It Does Funny Things!

Whether the same applies to Saints, living here all their lives I do not know, but for me, and indeed many travelling ex pats, St Helena does funny things to you. Having arrived on St Helena retired, expecting a laid back life for two years, indulging in hobbies and reading, I find myself now worrying about everything I have taken on, whether I can fulfil my obligations and meet my own newly defined goals, make the most of my time here on St Helena and indeed be the family man I intended before we left the shores of the UK.

I look back a few weeks, to a time where, despite falling in love with St Helena, I was not in love with myself, unsure of my place, my future on the Island and unable to see a way out of a hole of cleaning and domestication.

The lack of cisual content to accompany this entry leads me to just post some pretty pictures. As the weather continues to improves the nights become clearer as this shot of Half Tree Hollow at night shows only too well.

The lack of visual content to accompany this entry leads me to just post some pretty pictures. As the weather continues to improves the nights become clearer as this shot of Half Tree Hollow at night shows only too well.

A recent conversation with a local left me pondering some things, to which I have not found an answer. The crux of my depression was in not having, what I regarded as a good answer when the inevitable question, “what are you doing here” came up. I would joke that I was retired, afraid of being judged by my profession, or lack thereof. But why is this, do I lack the confidence to just be myself, without the need to be something of importance? I don’t believe I judge people based on their profession, I have always strived to see the person and not the badge, so why do I assume others will judge me. I find myself playing up or down previous roles dependant on the profession of the person I am speaking to.  But then it seems to me that it is often the case that people will ask what you do, before they ask your name, and indeed St Helena is a funny place for ex-pats where humble retiree’s like myself rub shoulders with those holding seats of government, lawyers, Prison Officers, Chief of Police, Doctors, Deputy Governors and the like, if there was ever an environment to make one feel inadequate, this I suspect this is it.

I find myself now more and more at ease with things, I no longer feel

A little bit of abstract macro work on a walk around plantation wood.

A little bit of abstract macro work on a walk around plantation wood.

the need to joke to cover up my own self judgment, opportunities are presenting themselves, and along with those opportunities are choices to be made. St Helena does funny things to people, ex-pats arriving without work, supporting loved ones are presented with opportunities to take part in the most wonderful and varied things, I have even been offered my own radio show, something which Im afraid I simply don’t now have time to do. It seems, having bought a cheap camera a few months ago, am now a photographer, my work is being recognised and appreciated and it is difficult to place in words how wonderful that feels.

Last weekend I attended a craft fare, and sold a few of my photos, even being asked for some signed copies, and today I sit having spent

One of my first new ventures as Paul Tyson Photography. Little more than five months after first picking up a camera I am offering beginners courses!

One of my first new ventures as Paul Tyson Photography. Little more than five months after first picking up a camera I am offering beginners courses!

most of the day producing a collage of my work for the St Helena Government representatives in London, having been called upon directly from London to see if I could help. I pinch myself that I have completed the necessaries and await confirmation to see if I am able to register my new business, Paul Tyson Photography! Now who’d of thought that as we stepped onto the RMS St Helena three months ago.

St Helena creates friends; this funny melting pot of peoples in a strange situation brings about close and powerful friendships. We find ourselves spending time with people from all walks of life and all professions. Why is it that dive Instructors become friends with housing planners, that prison officers become friends with videographers, that lawyers become friends with teachers, what is it that breaks down the normal barriers and creates friendships that would be unlikely to form back home, what is it that binds us?  Ex pats on the Island all have one thing in common, and it seems so obvious as to almost not be worth stating, we all live in St Helena. It is not the living here however that brings a closeness, it is the spirit that brought us all here in the first place, a curiosity for the unknown and a sense of adventure for leaving the safety or normality at home and venturing out into something new, something exciting, something with huge potential to fail but huge potential for great reward.  I have learnt to look beyond first impressions; St Helena does that to you. In the knowledge that the size of St Helena makes it inevitable that you will bump into people regularly, that you will share a drink and spend time in the company of others, you are forced to bide your time, to form friendships with people whom at home you may pass up, turning away based on an inaccurate and fleeting first impression.  I hope I take this new found measured approach to people with me when I leave, just another in a long list of improvements I believe I am making.

IMG_9631 Friendships on St Helena are also transient, as fleeting as our time here. Already three fellow passengers on board the RMS have departed these shores, and families we have become close to will be leaving in the New Year.  Even those residents, the Saints themselves whom we are slowly making friends amongst, will remain when we depart. In the social bubble I find myself in, one remains ever aware of the RMS and the departure we and others will make.

