Ruette Tranquille…the art of losing yourself and finding your feet

Back on mainland UK, and our sealegs have still got us wobbling around the too thin streets and laneways like drunken sailors; holding onto the walls in the too thin corridors and uneven floors of my sister’s Wibbly Wobbly House – a 300 year old sailors’ rest that resembles a classic ol’ English caricature of a quirky quayside cottage. Uncle Pete thinks someone should strap down the land to stop it from rocking; I think someone should tell the English how to widen and flatten their thoroughfares.
But neither of these solutions would actually touch on the real issue of how you go from A to B in England in minimum time, without getting lost. Is it possible? This morning we just went looking for the post office on the high street before breakfast, and it still took us four times longer than we thought and we ended up having to have breakfast out.
But that’s got nothing on our second night in Guernsey. It was with supreme overconfidence and stupidity that I assumed Caro and I could find our way from Point A – Beaucette Marina, to Point B – our B&B…a distance (as the crow flies) of about 1 mile. It wasn’t that late, there was a map in a rental car and we assured the others as we left the restaurant early, that we’d be fine, we both just needed to get home to sleep…
Fancy imagining that we could follow a map with no street names, around twisting laneways with no street names, on an island that is totally covered with houses and laneways where the only signs that are occasionally apparent, read ‘Ruette Tranquille’. It seems that the Guernsians are actually leprechauns who steal street signs, hide behind hedges and laugh at lost tourists; and that Ruette Tranquille is simply and exactly as translated…quiet street!
Had we not been so jet-lagged and exhausted, we may not have ended up after half an hour at another strange, silent, suburban dead-end, wondering when the axe murderer was going to land on the roof. Having high-tailed it backwards out of there, we found ourselves pulled up alongside another endless bloody hedge, in another endless bloody Ruette Tranquille, laughing helplessly till we cried after another half hour of passing the same landmarks countless times! It was like being in a white-out on a snow bound mountain and completely loosing your sense of direction. The whole island is a maze of laneways and houses with only five major roads that are safe to follow. And for Australians who are used to wide roads in even wider spaces, the near panic of claustrophobia was closing in.
In such circumstances, it is bizarre what becomes of comfort… the ugliest landmark on the island, the electricity plant at St Sampsons, with its tall black chimney billowing clouds of grey smoke, finally appeared and we found our way home. It became our trusted landmark for the next four nights and days. We also learned to stay inside at night; and during the day, to appoint a navigator who called out how many Ruette Tranquilles we needed to count before making the next turn.
Thus a few days later, we found our way to a magic little picnic spot at Petit Bot, a secret little bay down a winding green trail, with an old mill, and steep dark cliffs looming over the ocean leading to France. Once the local leprechauns had let up their play, Guernsey’s hidden faerylands slowly revealed themselves…but it took teamwork! And we even found the high street of the main city of St Peter’s Port on the last day, despite the best efforts of the leprechauns and island geography to keep it hidden.
In contrast, I found my feet easily along the cobbled laneways of the little isle of Alderney. While the other’s found an old English pub for lunch, I wandered into quirky little shops on and off the high street, did my family pressie shopping and had fun connections with friendly locals. Didn’t get lost once…though I think the others lost me for a while. Even found a crazy little hardware with watercolour paints and brushes. Alderney is what we’d imagined Guernsey to be, and though we only stayed a short while, it was a lovely place to leave the Channel Islands from, with our sense of place (and direction) restored.
On the other side of the English Channel (which is really just another over-sized, wobbly laneway), the leprechauns were on our side and on Isle of Wight, we followed a dripping, emerald laneway in the rain, down a steep, overgrown coastal hillside, into a tiny glen with a hot glass studio by a beach, at the end. Unplanned and unexpected, the stopover at Isle of Wight Glass Studio turned any theory I may be developing of wonky English laneways leading to nowhere on its head! Our wonky old hire car adventure around the south and west coast of this lovely isle was everything the night time journey on Guernsey was not. If I wanted a taste of home, hanging around the furnace on a wild wet rainy day, in the totally familiar environment with friendly, warm and inspiring glassblowers, I could not have asked for more. And to restore my faith completely, there were so many well placed signs along the afternoon’s drive, we barely even needed a map!
But it makes you think about expectations. My sister Fran reckons we did need a map on Isle of Wight to get the lay of the land at least and know what direction to head out in. And I think she might be right…following our noses down the Ruette Tranquille can lead us down hidden laneways to beachside picnics and gleaming glass treasures, but if we rush out headlong into a maze of preconcieved ideas without so much as a sign to guide us, that very same quiet street can quickly become a wibbly wobbly road to trip us up…

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