Going off Grid: Self Catering cottages Rock Mount and Banyan

During the summer months we took mini breaks to two popular camping cottages on St Helena. The first was the fairly newly restored Rock Mount, a piece of off grid relative luxury in Fairy Land on the way to the post box walk ‘Lot’. Whilst it’s a camping cottage, we were spoilt with solar energy, wood burner stove and warm water. Tara and Tom Wortley provide a service where you can drop off shopping with the Rose and Crown a couple of nights before and they will deliver it to save you bringing heavy wine bottles on the 25 minute walk on the 4×4 track from Casons. The spot is green and beautiful and it feels like a completely different place to be from Jamestown or Half Tree Hollow.

Rock Mount

Banyan stands to be quite a different experience. More camping less glamping. Banyan is a bothy some 25 minutes walk from Sandy Bay beach and the start of the Lots Wife Ponds walk. The benefit of Banyan is the warm weather and ability to drive any car up to the path by the house. However, the experience is real deal, drop toilet, aged old mattress camp beds, cold rain water fed running water. Time is spent building and tending to the fire, or walking amongst the grove of trees where the owners are planting avocado trees. On the night we stayed, the full moon rose spectacularly over the hill, bathing the cottage in moonlight at 11pm, with the view of the stars just as phenomenal.

Banyan

If you would like to book contact edward@thorpes.sh for Banyan and rockmountbookings@gmail.com for Rock Mount.

End of a Chapter

9/3/22 was the final Titan flight to the UK.

Titan had been brought in since 2020 to link St Helena to Stansted UK whilst travel via South Africa was difficult during the pandemic. Prior to this we hadn’t seen direct St Helena – UK flights since the airport opened for passenger flights in 2017. After this Airlink flights will resume via South Africa.

This was my third take off with Titan and no ordinary flight. The airport staff lined up to bid farewell to the historic service. Then the pilot took us 360 around the Island. I could even see my house from my window. As we finished, the passengers’ applause erupted.

This was also no ordinary journey for me either. Normally I would leave for just a few weeks or months at a time. But it has been 5 and a half years living and working on the Island, and now it is time to spend quality time with friends and family in the UK who I have missed so dearly. I moved on from the St Helena Government and after a couple of weeks R&R I started a job working remotely from St Helena with surprising success (my Internet never cut out and I often had better service than those I was video calling!). I will take a few months off and see the Island soon, when the northern hemisphere starts to freeze again and the warmth of the southern sun bathes paradise.

Sandy Bay by air
Lot by air
Jamestown by air
Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow by air

Beyond Post Box Walks

I’ve done many a post about Post Box walks in the past, and although I do them over and over (often as part of groups led by the leading walk organiser, Ed Thorpe), I don’t tend to blog about them to avoid duplication.

Lately, I’ve mixed things up a bit by looking for non-scripted walks, which generally mean finding a circle on the OS map and trying to walk it.

These tend to be a little easier and involve some woodland or green, perfect for a morning or afternoon normally. Could this be the starter of a “post card walk” book I wonder? Here are a few routes to try.

One I particularly liked doing was this loop from Woody Ridge which is near Levelwood. The only challenge with this is that the path on the way up is overgrown so we were tempted to climb through the barbed wire onto the field next door to make life easier for the last few 100 metres.

We parked at the Woody Ridge Flax Mill (disused), which is on the left of the map and walked the path shown by the lower dots.
The first section through the woods is a 4×4 path and very beautiful. If you’re not keen on walking, Aaron’s 4×4 tours use this route.
It opens up to a wide hill top. You can see there are some off road motorbike jumps which have been made. This is white Hill, a potential site for satellite ground stations in the future. Not surprising with such a view to the horizon and quite a wide space with plenty of room. It would be an interesting view to come across in the future!
Following the path still and the airport comes into view. The path dips down towards a dry river bed, which you cross, climbing to the other side of the valley and turn left before you reach the Haul Road (Airport road).
Gorgeous palate of sand colours can be found here.
After climbing back up away from the airport and Haul road, there are gorgeous views all the way across the land to the ocean.
You start through a grassy path with trees and huge flax plants. This path is overgrown and we held sticks out in front of us to catch any spider webs. We noticed farmland next door, separated from us by a barbed fence.

Coming out of the foliage we joined the path on farmland.

Across the way we can see houses beyond Woody Ridge, and what views they have! Well.. when it isn’t foggy..

