Fourth Time, Third Time, Second Time, First Time.

 

I have so much to catch up on, my blog will, as a consequence brush over many things and not in any way get across how full the past few weeks have been.

Our time on St Helena is measured by events, I don’t imagine Saints see things like this, but for us the past few weeks have heralded our third, of lot lots of things. Our third Harvest, third boys day out, festival, third cancer awareness event, third Halloween, third World Wide Photo walk, Third Cruise ship season, the list goes on.

The event and social merry go round is non-stop on St Helena, there are times when I’d like to jump off, and have a breather, but then someone will phone and ask “what are you doing on Saturday” and with a fear of missing out, then we are there.

The month started with my third World Wide Photowalk, a day when photographers all over the world go, and walk and take photos. This year’s location, decided upon by the tourist office was Peak Dale, a delightful walk through flax slopes, grass lands, deciduous forest and pine trees. Becoming more popular year on year, over thirty people turned up, on what started as a cloudy blustery day to play their part, enjoy a nice walk and hopefully capture some photos. It soon became very clear that some people were not really in it for the photography, as one group, of avid photographers, myself included, were quickly left behind, each of us hoping to be the first to spot and bag “the shot”. I decided to try something more abstract this year, and looked for form, texture and shape in objects, rather than the wide sweeping landscape views. It was an interesting challenge and I was pleased with my results.

 

Whilst on the subject of walking Bev and I tackled a new post box walk this month, to Lot! Lot is an oddly named large pillar of volcanic, phonolithic rock. It was formed some 7 1/2 million years ago, when the major eruptions of St Helena had subsided and the Island had formed. Later eruptions forced magma up through gaps and fissures in the existing rock, but never quite broke through the surface. Surrounded by an insulating layer this larva cooled much more slowly than the rock laid down in earlier eruptions, and hence formed more solid, resistant rock. As St Helena’s soft volcanic slopes have washed away over time these phonolithic rocks are left to stand proud over their surroundings._mg_4419-pano

The walk itself was a challenge for sure, much of it down perilous slopes, with electrical wire in place to hold on to!! But it was great fun, and made even more pleasurable by the impromptu nature of thing. It was half term, and Bev and I had booked a day off work to spend with the boys. At short notice they were both invited to a birthday party for the day and as such, Bev and I enjoyed our first day alone together for months. It was bliss.

October also saw several charity events, and it seems I have become the go to photographer for doing things for free. “Paul, you know it’s the carnival, do you think maybe you could do some photos”? And my answer is always, yes I’d love to. And I mean it I do love it, I love being asked to help and contribute in some way, but it does mean I have spent most nights on the computer editing and sorting through reams of photos.

And so it is that the past three weeks have contained our Third SHAPE fund raising event, a Masquerade Ball at Plantation House, closely followed by New Horizons Children version, in Halloween costume. The Ball was spectacular in its entertainment as it was in its costume, as all 140 people attendees slowly slipped, sipped, danced and drank into one of the best parties this Island has seen. Over £2000 was raised for one of St Helena’s most important and valuable charities, and everyone had a thoroughly good night. Although I was happy to play my part, I was more than a little envious of having to work when surrounded by such joviality.

It’s not often on St Helena, that I am surprised anymore, but an hour into the night, I was somewhat taken a back as a masked man approached the door and asked me if I was Paul Tyson, “Ummm yes” I replied, “Did you go to Rhyl High School?” “ummm yes” I replied, “Do you recognise me”, “Ummm take off your mask”! And there he was, Mr Cottle, a former design tech teacher in my old school, he, on the door step of Plantation House, on St Helena, I could not believe it. There may not be an airline service yet, but I’m sure there’s a bloody bus that comes here three times a week!

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Mr Cottle on the right, former teacher at Rhyl High School with family.

The arrival of flight TZ 1XS, an Arvo RJ100 jet plane was, for a time the most talked about thing on the Island. The flight, operated by Tronos Aviation Leasing was on its way, in a very convoluted path to Chile were it was being sold, but thanks to the efforts of Atlantic Star is came to St Helena on route to fly some test flights, gather more wind shear data, and test the suitability of this aircraft for ST Helena. Atlantic Star have been a prominent player in the Airport SAGA, insisting from very early on that they will be able to operate a direct service from the UK to St Helena. To their credit they have no wavered from this standpoint,  and, although this particular aircraft type does not have the capacity to reach the UK, it is seen as an option in the short term for the Island due to its particular profile and ability to land in poor conditions and in short distances. Atlantic Star jumped at the chance to test the theory and worked with Tronos to enable the flight to arrive at its destination via St Helena.

