The Atlantic Ocean

The sea has always been special to me. I was brought up on the North Wales coast, in the town of Sunny Rhyl. The sound of sea gulls was always in the air and the beach was never far away. Despite its name Rhyl is not sunny, and yet walks and fun on the beach don’t require sunshine. The vast expanse of the Irish Sea, often grey and uninviting held huge wonder for me. Even when I was young I would start out at the sea wondering what lay beneath the waves, and where I might get to if I swam in a strait line on and on. My passion really grew one week when I was fourteen years old, and I had a work experience placement in my local Sealife centre. I was hooked and I have lived and worked around the sea and marine life for most of my life.

Moving to Saint Helena has been an even more wondrous experience. Living on an Island 10 miles wide, and situated as it is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean the Sea pervades every part of life. You can see it from almost everywhere, smell it hear it. Everything on the Island has crossed the Atlantic to get here from food to furniture.

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Boat trips allow great opportunity to see and photograph the Island from a different perspective.

_mg_3426-pano-edit_mg_3398-panoRight from when we first arrived on the Island we have been intimately connected to it. Bev teaches Marine Biology, our leisure time is spent in it or on it, and now my work is to study it. Our boys learnt to swim in the sea, they have snorkeled ship wrecks and swam with whale sharks and had experiences that will last a lifetime.

Not long after arriving on St Helena Bev and I learnt to dive, passing our PADI open water qualification. This opened up a whole new world to me. I’ve wanted to dive all my life, but things have considered to prevent me from doing so until we arrived here. Now, I am a Dive Master having passed my open water, advanced, rescue diver and dive master qualifications over the past two years. Being in the water feels right, I feel at home there. I love the freedom of movement the sea provides, no longer confined to a 2D surface I can move up down and in all directions, its exhilarating, and when you add in the beauty and wonder of the thousands of animals that make St Helena their home its pretty special. Where else do you see wildlife in such abundance.

Not that you need to be able to dive to enjoy the amazing marine life here. One week I left my car at the garage to change the tyres. Instead of waiting at the coffee shop, or pub I went snorkeling off the Jamestown wharf, it was an amazing way to pass the time!

Not all the life that relies on the Ocean lives in it. St Helena has a wealth of bird life that nest on the cliffs and fly out to feeding grounds each day.

Some of our earliest experiences of the Marine Life here were the Humpback Whales that arrive here to calf in the Winter and Spring. These incredible animals can be seen mother and calf together in our waters. If you are lucky you’ll see them breaching as they hurtle their huge bodies out of the water and splash down again, seemingly just for the hell of it.

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One of my first Humpback images. A composite of a whale diving as its huge tail fin disappear below the waves.

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Breaching Humpback whale as we waiting on the RMS St Helena

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Of course where there are Whales there are Dolphins. St Helena is blessed with three species, Bottlenosed, Rough Toothed and the magical Pan Tropical. The Pan Tropical dolphin in particular is an acrobat, leaping out of the water in shear exhilaration as it twists and turns in the air. They are found in huge pods over 300 strong.

In recent weeks I have spent so much time at Sea as I have a new job assisting with various Marine Conservation Projects. I have traveled around the Island mapping fishing grounds, and we were lucky enough to be joined by a curious pod of dolphins. Their speed was incredible as they jumped and played on the wake of the boat even small Dolphin calves kept up with us without any bother at all..

For two and a half years I have been splashing, swimming diving and traveling on the seas of St Helena, but nothing could prepare me or beat the two weeks I have just had. Two of my best ever dives started with a night dive around James Bay was superb, and the first chance for me to test my strobes for my underwater camera. They worked a treat as I photographed Lobsters and Octopus, Stone fish and Eels.

This was followed on Saturday with a long awaited dive to Barn Ledge. A seamount that rises up from the sea floor to a height of around 12m. The dive circumnavigates the mount, dropping of the edge and down the huge underwater cliffs. I’ve never seen so many fish, parts of the dive require you to literally push through them as endemic Butterfly Fish and Bright Red Soldier fish shoal in their thousands.

