A Donkey to the Lighthouse
On Thursday I had decided to venture to the far end of the island, and was advised to use some transport as the terrain was not the best for hiking. I was given the name of a donkey wrangler in Gilead whose animals were reliable and gentle.
I loaded up my backpack with food and water and made sure I had my walnut shell. I was unsure whether this would be of any use with a donkey. I didn’t want to teleport myself and leave a donkey off in the sticks. There might be a huge fine for that. I didn’t know if the teleporting would include the donkey or not, but it wouldn’t hurt to take the shell with me anyway. I also packed a couple of apples and carrots as a treat for the animal, and set off for Gilead.
The donkey-man’s name was Thomas, and he brought out a pretty, little, light-grey donkey named Maria. Seeing the look of consternation on my face, he assured me that she would carry me quite easily. I’m no lightweight! Did I detect a look of panic in the beast’s eye?? I apologised profusely to Maria, and Thomas helped me aboard. He threw a couple of panniers over her rump, containing feed and water; showed me how to steer, and I was on my way.
I must say that when I settled down and accepted that we were not going to travel at the speed of light, I quite enjoyed it. I kept up a running commentary on the sights, sounds and smells for Maria, and I think we appreciated each other’s company. She was very biddable and there was no power-struggle, making the journey very soothing.
We passed through several small settlements on our trip, and were greeted at each by groups of small children and an assortment of animals. I didn’t have anything in mind but being able to say I’d seen the lighthouse at the westernmost point of the island. Everything else – the people, the scenery, the sounds and the smells – was a bonus. I was soaking it all up. I sang a couple of songs about ‘Maria’, which made the donkey’s ears twitch and me giggle. I don’t know if it was her name or my singing that caused the twitch.
We stopped in the late morning for something to eat and drink and I gave my trusty steed one of the apples and carrots, which she seemed to relish. We rested for a while, so that the feeling could return to my nether regions, and then had to find a rock for me to climb onto to get back in the saddle.
We arrived at the lighthouse about an hour later and were welcomed by the keeper and his wife – Mr and Mrs Weatherspoon (Dave and Phyllis). They invited me in for tea and sandwiches, so I tied Maria up in the shade of a tree and gave her feed and water, and went inside.
The cottage was built on the leeward side of the lighthouse to shelter it from the worst of the winter storms, and was delightfully cozy. The furniture was of a simple design, but beautifully crafted from a light coloured, close-grained wood. There were small carvings of flowers in the backs of the chairs. ‘What beautiful furniture!’ I said.
‘My Dave made all this for me as a wedding gift. Almost thirty years ago, now.’
‘Aye, and’ Phyllis made all the cushions, too. And the rugs and the curtains.’ I could see that they were both immensely proud of each other, and with good cause. Phyllis served sourdough bread with goat’s cheese and chutney – all homemade, Dave informed me – and we had a large pot of tea between us. Dave gave me instructions on the finer points of lighthouse keeping, and Phyllis advised me on goat herding and cheese making. I told them of my adventures onboard the ship and we all spent a very pleasant couple of hours together. Not many people venture out to the lighthouse, so company is always welcome.
I had a good ride in front of me, to get back to Gilead, so I climbed aboard Maria once more and thanked my hosts for a pleasant visit, and for their hospitality, and set off on my return journey. The same groups of children clapped and cheered when we reappeared in their villages. We had another small stop with the basket weavers, so that Maria could have a drink, and arrived back in Gilead at dusk. I’m sure Maria was looking forward to a good rest – I know I was.
There was no way I was going to get back to the Abbey for the evening meal, so I went to the little café that Woody and I had visited on our first night on the island. I had poached eggs on toast and a cup of their delicious coffee.
I took a very sedate stroll home – I was sure I had saddle-sores, and intended to soak in the bath for some time before retiring for the night. I had been soaking for a few minutes before I remembered I could have saved myself the walk home by using my walnut shell. I’m not too bright some days!