“I had no agenda. I was just going back to my roots, to what felt good. To my happy place. To just be.”
“Think big, be free.” Those four little words in a text from my best friend Anna resonated deep within me as I sat in the departure lounge at Wellington International Airport. They felt good. Like a loving endorsement of the action I was about to take.
I had bought myself a lifeline. A six-month sabbatical in which to step out of my life. To divorce myself from its responsibilities and distractions, and to stop acting — acting as if it was me. Acting happy.
I had handed over the keys to my life to substitute women who were filling in the slots I had vacated. A woman called Juliet was now living in my apartment, shopping at the deli next door, having brunch in my favourite café across the road. Another woman called Kathy was sitting at my desk, engaging in office banter with my colleagues, and responding to emails addressed to me.
Where was I going?
On a “life-changing adventure”, was the expectation Anna had put on it.
Me? I just wanted my heart to heal. To stop hurting. To become whole again. But I wasn’t sure if it was salvageable. It had been badly damaged this time. We’re not talking about a bit of superficial bruising. It had been ripped out of my chest and shredded.
However, there was a glimmer of hope on the horizon. I was following a homing instinct that was pulling me back to the only place on earth I felt I could go. The place where my soul feels truly at home.
I had no agenda. I was just going back to my roots, to what felt good. To my happy place. To just be.
The tiny islands I was travelling back to are where I spent the best part of my childhood. A place where I was surrounded by magical natural beauty. Where dreams were free to flow into my imagination and lay down the foundations for a life yet to be lived. Where I knew nothing but a wholehearted sense of promise as I looked out to big, big horizons. It was like being on the cusp of another world.
The Isles of Scilly are a sprinkling of stunning little islands off the tip of Cornwall. Flying from Land’s End airport, you can reach them in 15 minutes or, if you choose the more leisurely pace of the Scillonian ferry from Penzance, in just over three hours.
They are one of Britain’s best-kept secrets, but luckily, I am in on it. Having lived on the tiny island of St Martin’s as a child in the 1980s, I was now wondering what I would find upon returning there 30 years later.
One tip for those travelling to the Isles of Scilly from a far away country like New Zealand: don’t try to do it non-stop. Once you to get to the UK, take a break!
Alternatively, you could do what I did — land at London Heathrow after already travelling for 30 hours, get a train to Exeter airport, fall asleep, wake up in a jet-lagged daze to find you’ve missed your flight to St Mary’s (the largest of the islands), get transferred to the last flight of the day, miss the last scheduled boat to the island of St Martin’s, so end up paying a small fortune for a special charter boat.
It was not the best start to my adventure, as far as the travelling part goes. But after that, the actual being in Scilly part could not have gone any better.
What I discovered was that life on this idyllic archipelago had, thankfully, changed very little since the ‘80s. The main difference being there now was having electricity and the Internet. Other than that, island life was still refreshingly simple, slow paced and peaceful — a place where people still held old-fashioned values and formed a genuine community.
Beautiful place, beautiful people
As the smallest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation in the UK, looking at the Isles of Scilly from the air, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were flying over the Caribbean.
The islands are fringed by white sand beaches and surrounded by clear turquoise waters. They even boast an array of tropical plants and trees brought back by Major Arthur Dorrien-Smith, Lord Proprietor of the islands in the early 20th Century, after his scientific expeditions to the Southern Hemisphere. So for me, being amongst New Zealand flax and Pohutukawa trees felt right at home.
My island, St Martin’s, is just two miles long. Its one-mile-long concrete ‘road’, the width of one vehicle, is speckled with shells as it was made with sand from the local beaches. Along this road, you’ll find a pub, bakery, shoemaker, hotel, silversmith, art gallery, island hall, church, flower farm, organic vegetable stall, a few houses, and the St Martin’s General Store & Post Office.
The latter, referred to by locals as “the shop”, was where I worked for the summer. It was perfect, as it placed me right into the heart of the community. I quickly realised that it was more than just a shop, but a drop-in centre for islanders, where news was exchanged, favours asked, thanks given, ideas generated, and support offered.
Getting anywhere on foot shouldn’t take long at all. But you can double, or even triple, your estimated walking time because people talk to each other! They actually take the time to stop and genuinely chat to you. Where else does that still happen in the modern world?
I can’t describe the pure joy I felt at experiencing the magic of Scilly again. On my second day there, I went for a run amongst the heather on the cliffs and shouted out in glee as I fist-pumped the air, “I’m here, I’m here!”
The islands even smelt the same as I remember from my childhood — a unique and heady cocktail of sun-warmed gorse flowers, pittosporum, honeysuckle and bracken, all combined by a sea salt breeze.
What I learnt from my time there, is that by being authentic to who you really are, and being in a place where you’re truly happy, you heal, you grow, and you learn to love yourself again. And only from that place of self-love can a solo symphony become a duet, when you naturally attract a partner into your life who ‘gets’ the real you.
Author - Stephanie Moakes
Stephanie Moakes is a freelance copywriter and frequent traveller. She splits her time between homes in New Zealand and the Isles of Scilly, interspersed with trips exploring new places and visits to friends around the world.
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