5. The Post Office

By now we had experienced many wonderful days reflecting on the success of our “Blue Button Expedition”, or Grasshopper Island Pilgrimage as we had begun to view it. Back at our base in Calvi we had acquired the evening habit of sitting with a plate of brocciu cheese and mortadella luncheon meat, coaxed down with an accompanying glass of rosé. On this occasion the sun was just beginning to kiss the rooftops of Calvi. It's Genoese fortress – the Citadel – becoming a silhouette against a haze of oranges and crimson as we too basked in the colours of our success. Admiring this captivating view, our thoughts turned to finding some of the last remaining Grasshopper Island locations.

The next day as we walked to wait for the train we noticed something interesting. As mentioned already, we had grown very fond of U Trinicellu, the narrow gauge railcars that ran along the coast. Occasionally along the route, old railway station houses were left standing, some still in use while others were abandoned. Here we found ourselves at a stop called Camp Raffalli, when we were struck at how strongly this abandoned station house resembled the post office building as shown briefly in Episode 10*. As it happened, I had the screen capture photographs in my bag and quickly rifled through them until I uncovered the one featuring Mr. Button as he emerges from the post office. The style and design of the little building was indeed very similar. Staring at this photograph we had somewhat of a eureka moment. Could this post office be one of the station houses on the island? Studying its features and background carefully, I was able to rule out Camp Raffalli. But this idea stuck fast – and would form the basis for our next location hunt.

Mr Button emerging from the "Post Office". Ep. 10 - "Discovered!".

From this point forward we took notice of each station house along the route from Calvi to L'Île-Rousse. Beyond Camp Raffalli there were only small platform stops at remote beaches. The next station house was at the seaside town of Algojola. This house was a very similar design but lacked a clock face between the doors. The one after that was at L'Île-Rousse which was a larger building of a different design. As it happened we had booked a rental car for the following day so we decided to continue our station house inspections then. We had been spending all of our time close to the coast so far and thought it would be nice to explore the hillsides and valleys a little. As it happens, the rail track turns inland and in a southerly direction shortly after L'Île-Rousse. 

Early the next morning I collected the little Peugeot hatchback at the airport and off we went on another adventure! The sun was bright as we left Calvi and ascended along the coastal road through the village of Lumio. It had wonderful elevated views of the Bay of Calvi and the vast mediterranean sea beyond. Onwards we rolled passing the seaside village of Algojola. Soon we passed high above Plage de Bodri and we couldn't resist the temptation to visit once again! Arriving by car is such a different experience to the train. It requires a steep descent along a narrow road before arriving at a dead end and a place to park up. From there it's a five minute walk that requires crossing the rail track on foot. Then a stroll along the wonderfully aromatic trail to the beach. We took our time to enjoy the morning sun and once again marvel at the idea that Toughy, Smarty and Mouse once played right there! The place where they carried their musical trunk across the sand as the theme tune played and the credits rolled. We were standing right there!

But no time to linger – we had another location to find. It was back to the car and onwards into L'Île-Rousse. It was quite a novelty to arrive by car. This route took us to within feet of Bambi, the shop owned by Nicole who features in blog No. 2 – The Ice Cream Shop. We decided to keep focussed on the mission of the day, and keep going up toward Monticello and beyond. Within minutes we had arrived at the small roundabout where days earlier we had disembarked from the minibus driven by Jean-André. To our right, less than 100m away, stood A Pasturella (the restaurant owned by Stéphane) which features in blog No. 3 – Lupus Goes Shopping.

Beyond this roundabout would be new territory for us. So off we set, into the unknown yet happily anticipating what may lay ahead. The road leading out of Monticello was a shallow descent, narrow and mountainous, with many curves and steep rocky drops. Beyond this gently meandering byway were some sublime views of the valley interrupted only occasionally by woodland or some pretty stone buildings. It's true to say that we didn't quite know where we were going. We had neglected to learn how to operate the cars navigation in our haste to go exploring.

Soon the road began to descend and we were unsure if we were going away from the coast, or toward it again. Thus ensued five minutes of twisting careful navigation. We had expected to cross the train line, because we had studied its route using an online map the previous evening. Convinced that we had taken the wrong road we came upon another S bend, one of many in recent minutes. Emerging from this S bend we couldn't help but admire the distant mountains which were illuminated in beautiful morning sunshine. We had reached the valley floor and the descent had now become level territory. While I focussed on the pretty views which stretched for many kilometres before us, Uli suddenly uttered 'Oh look at that !, in a surprised tone.

