Toutes Directions (continued)
The fishermen at Trinite sur Mer
One quiet Sunday morning whilst camping
in Carnac on the Brittany coast we, in an uncharacteristic fit of energy,
decided to cycle along the coast road to La Trinite sur Mer. This area of
Brittany is memorable for it?s menhirs, which march across this region
like a stone army, and the way the pine tree clad sandy shore and sea
alternate in and out like the teeth of a comb. We set out quite early,
well just before lunch time actually, and by the time we reached our
destination we were thirsty and hungry. We passed several bars who?s sole
aim in life was seemingly to cater for the holidaymaker, not what we were
looking for. We settled for what appeared to be, judging by the array of
battered pick up trucks parked outside, the local?s local.
Inside it was plain and simple. Scrubbed
tables, creaky wooden chairs, plain wooden floor and about a dozen work
dressed fisherman. We had not got a clue about the various drinks on offer
so we decided on a cunning plan which we put into action. We waited a
while and when one of the fisherman approached the bar I followed and
after he had been served I simply said "encore" and gesticulated to the
white wine the man had ordered. We sat with our drink and enjoyed the
fresh light wine that we had been served. To our surprise the next
fisherman when he ordered brought us two more glasses of wine which we
thanked him for. After this had been repeated several times we were
invited to join them in a communal sea food platter I bought a round of
drinks and a very convivial afternoon was whiled away. They told us with a
little English, my schoolboy French and much miming that they were "fruits
de mer" fisherman and owned the oyster beds on the other side of the large
bridge that spans the inlet.
We never got round to exploring La Trinite
sur Mer that day and two very unsteady cyclists weaved their way back to
the campsite. We could always explore another day. I wonder what the
French for maņana is.
More proof, if proof were needed, that places
make the people and the people make the
Halcyon Days, Halcyon Dreams.
As I stood on the quay at Poole Harbour
looking toward the island of magic, dreams and eccentrics I thought of the
many times I had stood there before waiting then as now for the first
sighting of the Castello as she makes her way towards the Quay to take me
and my fellow holidaymakers to Brownsea Island and a holiday break at the
I have been to the Island in the early spring
when the top fields on the south side are covered in daffodils, the
remains of an earlier resident whose dreams were torn from him when Isles
further south such as the Scillies were able to bring their blooms to
market earlier. Later in the spring when the woods are smothered in
Bluebells. Still later when the rhododendrons, a mistaken introduction
which threatened to take over the Island until they were severely dealt
with, make their showy appearance. In late summer when all is woodland
walks and variety but this was to be the first visit we have ever made so
deep into the autumn.
The small boat chugs it?s way carrying eight
or nine eager passengers the two miles across the Harbour passing the row
of houses on the Island?s foreshore to tie up at the Castle?s private
jetty and then it?s a short walk through the covered flower bedecked
walkway through the beautifully maintained Italian garden from which you
get your first close look at the magnificence of the Castle. The wall on
the north side of this Garden is actually constructed so that it has rooms
inside it which form part of the staff quarters. Then into the Castle up
the flight of carpeted stairs to the opulent rooms above, the morning
room, the reading room and the bar on one side and the chandeliered dining
room on the other. Truly a different world.
Then it?s a quick trip in the lift to your
bedroom, a change of clothes and back down for morning coffee before
taking a leisurely stroll before lunch. There are red squirrels
everywhere. This time they have forsaken their pine nuts for the more
plentiful chestnuts, a more successful introduction. This must be the only
place where another introduction, Pea fowl, outnumber all other bird
species. A stroll over the green and passed the church takes you to the
ruin of the vinery and kitchen garden now completely overgrown, and then
it?s back for lunch.
How do mere ordinary folk come to stay here
in these surroundings? There is only one way and that is to work for or to
be retired from The John Lewis Partnership. It is leased by them from the
National trust and is used solely as a private hotel and country club for
its staff, past and present.
The Island today is owned by the National
Trust and shared by three other organisations, The John Lewis Partnership
which has exclusive use of the Castle and several acres of surrounding
gardens including a private beach, The Dorset Wildlife Trust which uses
just under half of the Island?s five hundred acres as a nature reserve and
the Scout and Girl Guide movement. It was on this island that Baden Powell
held an experimental camp in 1907 which led to the start of the Scout
movement and they still have a campsite on the Island today.
There is history and interesting walks
everywhere as you would expect on an Island which has been inhabited since
the late seventh century and possibly even before that.
The Island in more recent times has seen
owners bankrupted, driven to suicide and becoming recluses but the golden
period was during the period that it was owned by the Van Raalt family in
the 1850s a period of Edwardian extravagance and lavish entertaining.
The Island has been raided by Norsemen,
involved in Piracy, housed a monastery and seen a pottery based on the
Islands China clay bankrupt it?s owner.
What of the
The worst scenario would be for the Island to fall into the
ownership of the likes of the Sandbanks clique who would, no doubt, make
it totally private. The best scenario would be for the Island to become
the subject of a single trust who?s only interest was the Island. A
visionary such as Tim Smit who was the man behind the restoration of The
Lost Gardens of Heligan and The Eden Project would be ideal to head it up.
Why not the National Trust? Well in my view they have too many irons in
too many fires to devote the time, energy and money to this magical place
that it needs and warrants. Also I hear that it?s current policy is not to
invest further funds to prevent further erosion a problem which has, and
will continue to, plague the cliffs on the south side of the Island. Soon
some magnificent and mature trees will topple into the sea and that would
be a tragedy. The Island still has much history to be discovered and much
restoration which could be done, such as the vinery and vegetable garden.
The National Trust isn?t, and can?t be single minded enough, to take this
work forward and making a magical place even more
So what of our late autumn visit? We had one
wet day when going out was just not really inviting so this was spent in
the archives reading more of the Castle?s and Island?s fascinating
history. The rest of the time was spent exploring from the Maryland ruined
village through to the memorial Scout Stone, the old School House and the
quayside. Days spent spotting the red squirrels and Sika deer and scuffing
through the falling leaves whilst enjoying the autumn colours, marvelling
at the number of exotic fruits such as the abundance of fig trees placed
in protected corners away from the worst of the English weather and then
returning to the splendours of a warm and welcoming Castle to enjoy our
meals in its magnificent dining room.
Others may dream of high position and power.
Me and many others would only dream of a life on Brownsea Island and
living in its Castle.
A link for anyone wanting to read more about
this Island of Dreams