Saturday, 9 April 2016

Cape Dolphin

When I look up to the blue sky;
the emptiness of what exists is clearly evident to me;
and I do not fear the doctrine of the reality of things.

When I look at the Sun and the Moon;
enlightenment  arises in a distant manner within my consciousness;
and I do not fear spiritual dullness and torpor.

When I look to the mountain peaks;
the immutable object of contemplation is clearly perceived by my consciousness;
and I do not fear the unceasing changes of more theories.

When I look down to the river below;
the idea of continuity clearly arises in my consciousness;
thus I do not fear unforeseeable events.

From The Song of Joy.
Milarepa (11th cent Tibetan ascetic)
Taken from the chapter: “A Mystic In The Tibetan Mountains”
Meditations on the Peaks, Julius Evola.

In the Falklands, on that bleak rock, moribund South on the way to the Pole, landscape takes on a new import. It moulds your outlook; flat and panel- beaten, looking out over hundreds of square miles of bog and rock, the eye and mind are drawn into an endless tapestry of untamed wild. And yet, sliding into the frozen seas of the South Pole, life rallies in one final defiant mardis gras of celebration; an elaborate veil of exultation before its fragility gives way to the mechanical grind of ice sheets, roaring auroras, the excoriation of sand and the plaintive cries of sea birds, lost and ranging like the radar of a solitary albatross. Bleak & empty to our human eyes, how rich the Falklands must seem to a weary seal or seagull, washed up from the endless desert of Antarctica.

And opened out, being exposed to the sky like a tablecloth of dainties, the Falkland landscape is raw, humble, enduring. With no extravagance of trees for cover, nothing is exempt from the violent vicissitudes of climate. And it is violent. Volatile. At times remitting, and in those periods of forgiveness I could say all is forgotten. But there are reminders everywhere of the immediacy of the winds, rain and hail. The low- growing shrubs with their tough exteriors; the tough hides of seals and penguins; the rocks polished, each like crystal gems uttering showers of wizened novellas. Even a calm day conceals such austerity.

There is no protection from the caprice of the open ocean. She may fall silent for a day. Then, return in foam and lace, mauling like a bereaved phantom, squalling and throwing up monsters from her restless belly. Her hair is fronds of strangled kelp, waving wildly as it writhes on rocks; sometimes she will tear it out and lash it on the exhausted and drenched chest of the panting shore. Here and there, she has teased the headlands with a sharpened salt finger & gouged out over time wondrous caves, gullies, channels and blow holes where the sea rears up and spews out of the ground. The timescales are torturously long, like a lover toying with her prey. In this way, the land has succumbed to this gentle coaxing and opened up, cracked and corroded, falling deeply into the sea in a hopeless act of surrender and joy. Here and there, broken boulders lie on the shore and become habitat for the wildlife; children of Father Land and their Mother, Mor. Rock cormorants nest in garrulous and impossible cliff fractures, their ceaseless tides of movement matching the erosions of ages past.

Viewed from a distance, this erosive force looms as a far more pervasive power. Looking across Falkland Sound, a 10 mile stretch of water separates Cape Dolphin from an area of uplift forming the unapproachable mountains of West Falkland. In the Sound, whales play. Their spumes of water glisten in the setting sun, and contrast as ephemeral plumes of white mist against the dour mountainous shadows of the background. Following the land mass along to the North, a jagged group of mountains terminate further out to sea; the Jasons. They have evocative names like Steeple Jason, Elephant Jason and Grand Island. For they are temples; amphitheatres where one might meet the gods. The most North- Westerly point of Falkland, the Jasons were often the first encountered artifacts of Falkland as explorers risked the rip tides and death currents approaching form Patagonia.

And as an imprudent afterthought, scanning the horizon yet further north terminates in a stubborn nub of rock known as Eddison Island. Taken together, the distant view of the mountains presents a panorama of jagged and various forms like so many loose teeth brutally dislodged by the pugilistic vengeance of the sea. As the sun moved round and began to set sharply over West Falkland, the line of rocks, each unique in character, came alive and rose to prominence, shining briefly but eminently in full relief. They then sank into hollows of exhausted depression and merged morosely with the ocean’s horizon as an act of acquiescence. Until tomorrow.