Between my work with the National Trust, my burgeoning photography career, looking after the house and the boys I am clinging onto my time with the Marine Conversation team, just! This Monday had the huge pleasure of assisting in tagging Red Billed Tropic Birds on the aptly named Egg Island.  A small group of us headed out to this small rocky outcrop, some 300 yards from the shore, and accessible only by a leap of faith from the back of a boat onto a vertical cliff face, all the while judging the movement of the waves and hoping the next wave pushes you closer to your target and not further away. After a full twenty minutes of ups and downs back and fourths, the team of four were safely onto the Island. From a distance Egg island looks white, closer inspection reveals it is indeed, the rock stained white from centuries of guano. Stepping across the rocks and climbing to the Island’s peak at around 70m, tens upon thousands of Black Noddies and Sooty terms flew around us, angry and upset by our disturbance and sure to let us know about it, their powerful beaks and quick head height fly pasts a constant reminder that we were on their turf.

Egg Island, stained white with years of bird poo!!

Egg Island, stained white with years of bird poo!!

The valuable work on Egg Island is revealing the secrets of these sea birds, potential new species being revealed and population trends being followed, all essential if these birds, residents of the Island for thousands of years are to survive a thousand years into the future. Our journey was also in preparation for next week’s adventures when the trip will be repeated in the pitch black of night, lit up by the stunning nocturnal skyline as we turn our attention to the resident, nesting Storm Petrol population. The short climb back down the vertical cliff to leap back onto our waiting boat left me nervously excited about attempting the same feat at 1 o’clock in the morning!

Three months into our time here I am at something of a cross roads, determined to help out with the amazing marine conservation I have become involved with, proud of my work with the National Trust, desperate to develop a new career in photography, and without losing sight of the family we have ventured here to become. Writing this blog has, from the very start helped me to make sense of things, but St Helena does funny things to people, and for the time being even my writings are not helping  me to make sense in this sudden turn around. I am not quite sure how I make sense of all this and where I should go next. What I need is more time in the day, what I suspect I will end up doing is somehow just squeezing it all in, and seeing what pans out. What I do know is opportunities are coming my way, opportunities that would never of been afforded to me should I have stayed in the UK, what I do know is that St Helena does funny things to people, and I think I like it.

*Footnote. Please accept my apologies for the lack of updates for a week, I have been so busy with things it has simply not been possible. I will do my best to get back on track this week.

It’s Ridiculous!!

I started my last blog wondering if I would be able to fit in two weekends worth of St Helena in my normal body of text, and in short I couldn’t, because Lemon Valley was on the agenda and required an entry all of its own.

Lemon valley is a remote valley even by St Helena standards, with no road access its rocky shore and crystal clear waters can be reached only by boat or a long and somewhat tricky descent from the wonderfully named Rosemary plain some 500m above the valley floor.  Over the course of last Friday and Saturday I did both.Lemon Valley Post Box Walk St Helena

A boat trip had been arranged with a large group of families. Some more energetic souls however had made the decision to walk to the bay, and return to Jamestown by the boat. Wondering if Charlie would be able to make the walk I decided a solo trip to assess the terrain would be appropriate.

Leaving Rosemary plain, the path takes a steep descent through Sarah’s valley. Initially moving along a narrow path boarded by conifers, like much of St Helena the descent takes you through several climatic zones. Conifers give way to a multitude of deciduous trees and bright flowers, flashes of burnt orange from the Silky Oak tree (Grevillea robusta) standing out against the back drop of blue waters several kilometres below.Tungi at Lemon Valley

As the path becomes drier it becomes trickier, with bare rocky slopes giving way to fine powdery scree and solid footsteps being replaced by a step and slide pattern. Trees are replaced by large stands of English Aloe, and the orange of the Silky Oak is replaced by the orange of the Nargy Weed, (still a favourite of mine).  As Sarah’s Valley converges with  Lemon valley Tungi begins to dominate and as I stop to look across the now wide Y shaped eroded slopes behind me, a row of caves can be seen across the way. As the wind rushed down from Rosemary plain above I shouted to find my voice echoing back at me in such clarity had it not been my own Id of thought someone else was shouting toward me from the caves afar.

Lemon Valley to the right and Sarah's valley to the left (as you view the image_ and the echoing caves.

Lemon Valley to the right and Sarah’s valley to the left (as you view the image and the echoing caves in the bottom right of the picture.

After descending the last scree slope, more suited to skis than boots the valley flattens and the path twists through a dark, entangled forest of wild mangoes. Feeling like Indiana Jones in his latest adventure, I, with almost every step, broke the web of a Spiny Orbweaver Spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis).IGasteracantha cancriformis Now of course to some this is a trip close to hell, but for me it was great, and these incredible and beautiful spiders just added to the intrigue as their webs stretched wide across the narrow path. As I pushed through the trees and webs the curious Fairy Terns visited, flying close to suss out the new visitor. A particularly curious individual flew within touching distance, hovering motionless to look me right in the eye before letting me move along my way.

Wild Mongoes follow the line of the stream. Thick, interwoven branches and spider webs make this feel like a jungle.

Wild Mangoes follow the line of the stream. Thick, interwoven branches and spider webs make this feel like a jungle.