But the diving was just the start, it is whale shark season again and they are here in big numbers. I have personally swam and photographed well over 50 sharks now as I have been lucky enough to become involved in a project to photograph these beautiful animals. The spots of a whale shark are like finger prints, unique to each and the work we are doing contribute to a world wide database of individual sharks to track where in the world they are spotted in an attempt to better understand their migration patterns. I am as in awe now as the first one I saw two years ago. The experience of swimming with these 10meter gentle giants will never ever leave me.

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Just when you think it cant get any better it does, and St Helena gave me one of the most magical experiences of my life. As I swam with one giant of the sea, a pod of friendly Rough Toothed Dolphins decided to join us. At first I just heard clicks and squeaks but as they came closer I realised what the noise was. In an instant I knew that this was once in a life time,stuff, in fact, for many this was never in a life time as I was plunged onto the set of a David Attenborough special. They were curious but timid, coming close and taking a look at me, but never venturing closer than 6 or 7ft. One was particularly curious and followed me, keeping its distance all the while, back to the boat. We had to move on to find more Whale Sharks, but to my huge surprise the Dolphins followed us and joined us on the swim with the next Whale Shark. I’m told this is incredibly rare, although seen by divers and snorkelers it is normally in passing as the dolphins quickly swim away, to have them swim to us, watch us and spend time with us was special, really special and a day that will live long in my memory. My incredible two weeks at Sea were topped off today as Bev, the Boys and friends joined me for a swim in the bay. As fish geeks Bev and I have wanted to see a sun fish (mola mola) for many years, and today we did. Another giant of the sea these weird looking fish can reach 2m in diameter, but cruise slowly through the sea. This one was not at all bothered by our presence, even allowing us to swim right up to it to stroke it, seemingly enjoying something of a back scratch. Sadly, with an attitude of not being able to top the experiences just gone I did not have my camera with me, but as I high-fived my wife in celebration I knew once again that nothing, perhaps ever, will top the week I have had, thank you St Helena and thank you Atlantic Ocean.

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HMS Ascension

So its been a while, many of you have perhaps thought I have given up on the writing, but in truth I have plenty to tell you, only I have been away from a computer for eight weeks, and only now, as I sit on the RMS starting our journey back to St Helena do I have time to really sit down and think about another passing of time. Eight weeks ago we were on the RMS heading towards Ascension Island. We had thought our time aboard this wonderful ship had come to an end, but with continued delays to the airport we had this, and at least one more trip across the Atlantic Ocean. This time however we headed North West, across the relatively short 700 miles to Ascension Island. Bev and I love Cape Town, but I have to say we were very pleased to have the opportunity to visit and explore this other remote Atlantic Island.

Leaving St Helena was strange, our original two years are up, and, many others who started their journeys with us, would be gone from the Island by the time we get back. I have been to many leaving breakfasts at the coffee shop, but this time it was the Tyson’s saying goodbye, not to the Island, but to people who have been close friends and family all rolled in to one, who have been laughs and smiles and support for our time here. I can honestly say it was a very difficult morning as we hugged and cuddled and tried to hold back the tears.

But soon we were on the RMS, with its uplifting atmosphere and family feel, saying hello to crew whom by now we have become very familiar with and feel like friends.

We travelled towards the equator, the temperature rising with each passing day as we left the cold Benguela current and headed into the South Equatorial current bringing with it warmer air. As we approached Ascension on our third and final day it struck me how much bigger the Island was than I expected, next I noticed the size of the waves crashing its shores on this relatively calm day. We had been warned about the treacherous swimming on most of the Islands coast, with only two of the many glorious beaches safe to swim in, and even then only on good days. The 20ft waves bouncing of the barren rock indicated why!

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Ascension comes into view

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Ascension Island Panorama. Click to open and see in full resolution.

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RMS at Ascension. The view as we waiting to be processed through immigration.