And everywhere is the penguin, roaming the landscape like a dislodged ghost. Neither fish nor fowl, huddled on rocks against the poaching wind. Guarding the kernel of life- eggs, fulfilling a duty of endurance out of the arms of the sea. Until she can return. Megellanics hide in burrows and stumble sometimes miles out of their way along ancestral paths to their colonies, even when time and erosion have forged quicker, more direct paths.

The Quartzite sands lent  purity to every beach on Falkland. Crystalline and swept clean, their open arms welcomed even human visitors, rare though they were. On the strandline, kelp formed a neat line of visual contrast to the sand. It was only the opaline vibrancy of the sea that prevented the eye being deceived into black & white monochrome. But even the blackness of kelp could not resist the restless, bleaching rays of ultraviolet, so intense at the South Pole. This, due to the thinness of ozone. And coupled with the onshore winds, basket kelp would wilfully yield and turn at first grey, then bone white, and take on a lightness of spirit it seemed, where it would frolic and dance, rolling along the shore line in laughs. Finally undergoing an act of transcendence, it became transformed as though sanctified. It had become a new creature.

Scrutinising the convolutions and contortions of the fronds of basket kelp was a fascination for me. In fact, the microscopic world took on immense properties with such a featureless horizon. I studied the intricacies of sponges, fine flowers and adaptations of plants, the meticulous structure of shells, bones, barnacles, rocks and lichens. All of nature was exposed, revealing her private secrets to me. This small world seemed to be uniquely mine. Whilst others trod this wonder underfoot, she spoke secrets to me of how she mysteriously clings to life here, how she arrived in this place, how she has unfurled and filled every niche over eras. Nature herself whispered occult findings in my ear, like echoes of the sea in the turbinating conches of shells.

This was exemplified perfectly by the discovery of Landfeld. The minitiarised landscape was a diverse wilderness of small stones, hardy plants and lichens which to an untrained eye was just a barren moonscape.

“If you could walk here miniaturized, as though in forested fairy glen;
And maybe see the damage done, you’d never walk in boots again.”

Camping at night by the beach at Cape Dolphin was spectacular. Sat by the fire, giving off giddy embers to the graceful night in hallelujahs of driftwood flame, we enjoyed a simple meal, drank a precious bottle of red wine, and sang Auld Lang Syne. I went down to the sea which had reached high tide. In the black, her frothing jaws opened and closed like the teasing of a menacing shark. In the distance, the tormented growls and barks of restless sea lions from across the cove betrayed the presence of their newly born pups. The shore was littered with the ancient bones of penguins and whale strandings.

Back at the warmth of the fire, we looked up at strange austral stars and were rewarded with firework showers of meteor storms, until we could not think of any more wishes to wish for. Just past midnight, the ISIS satellite slowly groaned over the sky in starry salutations. It was preceded by four intense flashes of penetrating light which briefly scorched the sky. We just could not explain it, sinking into hysterical imaginings of alien spacecraft. This added yet another layer of unreality to the theatre. And as a final reassuring crown to the evening; the far east horizon began to glow with cresting crimson light as the Moon rose through thin luminescent clouds in triumph over the whole scene. We collapsed into a chaotic but glorious sleep, punctuated by the sound of wild sea lions defending their young. 

North Utsire

Sinister Reptilian

Leopard Seal (Hydruga leptonyx)

Essentially solitary and circumpolar in distribution, usually on outer edges of pack ice, but does range widely to most Subantarctic islands, including South Georgia and the Falklands. Adult females, considerably larger than males, reach a length of some 12ft (4m), males about 10ft (3.5m). Upperparts darkish grey and underparts light grey, with spotting on throat, shoulders and sides- amount of spotting varies. Overall appearance rather reptilian, with a disproportionately large head for its long, slim body line. At close quarters the wide gape and three- pointed cusp- type teeth are distinctive.

Now fairly uncommon, although at one time was a regular visitor to certain beaches. There is one unconfirmed record of breeding. More commonly seen in winter, but may haul out at any period of the year. Appear to prefer open sandy beaches, or perhaps they are more difficult to spot on rocky surfaces. Feeds on a wide range of food, taking fish, squid, krill, other species of seal and penguins. Perhaps due to its carnivorous habits and appearance, has rather a bad reputation for being fierce toward man; however, there are no recorded incidents of unprovoked attacks. Perhaps in time this reputation will change in much the same way as it has done with the Killer Whale.

