Winter Stores

Autumn has arrived on Bryher, dawn lights at about six and it is dark when I go to bed which means somewhere before nine.

The breeze is cooling and the air is fresh as we walk our early morning routine of checking the animals. Not yet cool enough for valleys of mist and watching our breath turn to puffs of smoke, but still the summer sultry mornings are past.

Autumn has always been my favourite season but even more so now we live here. The shortening days signal quieter times, a chance to get together with neighbours and chew over the busy summer. It’s a time of harvesting the last of the crops and stocking the store cupboards for winter.

Over the past few days, summer guests have experienced Scilly without the Scillonian, as she sits in the harbour at Penzance with broken engines. Island life is quite different without this ship to keep us connected to the mainland. In the winter we don’t enjoy her constant presence and getting off the islands can be tricky, expensive and time consuming. Shipping of frieght can also be disrupted for fairly long periods of time if the weather is bad.

I hold a cosy and somewhat romantic vision in my head of having to be self reliant and resourceful on an island, remote and isolated. Of having to batten down the hatches and make do and mend, using whatever food you have in the cupboard (admittedly this can lead to some rather interesting dishes).

So at this time of year I begin to freeze milk, bread, fruit and vegetables. Picking blackberries, chopping apples, and runner beans and making chilli jam.

I think this love of winter hoarding originates from a rather nostalgic memory of reading Brambly Hedge as a child where Jill Barklem writes

“It was a fine autumn. The blackberries were ripe, and the nuts were ready, and the mice of Brambly Hedge were very busy. Every morning they went out into the fields to gather seeds, berries and roots, which they took back to the Store Stump, and carefully stowed away for the winter ahead. The Store Stump was warm inside, and smelled deliciously of bramble jelly and rising bread, and it was already nearly full of food.”

The illustrations of the Store Stump with its tall wooden dresser filled with pots of jam, apples, pies and berries enchanted me as the story was read to me over and over again.

This escapism into stories of your childhood now brings fond memories of a time when life had little responsibility and days were occupied by play and dreaming.

Now when I’m picking vegetables in the soft amber light of an autumn morning I always remember the mice of Brambly Hedge and those warm and cosy days of childhood stories.

A little bit of escapism today is a swim from Great Par. The sea is silver and there is a big swell that roars in the distance, sending in frothy, lapping waves to the shore. The water somehow feels warm and refreshingly cool at the same time.

I intend to swim to the retreat of the little rocks of Merrick, but as I make my way out of the bay the waves are rolling in above me and the sun shines so brightly silver on the choppy surface that it dazzles my eyes. In the distance I can just make out the rocks and their black, looming silhouettes are being pounded by white spray as the swell breaks around them. I decide against being washed onto the unforgiving granite.

The movement and noise of the sea are making me feel on edge and I momentarily jump, heart beat quickening, as a sea monster drifts by…..oh no….silly me, it’s a frilly piece of seaweed….and breathe.

Loose strands of Thong weed hang from the surface, their buttons covered in spiral worms, cast like clay onto the leathery brown weed, dangle and it’s like swimming through an upside down floating forest.

A burst of sunlight illuminates the underwater world with beams of silver green light. I’m happy that I stayed in the bay, I’m content to float and drift and enjoy the colours and textures of the water and sea life around me.

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