|location||weston super-mare, UK|
The wonder of Birnbeck Island
I had heard of the island, an island that was said to have only recently risen steep and sparkling from the sea. An island like no other, neither in England nor anywhere else. My curiosity was awakened. I had to see this isle with my own eyes, and so I boarded the next train westwards to the deep bay of the Bristol Channel. I arrived already early in the morning at the provincial station of a town I had never visited before. It was an unpretentious small seaside resort, not the place where one would usually expect a wonder. All the more excited I briskly made for the sea. At first a thick mist cloaked the scenery. Scattered silent groups of tourists were munching on their fish and chips and the smooth sea had shrunk back far from the shore when suddenly rays of light broke through the clouds and, wide out in the mud-flats, out beyond and above the furthest tip of the town, dancingly reflected off a mighty crystal edifice. I stood rooted to the spot. This must be the island that people in the capital had talked of with such astonishment and for which I had travelled to this out-of-the-way corner of the Southwest. Full of anticipation I got onto the next bus, and within a matter of minutes stood in amazement at the gateway to another world.
What was evidently an old long iron pier protruded out from the mainland to a huge reef-like plinth form bearing the fractured crystalline forms of tall glass towers. The mist had completely cleared by now, and the light of the sun sparkled and played off the thin glass skin of the slenderly rising structures. As I tentatively trod the wooden planks of the pier, an exotic white bird suddenly circled above me, and you can imagine my surprise as I recognised it as a cockatoo that noisily flapped its way back towards the island. Crossing the threshold flanked by the two old gatehouses I immediately understood where the strange bird had come from. Opened out before me lay the green heart of the island that I had fleetingly glimpsed from the pier - a primeval garden of sub-tropical plants like banana plants, camellias, eucalyptus trees, all sorts of palms, araucarias, tree ferns, balaustine, bamboo and a host of others,all wildly intertwined. As a followed the winding paths to a tiny clearing inside this fantastic garden I was surrounded by cries of unfamiliar birds and even fancied that I spied the dangling tail of a monkey amongst the treetops. In front of me suddenly stood an old building in a recognisably English colonial style that had almost been swallowed by the vegetation. It had clearly been converted into an orangery for exotic plants with a café that was just opening, so I sat myself down under the delicate ornament of the old veranda and allowed my captivated gaze to wander.
An imposing crater of arching rock-like concrete protectively encompassed the whole scenery. At two points huge open flights of terraces led up to the edge of the plinth. In marked contrast to the wildness of the jungle where I sat sipping my first coffee, the over-dimensional steps were cultivated as precisely and tastefully as a Renaissance garden.
They reminded me of a romantic time I had once had on the Borromayan
Islands. My strength renewed I strolled along beneath the arcades that opened up the powerful plinth towards the garden on all sides, peering through the large glass frontages into sculptured interiors resembling lucid grottos that contained shops and more cafés. There were hotel lobbies that welcomed their guests, a Hammam offering relaxation, a wonderful swimming baths that simultaneously afforded wide views out over the barren sea and vistas into the sheltered microclimate of the garden within, and much much more besides. Via small stone steps
I clambered to the rim of the plinth and surveyed the open panorama from above, back over the bay to the small seaside town where I had disembarked only hours earlier. From the meandering pathways over steps and ramps around the crown of the plinth I gazed up at the elegantly soaring planes of the eight or more crystal towers that ringed the hoard of foliage like gigantic guardians. Each was enveloped to its full height in a conservatory-like layer of glass, and dotted behind the elegant profiles, as high as the eye could see, were people sitting shielded from the elements in their apartments, obviously lost in reverie in the spectacular views. On this sunny day some of the people had opened their windows to enjoy the fresh salty sea air, some had drawn down the awnings or closed their curtains to enjoy a nap in their winter gardens, while others had withdrawn themselves into the sheltered interiors behind the sheen of the rear façades of the towers that glistened like mother-of-pearl.
Enchanted by this sight and having explored the island for hours, I took a room in one of the hotel towers, deciding I had to postpone my return, perhaps forever. I write to you high up above the chatter of the newly arrived evening guests and revellers, above the open sea, looking out across the twinkling lights of the coastline with the gentle glow of the island dancing in the lapping evening waves down below. Although I am sure you have heard of the wonder of Birnbeck Island too, I assure you, it has to be seen to be believed.