Just then we rolled across a set of narrow gauge train tracks. To our right stood a very old railway store house. Beyond that just a few metres further stood another building. A station house ! It looked just like the one at Camp Raffalli and just like the one at Algojola. “Stop!” Uli directed, which was easier said than done. The road was narrow and parking opportunities were non existent. “There, we can go there”, he directed as we passed an open gateway, which to my eyes seemed to be private property. “I think it's private”, I cautioned as I executed a 3 point turn and paused at the entrance. “It's fine, just go!”, he said with an urgency which revealed his excitement at the possibility of finding another location. Peering inside the gates I could not see any house or any person. In the absence of any better parking place – we parked the car in what seemed to be somebody's field. 

Our surprise arrival at the Station House (arrowed) in the Regino valley
 

Soon we were walking back up the road to the level crossing that we had just driven over. It was difficult to tell whether these buildings were private property, or whether the station was still in occasional use. In the absence of any fencing marking a boundary or signage telling us to stay away – we decided to be brave and walk the short distance along the track. A sign on the building read Le Regino. An old and very rusty water tower became an object of fascination and our “pretend” item of interest. This was because as we drew close to the station house, we had noticed that one of the doors leading into it was open. Perhaps it was occupied? Not only that but as we stood directly opposite the station house, we noticed two “guard dogs”. One was tied up on a long rope, and the other corralled inside a dog pen. Neither of them made a sound, they simply gazed upon us with mild bewilderment as we walked past. Had we noticed them beforehand I doubt we would have risked it! Nevertheless, we concluded that they must have been a local breed with a strong sense of laissez-faire.

Just then a man emerged from the open doorway. We nervously greeted him from afar and he replied in turn “bonjour!” before walking away and out of sight. He didn't seem to be concerned with our presence. The nonchalant roped guard dog stood watching a few meters away – he too did not show any concerns. So I seized the opportunity to step closer to the building and set about comparing it to the one in our photograph. The doors were in the right place and had the right dimensions. This station had indeed a circular clock with a face which had gone missing in the decades since, but the housing was in the correct place. I studied further. Directly below the circular clock body were some cement “patches” upon the wall. Looking to the photograph - these matched exactly the patches shown there! This was the same station !

This is the one!”, I proclaimed to Uli who was now holding his phone aloft and taking a photograph of me, as I took a video of this lovely little station building. By now we were both smiling, feeling triumphant at another successful identification! We both wanted to stay longer but couldn't help feeling as if we were trespassing and that we should move back to the level crossing.  

 

Then and now: Mr. Button standing outside the post office. Filmed at Gare Le Regino, near Monticello.
© Grasshopper Productions (1970) and GrasshopperIsland.net (2024)
 
Thankfully the baffled guard dogs did not object to our movements, preferring instead to stand panting with their tongues out as we passed. Nor did the friendly man re-appear to question our motives. We knew that the station had to have been close to L'Île-Rousse because all of the other locations were within a few kilometres. But we hadn't been prepared to come upon this little station so quickly and in such a rural setting. We have vowed that on our next visit to Haute Corse we will be sure to take the little train toward Ajaccio and pass Le Regino again - the place where Mr Button once received the news:

GIRLS DOWN WITH CHICKEN POX STOP MAY COME AT CHRISTMAS STOP AMELIA

The Mystery of The Big House

Years earlier, in correspondence with Joy Whitby, we had enquired about the big house. Joy had told us that at the time of filming the big house was not really fit for habitation. She revealed that it was located in the valley behind Monticello. The same valley in which Uli and I were now tottering about in a rental car. 

Mr. Button sits outside the 'Big House' (left) and Toughy climbs onto the roof (right)
 

We had been told that in more recent times the big house had been a holiday home, but that it had changed ownership since and was now a private residence. We did spend some time driving up and down little back roads within the valley. This was purely an exercise borne of personal curiosities. We knew the chances of finding it were slim. Aside from that - were we to discover it - we certainly were not about to publish details of a private home without the owners permission. Nevertheless, as we ascended the opposite side of the valley in our little car, Uli did spot something below. He is convinced it was the rooftop! Who is to say ? Perhaps beneath the roof tiles there still exists: “Grasshoppers, hundreds and thousands of grasshoppers. All in cages and with little tags around them”. This, dear reader, is a mystery for another day.

The Final Location

Join us soon to learn about the final location – the story of how a 54 year old pencil sketch by the son of Frank Muir (who played Dr Hopper) would help us locate the site of the “little house”. Would it too be on private property? Would it still be standing 54 years after the sketch was made? Would it be altered beyond recognition? That's the subject of our next Grasshopper Island blog entry! See you soon.

* DVD Extended edition chapter list. This is different to the UK edition chapter list.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

50 Years of Grasshopper Island

A Mystery Lifeboat

The Little House - Artwork