Fairy Tern St Helena

Fairy Tern St Helena

Reaching the valley floor it opens up, and once again the history that wraps up every story on this Island is evident, abandoned homes and buildings, of a once small but thriving community that built up around a still intact quarantine station farther down. A defensive wall borders the rocky beach and the blue lagoon is overlooked by the remnants of an old gun battery, no longer a surprise to see given that it seems there was once a gun of some sort pointing toward every inch of this fortified outpost of the empire.

Atlantic Ocean comes into view nearing the end of my walk.

Atlantic Ocean comes into view nearing the end of my walk.

Having Completed another post box walk, and after spending ten or so minutes exploring the rocks and pools I headed back up the valley. Luckily for you, my description will be considerably shorter than the monotonous, endless trudge that the walk up Lemon valley is. A relentless climb across loose scree ensuring your feet cover twice the distance of your body due to the slips across the dust. Pushing myself as hard as I could the constant thirty degree incline was conquered in just over an hour, but it was the mountain that won, leaving me struggling for breath in the mid-day heat!

Having decided that the concentration required for the slippy descent was too much for Charlie, we took the boat with everyone else the next morning to Lemon Valley. Our dive instructor Anthony from Sub-Tropic Adventures provided our transport for the day, a

Transferring from the main vessel to the landing craft

Transferring from the main vessel to the landing craft

watery taxi service. With most people and a mountain of stuff from snorkels to seats, food to fishing rods on one boat, a few others shot ahead on a smaller outboard rib to assist with unloading the gear and ferrying others from the main boat to the shallow water deck area. Arriving at Lemon Valley from the sea instead of on foot and its beauty is revealed in a new light. The bay at the mouth of the valley is not a classic tropical vision, draped in white sand or palms trees, like much of St Helena its beauty is not in the obvious, but in the detail.  Its beauty lies in the grandeur of scale from the steep sided volcanic cliffs, to the endemic fish in the rock pools, from the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the shoals of butterfly fish. It is the childlike excitement that is generated from scrambling over rocks,  the wonderful group of friends from all walks of life that our day was to be spent with and the laughter and excitement of the Children as they jump from the shore into the sea. Lemon valley, like St Helena, is everything and nothing a unique place in a unique way of life.

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The tone of the day was set, as once the boat was anchored, some of the children jumped into the cool blue waters to swim to shore. With everyone and everything on the wooden decking our transport departed, leaving us stranded in the valley for several hours. And what a place to be stranded, hours spent snorkelling, swimming, exploring and rock pooling. With five families, one couple and of course John it was a splendid social event.  With each of us bringing our own contribution to the popular “bring and share” idea of catering, we presented a feast of epic proportion from local Pilau to home-made

John enjoying a swim

John enjoying a swim

cakes and biscuits, and the now inevitable sausages and some particular lovely home baked Banana cake from the David’s.

Exploring the rock pools revealed urchins and starfish, crinoids (feather stars) and anemones, crabs fish and even a moray eel. Plunging into the Atlantic Ocean revealed a multitude of fish species most of which you will find nowhere else on earth. Shoals of butterfly fish, tangs and chromis, with needlefish and trumpet fish, soldiers and parrot fish to name a few. We were made particularly proud when we convinced Oliver to come for a swim, donning his snorkel and mask to be enthralled by the life below the waves, his nervous swim was only short, but a significant first step for our boy. Those not exploring the pools or snorkelling were enjoying sun and relaxation perhaps with the occasional dip to cool off whilst other splashed and played in the waters.

Lemon Valley St Helena

IMG_0425As the day drew to an end our boat returned to take us home. A day of incredible fun was then turned into a magical day, our return journey being accompanied by a humpback whale mother and calf swimming alongside the boat some 150m away. Bev and I looked at each other and back to the whales, we turned to Oliver who was now driving the boat and exclaimed almost in unison, “it’s ridiculous”. How else do you describe this, a boat ride to a remote inaccessible valley, where wild Mango trees meet blue waters and Fairy terns brush shoulders with you as you explore marine life found nowhere else on earth. Shared with great friends, great food and great fun, clear blue waters and shoals of colourful fish, and the still magical sight of a humpback whale and calf on the way home I can find no words and the best I have is ridiculous.

How long have you got?

…….Or should I say how long have we got, because our time here continues to be simply brilliant and quite frankly I wish it would never end. Normally family ups and downs aside, when I sit back and think about the times we are having it becomes a little astonishing. Tonight’s blog entry is no exception and my ability to keep our stories to a reasonable length will be tested such is the diversity and frequency of good times we are accumulating .

For the past two weekends have started with a morning walk, nothing exceptional there of course. However the walk is along a section of the central ridge, with stunning views down to the Atlantic Ocean on either side, this walk is not a normal walk, when you then factor in the fact that we are walking, or should I more correctly say being walked by Donkeys, then we see that nothing in St Helena is normal, and few things are less than exceptional.

You can tell by peoples clothes that the central ridge is almost always chilly due to the high winds.

