Having spent so many years in the Antarctic, I should know better. The lack of ozone here is acute - despite the ban on CFC's so many years ago. Keiron and I travelled over to the Banff peninsula on Thursday afternoon, just in time to walk to the Nordenskjold glacier to collect some ice for our gin. Not that that was the only reason, however. The glacier front is more than a kilometre wide - a fabulous feature of blue ice, shattered and immense. The sound of the ice calving from it's front is constant and menacing. The floating front of the ice is deceptive as pieces not only fall from it but explode from beneath the water. The resulting brash ice covers the surface of the bay, drifting with the wind as it erodes into fantastical shapes. The oldest, clear, ice is like glass. Compressed under huge weight, air bubbles in it are compressed to the extent that the ice bubbles and crackles as it dissolves. It also makes it quite the best ice for gin and tonic.
The beaches over at Sorling are littered with whalebones - some virtually absorbed into the soil. Bleached vertebrae and rib bones - some 2 metres long - are the most easily identified. Fur and elephant seals dot the beach along with moulting king penguins in small clusters while Giant Petrels nest above it - the result it almost prehistoric. Two small huts are set just up from the beach - one dates from the days of seal hunting and is almost derelict. The more modern is a simple affair too but is cozy and snug with two bunks, a small porch and a kitchen bench that looks over the water to the base here at King Edward Point.
Friday morning was stunning - still and perfect with no breeze. After a fairly lazy breakfast we ended up deciding to head to Ocean Harbour, a fairly easy walk up the valley behind the hut about two hours away. The valleys here are glacial - wide and sweeping in the main with a mixture of scree and dry grassland on the sides, bog and streams in the base. A stiff pull over a saddle in the line of hills took us to an old cairn - possibly a marker used by the post man who historically took mail from Grytviken to the whaling station at Ocean Harbour. From the cairn we had such a beautiful view down to the coast. The bay at Ocean harbour is well protected by rocks to the east, and low mountains to the west topped by a rapidly melting ice cap. Waterfalls tumble down into the valley and form snaking rivulets down through the coastal plain.
To the east of the bay, a wreck, the Bayard which was blown over from the other side of the bay where she was delivering coal. Now home to a large colony of blue eyed shags, the wreck's back is broken and the deck is covered in tussock grass - some of the only grass in the area that reindeer cannot graze. Elsewhere, the Barff peninsula is heavily grazed to within an inch of its life by this alien species. Elsewhere, some 1500-2000 animals graze the island heavily, to the extent that most of the tussock that in other places is one of the most distinctive plants on South Georgia has been destroyed. Moss has colonised the tussock remains, while invasive species such as annual meadows grass, Poa annua that can tolerate grazing have taken the place of many native species.
We spent an hour or more on the beach, and wandered around to the western edge where once a light railway ran transporting goods to the whaling station. The tracks are now mostly covered by a scree landslide. From the western tip of the bay we are able to walk up to see the view down to Johannsen Loch, a steep narrow fjord. From there we retraced our steps to the Bayard and climbed steeply up to see a view of Penguin Bay where Kind and Gentoo penguins breed. A good hike back over to our hut ended the day perfectly. The sun, however, had done it's worst on the little part of the back of my neck that my factor 50 had missed - not clever. Just taking a pause to cook dinner, so more later. Gerard