Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Summer in Stanley
In the post on I Know Where I'm Going, I described it as portraying an utterly vanished way of life. That's not quite true - if you want to really get back to the England of the past, then you could always try the Falklands. You would also be visiting the Falklands of the 21st century, which is somewhere you really shouldn't miss....
One of the benefits of spending a bit of time in the navy is the opportunity to see a few places that are further off the beaten track than many people get to go, and not having to pay for it! I'd always wanted to get down to these remote islands at the bottom of the world, and when I finally got there they more than lived up to expectations.
In many ways, it's more like the Western Isles than the Western Isles are - similar latitude, geology, weather (and in many ways people); but with a distinctive history and character like nowhere else on earth.
We might as well get the war out of the way early on. You ought to visit the battlefields, particularly Tunbledown, to get an idea of the conditions and terrain of that bleak little conflict in 1982 in which so many on both sides died. There's a good little museum in Stanley, with some heartbreaking artefacts from the conflict, including notes passed from Argentinean conscripts to the curfewed islanders asking for food.
But there's much more to the islands than a war that occupied only a few months in one year. Penguins, obviously, which give their name to the excellent local newspaper, the Penguin News, as well as a large number of highly picturesque shipwrecks in the harbour.
We’ll gloss over the massive military complex at Mount Pleasant, because, except for landing there, you won’t be allowed to spend much time at it. The drive down the road to Stanley is pretty crazy – built on a causeway and unmade, it winds through the boulder strewn countryside down to the coast and is about the only place in the islands where you’ll get your Land Rover out of second gear. After passing Sapper Hill, you round a bend and the little capital is laid out before you.
Stanley is an extraordinary place, with a row of terraced houses that wouldn’t look out of place in Coronation Street, and the most southerly Anglican cathedral in the world, complete with whalebone arch. As there’s a bit of a dearth of natural roofing materials, the north west England look is slightly tempered by the fact that almost every building sports a roof of brightly painted corrugated iron.
The post-war development has seen a suburb growing up towards the racecourse, with flatpack houses shipped down from Scandinavia, lending a slightly surreal touch to the landscape.
Then there are the pubs. It’s possible to go on a decent crawl around Stanley, from the Upland Goose to the Globe via points in between, finishing up at the Trough nightclub (which was BYO when I went!). The house band, the Fighting Pigs, weren’t half bad either….
But it’s not all about the “urban” areas. Outside Stanley, in camp, you’ve got fine upland scenery, scattered settlements, sheep, and some of the best beaches you’ll ever see (Calgary Bay has got nothing on this). The weather is, er, changeable – you can go from sunbathing to putting on the fifth layer in the course of the afternoon, but once you’re down there, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I’d go back tomorrow.
So, the Falklands – it’ll take you 24 hours to get there, but they’re worth the effort.