To Lenore, Ishmael, and Don’t Spare the Horsepower!
I packed my little wheelie bag with a few essentials – toiletries, a few changes of casual clothes, hat, shoes and art materials – and went to catch the ferry. It was a boat about 18 metres long and painted a beautiful turquoise and white. It was called ‘The Lady Lenore’. I was quite surprised at how few people were making the trip, but I suppose it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t see any men at all waiting to board.
We were welcomed aboard by the captain, who was also the ticket collector. A jolly, bearded fellow by the name of Ishmael. He had a ruddy complexion and eyes with the creases around them that bright sunlight will cause. In fact, he looked just how you’d imagine a seafarer to look, from his captain’s hat right down to his rubber boots.
When we were all seated, he told us that the trip to Lenore would take about an hour, depending on the wind and the current. He then gave us the safety talk and told us where the lifejackets were and what to do in an emergency. Then he cranked up the engine and we were off.
When we got out of the harbour there was a gentle swell, which caused the boat to roll somewhat. Two or three of the ladies paled considerably and were looking a little nauseous. The captain suggested that anyone feeling seasick should sit where they could see the island and keep their eyes on it. They all got up and went to the seats in front of the wheelhouse, but it didn’t work for all of them as I could hear the sound of vomiting, and was glad I couldn’t see it.
As we got nearer to the island, and our angle of approach changed, I could see the abbey perched high on a rocky promontory. It looked very old and weathered. I was going to enjoy my stay. It’s not often you get the opportunity to stay in such a place.
We pulled into a small circular harbour, built from local stone at the base of the abbey rocks. Ishmael wished us a pleasant stay and reminded us that the ferry only ran twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays, and left at 10.00 am for White Owl Island on those two days. We thanked him and wandered towards a cottage with the sign ‘Visitors Registration’.
Inside was a reception desk and a waiting area with chairs. The desk was unattended so we sat and waited. A few minutes later an elderly nun hurried in, all apologies and fluster. She got us all to sign the visitors book and gave each of us a weighty, numbered key to a cell. ‘The transport will be here in a moment,’ she said. I treated this as very good news. I’d already decided that if I had to hike up to the abbey dragging my bag, I’d give it a miss. I have learned the hard way that my body will not allow me to do many of the things that my ageless mind thinks I can.
Donkey carts lined up outside – room for two people and baggage. There were no drivers! We were assured that the donkeys knew the way and would deliver us safely to the abbey. It felt very strange just sitting there with a donkey in charge; but when you think about it, there are donkeys in charge of many aspects of life!
We pulled into the cobblestoned abbey forecourt where we were greeted by the Abbess. She welcomed us and showed us to our cells. Spartan is the word that sprung immediately to mind. The room was tiny – hence the name cell, I suppose. There was a single bed, a small chest of drawers and a bedside table and lamp. I dropped my bag on the bed and emptied the contents into the drawers. I then sat on the bed. It had about as much give as a slab of concrete. ‘This is going to be agony,’ I thought, ‘Payback for wanting to be a nun!’
We’d been given a little, laminated plan of the abbey and asked to be in the Refectory for dinner at 7.00 pm sharp. I went in search of the communal bathroom to freshen up. This was also an eye-opener. There were two toilet cubicles with toilets circa 1100 A.D.; a stone trough with two taps – cold and cold; and, behind a half-wall, there was a bath-sized stone trough and tap – again, cold water. ‘This should sort the men from the boys,’ I thought, and wondered how long I could go without using these facilities before I stunk. I like ‘hot’ to wash in! All part of life’s rich tapestry I supposed, and was beginning to wonder how basic the food would be? None of this was mentioned in the brochure. ‘Oh, well. Today is Wednesday, I always have the option of the Friday ferry.’