A Royal anchorage?

Fear not, this is not more overly-padded coverage of the birth of another Royal baby (congratulations William and Kate, if you’re reading). Although I can find no sure evidence of it, I’ve read in several places that the Royal family were due to be evacuated to the extremely isolated harbour of Port Edgar on West Falkland if the country had been successfully invaded during the Second World War. That raises several questions but if consideration is given to how hard it would have been to find them there then it might make some sense.

Here in the Falklands, in lieu of Easter Monday being a working day, the Queen’s Birthday brings a Bank Holiday Monday so we took the long weekend to head across to West Falkland and the stunning setting of Port Edgar (the first certified organic farm on the Falklands – although pretty much all other farms are in terms of chemicals/fertilisers, many use AI which you apparently can’t to be organic). As it transpired, there was a Wedding on that weekend and, not knowing the bethrothed, we seemed to be the only people on the West not attending the ceremony so we were due to be even more isolated than first thought.

As so often cited in life, the journey can be more than the destination. To get to West Falkland, you can either fly on the FIGAS Islanders or take the (1hr35mins) ferry with your car from Newhaven to Port Howard. We were only able to get on the 8am ferry so a 5am start (on both the outward and return leg) was a painful necessity. This did give us the benefit of sunrise on the ferry. Crossing Falkland Sound (the channel between East and West Falkland that gave the Islands their name) is always a pleasure as you’ll often see albatross, porpoising penguins and, if you’re lucky, whales on their feeding runs. Turns out, we were lucky:

West Falkland is very different to the East in terms of the landscape and also the nature of it. A smattering of very isolated, very small settlements (now) joined by a road network (of sorts) means that you can drive for hours and see very little sign of humanity aside from the road you’re on. The rolling nature of the landscape means you can often see extremely far and you get these ‘big skies’ that so many photographers talk of here (more on that story later). It also makes you realise how isolated each settlement really is from its neighbours:

Port Edgar Road

The drive down to Port Edgar AFTER turning off the ‘main’ road

We were staying in the small self-catering cottage at Port Edgar settlement, which sits in a beautiful bay next to the farm settlement:

The key appeal of coming out to this kind of place is the appeal of getting away – quite literally. With the Wedding going on, we were left alone on the Farm, so we’ll have been at the very least 20 miles from the nearest other human beings, as well as being far out of any form of phone or internet signal but still with a heated cottage to spend our time in. As always, the wildlife wasn’t far to be found and we enjoyed just relaxing, walking the extremely wild coastline and seeing what there was to be seen (and the occasional go on the zip-line set up next to the cottage). Make sure to click on the photos to see the full story (Credit to Han for the sealion fishing photo):

Perhaps having so much time with your own thoughts (an increasingly rare experience in the 21st century, I think), it’s easy to become quite contemplative. The sheer scale of the landscape was hard to get over:

IMG_3155

For scale, spot the car!

DSC_3376DSC_3367

As if the unrelenting ancient and wild coastline battering itself for hour upon hour for thousands of years wasn’t quite enough to get people thinking about their own insignificance in the World, the night brought further revelations:

DSC_3366

Stargazing next to the car

DSC_3365

Our solar system

Evidently, it doesn’t take that much to make a 6’5″ human feel small in the World.

Existential crises aside, we had another 5am start to get back to the ferry for the return trip. The obvious dangers of driving on dirt roads at night for many hours (and I mean REAL night: no lights of any form for dozens of miles) made it prudent to leave a little extra time. Even that (combined with our own compassion) brought its own Falklands problems for us trying to get to the ferry on time. Although we were far from a colony, the Falklands holds something like 70% of the World’s black-browed albatross population and this time of year the chicks from last year are fledging. They are SUPPOSED to leave their nests and not touch land again for approximately 5 years, but many drop down across the Falklands and need to re-launch, sometimes with the help of local charity Falklands Conservation (instigating mental images of albatross chicks dropping down out of the sky across the Falklands in some comedic sketch about the local version of raining cats and dogs).

