Up on top

In 2012, two good friends and I (ably supported by Han) completed the UK Three Peaks Challenge for charity, summiting the highest peaks in each of Britain’s 3 mainland nations in one day. We’ve also been up Snowdon and Scafell Pike at other times and spent quite a few other weekends out on the mountains. Imagine my embarrassment, then, at realising that 3 years had gone by and I still had not been to the summit of the islands’ highest peak. Mt Usborne (705m) lies pretty central on East Falkland, which makes it not that easy to access as most of the Islands are utterly devoid of the footpaths and country roads that make the North Wales mountains or the Lake District peaks so comparatively easy to get to. Luckily, I’ve recently given up teaching and that has meant that my Sundays are now my own (which has definitely not been the case for the past 6 years). The Rambling Club here on the Falklands meets on a Sunday so I was recently able to join them for their Mt Usborne and Five Tarns walk. Seven and a half hours of walking in the strongest winds I’ve ever walked in didn’t make for the easiest day but I was glad to get it done and I’m looking forward to repeating it on a slightly nicer day:

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We’ve also been enjoying showing more visitors to the islands some of our favourite places and some of our favourite companions, like recent trips to Bertha’s Beach to see the nesting gentoo colony:DSC_4253

More interestingly, we recently ran another Kidney Island trip; chartering a boat for the 30 minute trip out to Kidney Island, where you can take a rib ashore and traverse the sealion-infested wild tussock grass to the rockhopper colony, before spending the evening on the beach watching the 200,000 sooty shearwaters return to their burrows on the island. Photos don’t do justice to the sight of the sky filled with these sizeable birds, but I tried:

Three years in and we’re both glad that we still take up these opportunities rather than shying away from repeat trips – like all places, the Falkland Island experience is what you decide you want it to be. Remote island living, I think, needs people to be outgoing and adventurous in their mindset. The benefits of having that mentality, for us, are that we get to see and experience some very memorable moments like those above.

Remembering

It will have been (rightly) hard to escape the fact that yesterday marked 100 years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front and elsewhere. It is also hard to escape the fact that the Falklands has seen blood spilled on its soil in conflict in living memory. I often say to visitors that you need to understand 1982 to understand the Falklands today. It sounds obvious, as history ultimately explains everything about our World today, but this is more pronounced and specific to one key event here. The effects of 1982 are wide-ranging and long-standing, but on a day like Remembrance Sunday, the conflict once again casts its light over the Falklands. The commemorations in Europe and elsewhere have received a lot of press coverage so for those wondering how this occasion passed in the Falklands Islands, the annual traditions were complimented by a local campaign.

Each year on Remembrance Sunday, a military parade makes its way to the Cross of Sacrifice overlooking Stanley Harbour, where the forces and civilians gather in as much of a crowd as a small population can muster. The Governor then begins the wreath-laying ceremony and the names of all those from the Falklands who have died fighting in major conflicts of the 20th century are read out before the Victory guns (two small calibre guns on Victory Green) and a bugler signal the start and end of the two minute silence. Wreaths are also laid at the many other memorials dotted around the Islands.

This year, I was privileged to be part of the There But Not There campaign, helping my students at the secondary school to research and write up whatever we could find about the 22 men from the Falklands who died on active service during WWI. As a result of this project, it was discovered that Robert Greenshields Douglas had been missed out and, for the first time, his name was read out alongside the others on the Roll of Honour at the service. The rest of the information is on display in the excellent Museum in Stanley and it was astonishing to see that such a small population lost such a high percentage of its men for those four years and after (many of them paying their own way to Britain). The There But Not There campaign also brought down some striking figures of WWI Tommies to represent these lost souls and their presence added a powerful backdrop to the commemoration. The photos below are from the British Forces South Atlantic Islands collection, as I tend not to take photos at solemn occasions like this; the presence of a ‘selfie stick’ at the memorial going quite a long way to proving pretty much everything wrong with the 21st century.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Credit: BFSAI Falklands

The only hindrance to the day was the fact that a multi-faith or secular approach was not adopted in this diverse society. Sadly, there was little escaping the Christian insistence on dominating occasions that should not be motivated by religion and I can only hope that the Falklands and other nations take a more progressive approach to this in future years.