You can tell by peoples clothes that the central ridge is almost always chilly due to the high winds.

The island of St Helena, given its extreme topography, had relied for many years on the use of donkeys to haul goods, food, water, fish and lots of flax around the island and up and down extreme cliffs, mountain paths and just about anywhere they were needed. As little as twenty years ago it seems that donkeys were still in very regular use across the Island. Thankfully with improved roads and more significantly, improved cars and trucks, the donkeys are largely surplus to requirements and a good number of them have now found refuge in the St Helena Donkey Sanctuary. Set up some four or five years ago to provide a restful retirement for these lovely animals and providing, each Saturday, the opportunity for the public  to take them for a walk.

Like me Oliver loved Prince.

Like me Oliver loved Prince.

This is one of the unique things about St Helena, a large group of people, locals and expats alike, and from all walks of life, gathers to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking a donkey.

I was lucky enough to walk Prince, a grand old boy, weak in the knees, almost blind, and absolutely lovely. One of the few donkeys to of still been working as little as a few months ago he is now enjoying his leisurely life in the sanctuary, Prince and I bonded well.

Prince did have his stubborn moments when he would just point blank refuse to move.

Prince did have his stubborn moments when he would just point blank refuse to move.

Wonderfully gentle animals.

Wonderfully gentle animals.

Donkey Sanctuary St Helena

We also took in our first post box walk as a family. Across the Island there are numerous walks, and a few years back attempts were made to open up some of the walks, at varying difficulties to make them accessible to tourists and locals alike. Each is finished at a small post which contains a stamp with which the accompanying guide book can then be marked upon successful completion of the walk. We took on one of the easy walks up High Peak, one of the highest peaks on the Island but little distance from the nearby road. Taking a route through steep slopes of thick flax some 2m or more high,  the boys felt like explorers cutting through a thick jungle. Past a spring full of tadpoles and eventually up onto a high ridge with extraordinary views of Sandy Bay.

As we passed through the flax jungle, Charlie started to scratch his backside, nothing as it happens of any particular surprise when Charlie is concerned. After a while I told him to leave himself alone and he exclaimed, “but I have something in my bum!” . Somewhat dismissively I agree to check and sure enough, reaching into his shorts I pulled out a  small round shiny object, a Trolley Pound! How on earth a trolley pound found its way into Charlie shorts on an Island that does not even have trollies I will never know!! Reaching the summit we saw our first endemic St Helena Tree ferns. These ferns are prehistoric and although only in isolated stands on High Peak they still take you back to another time or world.

High Peak. Marking the start of the walk.

High Peak. Marking the start of the walk.

Sandy Bay Amphitheatre and Arum Lilly

Looking down on Sandy Bay Amphitheatre from High Peak

Looking down on Sandy Bay Amphitheatre from High Peak

The morning of the 9th of November, was spent, like many others paying our respects to those who gave their lives for the freedom of all, and somehow even this was different on St Helena. Held at the island’s cenotaph on the water front a large crowd had gather to pay respects and watch the ceremony led by acting Governor Burns. The sound of waves crashing behind us added to the atmosphere and the boy’s impeccable behaviour helped to make the morning an enjoyable and somehow appropriate one.IMG_9984

Good friend John playing at the remembrance service.

Good friend John playing at the remembrance service.

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The afternoon was spent in the sunshine in James Bay, rock pooling and testing out my new wetsuit with a little snorkelling in the bay. Bev and I have now passed our diving theory course, the pool is almost full and we can expect our practical lessons to commence in the next couple of weeks. Given the quality of snorkelling just yards from the town centre I simply cannot wait to don my cylinders and step out into deeper water and the numerous shipwrecks around the Island.

Friday night saw our regular evening at Donny’s bar watching the sun go down. This Friday however took a new turn and I stayed out late, drinking Gunpowders (Spice Rum, Lime and Lemonade) and treating the crowd to my karaoke talents, friends at home will know how I love a bit of karaoke. Along with ex-pats and Saints alike we all partied into the night and after much singing, dancing and many many drinks a great night out Saint style was had by all. It is a long time that evenings have been warm enough in the UK to be out under the stars till past 1am, but I suspect it will not be an uncommon occurrence on St Helena!

Oliver has joined in with one of the local junior football teams on a Thursday night. Lack of numbers on Island  and the season coming to a close means he currently is the youngest player amongst a group of players up to twelve years in age. After a tentative start he thoroughly enjoys going up against “the big boys” and I hope it will help him learn and develop and increase his confidence. I am also enjoying the opportunity to coach again, (I coached an under 6 team back in the UK, one of the things I miss most) helping out with the local coach of all sports here on the island.

