“I am only here for the birds” was the somewhat disappointing refrain from a Falklands visitor early this month as they settled into their armchair in one of the more comfortable lodges on one of the more diverse and interesting islands comprising this very British archipelago sharing the same southerly latitude as Cheltenham.
And there the similarity ends as the forthcoming referendum holds no fear for the islanders whose confident expectation of an overwhelming “we are British” vote will reinforce their ties to the mother country that go beyond even their groceries being provided by Waitrose and Asda.
So whilst some only came for the bird watching, and happily engaged in banter with laymen as to the differences between birders, twitchers and train spotters, their enthusiasm rubs off and a summer break in this semi-arid wilderness was enriched. But the Falklands are by no means a single interest destination.
For the military historian, or someone just wanting to see another aspect of how the Thatcher government extended its protective arm, there is much to experience. The visiting veterans and their families, from both sides of the conflict ,coming to the lodges and hotels is reflected in the warm welcome they receive whether to meet old comrades, address past experiences or simply to enjoy peace and tranquility despite the persistent wind!
It is the lodges and guest houses that set the tone for visiting the Falklands contrasting with the daily “cruise by” of the big ships disgorging their cagoule-clad contents onto the gift shops along Ross Road in Stanley. The personality of each lodge is expressed through its hosts and environment from the windswept of Pebble and Sea Lion islands to the more rural around Port Howard. Universally, the food is excellent, thankfully orientated to the bracing activity one is undertaking; no coulis, reductions and jus to accompany solid, tasty and plentiful fare.
So despite my original interest in the conflict my head was soon turned to the vastness of this ornithological and wildlife paradise. Pebble Island introduced me to the stinking colonies of Gentoo, Magellanic and Macaroni penguins all within a half hour’s drive across the rough tracks of the island. And en route, giant petrels added a little action as they circled hunting for wayward chicks. And whilst marching across beaches of sand whiter than could ever be imagined one can see rock runs on the mountain sides that challenge the memory of A-Level studies into periglaciation. Naturalists abound, examining every aspect of the landscape. Even though the vegetation grows so slowly that wreckage and scorch marks from 1982 are still not grown over there is a richness in the variety and adaptation to the harsh environment that holds fascination for expert and amateur alike.
But what else does one need in a break to get away from it all but to have one’s horizons opened, enjoy the lack of mobile phones and wireless and to engage with locals who really do appreciate the effort to come to the Falklands that their visitors have made.
By Nick Brown