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:
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:
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:
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).
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.