Finally I am especially pleased to report that I have started work with the St Helena National Trust. Although the post is unpaid due to the limited budget of the trust I will be working part time as Director of Communications. The St Helena National Trust, like that of the UK and other nations is a non-government organisation, a charity, established for the protection of the Islands built, natural and cultural heritage. The work they do and plan to do is vital to the Island and I am very proud to be a part of it. A fantastic opportunity for me to develop many of the skills I had already established in previous roles I will be responsible for company branding, internal and external communications, developing interpretive material for historic and natural sites on the Island and will have the enviable opportunity to work on the production of a guide book and photo book, featuring my own work. If I am able to leave the Island with a book I produced to help others gain the enjoyment I am, then I will be very happy indeed. Keep your eyes peeled here for how you can help with this exciting and important project.

So another two weeks has passed by, and once again I have the opportunity to sit and recount the story of my family on St Helena. Writing a blog has become very important to me for many reasons, to reflect and realise the wonderful opportunities we are lucky enough to be enjoying is, I think, the most important of those and I can scarcely believe .that three months into our adventure I still have so much to talk about.

The Gigantic Isle

I have been led to believe that St Helena is only small, apparently ten miles long and five miles wide, fifty square miles in area. That would make it very small in comparison to London for example which is around 950 square miles. (more comparisons between London and St Helena here)

However, quite simply I do not believe it, it cannot be true, St Helena is gigantic, it must be enormous, it is the only explanation I can find for the huge array of people and places, of habitats and climates and even of seasons on this Island.

Sunset 6

Another Stunning Sun Set

Having driven almost every mile of St Helena’s roads I can say that this Island is continental in its variety of environments. Were you to flatten is peaks and valleys into one large sheet, I have no doubt it could envelope the earth.

Coastal areas are dry and arid, dominated by bare scree slopes, steep cliffs and sparse vegetation of low lying salt and arid tolerant Ice plants (Aizoaceae),  hottentot figs (Carpobrotus edulis) , and the endemic,  lime green Babies Toes (Hydrodea cryptantha) which are still found in isolated pockets. The Sandy Bay amphitheatre, containing the only significant beach on the Island with its black volcanic sands, steep crags and sharp ridges is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, snaking its way deep into the Island, the eroded remains of the second of St Helena’s two shield volcanoes that erupted some 12 million years ago. Huge cliff faces and giant rock formations reach from the waves below; flashes of white pass by as the beautiful Fairy Tern or Red Billed Tropic birds fly in to their nest sights, contrasted against the rocks of blue, purple and orange.

Moving up to the low lying terraces of Half Tree Hollow, Prosperous Plain, Donkey Plain or Horse Pasture and the environment takes on a semi-arid scrub land feel. Like an old Western where Cacti grow thick. Nargy weed with its bright orange golf balls lining its central stem thrives here, and low lying scrub with creepers now forming large expansive mats, succulent leaves with bright red flashes and large yellow flowers. Carpets of yellow tussocks of fountain grass stem the tide of erosion, whilst the elegant and grand English Aloe stands high, reaching for the sky with singular bamboo like stems some three or four meters high. Canaries, finches and Mynah birds provide a chorus of chirps whistles and song as they fly in small flocks from feeding ground to feeding ground, picking off scurrying insects, moths or falling seeds.

The enormous yellow flowers of the cup of gold (Solandra maxima) catch the eye as you past A&D mini market. Roads are lined with wild tomatoes, currants, lilacs, hibiscus, fuscia, acasia, passion flowers which sit along side more species of plants than I could mention, providing all colours of the rainbow where ever one looks. The endemic dwarf Ebony, with its delicate white, petticoat like flowers,  cultivated from the last specimen on earth found clinging to the edge of existence high on a cliff face, now grows in abundance. Trees of craffa thorn (Erythrina caffra), jacaranda (Jacarana mimosifolia) and coral trees (Erythrina speciosa) provide red and purple flowers of colour against the historic buildings, whilst the occasional palm tree reveals the sub-tropical climate of the Island

Crucifix Orchid (Epidendrum ibaguense)

Crucifix Orchid (Epidendrum ibaguense)

As you move inland the environment changes again, becoming green and lush with valleys of grass and tall woodlands appearing. The stunning Arum Lilly (Zantedeschia aethiopica) starts to make an appearance, pure white flowers and elegant glossy green stems, growing wild in huge abundance.  Pasture and wide open green plains are grazed by cattle and sheep providing a sense of home, a familiar rolling landscape of fields and hedgerow, its peculiarity revealed by the nesting wirebirds, a beautiful and dainty plover found, like hundreds of other species, only on St Helena. Forests planted over a hundred years ago contain such diverse mix of trees that one could equally be in a Scottish Highland forest of pines facing one way, and yet turn around to find themselves in an

Cape Iris Napoleon's Grave

Cape Iris at Napoleon’s Grave

old English forest with Oak and other gnarled trees twisting round, thick roots breaking the forest floor, On the South Side of the Island, at Levelwood, huge stands of Eucalyptus trees pass for a rainforest canopy. Their stripped bark hanging like vines, with a variety of species forming multiple layers as the forest itself is dissected by the steep slopes and truncated spurs. In the valleys, streams provide a permanent wetland, home to Banana trees, wild celery and yams. The orchestra of frogs play continuously, like a thousand raindrops echoing into an underground lake. These mid-level valleys are a land where daisies grow as trees, home to the last remaining stand of wild, endemic gumwood trees, in Deep Dale.

