Thursday, 7 March 2013

Stanley in summer

As I write, large numbers of journalists from all over the world are descending on Port Stanley to cover the referendum being held there on whether the Falklands should remain a British Overseas Territory. It's a bit of a foregone conclusion, of course, and it's a shame that the only time the Falklands hits the headlines, usually, is when the sovereignty debate comes up.

A week ago now I was in Stanley. It has the feel of a village on the west coast of Scotland, with its views over a wide natural harbour (above), and beyond to the mountains familiar from news coverage of the 1982 war. In terms of size, it's home to a couple of thousand people. Other than when a cruise ship is in, which is often but not as often as many locals would like, it's quiet and peaceful. You can count yourself really unlucky if you have to wait for more than 10 seconds to cross the waterfront road (below), and at night, the lack of light pollution makes sky-watching a pleasure. The existence of a Stanley bypass did make me chuckle a bit - I'm not sure why you'd want to bypass the only sizeable settlement in the archipelago.

There's a cathedral, a few hotels, a pub or two, a lot of gift shops, and the West Store, a supermarket that's as British as you can get. I was warned that it was expensive, and it is if you're after fresh fruit and veg. If it's just chocolate or toiletries on your shopping list, though, it's roughly equivalent to UK prices. I had a quick browse through the well-stocked book section, and one of the first volumes my eyes fell upon was a novel by Birmingham poet and author Joel Lane, which felt slightly bizarre. I had to buy it, of course.

One thing the afore-mentioned coverage of the war does seem to have fixed in the minds of us over here, wrongly as it turns out, is that the climate is utterly inhospitable. Because the ground fighting took place in the southern winter, and a bad winter at that, people arrive expecting snow, wind, rain and biting cold. I packed fleece after fleece. Most of them never made it out of the rucksack.

In fact, the Falklands has a climate that's also not unlike the west coast of Scotland (and without the infernal midges to deal with). The winters are generally milder than in the UK, the summers a little cooler, and rainfall lower. We barely saw a drop, and only one day was windy.

That made it all the easier to set out in search of the islands' natural riches, foremost of which are, of course, the penguin colonies. Now, if you're not a fan of the waddling wonders, then I apologise, because you'll be seeing quite a lot of them in the next few weeks.

For now, here's a King Penguin having a wander away from the well-known colony at Volunteer Point. Two of the islands' other famous residents (they ensure the landscape is constantly evocative of Scotland and Wales) appear totally unconcerned.


James said...

Great post Matt!! More please - what was the food like? Did you visit any pubs? Get into good conversations with the local population? Please tell us more - I think it's a fascinating place....

Matt Merritt said...

Thanks James - more to come on the subject of Stanley and the election very soon.