Category Archives: Scotland

Back to the real world!


July and August 2016

I got back to the real world mid-August and haven’t really stopped in one place for much more than a week at a time. The journey home was as good as it can get so here are some photos from that, including a few days stop-over on the remote island of Ascension, a wedding and some sea kayaking.


Leaving KEP was the usual chaotic bedlam of guessing when the ship would actually leave. It changed about three times before I was woken up and given 15min to get on the ship and wave goodbye. Still not knowing if I’d be back…


Captain Chris makes some notes on the bridge as I listen to Andy Murray win Wimbledon on the HF (High Frequency) radio set on the bridge.


We did some boardings of the fishing ships on the way back to Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Lewis had been on-board one of them for a few weeks as an observer so we picked him up as well.


About this time last year I was, with the rest of the crew and passengers, taking a battering on the ship due to big seas. This year was the polar opposite. The ship barely rolled and the crew think it was one of the best crossings they’d had.


Despite the calm seas I didn’t get the dose of sun I had been looking forward to after living in the shadows at KEP for the last month or two. We were treated to a little sun early one morning.


The first sign of civilisation after leaving South Georgia is Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Port Stanley is accessed by ‘The Narrows’ and it isn’t hard to see why it gets it’s name, it’s 260m across. I think it’s swim-able! (One for another time perhaps…).

I then had a few days in Stanley before my flight north. Katie, who left KEP in March, wrapped up her second stint in Stanley before we flew home via a few days stop-over in Ascension island.


Ascension island is 8° south of the equator and has a very pleasant winter climate. The island has about 800 people on it, most of them work for the government (it’s still a British Overseas Territory), and there is a small American base on the island where I believe they train their drone pilots. It’s famous for a few things, one being the staging post for the British task force that liberated the Falkland Islands and South Georgia from the Argentinians in 1982. Another reason is it was used by NASA to test the moon lander for the Apollo missions.


Getting around the island is easy enough if you get a hire car. It’s really cheap (about £16 a day) even if your car’s air conditioning doesn’t work, half the rubber is missing from the steering wheel and parts are held together with duck tape…


Nothing wrong with that!


It’s not all lunar-like on the island, there is actually a surprising amount of green to be seen. There are ginger, banana and even (so I’m told) coffee plants on the island.


Lots of the greenery is thanks to the dew pond at the top of, the aptly named, Green Mountain. The dew pond was dug out by Royal Navy Marines in 1815 which helped to thicken the mountain vegetation by encouraging the climate. This path is flanked by bamboo (I didn’t expect to see that here!) as it climbs to the dew point at the top of the mountain.


The island also has a huge amount of antenna and dishes for various communications. The sign should help answer who? There is also a European Space Agency site on the island.


The island is also home to some cool wildlife. First time I’ve seen a road sign like this one.


Sure enough, about 600m above sea level you get the occasional glimpse of the shy land-lovers. Apparently when it comes to breeding season they all head down towards the shore, where they flood the beaches for a week or two.


‘Sally light-foot’ crabs are a dime a dozen down at the shore, the larger ones are bright red and pose quite a striking figure. Not the best light for photographing them when I got these but you get an idea of the colours.


A slightly closer look from a different angle.


One of the shore based attractions is a blow-hole near one of the beaches. Being such an isolated island the shores are constantly active and there’s lots of white water to be found, great conditions for using the ND filter.


I didn’t get much use out of the ND filter in SG, partly because of conditions and KEP not being a great place for it. Ascension is a dream location for using one though! I was trying to get closer to the barnacles on the rock here but getting the camera kit wet wasn’t something I  wanted to do.


Unfortunately the cloud gathered on the horizon just as the sun was going down this time, still managed to get one or two decent shots though.


The next night I got another crack at the whip. This was the pick of the bunch. Katie is just visible, perched on a rock, on the left of the shot.


Simon, one of the Government Officers on SG, lives on Ascension when he’s not south, with his wife who works on the island. He very kindly offered to take me out diving (a first for me!). Katie has done lots of diving and helped look after me. There are quite a few wrecks around the island, this one was about 10m below the surface, which was handy as that’s as deep as we were going to go on my first dive – most people spend days or weeks in a pool going from the surface to the bottom over and over again. So far as first dives go I think I had it pretty good.


Not everyone enjoys their time on Ascension island. If you haven’t enjoyed your time on the island and don’t want to go back you need to take some paint and put it on this rock at the side of the road… I didn’t add any.


I got the email in Ascension asking me if I’d like to go back to KEP for another 9 months from Nov/Dec. So not long after getting back to the UK I took some stuff in Katie’s car to BAS Cambridge and packed my ‘p-box’ (the black one in the foreground) with some goodies to go down on the ship when it leaves in a month or two. I’ve packed some supplies to make another six or eight books (The Book) next season.


Early August was spent back in Scotland, we stayed at my brother’s in Fife. Aberdour has a great festival that leads up to the Edinburgh (on the other side of the water in the photo) festival. One of the early events is a raft race that my brother tried to involve me in… I dodged that one.


My favourite raft was ‘A Couple of Fannies’ (one for fans of the TV program Chewing the Fat).


Can you spot the family resemblance in there? Clue: doesn’t look like he’s doing much! Haha.


The middle of the month took me up to Loch Tay for another brother’s wedding. The nearby village of Killin has a beautiful section of river passing though it. Another excuse to use the ND filter. I took the job of being wedding photographer for the day – not something I’d done before and was a fairly big learning curve to be honest! But I had in mind a group shot using the ND filter…


The location of the ceremony was changed on the morning thanks to high winds, so the loch-side photos weren’t possible and some last min re-thinking had to be done. But I managed to get about 50 guests to walk around the bride and groom while they stood as still as possible. ‘Herding cats’ comes to mind, to be fair most people clearly thought I was some kind of a nutter when I explained the plan.


In typical Scottish style it rained most of the afternoon but we still managed to get some decent shots of the couple. Using a flash isn’t something I normally do but it does help give the shot a little more punch.


Back to Edinburgh and Fife meant a few crossings of the Forth road bridge. One night when crossing the moon was incredible as it rose behind the rail bridge. At first the moon was as red as the bridge as it crept above the horizon. I couldn’t resist a shot but by the time I got back on the bridge on foot it had reverted to it’s usual colour. Thought it was still worth sharing this one with you though.


Coming back from being ‘south’ usually means a big shopping list. Top of Katie’s list this year was a sea kayak. We managed to get her one just before the wedding but didn’t get a chance until after to get it out for a proper run. Aberdour is about 11k from Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth. Having been brought up in Edinburgh it’s a trip I’ve wanted to do for a long time.


Inchmickery island is in the middle of the Forth and has always interested me. It was fortified during the First World War and again in the Second as a defensive position, with the Rosyth dockyard further up the Forth being a possible target. From Edinburgh it looks like a battle ship, I’m told that was deliberate. It’s a tiny island, about 100m by 200m but most of the buildings are largely intact. Nearly every building has nesting birds, gulls, cormorants and terns now. The island is a recognised RSPB reserve.


The conclusion of author Ian Banks 1993 book Complicity was set on the island, as was the film adaptation of the book – I’ll need to read the book and try to find the film now!


Katie takes in a rare perspective of the Forth bridges.


The Cramond Inn is about 100m from the landing site, far too tempting not to go in a and enjoy a well earned packet of crisps and a nice cold pint!

I should be back to monthly blog posts again.

Also posted in South Georgia Tagged , , , , , , , , |