To reach the Constantia wine region, take the Blue route of the City Sightseeing Tour then switch to the Purple route at this corner.
From the gym on the upper deck you can spin along on the exercise bike and feel as though you are riding over the sea. A petrel skims on the wake and someone claims to have sighted a whale spout, while below the shouts from those playing desk cricket.
Coming over from Capetown, the five day cruise was preliminary training for St Helenian life. The return journey serves as a debrief. Time seems to alternatively drag and fly. There are more Napoleonic lectures in French:
These concerned Cuba which Napoleon’s doctor, Antonmarchi visited after the Emperor’s death, a talk comparing the Zulu leader Shaka, Louise of Prussia and the life of Napoleon’s stepdaughter, Hortense, Queen of Holland. Prof Hicks gave a talk on Napoleon in English, which was appreciated by many passengers.
A countdown clock recorded the days until the RMS St Helena will be decommissioned.
Finally we gathered on deck to watch Table Cape and our own shadows lined up on the wharf. We gathered our backpacks and waited with mixed feelings for our number group to be called so we could escape to the wider world. We will remember fondly one of the last voyages of the Royal Mail Ship St Helena.
We seven band of brothers gathered for the last time for our last cup of St Helenian coffee outside the Coffee Shop on the wharf. The five Aussies leaving and the Saint and adoptive Saint staying on another month were all sad. We had gradually bonded over the five days at sea, and that had strengthened as we discovered and rediscovered St Helena.
Even Napoleon came down to see us, the French and other passengers off.
This time, as we rounded the island, we recognised the features, which have become familiar: Half Tree Hollow, Lot, Lots Wife, Diana’s Peak, the airport. Then Atlantic Ocean, two kilometres of it below us and one or two thousands of kilometres around. Yet emotionally we are still on St Helenian territory. The crew are mostly Saints and we have five days of Island discussions in two languages to look forward to.
For a year I have been following Two years in the Atlantic, a blog by Paul Tyson. This morning he stepped out of the screen and met us for St Helenian coffee at the wharf, as usual, when the RMS is in port, the place was buzzing. We enjoyed a good chat and arranged to catch up that evening at Tasty Bites restaurant up on Half Tree Hollow.
Naval officers were wandering in white garb, having returned from a service at Napoleon’s Tomb. Disappointly, a naval march through town had been cancelled. Something to do with the scouts being unavailable. Everybody seemed to know except us. The bush telegraph works well on St Helena but you need to keep updating info by talking to locals.
As this is our last full day on St Helena, David and I climbed Jacob’s Ladder. If we were stiff the next day it wouldn’t matter as we could rest on the ship. The day was still and we had good views of the two naval ships and RMS St Helena anchored offshore. I carefully (it’s so steep) sat on a step halfway up to take a photo and on the way down, even dared to bend down to retrieve a beer bottle that someone had left behind the night before. I put it in my little backpack and put it in the bin at the bottom.
I wanted to buy a commemorative T-shirt from Longwood House, so we dropped by. The French were hanging out on the back terrace but the gift shop was shut. Michel saw me and miraculously, Angela, the shop manager appeared and opened specially.
We bought take-away hamburgers at Reggies and proceeded to Millenium Forest to meet Harry from the National Trust. We had agreed to help dig holes as the French were going to plant 200 endemic gumwoods for the Bicentenary. We managed quite a lot of holes and worked up a good sweat, when who should arrive but two minibuses of sailors from the naval ships to lend a hand. We retired to the visitors centre for a well-earned cuppa and the navy had almost finished planting by the time the French arrived!
That evening, Peter collected us as we’d returned the car, and drove us up Ladder Hill one last time. The gang of seven gathered for one last meal on the island. We met Paul Tyson and his family who were just leaving and had a cheery meal of island fish and chips.Peter and Bill left for the long drive to Farm Lodge and Philip drove we three from Fowlers plus Patsy back to his apartment, The Forge, where we chatted over coffee, sitting out on his verandah over.ooking a pretty moonlit garden where impatiens flourished.
Philip and Patsy walked us home as Philip does his emails after midnight at Patsy’s mother’s house. The internet is free after midnight for those with an account. It was the end of a good evening.
Patsy called in this morning bearing gifts of pink sponge fingers. She had heard that Lamingtons were part of the Aussie diet and wanted us to know that St Helenians have an equivalent – different colour and shape but same principle of sponge dipped in icing rolled in grated coconut. St Helenian women are good at baking – there is no cake shop, so it’s the only way they can serve goodies for events.
Like all travellers, we had to commit some time to washing our clothes. We then visited the museum at the base of Jacob’s Ladder, where I photographed a cannon salvaged from the Dutch White Lion, a seventeenth century wreck. It had been preserved because it was covered with peppercorns, which formed part of the cargo.
