The enchantress has waved her magic wand again and each of us now has an island in the Lemurian archipelago. Mine is called Laroc.
Yesterday I went to visit it. Alec, who had taken me to White Owl Island, very kindly agreed to take me there. As it happened it’s close to where he had left some of his lobster pots so he was happy to take me as it gave him a chance to see if he had caught anything. The island is close to the mainland but not close enough to swim across to it nor to walk across the strand at low tide. It’s small – you can walk round it in a couple of hours – but is home to a host of seabirds, a particularly rare vole and masses of wild flowers. There is only one small pebbly cove and a single white painted cottage with blue window frames sits huddled up under the cliff for protection from the occasional spells of bad weather.
Alec dropped me off and said he would return for me, after having checked his pots. The pebbles scrunched under my feet and brought back childhood memories of one particular Easter seaside holiday.
My parents had rented a holiday cottage at a place called Bee Sands on the North Devon Coast. We were quite a houseful with my parents, my younger sister and brother, three of our cousins and me. I must have been about 12. The cottage was right on the beach, which was a shingle beach. I remember that the weather was not particularly kind to us but that didn’t stop us from spending hours on the beach collecting shells, coloured pebbles and sea glass and returning to the cottage with our wellington boots full of water. They never had time to dry out before the next soaking and there was always a row of boots with newspaper stuck in them by the door. The cousins showed us endless card tricks and we spent a lot of time sketching. Cousin Robin went on to become a graphics artist and my sister is now a well-known watercolour and mixed media artist in the US. My brother and I, whilst we could both draw and paint, didn’t possess the skill of our sister or of our cousin.
I looked down at my feet as I crossed the shingle and knew I could spend hours here, beachcombing, too. Coloured bits of glass caught my eye and I bent down to pick some of them up and tucked them away in one of my pockets. If I wrapped each piece in wire I could fashion a sort of necklace with them. I walked up the beach to the cottage and went in.
It was warm and dry inside. White painted walls and cheerful red and white checked curtains greeted me. There was a fireplace with a fire already laid in it, a table, a chair, a bed with a colourful patchwork quilt on it and a small cooking range. Someone must have been expecting me for the kettle was singing merrily on the hob and a china mug had been set out nearby. A stone jar, with a handwritten label marked “inspiration tea”, contained a number of muslin bags with crushed dried leaves inside. I sniffed one but couldn’t identify the smell. Even when I poured the boiling water over the little bag I didn’t immediately recognise it. It was only when I had taken a couple of mouthfuls that I realised that it reminded me of cinnamon and chocolate.
A driftwood sculpture – a sort of figure I guessed to be a representation of the spirit of the place with seaweed for its “hair” – hung on the wall and there was a pile of driftwood in a basket near the hearth.
I carried the mug of “inspiration tea” outside and sat on the bench, leaning back against the cottage wall. It was warm in the sunshine and I nearly dozed off. I would endeavour to return here to spend a couple of days in writing and contemplation, if I could, before we moved off to the camp of the Amazon queen.
High above me the gulls carried on an incessant chattering and squabbling, the black and white guillemots were lined up against the cliffs facing each other in serried ranks and I caught the occasional glimpse of a puffin – or sea parrot as it is affectionately known because of its huge multi-coloured beak. The island was mined with rabbit holes which were also home to the puffins and you had to tread carefully if you did not want to end up with a twisted ankle from catching your foot in one of these holes. Sea pinks covered the cliffs in their green pincushion tufts and the coconutty smell of the yellow gorse wafted over me.
I could hardly believe it when I heard Alec’s shout announcing his arrival. I rinsed the mug out and replaced it in the kitchen, closed the door behind me and walked down the beach to the little boat. Alec had two glossy blue lobsters in the bottom of the boat and was pleased with his catch. I too was pleased with my catch and the inspiration tea was already bubbling away inside me.