The Woody Ridge loop took approximately 3 hours which included a good stop for lunch. It was largely downhill on the way with not too steep uphill on the way back.

Here are a couple of other walks I’ve since sketched out which are gentler than the post box walks and include some interior green.

Longwood Loop -From Longwood Gate, steep downhill to the south, reaching the Haul Road near Bradley’s, across part of the Millenium Forest and back towards the back of the Golf Course. Few hours estimated, not overly steep.
St Paul’s and Luffkins Loop – Starting at St Paul’s, take the road towards Blue Hill, past the Community Centre, and enjoy smaller tracks on the way back. Likely to take a few hours but not much gradient.
Francis Plain to The Dungeon loop – this one you might want to do in the evening or weekend to avoid walking through school activities.

You start at the other side of the playing field from where you arrive by car at a track between the toilet building and the white squash court building by the (rundown) “netball” Court.

When you come to the fork at the bottom of that track, take the very top one (the first lowest left goes to Jamestown, the second the briars, the third is the one you want). Up you’ll pass by the back entrance to Sophy Thorpe’s home, denoted by two large pillars, don’t go in there, carry on the path until you meet a larger 4×4 track to which you turn right. You’ll eventually get to a tarmac road, carry on up (left) and you’ll pass the cows, the cemetery and you’ll walk on the W road until you get to the mossy track above the school. This is an easyish woodland walk about 1.5 hours.

I hope you enjoy these – let me know if any of you do any of them, please comment so others can hear what you thought and how long they took you!

Go Karting in St Helena by Scipione

Uncle and Nephew, Paul and Craig Scipio, are celebrating 1 year since they opened St Helena’s first Go Kart track in the Merrimens Forest near Plantation House, with a special race night on the 4th December.

Their vision for the site came, they said, from spotting a rough figure of eight naturally occurring amongst the trees, in a relatively flat area in a forest and wondering whether a track could be put there. They developed the designs, sourced the funding, and achieved Approved Investment Status (thereby waiving import duties), and cracked on with creating the first track.

Since then, they have extended the track, built a nifty viewing gallery made of logs, raised up some metres, not dissimilar to some ‘tree walks’ you see in the rest of the world. They say there are plans to complete flood lighting for night time events, and a mini golf park.

There’s always the worry that some things in St Helena can start off popular because it is new, and then demand slowly drift to the wayside. However, not in this case. The Track has a regular following, and because Craig and Paul are always creating new events or periodically adding challenges to the leader board, there is always an appetite to go back and stretch those competitive legs again.

My first go at the karting was just terrible, but once I realised that those karts can’t flip, I started swinging into those corners and managed to get into the top three of the ladies leader board. Well, that was until the track was extended and a near leader board came into being. But I suppose that means I just have to go back and try again!

For those interested in a visit, here are some vital stats:

£10 for 15 lap race, or £20 special for two 15 lap race and an extra 10 lap race. £5 to buy a balaclava (required for sanitary reasons if you borrow a helmet) which can be reused at your future races. Prices are subject to change so check with Craig for the latest prices and offers.

No need to book – anyone can turn up Friday, Saturday or Sunday between 1am and 6pm. But if you would like to book in or out of hours, then contact Craig on:

+290 23890

+290 61399

craig.impresascipione@helanta.co.sh

https://www.facebook.com/craig.scipio.7

The Go Kart track in the Forest can be found at 15°57’01.6″S 5°43’11.5″W https://goo.gl/maps/9FcFA7jkFhhWjMsU7

With the entrance to the un-tarmacked track leading to the Go Karting opposite the Chinese House just past the junction of Redgate with Sapper Way. 15°56’55.6″S 5°43’16.1″W

https://goo.gl/maps/qCAp2Z3TWQrbN3SD9

With most vehicles its best to leave the car at the entrance to the track and walk the rest.

Downturns

It is currently winter in St Helena. The wind blows strong, the rain drives down, and blankets of cloud marry the ocean. Scruffy August; the worst of the months- 17 degrees in Jamestown and as low as 12 degrees up country.

Every year at this time spirits lower. The August of 2018 was arguably the worst I’d experienced as Basil Read, the airport construction company went out if business. There were layoffs and it was clearly the end of the airport boom.