Ian J Strange
Wildlife of The Falkland Islands & South Georgia

Leaving the ruggedness of the M25 circular, and driving to Cape Dolphin Farm to part with the modest fee to the owner, a whole new panoply opens up. Cape Dolphin is wild! The only way to travel it is off road in a 4x4; at best, there are sections of grass- track or muddied path but for the most part; bog and heath. We got stuck on one occasion, trying to cross a water filled gully. Reaching the summital point on the Cape, the sea emerges as a restless panorama, offering vibrant felicitations to the eye, but only brooding comfort to the heart. 

Making camp just above the strandline on a long isolated beach on Cape Dolphin, we took in our surroundings. The Cape is uninhabited and projects out like a long stubborn yet optimistic finger into the South Atlantic ocean. Following your eye line out beyond the kelp forests, there is nothing but wild restless ocean. 1000 miles north is the eastern coast of Argentina. Beyond that, looking north from a different angle; nothing but 4000 miles of ocean until you reach Greenland. Staring out on this vista was the only time in my life I had realized what it means to be alone.

It was New Years’ Eve and we were the only people on the Cape. There were no people for maybe 100 square miles and no signs of human existence, save for an old makeshift square- shaped pen half full with faded buoys, frayed fishing ropes and bleached pieces of plastic rejected with caprice by the wild ocean. That is when she hadn’t absorbed the junk wholesale into her dark churning stomach, never to be seen again.

The sheer feast of wildlife this eminence of rock throws up is a wonderment of the improbable as though the eyes are disembodied and floating slightly in a bacchanalian reverie. You are invited to just let the carnival proceed in a flow of its own time and making. Like looking down the eyepiece of a microscope, the sea floor has been magically uplifted to reveal a strange land of diverse and extravagant living forms. Driving along the Cape, alien landscapes of deep scarlet sorrel, punctured by vivid greens of Bog Balsam are oddly juxtaposed with the browns and fauns of dry heath. Occasionally, there are Quartzite dolomites, or violent blow outs where jealous crying winds have gouged out chunks of land.

Magellanic penguins shuffle freely about, sometimes stumbling or sliding drunkenly into a hollow. They resemble a care home where the inmates have taken over the drug cabinet and randomly walk about carelessly.   The periphery of the Cape gives way to precipitous cliffs, slopes and even giant dunes peppered by the zigzag of penguin paths. Rock cormorants cling to cliff faces in their letter box colonies. Where the land graciously extends  to the sea, large inland saline lagoons form with many thousands of squabbling waders geese and seagulls. These form extensive open coastal greens in places, which communicate with the sea when the tidal moods of the witch- Moon command it.


Eye opening: encouraging sign.

The extremities of bleak coastline are haunted by Neptune, who heaps angy trident blows of waves on endlessly stoic Silurian- Devonian rocks. Southern Petrels nurture their pterodactyl young here, giving the sensation that time has not changed this place since the dinosaurs were alive. Meanwhile with declamatory red chest plumage, darting amongst the cushion plants, curious Falkland thrushes dance with plovers under the worldly watchful and greedy eyes of the Caracara. All flowers are open in this misdsummer saturnalia and furnish the air with the inebriation of exotic perfumes. To this euphony of spice are mixed Christmas Bush, Coastal Nassauvia, and the camphor of Bog Balsam.

Setting camp, although as one, we suddenly looked up and along the mile- long sandy beach towards the trajectory of the setting sun. What propelled us to do so, can only be described as a force greater than ourselves. “Look, a leopard seal!” From a distance of maybe a quarter of a mile, we instinctively knew it was a leopard seal. I have never seen one before apart from on TV or books, but even from that distance it was distinctly so, lying high up on the shore and motionless. Taking cameras, and abandoning our unfolding camp, we just moved as quick as we could towards it, knowing this was a rare once in a lifetime event. It seemed pre ordained.

