Last weekend was Han’s Birthday (and the last one we’ll spend as a twosome in this little family of ours) so it seemed right that we marked the occasion. Unbeknownst to Han, I decided that we should have a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of Stanley (I know Stanley’s not exactly a metropolis but there’s always so much going on e.g. we missed the Winter Ball, dinner with friends and a Treasure Hunt just over those 3 days).
After making the decision to try to surprise Han with her Birthday present (not an easy thing to do: she has the thwarting mix of both nosiness and diligence), I set about plotting the trip. In part, this was to treat my wife but, mostly, it was because I knew it would offer the chance to use the word ‘unbeknownst’. Ladies: if your husband is surprising you, that’s probably the reason why.
As it’s the middle of Winter, most of the regular islands are closed to tourists (Carcass, Sea Lion, Pebble etc) so I decided that we’d head West to somewhere I knew was open all year and I knew would be a good call. Regulars will be familiar with the appeals of West Falkland from several previous posts. I settled on the stunning Coast Ridge Cottage in Fox Bay West (the settlement is divided around the Harbour). The ferry that we would usually to the West was making its annual slog to Chile for service and repairs so a brief exchange with FIGAS (the government air service) had our lift there chartered. As flights are drawn up on a daily basis on demand, flight schedules are a somewhat last minute affair. All FIGAS flights are read out on the radio the day before departure to inform passengers (as well as, now, posted on their Facebook page). This makes surprising someone a little tricky, but they’ve thought of that! The public manifests can be altered to include pseudonyms. So it was that Mrs G. Inge and Mr T. Allman were publicly announced on the schedule. Now that I know pseudonyms are an option, I feel there is a lot more fun to be had with that in future.
Fox Bay is a beautiful area and there’s a lot to explore in terms of both wildlife, scenery and even a little fossil hunting (if it’s not the middle of Winter and you’re not 6 months pregnant).
The vast majority of land in the Falklands is taken up by farming and the surrounding area of Fox Bay is no exception. One thing that had been puzzling me since I found it out was that the Falklands produces a huge amount of extremely high quality wool but it is almost all exported in its raw form for processing elsewhere. So, for example, the majority of the wool from the Falklands is sent to Eastern Europe for cleaning and carding (lining the fibres up) and then some of it is sent back for local crafts people to work with. That all seemed a bit convoluted so I wondered why no-one had set up even a small mill here.
Turns out, someone had. From 1983 until 1997, the Falklands Wool Company operated out of Fox Bay in a series of Nissen Huts and processed some of the fine wool coming out of the Falklands into, what I’m told was, a high quality product indeed. Unfortunately the operation ultimately failed to become profitable. I am reliably informed that this was thanks to the involvement of various agencies insisting on scaling up the process and drawing it away from its original sustainable intention (so often the way with well-meaning aid agencies). The result is that Fox Bay still houses the old mill and we were lucky enough to get permission to investigate it.
Anyone who has ever been to the Cabinet War Rooms in London (if you haven’t been, do!) will understand the eerie atmosphere that results from an old building being simply locked up at the end of a working day and left for decades as a time capsule to its former life. Such is the case at the woollen mill. Machines are still loaded with wool, a coat was still left on the counter top and the tools are where they were downed 20+ years ago. It’s a strange feeling, to wander around there. It’s sad to see it all sitting idle and you can’t help but think of the missed opportunity.
I only hope that this operation’s failure doesn’t put others off the idea of processing wool right here in the Falklands. With such high quality product, it seems a shame to see it all sent away and I hope to one day be sporting a Falkland Islands jumper shorn, processed and manufactured once more in the islands.