Monday, 10 September 2012

A view of the Isle of May lighthouse open day.

Siobhan Thompson, SNH area officer from Glasgow,  writes about coming to help at the Lighthouse Open Day on the Isle of May.

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made,”
For years I have loved the poem Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.b. Yeats spending many a moment gazing with misty eye dreaming of my chance to experience Island life... An open day on the Isle of May the first weekend in September provided the chance for me to volunteer, and try out this Island living.

Leaving Anstruther on Saturday morning in slightly choppy conditions, my first important lesson was in the art of choosing a seat... Those people practised in travelling on small, inflatable speed boats will instinctively know which side will bear the brunt, and (callously) leave those less experiences to get a faceful of sea water at every turn. Suffice to say, choose your seating partner carefully.

“Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”

We arrived on the island (some of us wetter than others) to be greeted by the Isle of May Warden, David Pickett.  Dave led us up to the Fluke Street Hotel and Spa facilities, (Principle and Assistant Keepers accommodation), provided the first of many cups of tea, and guided us through what would be needed for the weekend. Many of the other volunteers were NNR staff regulars, and like a well oiled machine they swung into action.
Unfortunately, due to weather restraints, the May Princess ferry was not able to bring people over on the Saturday.  A lack of general public meant we were free to carry out other tasks including wader’s counts, and gave us the chance to explore the Island, to get familiar with the different buildings and enjoy the landscape and wildlife.

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;”

I took the chance to sit for a while at the north end of the Island watching the many different birds wheeling and dancing in the strong winds. I could have happily sat for hours looking out across the sea, watching the Gannets plunging and diving...
The views from the Island are stunning and with the sun shining it was the perfect evening for a barbecue. As there are no shops on the Island you have to bring everything out with you and make do with what’s there, so we threw a very creative bean/ pasta salad together, gathered up the meat and had our barbecue looking out across the sea, merrily overcoming “burger gate” (I think all involved in this are sufficiently over this to mention it now...) exchanging friendly and non-Mick taking pleasantries and basking in the glow of the fire as the evening drew in.

There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings”

When morning came we were all up with the larks (honest), fresh as daisies (helped along by the lovely 9 yr old Marie who devised her own remarkably effective means of encouraging us out of bed We checked the moth trap, had breakfast, and then headed out to put up banners, sweep floors, trim paths, and ensure all was ready for the visitors to arrive.
I was assigned to the beacon alongside SNH Operations Officer Fiona Mann, and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours talking to visitors, telling them the story of the beacon, listening to their thoughts on the Isle of May and answering questions. Everyone I spoke to was having a great day, really enjoying the chance to get inside the buildings on the Island, especially the main lighthouse with its impressive spiral staircase and stunning views from the top...

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;”

It’s been fascinating to learn about the history of the Island and to get the chance to get a glimpse of what real island living is like. It was, alas, only a weekend. There is something about the Isle of May which hooks you in and makes you forget the choppy boat journeys, the early morning alarms, the lack of showers and other such things.   I would recommend to all staff to get out and help at the next Open Day if the opportunity arises, as it would seem I’m back full circle and still gazing with misty eye thinking of Island living.

“While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core”.

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