Approaching with caution, we could see the creature was not fully alert, and looked entirely exhausted. Knowing as I do now, that leopard seals are rare visitors to Falkland, and rarer still in summer, and that they most often come from South Georgia, a swim of 1550km, the state of exhaustion is not surprising. Given the size difference between males and females, I am going to say I think it was probably a female, as she was a good size. Even though she was motionless, we gave her plenty of respect and kept a reasonable distance. Her breathing movements were evident, but more so her heart was pounding at a rate of (I would guess) over 120 bpm. She had obviously come a long way, and hauled up to rest at great cost. We took some photos, made observations, and moved on.

I later found out that in the austral summer, male leopard seals are in the habit of hanging upside down in the water and making mating calls in order to summon a female. Was this a female who had been lured by a siren call? Or maybe a bold large male who had drifted too far from the subantarctic currents in search of a mate? Certainly there were no signs of wounds which might suggest an acrimonious fight over a female, or warding off unwanted attention. Maybe our seal was a female who had recently conceived and was looking far and wide for a suitable niche in which to birth later on in the year. We will never know what circumstances led to the arrival of the leopard seal on the beach, but as the omens looked bleak for her, we shared a moment and moved respectfully on.

Later in the evening, as the sun was setting, and we were making food before the spectacle of night swept the Cape, we again saw movement from the direction of the leopard seal. Making our way down to the shore, we could see the leopard seal was on the move and looking much better. Her movements were smooth, muscular and undulating as she edged her way down to the shore (a journey of a hundred and fifty yards or so). Every so often, she would pause and these punctured moments in time allowed us to photograph her in the light of the setting sun. Patagonian geese amassed at the waters edge, goading her on. The waves beckoned her back to the deep nourishing womb of the sea where she could be replenished by cool waters and plentiful food. The final 20 yards or so were a joy to watch; her glistening skin lapped by the tides, until she was buoyant and absorbed again into the sea. With powerful muscular movements our leopard seal slipped into the night, with only swirling foam to remind us of the drama we had just witnessed.  

North Utsire

Friday, 8 April 2016

Sunrise Over Brise

As we left the terminal, the bear growled and dug deep into grinding gears. Maybe a middle ranking retired serviceman. It made me feel sorry for the engine; an old man, too tired of  the kerosene of whisky to dwell on his sorrows; too familiar of bleating with unrelenting humiliation; of being paraded out over the runway, flaws painfully exposed. Bleating, panting, growling, with open- throated groans, we slid out into the Beyond.

After hours of being penned in, the Beyond was a sensory climax on a par with visual cocaine. Leaving the terminal, as the cocoon of the departure lounge receded from view, we entered open space. The tarmac was smooth and strewn across the runway were the grey carcasses of military aircraft, like so many stranded cetaceans, waiting. It was dark, but small lights twinkled in all varieties of colours, to make their little corner or crevice visible. The image struck me that we were in a deep dark ocean and each twinkle was a shrimp or a fry, signaling in defiance at the vast looming predators, too lumbering to react.

The mist was a moist, enveloping amnion and made the smoothness of the fuselages and their angular wings glisten in contrast. Moving along so smoothly amidst the giant alien world was eerie, yet serene when viewed from the fish tank of the transport. Another impression was of being in an ancient oversized Jurassic forest, passing through the wizened trunks and bones of formerly spectacular creatures now fallen silent and on display in a neglected museum. The jazz of angles offered by the planes, their hard shapes, the bare anatomy of the engines, wings and fins, opposed the gentle curves of their bodies. This gave them a delphine appearance, and as we passed close to them, they emerged ominously from the unconscious swamp of mist, unyielding and without compromise.

Our ride: Airbus Voyager A330

Traversing the runway in this manner was no easy enterprise, and the sheer scale of the environment seemed to make time dilate in an aching awkward manner, as though the delay between thought and action had become uncomfortably stretched like plasticine or dough in the hands of some capricious superior being. Confining oneself to inner consoling thoughts whilst moving slowly through the blackness still felt strangely inadequate because the outer world was constantly changing, albeit slowly. We approached one plane, gliding serenely by, but rather too slowly to be fully engaging in its own right, and yet thinking of what the in- flight meal or movie might be seemed facile in the face of the grandeur of the moment. A kind of duality of experience emerged from this circumstance, whereby to exist in the moment was all that was possible. I had experienced such a distortion of scale as this before, whilst walking as a young man in the granite of the Snowdonian mountains. It was like being swallowed up by the enormity of the world.

