I started my last blog wondering if I would be able to fit in two weekends worth of St Helena in my normal body of text, and in short I couldn’t, because Lemon Valley was on the agenda and required an entry all of its own.
Lemon valley is a remote valley even by St Helena standards, with no road access its rocky shore and crystal clear waters can be reached only by boat or a long and somewhat tricky descent from the wonderfully named Rosemary plain some 500m above the valley floor. Over the course of last Friday and Saturday I did both.
A boat trip had been arranged with a large group of families. Some more energetic souls however had made the decision to walk to the bay, and return to Jamestown by the boat. Wondering if Charlie would be able to make the walk I decided a solo trip to assess the terrain would be appropriate.
Leaving Rosemary plain, the path takes a steep descent through Sarah’s valley. Initially moving along a narrow path boarded by conifers, like much of St Helena the descent takes you through several climatic zones. Conifers give way to a multitude of deciduous trees and bright flowers, flashes of burnt orange from the Silky Oak tree (Grevillea robusta) standing out against the back drop of blue waters several kilometres below.
As the path becomes drier it becomes trickier, with bare rocky slopes giving way to fine powdery scree and solid footsteps being replaced by a step and slide pattern. Trees are replaced by large stands of English Aloe, and the orange of the Silky Oak is replaced by the orange of the Nargy Weed, (still a favourite of mine). As Sarah’s Valley converges with Lemon valley Tungi begins to dominate and as I stop to look across the now wide Y shaped eroded slopes behind me, a row of caves can be seen across the way. As the wind rushed down from Rosemary plain above I shouted to find my voice echoing back at me in such clarity had it not been my own Id of thought someone else was shouting toward me from the caves afar.
After descending the last scree slope, more suited to skis than boots the valley flattens and the path twists through a dark, entangled forest of wild mangoes. Feeling like Indiana Jones in his latest adventure, I, with almost every step, broke the web of a Spiny Orbweaver Spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis). Now of course to some this is a trip close to hell, but for me it was great, and these incredible and beautiful spiders just added to the intrigue as their webs stretched wide across the narrow path. As I pushed through the trees and webs the curious Fairy Terns visited, flying close to suss out the new visitor. A particularly curious individual flew within touching distance, hovering motionless to look me right in the eye before letting me move along my way.
Reaching the valley floor it opens up, and once again the history that wraps up every story on this Island is evident, abandoned homes and buildings, of a once small but thriving community that built up around a still intact quarantine station farther down. A defensive wall borders the rocky beach and the blue lagoon is overlooked by the remnants of an old gun battery, no longer a surprise to see given that it seems there was once a gun of some sort pointing toward every inch of this fortified outpost of the empire.
Having Completed another post box walk, and after spending ten or so minutes exploring the rocks and pools I headed back up the valley. Luckily for you, my description will be considerably shorter than the monotonous, endless trudge that the walk up Lemon valley is. A relentless climb across loose scree ensuring your feet cover twice the distance of your body due to the slips across the dust. Pushing myself as hard as I could the constant thirty degree incline was conquered in just over an hour, but it was the mountain that won, leaving me struggling for breath in the mid-day heat!
Having decided that the concentration required for the slippy descent was too much for Charlie, we took the boat with everyone else the next morning to Lemon Valley. Our dive instructor Anthony from Sub-Tropic Adventures provided our transport for the day, a
watery taxi service. With most people and a mountain of stuff from snorkels to seats, food to fishing rods on one boat, a few others shot ahead on a smaller outboard rib to assist with unloading the gear and ferrying others from the main boat to the shallow water deck area. Arriving at Lemon Valley from the sea instead of on foot and its beauty is revealed in a new light. The bay at the mouth of the valley is not a classic tropical vision, draped in white sand or palms trees, like much of St Helena its beauty is not in the obvious, but in the detail. Its beauty lies in the grandeur of scale from the steep sided volcanic cliffs, to the endemic fish in the rock pools, from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the shoals of butterfly fish. It is the childlike excitement that is generated from scrambling over rocks, the wonderful group of friends from all walks of life that our day was to be spent with and the laughter and excitement of the Children as they jump from the shore into the sea. Lemon valley, like St Helena, is everything and nothing a unique place in a unique way of life.
The tone of the day was set, as once the boat was anchored, some of the children jumped into the cool blue waters to swim to shore. With everyone and everything on the wooden decking our transport departed, leaving us stranded in the valley for several hours. And what a place to be stranded, hours spent snorkelling, swimming, exploring and rock pooling. With five families, one couple and of course John it was a splendid social event. With each of us bringing our own contribution to the popular “bring and share” idea of catering, we presented a feast of epic proportion from local Pilau to home-made
cakes and biscuits, and the now inevitable sausages and some particular lovely home baked Banana cake from the David’s.
Exploring the rock pools revealed urchins and starfish, crinoids (feather stars) and anemones, crabs fish and even a moray eel. Plunging into the Atlantic Ocean revealed a multitude of fish species most of which you will find nowhere else on earth. Shoals of butterfly fish, tangs and chromis, with needlefish and trumpet fish, soldiers and parrot fish to name a few. We were made particularly proud when we convinced Oliver to come for a swim, donning his snorkel and mask to be enthralled by the life below the waves, his nervous swim was only short, but a significant first step for our boy. Those not exploring the pools or snorkelling were enjoying sun and relaxation perhaps with the occasional dip to cool off whilst other splashed and played in the waters.
As the day drew to an end our boat returned to take us home. A day of incredible fun was then turned into a magical day, our return journey being accompanied by a humpback whale mother and calf swimming alongside the boat some 150m away. Bev and I looked at each other and back to the whales, we turned to Oliver who was now driving the boat and exclaimed almost in unison, “it’s ridiculous”. How else do you describe this, a boat ride to a remote inaccessible valley, where wild Mango trees meet blue waters and Fairy terns brush shoulders with you as you explore marine life found nowhere else on earth. Shared with great friends, great food and great fun, clear blue waters and shoals of colourful fish, and the still magical sight of a humpback whale and calf on the way home I can find no words and the best I have is ridiculous.