From an untrained eye it was a huge success, lucky enough I was to be on my fourth trip to photograph aircraft, I watched and immaculate landing, right on the money, without a hint of wobble, and stopping well short of the vertical cliff that greats a plane that overshoots!

Will it be the answer? Well, no, not in the long term, with the modifications needed to carry additional fuel, this aircraft could only fly to St Helena with around 40 passengers, not enough to build a tourist industry on, but what this flight has done is raise moral, provide some positivity surrounding the airport, and may, just may, provide a short term solution to getting things off the ground as it were. Here’s hoping.

The airport on St Helena has received some terrible press in the UK and worldwide, the most expensive cock up in history, the airport with no air planes, £300mil of wasted UK tax money are the normal headlines. My photos of the airport have subsequently popped up all over the world in everything from aircraft magazines to tourism websites. It was no surprise therefore when some large newspapers came knocking. It was something of a surprise however when I received a phone call from the photo editor at the Times Newspaper. Asking for photos of the airport I enquired what was the article about, already of course knowing the answer. Knowing the article was not going to be a positive one I was torn, do I want my photos used to provide negative press to the Island I love? After some thought I figured, my photos are already over lots of press articles slagging off the airport, what difference does one more make, and at least I was going to get paid, and credited. And so it is that two and a half years after picking up a camera I can now claim to be a professional photo journalist. Well ok, that might be pushing it, but not many people can say their photos have been published in the Times newspaper!!TysonPic.jpg

On to more concerning news and for the second time in just 4 years the Island is experiencing a drought, this time, a severe one. We have had no significant rain fall for months, months and months. The normal winter rains came and went with nothing more than some low lying mist and the situation is now quite serious. We will still have drinking water, even if we rely on bottled water, but without drastic measures, or some serious rain the Island is rumoured to run out of any significant and usable water in a matter of days. Whether it will come to that I don’t know, water is currently being tankered from a bore hole, once used by Basil Read during airport construction, to keep reservoirs marginally topped up, but they are all looking very empty, some with just puddles of muddy water in the bottom. Please and warnings have been offered by all and sundry to reduce consumption, and the Tyson household is playing the, if its yellow, let it mellow rule. I’m also doing my bit by drinking beer instead of water!!

And so it was that against a back drop of drought and prayer for water that St Helena experienced what is, so it seems, a once in a life time event, an electrical storm, or thunder and lightning to you and me. As I sat, in my usual evening position at the computer, I heard a rumble, knowing that St Helena never gets thunder storms I shook my head, told myself it couldn’t be and continued with my work. Even the flash of light outside, did not trigger any thought process that it could be lightning. The second rumble however really got my attention as it rattled the roof above our head. Opening the door to the lounge I said to Bev, “did you hear that? I think its thunder and lightning”. Really!!!

It was, and for the next 6 hours you could find me outside, like a small child enjoying the spectacle. For the first hour I told myself it was passing over, it was not worth getting my camera out. As I realised I was wrong I hurriedly rummaged for my tripod and trigger and headed outside. For the next five hours, until 1.30am I watched and listened with giddy excitement, dancing for joy when I knew a fork of lightening had been within the view finder of my camera. I started shooting out at sea, as the storm passed over and beyond us, but as the night went on pockets of the storm opened up all over, until I was provided the ideal shot, with lightening forking behind High Knoll Fort. Photography conditions were tricky, with low lying cloud surrounding me, forcing me to wait for the occasional breaks. But it was well worth it. I was aware that this was potentially the first storm on the Island for many years (I’ve heard anything from 40 to 10) and that maybe, just maybe I was getting THE photographs to record it. As I uploaded the images to Facebook that night I could not believe the response. Three days later and over 16000 have viewed, clicked, liked, loved and shared these photos. What an amazing experience, and amazing night, and amazing response, and one which I will never forget.

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High Knoll Fort St Helena, Silhouetted against the fork of lightning.

Unfortunately the storm did not bring with it the rains, and after threatening to pour down the storm provided virtually no rain at all.

I guess I shall have to carry on drinking beer!!!

