A few days later I crossed the lroise Sea again, this time to Île Molène, a smaller island halfway to Ushant, expecting to find the same invigorating atmosphere. But while the sea undoubtedly has its influence here, Molène feels markedly different. Just 900m-long, the island is so small that you can walk around it in 45 minutes; there's no need for a bike and it's much flatter too. As I disembarked the ferry, I followed young weekenders lugging their food and booze supplies up the jetty. As they headed into the village to find their holiday homes, I walked along the narrow coastal path to the north to find empty beaches strewn with grey pebbles and seaweed. I breathed in the confusing scent of sweet bracken and salty sea air.
Though the sea was relatively quiet, I could hear an ominous rumble as it crashed against some exposed rocks in the distance. The currents in the shallower water painted a patchwork of patterns in the blue while overhead, seagulls squawked and swallows swirled, and curlews waded in the foreshore.
Molène calls itself an 'island of rescuers' and, in the village, the semaphore station tells the story of its many shipwrecks and rescues, with flickering black and white film footage showing various launches of the lifeboat in the 1950s and 1960s (though it looks so old-fashioned it could be the 1900s). The worst shipwreck was of the SS Drummond Castle, a luxury steamship whose long 1896 voyage home to London from Cape Town took it between Ushant and Molène. Late at night on 16 June, it struck rocks and sank in just four minutes. Though fishermen were able to rescue three passengers, 242 people drowned.
Inside the semaphore station there are items that were found in the flotsam, such as dinner plates with the ship's motif. As I looked at the reproductions of the advertisements by the ship's owners, Castle Mail Packet Company, which promised 'Weekly sailings for the Gold Fields of South Africa' with stopovers at Saint Helena, Mauritius or Madagascar, I wondered how those booking the trip would have felt; the excitement and the trepidation. Their unnamed graves now occupy the small cemetery next to the church named 'Le Cimetière des Anglais'.
As well as films of the lifeboat launching, the station also has footage of seaweed farming on the island, which shows farmers piling it high onto carts with pitchforks, the heavy brown clumps destined to become fertiliser, fuel and cattle fodder. The quantities seem immense, but when I arrived later at the main harbour, the low tide had revealed the rich pickings; several women or goemoniers (the French word for seaweed collectors) were clambering barefoot over the slippery rocks filling large bags with their cuttings of edible varieties.
Low tide also gives visitors the chance to walk to the islet of Ledenez Vraz and so I too stepped barefoot over the slimy seaweed to reach the island, the bladderwrack – nature's bubblewrap – popped with each step. There's not much to see on the 600m grassy island, just a few sheep and some eco-huts to stay in if you really want to play castaway, and so, nervous of being stranded by the upcoming tide, I made a hasty retreat to Molène and went in search of lunch, wandering through the village, where cottages with stone-walled gardens brim with hydrangeas and agapanthus, lobster pots and life buoys. Instead of cars on drives, there are colourful rowing boats propped up on stilts.
The seaweed plays a part in the local delicacy La Saucisse de Molène; this sausage contains pork that is finely chopped rather than minced and is smoked over seaweed for two hours every day for five days. It's the speciality at the small family-run restaurant Le Vent Des Iles, where I ordered it with chips and sipped on dry cider from a shallow traditional Breton cup. As I waited for the dish to be served, the heady alcohol mixed with the sea air, made me want to doze. The sausage tasted delicious - a salty, earthy flavour that encapsulates the island.
Revived from lunch, I walked the remainder of the island's coastal path passing a football field (surely used by the smallest team in the world?) and out to a headland where I sat for a while surrounded by nature, enjoying the solitude. Although the sea's roar was distant, there was a wildness about Molène, its compact size somehow making it an even more challenging place to carve out an existence than Ushant.