Ascension Island

The sensory dilation became even more acute when we alighted and stood underneath the plane. Being with a disabled passenger, I was in an unusually privileged situation of entering the plane from the rear by an ambilift. Entering the vehicle, the doors shut & lit only by a dim bulb we waited silently like cattle. The slow ascent only intensified our sense of claustrophobia. When we reached the top, the roller door howled open to reveal a shockingly intimate view of the fuselage from height. The grey seal skin of the plane looked improbably thin I thought to be cruising at 48,000 ft. From that altitude, the earth itself would curve and bow; oil tankers in the tranquil ocean below would appear like minute specs. Clouds would form spirals hundreds of miles across, concealing tempests below like the foulest of moods.

Weather- wise, it's such a cuckoo day!

Returning to Brise after our holiday, exhausted and empty, we again encountered fog. Descending through the bleary clouds of dawn, the Oxfordshire countryside rose up to greet us; now winter sticks and thicket stems, greens, browns and grays lying in blankets of stubborn hibernation. Obscured like a veiled bride, vulnerable and alluring, only furtive glimpses of land were allowed. The fog was an opaque amorphous sea which glowed in morning overtures to greet the eyes of the faithful. And yet down we plunged, into the winter, profusion and mystery. Maybe the fog had been there since we flew out, lurking in a time warp to the unwary.  Entering the turbulence of the boundary layer, we descended into a glow- light world where the sun’s light became a surreal and distant pewter disc. Touching down in the engine roar and looming haughtily above the tarmac, the mist offered vignettes of the familiar grey hulks passing by each window. Each a frozen cinematograph image, until we were again at home amongst out lost pod of whales. 

North Utsire

365 Mutton Curry

Being gluten and dairy free, visiting the Falklands was always going to be a bit of a challenge for my beleaguered gut. The only places we could get food were small- town shops in Stanley, and the NAAFI shop on the airbase, and I wasn’t even allowed to shop there being an ordinary mortal. It stands for Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, in case you were wondering (I was, but nobody could tell me whilst I was there).

Stanley was an hour away over tricky rugged roads. I could hardly believe the poverty of vegetables on sale in Stanley. In one of the larger shops, there were vegetables, but they were obscenely priced and in small quantities. As an example, I saw half a pepper in a foam/ cellophane wrapper (more wrapper than pepper) and it cost £4. Incredible! One thing I liked about the cost of goods in Falkland was the price of Chilean red. Of course, Chile is quite closeby, and there are several flights per week there. You can get a nice bottle of Malbec for £3.20. Even more incredible!

Some more interesting facts about Falkland: (i) There are no cash points, and only one bank; (ii) There is no McDonalds, no Tesco, no Starbucks – in fact no chain shops or restaurants of any kind; (iii) There are only seven pubs in Stanley, but you’ll struggle to get a pint in any of them. Beer is mostly sold by bottle.

Thankfully the solution to the food problem came in the form of potatoes, eggs and large amounts of lamb. There are about 167 sheep per head of population in Falkland, so it is quite plentiful. In fact, its called “365” by the locals because it is eaten on most days of the year. And unlike more choosy consumers, there are no hang ups about eating mutton as opposed to lamb. Hence my curry is called “365 Mutton”.

Some of the farmsteads have meat hooks outside the main building, which look a bit grizzly. But with so many sheep around it makes sense not to cull and freeze them (costing energy when you are off grid). Hungry? Just nip outside for a fresh one! No wonder there are no McDonalds in Falkland. Who would bother to travel all the way to Stanley for a gob full of goop when you can have the pure grass fed home grown version. I do rather wish we could get fresh Falkland burgers back in the UK. Meat hook included.

So, making the most out of lamb and potatoes, and with no curry spices available, I embarked on the following recipe.

1 Kg of Mutton, diced
1 heaped tsp salt
1 large knob butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped

Fry off the mutton in the butter/ salt/ garlic & onion until it browns. Seeds of most varieties would be a great addition: cumin, fennel, mustard, fenugreek etc. Sadly, I didn’t have any but celery powder in the All Purpose Seasoning made up for this a bit.

