So we arranged to catch a ferry and drive to the west...a 2-3 hour drive to Newhaven to the harbour. A glorious morning, and made more delightful because we had time to chat with the resident gentoo colony at the ferry port.
The ferry was full (6 cars); many had travelled to Stanley for the races on Boxing Day, and were returning home, horses in tow. The Pecks from Shallow Bay -a beautiful and remote farm 3 hours drive into the West - were off home, with the horses and the pet lambs, which had come along for the ride (last year they brought the new born kittens too - couldn't leave them by themselves for a week..)
The crossing is around 1 1/2 hours, and as we entered the last 2 miles up into Port Howard, the dolphins joined us - maybe 20 or so of them - and leaped and dodged around us, offering flashes of black and white, and tempting us to click again and again - thank goodness for digital cameras!
Port Howard is a picturesque harbour; protected and sitting creased into the hillside, green and white walls and roofs all around. We headed straight out and stopped after 30 minutes to picnic beside an idyllic stream. Archie enjoyed paddling, and we watched the fish jump. On for an hour until we reached Top Dip Shanty - a shpeherd's hut with no running water and no electricity, managed by Lesley and Jim Woodward, who live a couple of miles up river. We drove to meet Lesley on her immaculate farm. She hails from the UK and was managing alone - Jim had been med-evac-ed back to UK with heart problems. Thankfully he was declared OK, and Lesley was looking forward to having him home - not a quick journey; wait for the next airbridge, stay in Stanley, drive back (Lesley goes to meet him - a 3 hour drive to the ferry, and 3 more hours on the other side), and wait for the next ferry crossing (they are certainly not every day, and sometimes not every week).
Top Dip was fabulous; a one room cabin set in the middle of nowhere on the banks of the river. A peat stove, a big container of water, a supply of home made cake, a double bed , bunk beds, a sofa and a big family table. The most amazing sunset though the window across the river, and an evening giggling and trying to do a jigsaw (thank you Sara) in candle light. In the morning Bill and I washed outside in the stream - (bracing), and Phoebe was given the pot of warm water from the stove (D of E soon - it will change..) . We spen the day wandering and fishing - lovely lovely. Picnics on the riverbank, and fresh air.
New Year's Eve , and we saw no fireworks, no lights, just peace and stunning scenery. Phoebe and I galloped about, and Bill went to sleep !
New Year's Day, and we drove over to Hill Cove - through a valley called Hell's kitchen, which is, I imagine, pretty treacherous in Winter, but was a stunning cleft through the rocks in Summer -and which opens up in spectacular fashion onto a coastal vista with the settlement of Hill Cove, greenfields and the famous 'forest' - a small copse planted 60+ years ago by an incomer, and now a tourist site for islanders, and popular for wedding photos.
Beyond Hill Cove and past Shallow Bay Farm, on and out into pretty countryside where we picnicked, and then towards Main Point Farm, where the road ends. We met Ian Hansen, new MLA, and owner of Main Point, on the road. He will have to spend weeks in Stanley regularly now, to tend to MLA business, and he will have to juggle his farm work. MLAs receive no pay for their work - expenses only - whether this state of affairs can continue will have to be seen. Matthew, Ian's son, is 12 and boards in Stanley, so at least they have more opportunity to meet up.
After travelling around the west, we headed back to Port Howard and stayed at the lodge with Sue and Wayne. The lodge was full - tourists from off island, and the whole McKee family - parents over from Scotland too. Richard works in Stanley, running the South Georgia administration, and Miranda is from an old Falklands family. They had had some good fishing, and we were enthused and headed out to try our hand. A few small ones, but we had fun before we caught the ferry back.
The West is a different place - more remote, more mountainous, quite spectacular; we will be back.