TALES FROM THE SCILLY ISLES: JUNE

PUBLISHED: 11:07 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:39 30 August 2017

Isles-of-Scilly-2

Isles-of-Scilly-2

The Isles of Scilly columnists at Cornwall Life share their insights into living on the subtropical tip of Britain

Our Isles of Scilly columnists continue to share theirinsights into living on the subtropical tip of Britain

A SCILLONIAN CHILDHOOD

Words by Juliet May, Seaways Farm Holiday Homes

Our three sons are now young men living away, as are many of their contemporaries, but I believe they, and most Scillonian youngsters, benefited hugely from the freedom and trust accorded to them when very young.

They felt free from restrictions but most of the time they weren't, as we grown-ups were always around. One small boy of my acquaintance was greeted by his furious mother when he cycled home from school, aged eight, with how dare you jump your bike straight off the pavement into the road right in front of a car?’ The astonished reply, how did you know?’ was easily answered as the driver had telephoned his mum immediately in a heart-racing fury, knowing full well who the culprit was.

Once the children had passed their cycling proficiency they were all allowed to head off to school and various trips on their own. One of ours never did get proficient enough, however!

Life-long friendships were formed from impressively early ages – sometimes from toddlers’ groups on. This could easily work in reverse, of course. One child I know never got over being bitten on the face during a Duplo grab and is plotting revenge yet. Family picnics, boating trips, rowing, dressing up for the August Carnival, collecting shells to paint and sell – all the old Scillonian traditions loomed large in the lives of our children and inform plans for their own families.

Annual school trips were generally adored and successful with pupils being described by mainland teachers as polite and resourceful, with all the excitement of proper sporting competitions, adventure camps and activities having novelty value added. These days there is a lot more chance to interact with mainland schools and a big music scene – the talent of such a small group of young people is very impressive. It wasn’t all carefree – when our eldest was five he said he wanted to walk unattended to Grandma’s house, 750 metres across the boat park. Thinking to myself that he should be allowed a small exploration of life, I agreed. He marched happily off and anxiously, I watched him to just out of sight. His Grandma spotted him one minute later but it seemed forever until she had phoned to say he had arrived!

Later on, when I collected him (no return adventure being requested) and asked him how he’d felt being so grown up, his one word answer knocked the wind out of my sails, lonely’. Lonely? Maybe - but independent? Yes!

Our boys still come home whenever they can, bringing friends and girlfriends and are always so happy to show their Island home. There is always some talk of coming back to live and work, mainly supported by the memories and their own childhoods and friendships and the chance to relive it all with their own generation and the next. We’ll see, dear,’ as their beloved Scillonian great-grandmother used to say.

A WORLD BENEATH OUR FEET

Words by David Mawer, Scilly Wildlife Trust

I am lying on a soft, firm, green mattress; my body born up by thousands of bending stems and leaves that will quickly spring back into place when I move on, as if I was never there; I listen to the swish and murmur of wind, the tunefully flat dunnock’s song, the frenetic trilling of a wren, and the gentle rhythmic ripping as my cows tear off mouthfuls of grass’ around me.

The beautifully intoxicating aroma from crushed and torn chamomile, yarrow, and sweet-smelling grasses hint at the complex constituents that truly comprise the mixed sward that has continuously grown here for at least a hundred years, pulsing and cycling, new growth and die back, sloughing of roots mirroring removal of leaf, roots sent deeper to supply new solar panels extruded skyward; a succession of flower and seed, expended stems decayed into soil; the hidden ecosystem of worms, beetles and micro organisms aerating and draining, transporting and transforming, redistributing nutrients, capturing energy, and building up matter layer upon layer.

I feel the radiant heat from our sunny star drawing moisture from the ground and providing power for this system. It amazes me to consider that the cows are part of this: built from this grass’, this array of life, and so am I, for I eat the beautifully tasty and wholesome beef they produce.

Earlier in the day I watched cattle making incongruously delicate choices, while they were unwittingly hard at work, restoring mosaics of heather and maritime grassland, where cessation in grazing had until recently resulted in dominance by bracken and bramble. It’s bewildering how deft cows are in selecting what they eat. I watched in wonder as a soft nose pushed aside dead vegetation and a flash of tongue, in quick succession, plucked a leaf of ivy, then bramble, honeysuckle, and sorrel, followed by more ivy, this time drawing in a long and earthy runner. Carefully two soft bracken crosiers were avoided as other foliage was taken from between. Then the pink nose pushed aside prickly gorse to gain a mouthful of tough looking grass, moments later an unwanted dead bracken stem dropped discarded. The busy mouth moved on, leaving delicate violet, heath milkwort and tormentil flowers as surrounding vegetation was hoovered up.

Back in my fields I move on, and am drawn by the impressions in the grass left by the habitual movements of rabbits, a rhythm of blades being bent, recovering and springing back, only to be bent over again. In an imaginary time lapse, trail-cam video, or like in the mind of an aboriginal hunter, I see a ghostly rabbit emerging through the hole in the wall, hesitating to assess the risks, then bounding confidently to a favourite nibbling spot, as other rabbits cross diagonally, or make a toilet stop, dig into the ground for tasty roots, and run for cover - signs of their activity left like memories.

I stop and watch a female Minotaur beetle, working backwards, carrying and rolling a rabbit-dropping awkwardly through a tangle of grass. Almost a metre away I find her neat round hole, fringed by freshly excavated soil.

"The Minotaur and oil beetle become huge dinosaurs, and spiders fantastic monsters, grains of sand large, crystalline boulders - another world, so easily missed if it passes beneath our feet."

With a beetle’s eye view there is much to see in Scilly at this time of year. Lie face-down among short, trampled blades of grass, plantain, thrift and bare sandy soil, and you may be rewarded by a view of the beautiful, delicately-veined, yellow face that is hidden inside the blue and mauve hood of the truly diminutive dwarf pansy, or find the tiny gold flecks that are revealed as the miniature flowers of orange bird’s foot, or the single fleshy leaf-like frond of small adder’s tongue fern.

Once down here another wonderful kingdom is discovered, of hunting spiders moving fast through an unrecognised landscape, varied in texture and structure - realm of the woodlouse, ant, bug, lichen, moss and liverwort.

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