Long before this simple, eloquent, exquisite near soliflore scent became something approaching sought after, it was the stuff of childhood memories for The Dandy.
Years (too many years) ahead of its being spoken of as the finest lavender perfume in the world, it was a cherished reminder of innocent seaside times and strange, solitary figures living out to sea.
Caldey Island sits in the North Atlantic just a few miles off shore from the town of Tenby.
Tenby itself is the nearest place temperamentally, not only in the county of Pembrokeshire but perhaps in the country as a whole, to the lost coastal resorts of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
It is a place of picture post card beauty and impish fun.
With its two glorious sandy beaches, one to the south: a vast lick of sand extending gradually to the sea; the other to the north, backed by short cliffs and enclosing a deep harbour at high tide; its pastel painted B&Bs (our equivalent of Italian Pensiones); it’s old town walls; tumble down castle; cobble streets; amusement arcades and ice cream parlours, Tenby is the epitome of what was once ‘The Great British Seaside’, oddities and all.
These peculiarities included until the 1980s a tiny zoo in an abandoned army fortress wedged on a island dividing the bays, a place that once supplied the town with the noise of wild animals to go with the crashing of waves.
And to this day, most pertinently to our perfume ready palattes, there is the other great curiosity: the little Island of Caldey, its Abbey and Monastery.
One of the British Isles ‘Holy Islands’ Caldey is part of a tradition dating back to Celtic times, a landmark of early Christianity at the North Western fringes of Europe.
From the sixth century right through to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 various orders of monks flourished here, the most successful being the Benedictines who established a Priory in the 12th century.
Indeed it was an order of Anglican Benedictines that re-established the settlement in 1910 commissioning the architect John Coates Carter to create a collection of buildings in the Arts and Crafts style widely believed to be the most complete surviving to this day.
Sadly, the Bendictines second tenure was not to prove so successful, perhaps it was to do with Anglicanism’s difficult relationship with the monastic life. No matter the cause, funds soon dried up and the order was forced to sell in 1929.
In another part of the world, or at a another time it’s possible that this fairytale structure might have become a rich man’s folly… a San Simeon, Hearst Castle or Vizcaya transported to the North Atlantic.
But, happily, it was not to be… the holiness of the place endured as it had done before.
An order of Cistercians, Trappists from Belgium, took over the Island and brought with them their ideals of the nobility of manual labour and self sufficiency, their near silence and skills in the art of creating luxuries out of patient endeavour.
Elsewhere in the world Trappists would become associated most closely with brewing, but here they are makers of chocolate, cheese, shortbread and, most supremely, scent.
The early years of very few children of my generation in Wales would have been complete without some kind of trip to Tenby.
Weather it be an end-of-term school excursion, summer vacation or Bank Holiday expedition, in all probability at different times all three, the journey was made.
And once, at least once, the call of the ocean would prove too much and the brave little boats that make the crossing to Caldey would be boarded and the partial pilgrimage undertaken.
The aim always was to catch a glimpse of the reclusive holy men, who go about their business mainly out of sight, ministering to those on retreat and tending their gardens and island-sized industries.
Of course, if they proved elusive there was always the produce to be sampled.
Most children wanted the chocolate, most grown ups the shortbread. Cheese was as yet unfashionable.
Though I could, just about, be bought off by the above, even then it was the perfume I was really after.
Both my grandfathers had gardens replete with nature’s bounty, floral and vegetal, but neither, for some reason I still don’t fully understand, neither had any lavender. Perhaps it was too continental, not decorative enough, un-useful.
Whatever the reason, the effect was to render the plant somehow magical, existing as it did only invisibly, inside the lavender bags that relatives would sow by hand and present to my grandmother as gifts, only for the perfumed pockets to find their way into my bed, to nestle under my pillow.
Lavender was a vision on the side of packets of talcum powder and special soaps for summer holidays, a line drawing on labels glued to purple jelly bubble baths or creamy lilac-coloured body lotions.
Lavender was an enigma.
Cadley Island was where lavender became real.
Not that I remember great fields of it there, like those I would see later in Provence at the Abbaye de Senanque. Indeed, I don’t believe they have them, not on that scale anyway.
No, Caldey was where the great purple aromatic would become abstractly alive.
It was the scent of lavender that would speak to my infant heart.
And it had that heart in an instant.
From the moment of entering the Island’s perfume shop doubling as a Post Office, I was head over heals, in a passion with the smell.
It was the beginning of a life long affair, a love that would take me to the South of France, Suffolk, Spain, and scent shops just about everywhere in search of a perfume as pure and wonderful as that first spray in the shadow of the Abbey.
But the simple fact is, there isn’t one.
Like an Yves Klein painting that defines the colour blue by being exclusively it, so Caldey Island’s lavender inhabits the scent completely.
It is a different kind of lavender, an absolute in the essential sense.
Perhaps the note should have its own name: “International Caldey Lavender”.
The Dandy came away that day with a tiny vial of what we used to call ‘lavender water’ and an ivory-coloured comb for my dark straight as a poker hair.
In my room back at the powder blue painted B&B I caressed my new-bought treasures and promised to keep them forever.
I still have the comb and the ‘lavender water’ still has my heart.
The Perfumed Dandy.