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fpermalink.php%3Fstory_fbid%3D1644439462258882%26id%3D187349484634561&width=500

I had to put the brakes on as we approached Port Howard as a sizeable bird showed up in my headlights and I recognised its albatrossy features. I figured hitting a pigeon on a UK road is one thing, but letting an albatross chick be mown down wasn’t really on so we stopped to help it along. My attempts at trying to move the chick off the road by intimidation (flapping a coat, chasing it off etc) were met with what I can only imagine were an albatross’ look of dismay and the occasional sharp beak snapping. As we were close to the settlement, we had phone signal and got hold of a friend of ours who works at Falklands Conservation. With approved guidance from her (which genuinely included “you know how you pick up a chicken”), it was left to me to throw my coat over the chick and pick it up to move it off the road. Thus ended our trip with me carrying an albatross halfway across the field to a more sloping location. I’ve talked before about the surreal experiences this place has brought us, but picking up an albatross before the sun had even risen now ranks up there with the oddest of them.

All that was left were a few more whales and penguin sightings on the return ferry, but our sunny drive home was postponed with a stop for some pizza that was also bizarrely interrupted. You see, we stopped for pizza at RAF Mount Pleasant and the small cafe sits near the runway. Trying to enjoy our snack, we were deafened by the sonic boom from a take-off as a Typhoon shot up from behind the hangar into a sheer vertical climb directly up and out of sight within seconds. Amazing machines, if a little loud to those sitting in the window of cafes nearby. This place is odd sometimes.

Cape Pembroke

Yesterday, I decided I wanted to go for a short walk so I took my camera along to help teach a friend about his new DSLR. It turns out you don’t have to go far to realise the beauty of a place:

DSC_3210

Rock shags/cormorants

DSC_3239

The Atlantic Conveyor Memorial

DSC_3266

Cape Pembroke Lighthouse

Zip off those trousers

Most places that we’ve lived, we’ve always tried to keep a ‘to-do’ list of things we would like to do before we leave there. It’s not that we’ve led an overly transitory lifestyle, but it’s always been helpful to have a written list somewhere for a rainy day. We also update this list as we find things that we’re able to do that we didn’t know about before. If you don’t have one for where you live, it’s a good idea! Anyway, I digress. One thing we definitely added to our list was the opportunity to go camping at the well-known Volunteer Point. Although it’s quite an adventure to get there (thanks, in part, to the featureless landscape and numerous off-road tracks heading out), it’s a common stop-off for tourists here as it’s home to the largest King Penguin colony in the Falklands. It also happens to be a stunning coastline, tailor-made for photos. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading regularly, we’ve both been to Volunteers several times, but we usually have to leave with plenty of time to get back. The opportunity to camp out at Volunteers meant we’d be able to see the sunsets and sunrises with the colony without having to worry about finding our way across this lot at night:

volunteers routeWith plans made and a kind guide arranged (while we’d probably find our way there eventually, it’s hard to describe the route), we packed up the car and headed out to Johnsons Harbour settlement before switching to the low-range gearbox and venturing onto the, thankfully dry, track out. It takes about an hour and a half to get there, travelling across a peaty landscape, before you arrive at the farmhouse and the main colony just further along the coast. There’s a large gentoo colony and the Kings just near them. They have an 18-month breeding cycle, rather than the annual one that the Rockhoppers, Gentoos and Magellanics have so there’s usually chicks around. I guess it’s only to be expected that this trip has a heavy photo content:

The benefits of sunrise and sunset at Volunteers weren’t lost on us:

The beauty of Volunteers is that the beach there lends itself to stunning panoramas:

DSC_3009DSC_2998DSC_2996Volunteers is a place that gives great memories to most of the visitors that make the effort to go and everyone takes something away from the place:

DSC_2971This trip, the King penguin colony had moved slightly since our last trip. We did notice that the appearance of sealions in the waves at the beach meant that the water swiftly emptied of penguins, so we suspect that the penguins have figured out that the sealions are less likely to enter the area via the lagoon that you can see on the map at the top. On a recommendation, we walked down to the lagoon to find the kings and gentoos oddly playful in the water. It was a truly special experience to spend time watching the penguins through the clear water swimming past at great speed. I often wonder what experiences like this would cost if you had to pay for them in other countries. As it is, there’s a £15 fee to access the farm and £10 per tent to camp, so it was worth every penny:

DSC_0159DSC_0170DSC_0175DSC_0179DSC_0182DSC_0194DSC_0202It’s also yet another example of why outdoor technical clothing should always be the outfit of choice: zip-off trousers for the win!