Ascension is, like St Helena a volcanic Island, formed some million or so years ago by huge eruptions from an undersea volcano. Eventually, after maybe hundreds of years of eruptions, sufficient rock built up to break the surface of the water, and a new Island was born. Its highest point, Green Mountain now stands at 2817 feet high, perhaps just half of the height it was before nearly a million years of weather and erosion have taken their toll. Looking at the Island, it is unmistakably volcanic, its most recent eruption was just a blink of a geological eye ago, some 600 to 1000 years, and as such not only is the Island still classed as potentially active, it has also limited the amount of time that vegetation has had to establish itself. Its remoteness makes it difficult for plants to reach the Island naturally, and its searing temperatures and lack of soil, prevent those plants that do arrive from establishing themselves.

Much of Ascension Island is barren, with black basalt rock from recent eruptions, and mountains of ash, and volcanic craters dominating the sky line

As we sail round from the South approach to the Island capital, George Town on the North Western flank, we see towering hills of barren red and black sands and rock, craters left from recent eruptions. The only area of green lies atop Green Mountain, a cloud forest created by man following decades of plant introductions to establish a more permanent water supply to the Island. The few remaining endemic plants and ferns cling to existence on the damp slopes of this high point, almost permanently shrouded in its moisture giving cloud. The rest of the Island is barren, from a distance completely devoid of life. The Island was first discovered in 1501, by the same chap as discovered St Helena, Admiral Joao de Nova, but such is the foreboding nature of the Island that both he and several other captains since, decided not to even step ashore. It was not until 300 years later in 1815 with the arrival of Napoleon on St Helena that Ascension Island became inhabited. Rear-Admiral Cockburn, charged with ensuring the captivity of Napoleon, ordered a garrison to be stationed on Ascension to dissuade the French from launching a rescue mission from this “nearby” land.

Ascension Island is actually named, HMS Ascension and bizarrely is classed as a stone frigate, a title bestowed on the Island by the British Navy in order to instil a greater level of discipline on the troops stationed there.

Throughout Ascension’s History it has been a working Island, and, up until 2014 it was not even possible to set foot on her soil without a work permit or forward travel. Even if you are born on Ascension, without continued work beyond the age of 18 you are removed and required to live elsewhere! As such the Island is strange to say the least, its inhabitants all serve to serve each other, each has a specific role and the comings and goings are dictated by the particular service the Island can provide at any given time. For many years of course it was a military outpost, non-more so than during the World Wars through which time the US built an air strip for launching campaigns into Northern Africa. Later, and to this day, the Island acts as a telecommunications relay point, the BBC, amongst others, using the network of radio antennae and other metal works of art to bounce the BBC World service across the Atlantic and on to South America and Africa.

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Arriving on St Helena is even more treacherous than arriving on St Helena, transferring to a small boat we were then transported to the landing steps. Built in 1823 they are worn, slippery, sloping and narrow. It is a leap of faith in good conditions as the ship lines up its exit doorway with the steps, and three men stand waiting to grab your arms and pull you ashore when the right waves lifts you up and in, rather than down and out!

After a long wait through customs we were delighted to be met on the other side by no less than two families who had travelled to see us arrive. One, a Saint family who’s children have appeared often in my blog, moved to Ascension from St Helena some months before, the Bennets. Oliver being best friends with their eldest, Blaine and Charlie having already declared his engagement of marriage to both of their twin daughters, Bethany and Georgia, largely because he cant tell them apart! It was lovely to see them there and great to see how at ease the children were with each other after some time apart. We would see the Bennett’s twice more during our time on Ascension and enjoyed time at the beach and swimming pool with them. I really hope we see them again and our friendship can continue over the years.

At customs we were also met by the Gonsalves’s, Frankie, Dean and their troublesome twosome. They were returning to St Helena at the end of their mid-term break.They were by now, old hands at this Ascension game, and were able to take us to the hotel and point us in the direction of various useful shops and amenities. The very short drive from customs to our hotel, the Obsidian, took us through the centre of George Town, a strange, empty “capitol” of the Island where one expects to see tumble weed and one does see donkeys wandering the streets in greater numbers than people.  Virtually everyone on Ascension are working during the day, so the streets are devoid of children, whom are in school, or pensioners, who don’t exist, or the jobless or shift workers with time during the day to spare, everyone is working, and so no one is around! The town itself is a mix of buildings built by successive military garrisons for one purpose or another, the area is tarmac in the main, with wide roads, almost to the point where road, car park, pavement and garden all merge to form a large car park with buildings sat on top at random intervals.