Sandy Bay Arum Lily

Sandy Bay Amphitheatre. Slopes of Flax and Arum Lilies give way to forests with endmeic Gumwoods and eventually the barren steep gorges of the Gates of Chaos and Broad gut.

Driving up higher, the winding roads take you into green carpets of flax covering entire slopes with a velvet coat. Flax, once a major export industry on St Helena was planted in huge quantities and now dominates much of the upper slopes. Although the flax has sadly replaced much of the native cloud forests it does in its own right hold a degree of beauty, and adds to the sense of history that the Island exudes in abundance.

The central ridge of St Helena holds one of the most precious habitats on earth, a world where dinosaurs would not look out of place, now sadly an urgent conservation concern. Just forty hectares of native wild cloud forest, dominated by the prehistoric Tree fern (Dicksomia arborecens) remain. Where cabbages are trees and some of the rarest invertebrates on earth find shelter in the damp undergrowth.

Perched high on the central peaks this is a wind-swept world, where clouds hang forming dew of the tips of leaves only to be swept away forming swirls of smoke down the valleys before burning off in the warmth of the lower reaches. Trees bend sideways, almost reaching the ground at the their tips, their longest arms often lower than their roots as they bend down over the sharp ridges, pushed over by the relentless Atlantic Ocean winds.

Wind B&W

Wind swept central ridge

These changes in environment, almost continental in their diversity happen over such short distances that one may even experience changes in season whilst driving half a mile up the road. Plants now dry and bereft of life at the lowermost end of Half Tree Hollow can be found in full bloom at the top. Jamestown may be five or more degrees warmer than a mile inland at Francis Plain, where a thick layer of cloud often provides rain all day whilst James Bay bathes in sunshine.

From the Grand Canyon to rural England, from Asian cloud forest to Texan desert, ST Helena has it all and is indeed an enormous Island. The St Helena Tourist board promotes the Island as the most extraordinary place on earth, approaching our third month here I should think they are right, and I am certainly not going to argue with that assessment.

Half Term Hell

So, half term has been and gone, and you know what, it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it may have been. Bev booked a day of leave in the middle of the week, and worked a little flexibly around that, and between boobies, rock pooling, searching for insects and walks I, the boys and the family got on just fine, who’d of thought it.

St Helena is renowned for its walks. Back home many wonderful hours were spent on the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. Extreme scrambling and ridge walks are a particular favourite and I intend to tackle every walk, long and short, difficult and easy whilst here during the next two years. The first real walk I tackled since our arrival was the walk to South West Point, a relatively easy introduction to Island walking and one quite achievable with the children in tow.

Invited by some friends to occupy a half term day, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon taking in the spectacular views North and South across the Island as we worked our way along a narrowing peninsular. With lots of other children with us, Oliver, whom loves the outdoors was in his element, and Charlie, at just three years old tackled his first full walk, all three hours of it, spectacularly well, leaving me very proud of his efforts.

Oliver, in normal stance with walking stick!

Oliver, in normal stance with walking stick!

Charlie, normally terrible with walking any distance was utterly brilliant.

Charlie, normally terrible with walking any distance was utterly brilliant.

The kids reach the end of the walk.

The kids reach the end of the walk.

Our usual Friday night at Donny’s bar was finished off with a walk along the water front to join some locals fishing in the clear blue waters. Flying fish a plenty were being caught whilst younger members of the fishing family attempted to catch needlefish. Oliver and Charlie were of course fascinated, and fishing rods are now on the Christmas list. Myself, I can think of few better ways to spend an evening than in the warm sheltered cove at the wharf, deep blue waters shimmering under the moonlight and fishing boats at anchor in the bay bobbing gently with the ways. A few cool beers, some fish for tea, and reportedly the odd dolphin making an appearance, come to think of it those fishing rods may not last until Christmas!

Purple and blue sands dominate as we pass through Blue Hill

Purple and blue sands dominate as we pass through Blue Hill

Although I have said this before, summer is now definitely just around the corner and the season has begun to change. Wildlife around us has been our first sign of the warming weather. The thistle like nargie weed has died off, losing its bright orange flowers and green stems and turning brown. Other plants turn to flower, and leaves appear on trees in our garden that we previously had thought were dead. Most notably I have tan lines, the first of which for many, many a year.

Lots Wife

Lots Wife and Sandy Bay.

Along with the changing season is an increase in the number of ants, given that it seems our home is on top of an ant nest. Now for most people ants are a nuisance and better off gotten rid of. For Bev and I they present an unusual dilemma. Clean, and not carrying any disease, I greatly admire the work of the humble ant. Functioning in unison, each with specific roles,  together in simple robotic co-ordination to achieve extraordinary feats of engineering; I believe the human race could learn much from these little autonomous beings. Instead of wishing them ill I find myself hypnotised by the continual lines or marching ants, carrying off spilt crumbs and other food items across the Himalaya’s of our kitchen cupboards and concrete steps.

