To the south the land slopes gently towards the sea, and is lightly wooded, with the occasional meadow clearing scattered with wild flowers – cowslips, primroses and a patch or two of tiny wild strawberries, sweet as honey.
Gilead is the town and the main trading centre, but there are several small hamlets dotted about the island too. Each hamlet seems to be connected to a particular craft, and the crafts seem to be family concerns with the skills being passed from one generation to the next.
One of these I found by literally following my nose! The scent of lavender and rose was on the air and it was my intention to pick flowers. Instead, I happened upon a soap-making enterprise. The perfume was coming from two large vats which were being stirred by two older women. Younger women were shaking the set bars of soap from their moulds, and the children were wrapping the bars, in threes, in brightly coloured cotton squares. They were secured with a blob of shiny, black wax and imprinted with a celtic knot – the family’s sigil. The work was accompanied by chatter and laughter, and they were happy to show me how the soap was made. One of the children took me to where there were boxes packed ready for the market and I bought a pack each of Lime Blossom, Rose Geranium and Sandalwood.
I hadn’t really intended to buy anything on my outing and the weight of the soap, although not very heavy, was added to the weight of my lunch and drink bottle. I hadn’t gone very far beyond the village before I decided to lighten the load by eating my lunch and having a drink. I hid the soaps in the fork of a tree where I could pick them up on the way back, and headed towards the beach for a paddle in the sea.
I collected one or two pretty shells and put them in my pocket – little mementoes of my visit. Rounding a small headland I came across another track and decided to see where it went. Another small hamlet of six cottages. These were the basket weavers. I had noticed the nuns using beautiful baskets for a variety of things. This village must be where they came from. Men and women were sitting companionably in a circle, engaged in their craft. Dried rushes, willow canes and hazel wands were heaped inside the circle. The men appeared to be making the utilitarian baskets, while the women were making smaller, more decorative ‘art’ baskets. These were made from fine twigs and grasses and had small, brightly coloured bird feathers and beads woven into them. Some looked very much like birds’ nests and were quite delicate. I was amazed at how quickly they could produce a basket. Their fingers were very nimble and also quite calloused. They invited me to join them and try my hand at a small basket. My attempts caused a great deal of good-natured merriment all round. I ended up with something that looked as if it had been walked on, but it was a colourful disaster with the beads and the feathers. I purchased a tiny ‘art’ basket woven with feathers of aqua and blue. It sat neatly in the palm of my hand and weighed almost nothing.
One of the men was loading a couple of donkeys with baskets for the marketplace and asked me if I would like to accompany him part of the way. He put my backpack onto one of the donkeys and we set off towards Gilead. I explained that I’d left my soaps in a tree and gave him a rough idea of where, and he pointed me down the right track when we got close.
I was quite tired by the time I reached the tree so I sat a while to get my strength back. When I put the soaps into my bag I felt the walnut shell against my knuckles. I’d heard some of the others talking about its teleporting abilities but had no idea how to operate it. It didn’t come with a manual. I re-examined the tiny items it enclosed but couldn’t make a connection. I decided to hold it firmly in my hand and visualize where I wanted to be. It worked, but it was the weirdest sensation. I felt as if my stomach had fallen through the floor. There was a whooshing, whistling sound and again the lurch of the stomach as I stopped, but I was exactly where I had imagined I would be – back in my room at the abbey. I can see me making interesting use of this in the future.