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The view of George town shows the tarmac landscape with buildings built upon it.

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Like St Helena, Ascension is fortified with canons, in this case protecting Georgetown from possible invasion!

Despite having been forewarned of the short comings of our home for the next four nights we were pleasantly surprised by our accommodation in the Obsidian hotel, air conditioned, large, comfortable with good food, a nice atmosphere, a good selection of beer and friendly staff. I’m not sure what all of the noise surrounding this place had been for, we found it very pleasant indeed.

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Dinner at the Obsidian

 

Returning to the UK always gives a perspective to the things we like most about our Island home, and a particular occurance on Ascension helps to hammer home some of the differences. We hired a car whilst on Ascension, it was fine, nothing fancy but it went and got us where we wanted to go. I collected it from a pleasant man who personally came to meet us at customs on arrival. He took no deposit, explained the cars quirks, and handed over the keys. In order to pay for the hire of this vehicle we had to go to the Islands only fuel station, where, on our last day we filled up the car, and paid for its hire. But we continued to use the car after this time, with the polite request that for any further mileage we do, we leave 20p per mile in the car. We were permitted to leave it at the airport when we flew and someone would collect it from there later. As a service this is second to none, met at arrival, leave the vehicle at departure and leave some small change in the car to cover petrol, fantastic.

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Our military flight home to take us to Brize Norton

There is much to be impressed with on Ascension Island. The presence of US and UK military helps to bring in funds which would otherwise not exists. On the evening of our departure we eat on the American Airbase, a place which wants for nothing or so it seems, a baseball arena, basketball courts and swimming pool surrounded the bar and restaurant complex we stopped at. An all American bar serving beer at 75p a bottle and showing sports from around the world on its numerous wide screen TV’s. This was an entirely modern and up to date world we had stepped into. So, where were you when Wales played in the Semi-finals of the European Championships? I was watching nervously in an American Bar, on a US airbase, on Ascension Island!

Ascensions wildlife is as unique as it is beautiful. The sea is warm and stunningly clear. Frigate birds patrol the skies and giant land crabs forage in the wild mango forests. Oliver turned his hand to fishing. But not the normal kind. He had a knack for literally reaching out and grabbing black trigger fish from the huge shoals that gather in shallow waters.

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We spent four nights on Ascension and I really wanted more, I loved it. We spent time on glorious tropical white sand beaches, surrounded by tracks of young turtles whom had made their way to the sea the night before. We swam in the clearest waters I have ever encountered and were surrounded by marine life of all kinds. We swam in one of three pools on the Island, drank in numerous bars which are open throughout the day ( a pleasant change after the experience of St Helena) and marvelled at the landscape of larva rock and red sands, jagged alien formations of sharp pinnacles littered with ever present radio wires and communications dotted about the Island. Up until our last day the weather remained beautiful and it is fair to say we were all sad to leave, but grateful for the opportunity to visit somewhere that almost nobody in the World has been lucky enough to visit.

The beaches on Ascension are stunning, even if a little odd with their backdrop of telecommunications everywhere. Comfortless cove is so called as it was used as a quarantine station for sailors with disease. Apparently once called comfort cove to hide the conditions here. A small cemetery is testament to the men who died here through the years in the barren, cove.

 

I hope for the continued extension of the RMS, from an entirely selfish point of view and not withstanding the obvious benefits to St Helena, I for one am grateful for the continued delays to the airport opening. Travelling on the RMS and opportunity to visit such marvels as Cape Town and Ascension Island, are, for us, once in a life time stuff, and the longer the ship continues to service the Island the more of these once in a life time opportunities we can enjoy.

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High up on the slopes of the aptly named green mountain the permanent cloud provides enough moisture for the landscape to become greener

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Free Hot Water!

