Sunday, 8 April 2012

Good Friday? Let's hit the "M25"

My wife used to trundle on the congested M25, London's orbital motorway, twice a day on her journey to Leatherhead in Surrey.  She does not miss the motorway at all.  But hearing that a tour company now offers bus trips round the M25, we thought we would try the Falklands equivalent.....

A rare straight stretch

One positive aspect of the conflict 30 years ago was that the roads were upgraded in Camp (the countryside). An imminent census should provide accurate figures, but it's estimated less than 500 people live in Camp, on remote farms or in settlements.  This in a space about half the size of Wales.

Significant signpost

Up to about 20 years ago, most "roads" were merely rough, deeply-rutted Landrover tracks, only used by the farmers who lived on the land.  It could easily take over 4 hours from Stanley to Goose Green - about 70 miles.

However, we had heard that all the tracks had been upgraded and are now joined up to provide a large circular tour of East Falkland - the local version of the M25!

Stone runs - a unique geographical feature

So, making sure we had filled up the tank (there was no fuel available outside Stanley, as far as I knew), at 75pence per litre...we headed out of town along the Darwin Road.  After about 10 miles, we turn off right (north) over the hills to Estancia, a large farm which had been the main re-grouping area for British Forces prior to the final assaults on the hills around Stanley in 1982.

We passed many Stone Runs, or "Streams of Stone", as Charles Darwin called them when he saw them in 1833.  Huge "rivers" of boulders strewn across the bare hillside.  These were caused by severe freezing and defrosting of the soil during the Ice Age.  When it melted, the soil was washed away, leaving the bare rock exposed.  This has then been weathered by ice and rain over millenia.  I think these are unique to the Falklands. (Most other similar parts of the world had glaciers form on hills, but the Falklands were too windy for snow to compact into ice!).   It must have been very difficult to build a road over this.

30-mile vistas

We took the left fork at Estancia (driving tip: when you come to a fork in the road, always pick it up!), and headed for Teal Inlet over low, rolling hills, with a massive sea inlet on our right.  In the distance, snow was falling on the mountains.

Snow showers on the distant hills

The road surface had changed from gravel to dirt.  It was smooth, but I suspect it didn't get much traffic, as we passed less than 10 cars in this 2-hour leg.  I stuck to the 40mph speed limit, as I didn't fancy braking sharply.

San Carlos Water

 After endless twist and turns, we passed through a couple of farm gates and followed the road up and over a very steep hill, which allowed us to look down on San Carlos Water, about 1,000 feet below.  Passing through the tiny settlement, we followed the signs for "Blue Beach Cemetery" .  Blue Beach being where 2 Para landed on 21st May 1982, before crossing the Sussex Mountains and heading south for battle at Goose Green and Darwin.

San Carlos Water settlement.  Good Museum.

(Two other beaches, Red and Green, are where other units disembarked, but we didn't have time to visit them today. )

San Carlos Water in background.  Blue Beach Cemetery

A week later, 2 Para recaptured Goose Green, with their commanding officer, Lt-Col "H" Jones VC, and 16 other British troops, being killed in the battle.

Sadly, we have seen on news bulletins so many coffins carrying brave soldiers from Afghanistan through Wooton Bassett or Brize Norton in recent years, but I didn't have a memory of this happening in 1982.

Looking into this, it seems that the Falklands conflict was when families were given the option of burying their loved ones where they were killed or having them repatriated.  So, in this cemetery lies Lt-Col "H" Jones VC, and 6 fellow members of the Parachute Regiment, plus a number of Marines and Army Air Corps members.  The walls are lined with the names of those who died at sea and have no grave.

Names of servicemen from the Army, RAF, Royal Navy, and Merchant Seamen 

While we were there, there was another small group of visitors who arrived just ahead of us.  As they were leaving, they signed the Visitors Book, which was housed in a cubby-hole in the wall.  As they walked down to the beach, I leafed through the book and the moving comments which were largely from comrades of the residents of the cemetery.    But, bizarrely, the last visitor's name in the book was one I recognised!  "Simon X", who was a friend of a friend, and whom I'd never met, had emailed me the day before saying he was visiting Stanley with friends and hoped we could meet up.  He'd been given my contact details by our mutual friend.

As the other group returned from the beach, heading for the car park, I asked if one of them was Simon X?   "Yes", said one. " How did you know?"   I explained about my detective work and we chatted about coincidences... small world....and promising to meet up later in Stanley for a longer chat.

Abandoned house at San Carlos Water

Soon, we sheltered in the car from the biting wind and refuelled with a VAT-free pasty and a flask of coffee.   Then a quick visit to the excellent museum, before heading south over the Sussex Mountains.

San Carlos Water ("Bomb Alley")

Before too long, we reached the Goose Green road, but headed east, back towards Stanley on the by now familiar road, although the potholes move on a daily basis.....
Snow-capped Sussex Mountains

I suspect it will need a wash.
So, we had "done" the "M25". About 160 miles in about 5 hours.  The road surfaces being varied to say the least, but difficult to go much faster than 40 mph, even if it was legal.

I've driven a few times in Namibia, which is about the size of Germany and France, but with a population of 2 million.  At times, with the vast, empty rolling "veldt" of golden grasses stretching to the horizon, I could imagine that  I was back in Namibia.  It was only the sheep rather than zebras, and the temperature outside, that brought me back to reality.
Token penguin picture....seen on Stanley waterfront this week.
Not zebras, but penguins, are the monochromatic fauna of the Falklands.  There are far fewer around now as most have begun to feed out at sea.  However, I spotted this Gentoo, above, while driving along the seafront road in Stanley last week.  Very unusual.

Hope the Easter weekend was good where you were,



  1. Thanks Peter,
    A moving account and interesting.
    You got snow too? That's Easter for you!
    Keep it up and those pasties warm.

  2. Jeez, four attmpets to read those 'words'.
    should have gone to specsavers.

  3. Meant to respond earlier but I was stuck on the M25!
    Lovely post.