Another change of the season is evident in the clearing night skies and the arrival of a bright new moon. The thin atmosphere and non-existent light pollution means the moon is bright, very very bright, the likes of which I have never seen before. Stepping outside in the middle of the night one would imagine it is early morning, and driving is possible in the dead of night without the use of headlights, such is the illumination provided by the moon beams. (I only tried this for a short distance!). Looking out at the moon and the false daylight makes me grateful for the shared experience with my family. It is not possible to describe the night sky here, you may read this blog, I could post pictures, and when we return home I will doubtless tell friends and family of the crisp dark shadows cast by the midnight sun. But it is only Bev and the boys who will truly understand when we return home, just what it is to step out at night to see the earth bathed in this white glow. I feel blessed that in years to come I will have people that will remember and recount with the same enthusiasm I will have, the wonderful experiences that we are collecting here on this incredible Island.

Looking back from Southwest point with St Helena out in front of us.

Looking back from Southwest point with St Helena out in front of us.

Lots wife and Sandy Bay Panorama from the Start of the Southwest Point walk.

Lots wife and Sandy Bay Panorama from the Start of the Southwest Point walk.

As half term passed by the boys went back to school with surprisingly little fuss. After his first couple of days Oliver came home excitedly asking me if we could buy a puppy.  With much babbling I came up with some excuses as to why we could not get a puppy and enquired where and who was selling them. “The school” was his reply. As is customary for Oliver if one parent says “no” to a given request, the other is always worth a try and so it followed that Bev was also asked if we could have a puppy, this time however Oliver added the detail that the puppy costs just 10p, and they need the money in school tomorrow. It transpires of course that puppy’s cost more than 10p, and they are not available through the local school; poppies on the other hand are, much to Oliver’s disappointment when we worked out his mistake, one borne either of not listening properly or confusion with the saint accent. Either way a poppy was of course fine and after a little talking down, Oliver took his 10p to school the following day.

As the children return to school and Bev returns to normal working hours, my groin injury is still keeping me from my physical exertions. Football, badminton and Jacob’s ladder have all been off the agenda for some weeks now. However, far from going back to feeling empty with nothing to do to help me pass the time I am finding that my days are filling up rapidly. I spend as many hours as I can working on my photography, (don’t forget my images can be purchased from the gallery) and preparing my thoughts for the blog. The tourist office are working with me and using my images when and where appropriate, I have regular tagging expeditions with the marine team and other exciting opportunities and photography projects are on the horizon.

World War Two Cannons sat at Ladder Hill, Stunning Views.

World War Two Cannons sat at Ladder Hill, Stunning Views.

So, half term has passed, and you know what it was indeed not hell. There were of course times, like all parents, that I couldn’t wait for the boys to go back to school. But there were also moments when I was grateful for their company, and felt that maybe, with the right balance and positive thinking I could survive the forthcoming Christmas holidays which are now be just a stone’s throw away. A holiday no doubt made easier by the soon to be usable swimming pool, now looking bright blue and ready to be filled as the paint and correct brushes evidently arrived on island last week.

Sunshine, swimming and the sightings of the first Whale Sharks in the bay herald the arrival of the next chapter in our story, bring it on!

Google Earth

Before moving to St Helena it had become a regular pastime of mine to use Google Earth, find the Island and zoom out, out and out and out until eventually another land mass came into view. I used to sit and wonder at what it would be to live on this spec in the ocean. I found great pleasure in this wonderment, enthusiastically showing friends and family that same remoteness. A few days ago , for the first time since our move, I repeated that routine,  only this time it is different, now I live here.  I do not have to wonder any more, at what it might be like to have the Atlantic Ocean dominate our views, what will the weather be like, what will the local people be like, how will we find food, how will we fare in the remoteness, will we make friends, what will I do with my time? I have the answers to all of those questions now. Has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here?

St Helena

We have been on the Island just over two months, I have of course had my downs, many of them, I have had days where I have felt lost and unsure of my purpose, but I have not once felt lost or unsure of the Island itself. My doubts have been related to my role in our family, the change of dynamic of my work or lack thereof, but I have utterly fallen in love with St Helena as a place, its peoples and environment. When I consider what we have done in those two months, we have been boating and seen dolphins and Humpback Whales with calves. We have climbed mountains and experienced a variety of climates and habitats fitting of a large continent. We have helped conserve endemic and rare plant species and witnessed numerous fish that few other people in the world will ever see, we have felt like David Attenborough whilst tagging Masked Boobies, started to learn to dive, felt and touched history that is alive around us. We have gazed at the Milky Way and witnessed so many stunning sunsets that we have come to expect them as the norm.  I have exclaimed “wow”, more times in the past few weeks than I had in half a lifetime previously. We have met people from all over the World, and spend our time with the most wonderful and varied people with rich histories. What will the next twenty two months bring?

