleam in his eye when he speaks of the time he allows himself each week for the task at hand. I can see that the love is already in the labour.  Perhaps one of his biggest projects in life, but surely, one of the most satisfying. The property (Rose Cottage) was previously owned by the infamous Tony Thornton who was evicted from the island for supposedly trying to start his own political movement and other undesirable activities. Yet, there is a question as to whether the people who saw him off were also his main competitors. Personal motives must surely be established? Maybe we could throw Horst Timerick into the affray at the same time. Is it ‘a can of worms’ worth opening with so much time having elapsed? Or are the lessons and knowledge worth having to avoid similar scenarios from ripening in the future?

We gasped at the views and the potential for this plot of land is obvious. I’m sure in ten years time, I will visit this spot and the palatial scenes and carefully restored grounds with a wonderful stone property in its midst will be the envy of many.

I once again felt a melancholy (like Longwood House) and perhaps it is because a Sir William Doveton entertained Napoleon for breakfast here in the Emperor’s final months alive. Perhaps the overgrowth (so much of which has been cleared by Joe in the immediate surroundings) suggests a passage of time which is answerable only to a densely wooded area. I think I feel a sense of sadness because one man’s dreams were realised and then lost again in this space. To see the past ‘cleared’ making way for new dreams to be realised and happy memories to be created, this indeed is something worth writing about.

The feature that caught everyone’s eye was the old fireplace, still sitting pride of place, ready for that next cold winter’s evening. These little escapades remind me how little I know the history of St Helena. Sad really. Oh well, no time like the present.

As we walked back to the vehicles at Casons, the discussion arrived at accountability and leadership. What is leadership if there is no moral grounding that others can aspire to? How often have we turned a blind eye to wrong-doing (even within ourselves) and then demanded respect? By association, without even uttering a word, we can find our silent stances questionable.

It is hard to hide away on a small island like St Helena when we have committed an offence. Perhaps in the wider world it is a little easier to hide from the disgrace, even if we are caught in our failings and punished. Yet what perturbs me is how people are still held in esteem time and again when they have been found wanting and refuse to do better. There is no incentive to do better since being held to account does not happen.

I trust that the Government of this island will seek to treat all wrong doing on an equal footing starting with their own mistakes (and they will make them). Your past mistakes are in the past but now as a new Government, you have a chance to avoid ‘bloody noses’ and hypocrisy. May I request that you keep your noses clean so that we may admire your spirited, refreshed honesty and self-accountability? See the history of politics and avoid the pitfalls. Don’t let ego or personal quests deliver you to be of no greater value than some of those who have gone before.

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