Lots Wife Ponds

Lot, is a huge pillar of rock, shining silver and emerging like Excalibur from the surrounding brown earth. Lots wife, is the nearby wife of Lot, a smaller pillar, eroded at the base such that its top appears as though it could topple at any moment. The ponds are the sheltered natural swimming pools that have formed on the wave cut platforms below Lots Wife, protected from the wild Atlantic ocean by huge walls, a seam of hard wearing rock now forming an impenetrable barrier to the relentless waves. Lots Wife Ponds were also the destination for Bev and I, on our first twenty four hours on our own, without the children, for over six months.

Good friends and regular babysitters Suzanne and Mike have become something of life saver to us, looking after our boys on a regular basis when we both dive or, in this case when we need to find some time for us, to remember that we are a couple, in love and not just here as servants to the needs of our children, (or employers). And so in quintessential Tyson style instead of resting, relaxing or some romance, Bev and I took to a 9km round trip across rugged terrain in 28C heat to find the ponds, a much talked about beauty spot of the Island.

The walk to Lots Wife ponds features in the post box walks, a series of tourist trails across the Island, graded for their difficulty in both effort and technical difficulty. Having tried some low grade walks with the boys, Lots Wife Ponds sits at the upper end of the scale, with a  grade of 6/10 for effort, and 8/10 for technical difficulty. And such we set out, across the wide flat dry river bed of broad gut and up the zig zagging path of and old cart road across the steep sided scree slopes beyond. Broad Gut, the Gates of Chaos, Frightus Rock and other aptly named peaks, ridges, valleys and gorges form the Sandy Bay National Park, an area that inspires awe as the Mars like landscape, scarred into volcanic rocks rises in reds, oranges and purples to the lush green slopes of High and  Diana Peaks and the central ridge. Formed during volcanic eruptions some 14 million years ago this now dry and barren  surface was once green with trees and plants found no-where else on earth. The arrival of goats on the Island in the late 1500s led to severe deforestation and hundreds of years of rain and driving Atlantic winds have scoured sharp ridges like daggers across the unprotected rock, forming a  Lord of the Rings landscape.

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Start of the walk up from Broad Gut

Our route, upwards!

Our route, upwards!

The path is well marked from the feet of other intrepid explorers, and of countless years of fishermen and donkeys and leads us upward, winding across steep valley sides ever on to a ridge we can see in the distance. As other parents will know, when you have children and have the opportunity to relieve yourselves of them for a day you have to take your chances, and as such we pressed on in the less than ideal conditions. Dry and extremely hot, the winds blowing up from the blue waves below us provided welcome rest bite from the burning afternoon tropical sun. As our car disappeared into the distance and the blue waters of Sandy Bay became obscured by rocks of red and orange we finally arrived at our highest point, a ridge providing extraordinary views of Broad Gut behind and the rocky cliffs of Asses Ears, Gorrila’s Head, Man o’War Roost and of course Lots Wife loomed high above us.

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Gorilla’s Head is the square shaped rock on the right hand side, with one of the Asses Ears above it


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Descending from the ridge we encountered our first “technical” section, a narrow, loose path with a steep drop to our left. Although not overtly daunting, the presence of a fixed rope at this point is welcoming, reassuring to know that we are on the right track, and that the reportedly difficult final section may be equally well protected. As we descended, clear white lines of guano could be seen on the finger ridges that slope off from the main cliff side peaks. Sitting below the ridge where Bev and I had the great pleasure of helping to tag and record Booby nests some months before, we found ourselves on the lower ridges, where the secondary team had worked that day. We pass by a nest and chick now almost fledged and a far cry from the eggs and newly hatched fluffy grey chicks we had encountered back in October. By this time of the day booby’s can be seen returning to their nests, bringing food to hungry chicks from a day’s foraging. These striking white birds fly like a red arrows display team in acrobatic lines to various white target points marked upon the red rocks.

Masked Booby and chick,

Masked Booby and chick,

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

Bev looks on at the chick and its parent.

