Updated: Mar 1, 2020
Every time I swim in Bryher’s wild waters, or walk to the summit of one of its seven hills to admire the view, I pinch myself and marvel at how fortunate our move to Hillside was.
Our physical move to Hillside happened in August 2015, however our love of Scilly and smallholding can be traced far before that date. Graham was born into a farming family. The seventh son of seven boys, he lived on a fairly large tenanted farm on the Devon Cornwall boarder, alongside the great snaking River Tavy. He had the arguably enviable life of being raised on a mixed farm, where the milk for breakfast came warm straight from the house cow and drained through a tea towel to remove any “bits”. The fruit they picked from their own apple and plum trees, the eggs were freshly laid daily and the honey was from their bees. Although in the course of events he ended up not following farming as a career, it was always there, running through his veins.
I on the other hand, did not grow up on a farm but felt very much that I would have liked to. There were always animals in my life and I spent many hours on other people’s farms. The romantic idea of smallholding, “The good life” and being self sufficient became a dream that we both longed to come true. Fanciful dreams maybe, and I am a dreamer, quite happy to “mind mooch” for hours on end, but dreams can come true, our adventure on Bryher is proof of that.
In 2001 two events happened that would seem to lay the foundations for our move to Hillside….of course unknown to us at the time. The first was buying a small, rather rundown little cottage in Cornwall, high up and remote on Bodmin moor. The joy of this little cottage was the large garden and subsequent rented land nearby that enabled us to grow vegetables, keep hens, weaner piglets, sheep and goats. A real taste of smallholding. The second event was our first trip to Scilly. We had been given a small tent with a recommendation from a family friend to go and camp on The Isles of Scilly. Unbelievably neither of us had ever heard of these mysterious little islands. Quite by luck we found a space on St Martin’s campsite and set out to discover these unknown lands.
I will never forget that first visit. A scorching hot August bank holiday. The sea such an intense turquoise and a small pod of dolphins that dived and skimmed next to our boat as we travelled to St Martin’s. How was it possible we had never been here before? From that moment on we were caught hook, line and sinker and returned year after year.
These islands, like the sea, the tide, the moon, capture you in an unseen force where you are to be pulled back time and time again. They become that golden thread that entwines your heart and threads through your life. To swim in the deep wild Atlantic is to emerse yourself into a force much greater than yourself. Sometimes there are points in your life when greater forces seem to conspire and lead you where they want you, our move to Hillside was one such point in time.
Early morning swim again, no better way to start the day. Blackbird is out catching the early worm, wood pigeons “paw paw” and the dawn chorus of chattering sparrows begins. The tide is satisfyingly high, almost reaching the little granite wall that runs between the sea and Veronica Farm. The only light in the sky is a misty sliver of frosted white cloud surrounded by grey.
As I reach the beach at quay, the silver sea is perfectly calm, the only sound the rhythmic lapping on wet sand. Fluent, peaceful strokes, I try to make as little disturbance to the water as possible. A gull stands on the edge of the quay as if he is waiting for a boat, he spots me and soars up and away. I dive down through the glassy green into a gently waving forest of bladder wrack and watch a tiny yellow periwinkle crawling up through the brown weed. I come across a piece of rope attached to a heavy, rusted chain embedded in the sand. The rope is barely recognisable, now a great feather boa of weed, soft and playful.
A boatmen appears to unmoor his punt. Seal-like I dive down and hide, hear the zingging whirl of the boat’s engine through this unearthly watery world.
Rather reluctantly I return to land, the sky now mackerel cloud and pale blue, the sun a great frosted golden glow peeping above Tresco.