As Christmas passed to New Year the weather has taken a considerable turn for the better. An apparently long lasting mild winter gave way to a prolonged spring, wet with intermittent sunshine, and now, at last summer is here. Mornings, generally accompanied by early cloud give way to bright sunshine and high temperatures by midday, with afternoons in Half Tree Hollow becoming increasingly consistent at around 27-30°C. A cool breeze, dry heat, shade, and the ability to reach cooler parts of the Island if necessary make for a fantastic climate right now, not at all over bearing and great for our sun tans! Almost all properties on St Helena are serviced with electric hot water, supplemented by the use of solar panels. It is now the norm that our hot water is free, the solar panels heating water to scolding temperatures such that one has to be careful turning the tap on. Tributary water pipes run over ground to houses, a product of the barren, rock substrate that we live upon making underground pipes difficult to install. Such is the power of the sun on the Tropic of Capricorn that, whilst hot water is plentiful, cold water is harder to come by, turning the cold tap on any time after midday results in hot, then warm water for a good few minutes before anything resembling cool comes through.

Just before New Year I was pleased to be able to help out with St Helena’s new, monthly open air cinema. Like most of the amazing things here, this came about from an idea that a hard working individual wished to develop, not for personal gain but to provide something fun, new and unique to the Island. Andy Day, one of the most giving people I know was said hardworking individual. Six large white billboards had been erected side by side across the frontage of Pilling Primary School. Using PA equipment hooked to my blue-ray player over 100 people were able to enjoy Disney’s Maleficent sat in cars or seats in the open air. This turned out to be a quite magical experience, a trip to the cinema under the moon and stars, in short sleeves at the end of December.

The 29th of December, as some of you will know, was our anniversary, five years of Happy Marriage. We were lucky enough to celebrate this occasion, jointly with friend, Lucy Day’s Birthday. A evening “adults only” boat cruise aboard the Enchanted Isle was simply wonderful. Heading out around the Island we reached the Southwest point, and area of staggering cliffs and the even more staggering Sea Stacks of Speary Point. The main rock pinnacle rises vertically some 100m from the waves, towering above our boat as we passed by its base. Thousands of sea birds from boobies to Storm petrols, noddies to terns returning home from a days fishing fly circuits around the rock about our heads, chattering and screeching to each other.

Speary Point St Helena

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Speary Point St Helena

Fascinating conversation was enjoyed with Graham Sim, whom we had met previously during our Booby Adventures. Graham pointed out some of the old sheep herding routes and fishermen paths across the seemingly vertical cliff faces that were used well within his lifetime, a stark reminder of how quickly this Island has changed in the past two decades. Further conversation with the boat owner and our captain Jonny Hern was, in hindsight dangerous as I learnt that in his younger days he and his friends would venture, somehow, to the summit of Speary point, using bamboo rods as makeshift scaffolding before cliff jumping into the deep some 100 meters below. So why would this be dangerous, well let’s just say a seed has been planted!

As we moved away from Speary point and headed back East we were treated to one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever witnessed. Dolphins cruised and splashed on the bow waves of the boat, with the sun dropping in the sky, purples and oranges rose across the canvas with the brightest stars punctuating the watercolours like bright diamonds. It was a truly magical experience and an anniversary we will remember for a long long time.

Sunset at Sea on St Helena Island

Sunset at Sea on St Helena Island 3

New Year in St Helena is a quieter affair than the UK, such monumental effort is put into Christmas and its associated parades that New Year’s takes something of a back seat. Not that it is forgotten by any means, partying in town and the waterfront for those considerably younger, or older, or more childless than myself went on into the late hours of New Years Day morning and pubs and social clubs across the Island held their own social gatherings. For the Tyson’s, an evening hosted by two of our RMS friends, Debbie and Andy Parkinson was enjoyed, in the company of other friends from the Island. With a family theme, games and a competitive quiz were the order of the day. For Charlie it was all too much, and by 10pm he fell asleep in the middle of the room!

The next morning saw Oliver’s organised walk. For some weeks, following the experience of various group walks organised by others on the Island Oliver has wished to organise his own. With some help from Mum he mustered a group of friends for a walk to the Heart Shaped Waterfall, and this time was pleased to find water in the waterfall. Sadly for Dad, the groin injury is restricting walking adventures at the moment and I was left behind spending my time cleaning, cooking and writing content for my photography course.