We arrive at our next way point, an arrow marking the way to, “Lots Wife Ponds” in stones on the ground. Curiously, pointing in the opposite direction we find marked the words, “Fizzled me”. Although curious and with a strong desire to be fizzled, we continue our path to Lots Wife Ponds. Further on and still some 50m above sea level we came to the curious white sands of a former beach, apparently blown up the valley gulley’s and deposited up the slope. A beach that over millennia had become compressed to form rock, sandstone, was now being eroded and weathered back to whence it came and  into a beach.  After fifty minutes of walking, we reach the post box, a white tube containing a visitors note book and a stamp to mark our trail book as proof that we had completed the walk._MG_0015

At this stage we were a little underwhelmed by the technical difficulty of the walk. Having spent many good times amongst the infamous ice covered ridges of Crib Goch in Snowdon, I am perhaps not an average walker, but in comparison to our other low grade walks I was still expecting something more of a challenge from our grade 8’er. Perhaps the “optional extra” beyond the post box and down to the ponds themselves would provide the challenge. Alas we would remain disappointed, undoubtedly a  bit of a nervous scramble under normal conditions, the last two steep descents are provided the safety of strong and well placed ropes giving secure hand holds to counter any loose footsteps.

And so it was we reached our destination, Lots Wife Ponds. A huge pillar of rock greeted us to our left, the gap between it and the cliff face providing views of an elevated and tranquil pool. To our right, waves surged into a gully, racing up and increasing in size before spilling over into a second, lower, and somewhat turbulent pool. The sounds of huge waves bellowed against the rock wall that had now become apparent at the edge of this rocky platform, holding back the Atlantic on one side, and holding in our tranquil swimming pools on the other.

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The more choppy of the two ponds. The rock wall which holds back the Atlantic can be seen on the left of the image, but the wall has been breached on the right.

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Water surges up the gulley through the gaps in the natural barriers.

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Knowing we were short on time we stripped to our swimwear and waded into the most still of the two waters. The water appeared cloudy, and green, our became feet sore with sharp snail shells under foot was we crossed the rocks to reach the waters. Was this the beauty we had been promised? As I moved into the water the sandpaper rocks gave way to soft velvety algae covered slopes, rounded by years of waves splashing ashore and softened by a thick layer of cushion soft seaweed. The water was warm, incredibly warm, like walking into a bath. I could see fish further out, but wondered how they could be surviving in such unusually hot conditions, easily 35C plus. As I moved further into the pool the answer became apparent as my feet suddenly felt a severe chill, enough to make an involuntary squeal come out of me. The hot sun beating down on the pool had created a thermocline, a sharp transition from hot, saline water above to cooler water below. Donning my mask I dived out and down, across to the deeper part of the pool and down through the hazy mirage of the thermocline and into the cool, clear waters below. Reversing the previous experience, my feet now warm and head cold, I delighted like a small child in this amazing experience with fish swimming all around me, trapped to the bottom of their pool by the warm waters above them.

Having not seen a single soul on our entire journey, and feeling secure that we would not be disturbed, I longed to remove all my clothes and enjoy the freedom of skinny dipping in our own slice of paradise. Nerves and British restraint however got the better of me, and the five finger fish, parrot fish and surgeon fish were all saved any embarrassment, and starved of a potential meal. We moved to the second, lower and cooler pool, bouncing up and down with the waves that crossed the waters as each new breach from the Atlantic squeezed its way through a gap in the wall in the distance. In no danger we swam amongst the fish and revelled in the pools and gullies.

With time running short we dried off, regrettably having to leave our little Eden behind. But not before I ventured onto the rock wall to witness the Atlantic below. Very aware of the spray shooting upwards some 20ft and the deep, bellowing of air being trapped and squeezed upon this natural barrier I cautiously climbed up the wall and poked my head up above the parapet. Gaining in confidence I could see the concave wall, worn away at its base and now forming the curve so commonly seen in man-made breakwaters. Waves hitting the base of the wall were deflected in a huge curve back out to sea. The power was extraordinary, 15ft waves booming and shaking, punching at the wall and then sucking back, as if trying to pull the wall down, angry, determined and relentless, and yet the unyielding wall stood firm, protecting Bev and I and stopping the waves from cutting down yet more of St Helena’s cliffs.

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We had to leave, we packed our bags and once more started to climb the steep sides of St Helena’s Southern Cliffs. The sun was setting, lights streamed through gaps in the rocks, creating striations of black and orange. The green slopes on the central ridge came into view in the distance, like an oil painting of colour, the greens of the peaks framed by deep blue above and orange, purples and reds of Sandy Bay amphitheatre below.

As were traced our footsteps I knew I had to return, I needed to witness the light streaming up Sandy bay and waking up this extraordinary Island at Sun Rise. I shall return, I shall return with my camera and, at 5am, perhaps without my swimwear