Thursday, 3 May 2012

Two Sisters - Twin Peaks

To the west of Stanley lies a semi-circle of low hills, just over 1000 feet high, which frame the harbour, and offer some interesting walks on their slopes.
Two Sisters.  The shadows indicates the steepness of the ridge.

 I had visited some of the closer hills, but not the most distinctive - Two Sisters.  One Saturday, catching up with chores while waiting for the predicted heavy rain to arrive, I noticed that the clouds were getting higher and the sky bluer.  Seems the forecast was wrong, so we (wife, better half, SWMBO, etc) grabbed the opportunity to do a longer walk, albeit we had "wasted" most of the morning.

Stanley reservoir outflow, Moody Brook

We left the car at Moody Brook, on the site of the former Marines base at the western end of Stanley Harbour.  From there, it was a straight 4 mile walk along an old track, which was once the main road from Stanley to outlying farms.
Once the main (only) road on East Falklands.
 To the south, was Mount Tumbledown, with some remnants of minefields in between.  To the north, was Wireless Ridge and Mount Longdon, scenes of the final battles at the end of the Falklands War in 1982.  The track followed the Moody Brook, through a broad, grassy and boggy valley.

Flooded track

The endemic Dark-faced ground tyrant
Once or twice we came across the detritus of war.  This jeep was on its roof and riddled with bullet holes.
Wreckage of war, Two Sisters behind
Further on, there was a large dump of sleeping bags and plimsolls (or, at least, the rubber soles of the common footwear of Argentine conscripts).

North to Mt Longdon
After about 3 miles, we parted company with the track, and turned left up the slopes to the protruding ridge of Two Sisters.  From here, the views opened up to Mount Low about 10 miles to the north, and all the way to Stanley airport, about 8 miles away to the east.
Mts Tumbledown and William
Soon we reached the quartzite ridge, which was sheer on the south side.  But it gave us good views past Goat Ridge to Mt Harriet, and the sea beyond.  Following the ridge upwards and westwards on the gentle north side, we eventually reached the highest point, from where we had panoramic views in all directions.
Summit slabs, and Mt Kent about 4km west
 Despite the weather forecast, we had good visibility, and virtually no wind.  Along the route, we had seen many more reminders of the battle fought over this strategic ground.
30 YEARS AGO....
During the night of the 11th June, 1982, about 600 Royal Marine Commandos attacked the narrow ridges of Two Sisters, which were defended by about 350 Argentine soldiers.  Simultaneously, other British forces attacked neighbouring Mt Longdon and Mt Harriet.
The long ridge, Stanley in distance.
At the end of that battle, on this now-peaceful spot, about 28 soldiers were dead and about 100 wounded.  The terrain was so difficult that much of the fighting was hand-to-hand.  Many of the defended positions were almost impregnable, and pockets of resistance could hold out for hours.
Summit ridge.  Sheer cliff either side.
 British forces won all three battles that night and dug in to the hard-won positions to await the inevitable and deadly barrage from the heavy artillery batteries around Stanley.  The next set of British targets, like Mt Tumbledown, were only about 2 miles away, but it would have been suicidal to attack them in daylight.
Stanley Harbour in the distance. Mt Tumbledown, right
During the battle, British heavy artillery support had come from Royal Navy warships, about 4 miles offshore.  But these ships had to move away to safety before daylight and the threat of air attack.  However, one ship, HMS Glamorgan, was intent on helping the Commandos as much as possible and left it too late.  It  was hit by an Exocet missile, fired from near Surf Bay, east of Stanley, and 13 crewmen were killed.  However, by very quick action, the ship had been turned so that the missile caused minimal damage, and it remained afloat - the first ship to survive an Exocet hit!

Remains of a stretcher
 After drinking in the views, and reading the messages to fallen comrades, scratched on the bare rock by visitors, we retraced our steps along the ridge.  We had wanted to visit the other peak, about 500 yards away, but had set off too late.   We got back to the car just as it was getting dark (6pm).
South peak. The ground pocked with shell craters
 Along the way, we had spotted a couple of grass wrens, and hawks.  Apart from that, and a couple of grazing horses, we had been on our own.

Perhaps it was the lack of a formal memorial, but the informal reminders, like the graffiti and plimsolls, were very moving.   After 6 hours of walking, my feet were looking forward to a refreshing soak.  I can't imagine what it would have been like to have been on the mountain for a month, in mid-winter, wearing plimsolls.


Another benefit of walking around Stanley is the abundance of mushrooms.  This lot would have cost about £10 in the shops.  I'm told there are no poisonous mushrooms on the Falklands, so mushroom risotto features regularly on our menu.
Wild mushrooms
There's also the exotic birdlife to enjoy.  Although one aspect of UK birds that I miss is the song.  As there are virtually no trees, birds have less reason to call to identify rivals, predators or mates.  Most birds are silent unless alarmed, which isn't very often as they are fairly laid back.  Quite often we have to stop the car to allow upland geese to cross the road.
Long-tailed Meadowlark.  Endemic subspecies.
 One type of bird I haven't seen for a couple of weeks is the penguin.  I hope to rectify this at the weekend, when I shall be visiting the far west of East Falklands.

However, to make up for the lack of penguins, I've seen seals and dolphins while walking on the beach this week.  Sadly, I inadvertently disturbed this guy yesterday.  Maybe it was my Nordic Walking poles he didn't like, but after a few minutes watching me, he turned round and wobbled into the surf.

Surf Bay
This week, the weather has been fairly stable (and dry - sorry,  friends in England), and I've experimented with Nordic Walking on sand dunes when an opportunity has arisen.  I've found the poles make a big difference, and should help work off some of the home baking.  A very intense, and short, workout!
Track of a Nordic Walker up a sand dune.

Hope the weather is good where you are.  A couple of years ago, while staying at a Shetland hotel, we noticed a Spanish family had left the comment in the visitors' book,  -   "The weather was so good, we put on all our clothes and went down the beach!".  I know what they meant!



  1. Nice birding Peter. Pity about the dunes.

  2. Too kind, Lily. Let me know if you are interested in a particular bird, and I'll try and find (a photo of) it. There are some excellent birders here, like Alan Henry. I think he has a blog, too.

  3. Your last walk makes Bushy Park seem very tame! One thing I
    would really miss would be birdsong, I think it is one of lifes
    great pleasures. I did the Olympic Walk yesterday to see the
    final stages of the works and even there with all the hustle
    and bustle a blackbird was singing his socks off!! I still
    haven't worked out how to comment under my name - sorry - but will
    get a friend to show me soon.

  4. Thanks. Yes, the blackbird is one I miss, along with the tits and chaffinches. One reason that I've noticed it, is the complete lack of noise away from the town. One day, I heard a plane take off, 30 miles away! (Luckily there are only about 5 per week).

  5. Your terrain is so bleak that it is beginning to depress me. I love colour and think you should be colouring the countryside somehow - perhaps some bunting? - some colourful balloons? - some bright grafitti? ... Oh well, I suppose I will just have to wait for blue skies and bright shiny flowers and green green grass.

    1. I think I would be done under the Trade Description Act or whatever, if I said it bright and colourful. Don't forget we are coming into winter... It is quite bleak - no getting away from it. We stayed at a farm this weekend that had some trees! Annie hugged one!
      However, I have some colourful photos up my sleeve, which I may post soon.

  6. Your blogs are good reading and a good feel for the islands. You seem to spend a lot of time out in the countryside - what about the bars and restaurants? Love to Annie and Felix. John

  7. Thank you, John. I will do a review of the pubs and restaurants I have sampled so far. Watch this space...