Strawberry day

Wednesday 20 June

With L’escale safely tied up on the harbour wall, we set off on our bikes to explore a little of the interior of this fascinating island. The first 10km was uphill, a very shallow incline but into a strong headwind, so it was a relief to reach the central village of Liiva, and rest our legs while we enjoyed a very special lunch of traditional Estonian fare.

Seated outside on the vine-twined terrace of Koost, we nibbled delicious local black bread while we waited almost no time for our main dishes of four-fish cutlets with potato purée and cucumber salad, and stewed boar with potato wedges and lingonberry jam. Local cider and beer rounded things off very smoothly, our lovely waitress spoke fluent English, and two adorable little girls waved and giggled coquettishly from inside the window.

After a brief look around the adjoining crafts cooperative, where we purchased a still-warm loaf of that wonderful black bread and a kilo of sun-sweet strawberries, Mate checked out the brand new Co-op supermarket: clean, bright and well stocked; while Skipper chatted with the locals about our bikes and theirs. We were a little disappointed to only be able to see the outside of 13th Century St Catherine’s Church, but we were soon heading off the beaten track, cycling pretty lanes through lush countryside between tiny hamlets. Sadly no photo can convey the scents of orange blossom and pine forest, the sounds of birdsong and the breeze through the trees, the silence of nature uninterrupted by industry or traffic, or the flavour of the wild strawberries we found on the edges of the forest.

Fortunately, the last 10km was more or less downhill, on quiet roads that were tarmacked, rather than the stony, rutted forest tracks of the middle section of the ride. Nonetheless, we were glad to be home for a relaxing sauna and supper.
In the height of summer, the lifestyle of the residents of the island appears idyllic: the houses are small, sturdy and well built with stone bases and wooden walls under a thatched or tiled roof; gardens are immaculate and many homesteads include small plots where potatoes, a variety of vegetables, strawberries and currant bushes were growing. Modern vehicles are much in evidence, and the ferry to the mainland runs at least once every hour to and from the mainland. The small communities appear tightly-knit, with many Midsummer bonfires built in readiness for the coming weekend’s festivities, and they have much of historical interest of which to be proud.

However, in the winter months, when the holiday homes stand bleak and empty, the visitors have gone and the nights are very long, it is hard to imagine the isolation and remoteness of these resilient, friendly, simple people.