1 Tin Coconut Milk
1 Tbsp All Purpose Seasoning
1 tsp brown sugar
1 medium glass Chilean Malbec
1 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar

The coconut milk is a real boon if you can get it. Add to the frying mixture and bring down to a simmer. Add in the other ingredients mixing thoroughly.
1 red pepper, sliced
Any other vegetables you can find provided they don’t overpower the recipe
(Mushrooms would be good)

.. or half of a red pepper if you’re paying through the nose for it. Add to the mixture. Now simmer on low heat for minimum 1 hour, and preferably 90 minutes.
2 large, peeled & cubed potatoes.
1 Tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Pinch of black pepper

Mix the oil, potatoes, salt & pepper and put them on a roasting tray, 200oC for 40-50 minutes, turning towards the end of the roasting.
Serve together as illustrated.

Serves 2-3 people.

North Utsire

Ecology & Wildlife of the Falkland Islands

Here are my main two offerings from my visit to the Falklands. First, a photographic wildlife video to the evocative Scottish smallpipes of Iain McInnes, hopefully giving you a feel for its Caledonian landscape and heritage. Secondly, an 87 page Powerpoint presentation I have put together for A level Biology or Environmental Science students. The powerpoint has been converted into a Youtube movie, with apologies if you can't read every slide. Just email me if you'd like a powerpoint copy. I must have a moan about the quality and rendering of these videos, despite my best efforts to preserve their sharpness. It seems Windows Movie Maker cant deal with preserving quality in an image, so I recommend you squint your eyes together & pretend everything looks better than the video conveys. I've included some photos below so you can compare the quality output.

North Utsire

Hello from the Falklands

This is an extract from my diary in the first few days of getting off the plane:

Hello to me, from me. Its really good to get outside myself & get a different perspective on things. For a start, its sunny here being austral summer (solstice), so we have long days which stand in stark contrast to the Tupperware gloom from which I came all those hours ago. It seems like another world. And there’s plenty of FRESH AIR here and the water tastes PURE, as its unflouridated. The Falklands reminds me of how the UK used to be before it became overpopulated & over ran with namby pamby EU bollocks legislation & plastic retail parks. There’s no gaudy ‘street furniture’ or ‘warning signs’ here, except to avoid the minefields, and even then you get the feeling its more of a polite courtesy rather than a keep- off- the- grass admonishment. Wanna blow yourself up? Fine! Liberty rules. But you can afford to do that with a population of 2500 and a playground the size of Scotland at your disposal.

The vast majority of the population are cosseted in small tin huts in Stanley. A small minority live in what they call ‘camp’ from the Spanish for field. So the population density is something like you would see in Iceland. Stanley is quaint and lazy, with vibrantly painted roofs, small vegetable cultivation in polytunnels, and an array of scuttled shipwrecks lying in the natural harbour which is Port Stanley.

Lady Elizabeth, an iron barque, Whalebone Cove 1875-1913

The Plym, an iron tugboat, 1903-1930's

There are no trees here (too windy & exposed) so wooden structures are virtually absent apart from the occasional piece of reclaimed wood from a shipwreck, or deliberately imported timber. Stanley has the occasional introduced tree, but plantations are out of the question, even in hollows or mountainsides. Even Christ church at Stanley, arguably the showpiece building on the island, has four giant whale bones arranged in a dome- shape, rather than forming any arch of wood. This leaves a kind of bare or raw sensation to a Celtic heart, like something vital is missing in the landscape, like a parent gone off to war, or a lover who has upped and left suddenly.

Above are photos I took of the shipwreck of the St Mary at Whale Point. Wrecked on an offshore reef in 1890 on her maiden voyage while carrying a cargo of coal, whiskey, iron pipe, boxes of tacks, and toy trains from New York to San Francisco, what remains of her today lies on the beach easily accessible at low tide. A large section of the St Mary was removed by the Maine State Museum, Augusta in 1978 and taken back to America where it is now displayed. Beautiful pens and bowls made locally from the wood of the St Mary can be purchased in the Historic Dockyard Museum in Stanley. It is without doubt the most evocative shipwreck I have ever seen. You can walk the boards and clamber freely around this natural museum.