I bought a certificate for successfully climbing Jacob’s Ladder. Providing such certificates to climbers supplements the museum’s budget. The RMS St Helena is back in Jamestown Harbour, having returned from St Helena. This means that Jamestown is abuzz with visitors, including salvors from two naval ships. We find ourselves giving advice to the newbies re Jacob’s Ladder, the necessity of buying bread early and other essentials of life in this remote outpost.
Jason (he’s the one who showed us High Peak the day before leaving the island) had asked government ranger Mike Jervois to show us St Helena’s unique cloud forest in The Peaks National Park. We drove a different way via Francis Plain, where the Royal Navy were playing cricket against St Helena on the oval at Prince Andrew’s School.
The cloud forest is formed because the leaves of the endemic cabbage trees take in moisture from the clouds which regularly cloak the peaks in the highest part of the island. The Environment Management Division has extended the area of forest by clearing flax and replanting indigenous flora propagated from its adjacent nursery.
We returned via St Pauls Cathedral, which is near Plantation House. In the dusk it looked quite atmospheric.
A a treat we dined with Australian teachers Peter and Bill met on the ship. Five courses included island gammon followed by creme brûlée at Farm Lodge, a fine country house deep in the interior. Marijke and I posed on the chaise lounge used by Napoleon. Hosts Stephen and Maureen’s complemented the gracious setting.
For Marijke and me, Tuesday 13th October was a highlight of our nine-day visit to St Helena. While on the Royal Mail Ship, we had received via the captain, a letter inviting us to a “Presentation”, signed on behalf of the Head of Government, Sean Burns. Back in Australia, the mayor of Mornington Shire, Bev Colomb, had asked us to deliver a picture of The Briars, Mt Martha to the people of St Helena as Alexander Balcombe, who founded The Briars had named his property after his family home of The Briars, St Helena.
After a short speech about the connections between the two properties, Sean presented us with a framed photograph of The Briars Pavillion, St Helena. I in turn said a few words about the Napoleonic collection and natural beauty of The Briars Homestead and Park, Australia and presented him with a framed sketch of the homestead.
The French Consul, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, said a few words as guardian of The Briars (which Balcombe family member Dame Mabel Brookes gifted to the French Government in 1957). Other guests included Napoleon’s descendant, Prince d’Essling, the rest of the French visitors, Australian expats on St Helena as well as Briars Pavillion guide Trevor Magellan with his wife Myrtle.
The speeches were followed by a slap-up island morning tea and photos on the steps. We look forward to reporting with Marijke on this event to fellow Briars guides and Mornington Shire Mayor Bev Colomb after we return.
In the afternoon Marijke and I walked to the Heart-Shaped Falls behind The Briars, which Napoleon is said to have enjoyed viewing during his two months stay there. Surprise, surprise, we met the French returning from the same hike.
Then in the evening we attended a concert with a Napoleonic theme at St James Church, along with most of our new friends from RMS St Helena Napoleon aka Merrill in costume participated in a moving excerpt from a Stanley Kubrick film on Napoleon including his time on St Helena. The English professor who works with the Fondation Napoleon, Peter Hicks did a rousing piano piece of the battle of Marengo. He then had to rush off to a formal dinner on board the HMS Lancaster.
We chatted with others over another generous island supper of home-made goodies. It turns out that the vicar of St James, Father Dale visited The Briars Australia three years ago and put a comment in the visitors’ book. I hope that this is the first of many exchanges with St Helena in years to come.
This morning I visited Jeremy Harris, director of the St Helena National Trust and gave him bundle of info from his Australian counterpart. With over 900 listed sites on the island as well as conservation work and caring for cultural artefacts such as shipwreck salvaged items and finding a fitting way to recognise the remains of hundreds of bodies of slaves who were “freed” on St Helena, only to die of the mistreatment they had received at the hands of people smugglers.
I decided to “purchase” two gumwood trees for the Millenium Forest project to restore some of this lost resource. Three hundred years ago the island had a Great Forest, which was cleared for timber. Much of the island was later invaded by various introduced plants. The ground was rock solid with very little topsoil, but with a scoop of gelatinous wetting agent at the bottom of the hole and generous amounts of “grey water”, we planted our seedlings this afternoon and agreed to come back on Thursday to help the French, who aim to plant 200 for the Napoleonic Bicentenary.
After this physical labour under the guidance of volunteer leader Harry, we photographed the endangered Wirebird running around the golf course before doing another Post Box walk, this time across rugged coastal slopes to Cox’s Battery.
Just in case I felt the need for more physical exertion, I decided to climb up Jacob’s Ladder and down. The ascent took 20 minutes and the descent a bit less. The Royal Naval vessel Lancaster gleamed in the setting sun. She has just arrived for the celebrations.
We deserved the pasta dinner that Marijke created!