Sunset over Half Tree Hollow.

Sunset over Half Tree Hollow.

For the first time since our arrival, our thoughts turned briefly to how it may feel to leave this enchanting place, expats come and go all the time on St Helena, but how will we feel when it is our turn. Leaving friends, family and loved ones at home was of course difficult, but it was done in the knowledge that two years will pass and we will return home, a reassuring inevitability of the end our adventure. But what about when we leave St Helena, will we ever return? The leaving will inevitably feel more real, more permanent. If you have experienced the holiday blues, that down time when an experience ends, when a time passes and inevitability and routine returns to your life following a joyous adventure, how it will feel after two years, the holiday blues to end all blues.

On Thursday I went shopping, food had not yet been unloaded from the RMS, so I instead sat down, and watched time pass by. Dreaming away, on the wharf, looking out at a rolling blue sea. A percussion orchestra of cascading pebbles, conducted by water falling back to the sea fills my ears and scuttling crabs playing games with the waves dance around me. I sat, I thought, I contemplated myself, have I changed, have things changed, am I different here, and if I am, why, what makes you different, what makes you change?

Contemplation.

Contemplation.

We adjust to life and the way of things here. Food availability is sporadic, Bananas for example have been difficult to impossible to find in the last week or two. They are of course still available to those in the know, but sadly, when it comes to Bananas, I am not yet in the know, and I cannot find any. In the UK I cannot imagine a scenario, where at any time day or night I could not find any food item I care to think about, but does this really matter, does it matter that I can’t buy a banana when I want it? Back in the UK I rarely ate bananas anyway, now, their elusiveness makes me appreciate the humble banana, I in fact appreciate almost all foods now more than I did two months ago, and seeing a ripe yellow Banana brings a joy that it never held before.

I went to the bank, and stood in line for a length of time, and I did not mind one jot. We wait for food, as one meal at a time is cooked in the local takeaways and eateries, a simple meal knowingly taking at least an hour from order to service. I waited a full fifteen minutes at the coffee shop for some cake (the best cake in the World by the way). But does any of this matter? Does it matter to me, well yes, I hate it! I hate waiting for things, or at least I did but on St Helena, quite simply I don’t, or at least I mind less, (I’m still British). If you know and expect life to take its time, there is no problem, why would you want to reduce your wait, when you may look out at to a blue ocean, with bright flowers and birds to occupy your mind and thoughts. If anything I could have wished for my wait, like the endless and timeless waves, to roll on forever

Arriving in town at nine o’clock the shops will be open, but time is often spent sitting, catching up with passing friends and watching the morning wake up. Shopping can wait, it can wait until the shelves are filled with the days produce with staff starting work at a respectable nine am and filling the shelves then, shopping therefore can start at ten.

In the UK of course low paid staff, are on the shop floor at seven am, ensuring the shelves are stacked before opening. I expect fresh bread, meats, milk, fruits, and vegetables to be available at nine am, in fact I expect it 24 hours a day, seven days I week. I expect all this and expect to pay less and less for it. My demands as a shopper having  been raised and pushed to extreme limits to be met by staff on minimum wage working hard to maximise efficient retail and profits for the corporation, the directors of which are still sat at home relaxing with their family watching the pennies and profits roll in.

There is a trust on the Island as a way of life, and we have begun to embrace it, or perhaps fall into it. Sometimes forgetting to lock the car, and often returning home, caring little to find our front door has been left ajar. At the wharf, a busy shipping area with the busy loading and unloading of containers, one can walk along, through the clamber of cranes to collect goods, or even just because. At home in the UK access would be forbidden, a panic of health and safety would ensue should a civilian walk outside of the designated yellow pathways. But on St Helena it is expected and judged that a grown adult has the ability to avoid a 40ft moving crane and will not amble along under its caterpillar tracks.

Forgetting my wallet and with no money, nor the number for our bank account I approached the counter of the bank and asked the young lady if she could provide me with the number for the Tyson account. With very little surprise on my behalf the lady, recognising who I was, not only provided the account number, but completed the cash slip for me, providing me with the money I required with a smile and no question that I might not be who I said I was, and no requirement for Id or a non-existent utility bill! It is a wonderfully refreshing experience to be treated as, adults, and an attitude and respect for each other that are dearly hope can be maintained in the future.

James Bay

James Bay

And so, has my childlike pleasure of finding St Helena on Google Earth, and zooming endlessly out diminished now we are here, now that I have the answers, no, not one little bit, I can’t believe it, we live on St Helena, ten months ago I had not heard of St Helena! Iit’s a maddening thing, a wonderfully crazy idea that we are living out. I look at that map, and then out of my window at the expansive ocean and I am giddy with pleasure and joy.

What a wonderful, wonderful feeling