Summer on Falkland is short lived. There are no bees, flies are few. Ironically this Caledonian clime has few midges like mother Scotland. Kicking a football in the garden, feeling the breeze, pollen of Antarctic hawkbit gets stuck between the toes in my sandals. Garden of golden yellow hawkbit heads rise to greet me in the Sun.

The sun is fierce here, in the thin ozone of the South Pole. And the weather fronts are capricious and bold. No English bowler, taking three days to run up to a delivery. Winds and rain are rapid and lash in straight from the sea, but then quickly disappear and sublimate into sunshine, beating down radiation. And the winds! Rugged, excoriating in sandpaper swirls, they impart a ruddy and vigorous complexion which lasts a day at the most. Then there are the indolent days of mist & blanket cloud where the mountains speak! Bearded in their fog & mystery, they keep their wisdom selfishly like a wizard dwelling in dark mines or caves.

Yesterday we drove to Cape Dolphin, which was an epic trek over endless pot holes and scree- ridden slopes to be rewarded by a bog- swamp off road experience to rival an African safari expedition. There we saw sea lions in an impressive breeding colony, and a host of Patagonian coastal heath species which I photographed avidly until I ran out of battery power. I have become quite an amateur naturalist whilst out here, having read through the following tomes:

The Falkland Islands & Their Natural History- Ian J Strange
Wildlife of The Falkland Islands & South Georgia (signed copy) by the same author
Plants of The Falkland Islands- Ali Liddle (Falklands Conservation).

Ian J Strange: Doyenne of Falklands Wildlife Writing

I have also swam with Commerson’s dolphins! And come eye to eye with broody Gentoo penguins with their chicks. The whole experience has far exceeded my hopes. I always thought wildlife photography was for other more fortunate people, but this experience has really given me sense of fulfillment which stretched right back to my Ecology degree days. I am inspired to carry on this experience and make more use of my conservation/ natural history knowledge. I feel an awakening of my deep love for nature once more after a long period of being landlocked in an urban area. I should use the momentum of this moment to do something more positive with it.

The only frustration I have encountered here is a lack of opportunity in capturing and representing the landscape with my camera. It is bleak, but far from featureless. It would challenge me to portray it and take some time to compose good shots, ideally at sunrise/ sunset. But I am effectively confined to barracks! Large parts of the Falklands are owned either by the crown, or private landlords, or are under the control of the military. Getting permission to gallivant around is not easy. In addition to that, you need a 4x4 and to have done at least one days advanced off- road driving skills training. I am lucky insofar as when we do get out, my sister has got access to nature spots which others just can’t get, owing to her high up RAF connections & familiarity with the locals. As we drove to a far away & concealed penguin colony the other day, we drove by squaddies on foot, no doubt making the most of their day off, but with a hopelessly long trek ahead of them just to get to the coast. With a car, permission to explore, and a set of gate keys, we sailed on by. For my landscape project, I would have been content driving around the ring road which circumnavigates the island. In fact, the circular road is the only road on the island; ironically called the M25 by the locals. We drove for over 90 minutes in one direction and didn’t see a single vehicle or living soul. Except the sheep.

Note: I didn't manage to get on West Falkland at all throughout my stay. Separated by approximately 10 miles of  the Falkland Sound, it presents austere vertical cliffs to any visitor, with only a few relenting coves or channels. It is virtually uninhabited with no roads. I almost got to go to Carcass Island by helicopter which is an island at the NW point of West Falkland, but alas there were strong winds that day & safety had to take precedence.

Many Welsh and Scottish settlers came to Falkland in 1833. They were given incentives to do so, and start sheep farming enterprises. It was thought given the rugged and exposed nature of their home countries, they would be well adapted to the similar environment of the Falklands. Apart from being wonderfully romantic, this strikes me as a bit Lamarkian or Haeckelian. Was it assumed life in the highlands had somehow imparted a genetic proclivity for life in the Falklands? I can’t see that happening in this age of positive discrimination, but it is Falkland and as mentioned it does have an old school feel down here. Yes, like a people could be adapted to live here, like a breed of sheep or cattle. That there is an exact match in nature; an archetype. A spiritual home. 

North Utsire