The course has proved very popular and I have 22 people signed up all wanting to learn more about photography and to take their expensive SLR camera’s out of automatic and release its full potential. I just hope I do them justice and meet their expectations.

As the St Helena “summer” Christmas holidays continue, time has been spent swimming in the pool, now warm under the midday sun and providing rest bite for parents as children splash and play in the safe water. Practicing swimming, jumping from the diving board and snorkelling the full length of the pool, Oliver’s confidence has grown wonderfully. As indeed has Charlie’s confidence, from clinging to Mum or Dad for dear life, to swimming independently and jumping in and out of the pool in just three short weeks.

Oliver’s new found confidence has led to growing desires to have another go at snorkelling in the sea. His first attempt, a few weeks ago was not the greatest success, cold and scared, having not really swam for months, a quick glance at the fish was all that was achieved before tears ensued. And so it was, with renewed enthusiasm and bravery that we made another attempt. Walking out from James Bay along a narrow stretch of black volcanic sands, the relatively calm waves still caused significant breakers. Oliver holding tightly onto my neck as we pushed through until out of our depth and started swimming, my wetsuit providing the buoyancy I needed to hold up a child tightly latched onto me. We adjusted our masks and snorkels and with a quick instruction put our heads down to peer through the waves and the wonderful life in James Bay.  After a half minute or so I pulled Oliver up to the surface to check he was ok and he nodded with great enthusiasm. A twenty minute swim round the bay saw Oliver off on his own, swimming and watching in wonder at fish of all colours and sizes, the highlight being the deadly stonefish, holding tightly onto an octopus, its tentacles still moving as they hung out of the giant mouth of its venomous captor. A very proud Dad and overjoyed son returned to tell Mum and Charlie all about our mini Ocean Odyssey.

This maritime breakthrough could not be better timed as on the 2nd of January another trip to Lemon Valley was booked. The children, enthused by their first experience and swimming confidence were both incredibly excited. A large group of us arrived at Lemon Valley at around 11am. An interesting contrast between Ex-pats and Saints once again presented itself as we arrived to the greeting of around 30 or so Saints, already in position in the Bay. For many Saints, a trip to Lemon Valley and its associated underwater fun is not the novelty that it is to us, therefore their day takes different priorities, normally centred around the social barbeque, in a large cave sat within the volcanic rock. Saints will leave the wharf early, often before 7am, to ensure the prime cooking and gathering spot is secured. For our, mainly ex-pat group, the priority during the holiday is a lie in, and whilst cooking is lower on the list swimming in crystal clear waters and rubbing shoulders with unique marine life takes priority and within minutes of arriving children and adults alike were splashing in the waves.

Charlie and Oliver both spent a good amount of time swimming and even Charlie took the chance to don a mask and snorkel and have a quick peep at the fish below. The snorkel proved less successful though, as despite being in his mouth, he failed to recognise that he could breathe, and held his breath when his face was in the water despite his father’s attempts to teach him otherwise. He still shouted with great excitement that he had seen some fish and another little milestone was met.

An interesting addition to this trip to the Valley was the accompaniment of Sea Kayaks, and despite my groin injury preventing my own participation everyone enjoyed a good paddle in the bay, jumping off here and there to try new snorkelling locations. Bev of course, not content at pottering around the bay, opted to canoe back to James Bay, and with friend and fellow teacher Jon Lambdon in tandem they headed off, ultimately beating us back to the Wharf, no mean feat against a steady wind and choppy waves.

With much self-congratulation, this week saw Bev and I complete our closed water dives, swimming underwater without a mask, removing and re-donning weights and gear underwater and hovering using buoyancy control,  just some of the essential skills required before we can head out to sea.  At the time of writing our first open water dive has actually also been completed, (next blog due shortly) and we are well on our way to passing our PADI Open Water diving course.

So, Christmas holidays are nearly at a close, it has been a truly wonderful, action packed, social partying basically incredible “summer” Christmas holidays, but little did we know that what we have experienced so far was to be simply dwarfed by the experiences we were about to accumulate over the 24 hours……….

Bike Riding St Helena Style!

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.