We now look forward to the fibre optic cable landing, due this week, and we are certainly in a different place three years later. However, as with every August morale is low, but even more so because of COVID. Last December was the smallest celebration I’d seen on St Helena, with festival of lights quieting down by 10pm. And now we look forward to December wondering if people will travel to the Island for Christmas. Flights are full on 29 November and 13 December but that’s only about 200 people. If another flight was put on, would it fill? Well that largely depends on St Helena changing their quarantine rules from 10 days to a lower amount particularly for vaccinated people. A press release talked of a phased approach to this, and looking forward from scruffy August, I’d say the Island really needs it, if only to boost morale.

So the cable is landing but it will take a good while for it to be tested and translate into cheaper packages for Islanders. So we all look forward and wonder whether we will have good news two years from now? We hope we will see digital nomads working remotely, digital businesses registered in St Helena and some resemblance of much needed growth and positivity. And hopefully by then COVID is somewhat less tragic as it has been.

How does 5 weeks in a COVID free paradise sound?

Believe it or not, the pandemic has brought around some travel opportunities, if you’re willing to look hard enough, and you have a little bit of flexibility.

For St Helena that opportunity comes in the form of direct flights from London Stansted. It also comes in the form of being one of the few countries which will be announced on the UKs Green travel list from May 17.

It does take a certain traveller to choose this adventure. For one, flight booking is through an email account, with a confirmation some 3 weeks before travel (and you will have to be satisfied you will get a seat to return on, which you will, since you will be prioritised to return to your country of origin). Even though you might not technically get an email confirmation about your return journey before you travel, returning will be no problem as the flight is restricted to 96 to St Helena (due to COVID) but unrestricted (140) on exit. When you live here, taking leaps of faith is quite typical; because on St Helena “yes I’ll do it” means “yes it will happen, and I won’t forget” and booking confirmation seems unnecessary because “I said yes”. It’s almost as simple as that. But still coming from the UK I couldn’t quite believe anything would happen until I had a booking confirmation, and so if you function in that way, then this will be interesting for you.

But for St Helena these flights 11 hours to London Stansted via Accra fuel stop are incredible. It used to take 5 days by ship! This flight is so easy it’s laughable compared to travel 5 years ago.

You have two options for quarantine. First you join a group in Bradley’s Camp, make lifelong friends, contribute to whatever group exercise activities are created when resources are pooled, but suffer a small basic room and internet on £6.60 tickets for an hour (with one free ticket a day).

Or you go more upmarket. Choose a self catered accomodation, arrange an internet package with Sure which gives you free internet between 12-6am, and £82 +10% service charge for 14,250MB.

And to what end? Pure freedom. Joining a community (and hey, when you are one of a few tourists you will get pulled into the community), parties, yacht trips, stargazing, sporting events, festivals, markets, go karting, water sports, walking, scuba diving, whale watching, history tours, yoga, gym. No mask. No social distancing. No risk.

The next trip at the time of writing after the UK opens up travel again is 21 June until 11 August. Perhaps those of you who have the time and resources will think of making this incredible journey.

Probably one of the biggest unofficial US inauguration parties in the world

St Helena is home to probably 4 Americans. The rest of us love foreign affairs and have been gripped by “that series called America” for quite a while now.

Our very own US representative and political journalist also economist Amanda had quite a following when she was posting her election updates by hand on the window of her quarantine hut in Bradley’s Camp back in October/November. Many of us who had access to actual news found it all too unclear so we were reading Amanda’s posts (reposted on social media) and were sending these to our friends.

So tonight was a big night, and because we do love a celebration in St Helena we gathered with Amanda and Dave round the BBC broadcast in the small living room of the period town house named Coles to see it all go off without a hitch. I thought they might have filmed it before and replayed it to avoid incident a bit like the footage of the first man on the moon (apparently filmed in Ascension Island not so far from here). But it looked extremely genuine, even if I did think the Hunger games had started by the huge Mocking jay broach adorned by Lady Ga Ga. J Lo had her moment too as well as a famous country singer I had never heard called Garth Brooks of whom the BBC described as “doing a cover of Hallelujah kareoke style”.

Great to see a female VP, Kamala Harris, who I wouldn’t be surprised to see voted in as the next president in 4 year’s time. Joe Biden spoke somberly about COVID; not sure he was reading the crowd who were all ready to party. Except perhaps Mike Pence. For some it might be their last party as the country singer Brooks seemed to spread COVID around with hugs like it was Christmas.

One true star was Amanda Gorman who wrote and performed an incredible poem, it moves me greatly seeing young people with such talent and passion.

And now to the photos from our little big celebration on the tiny Island of St Helena. Thanks Amanda and Dave and those millions of voters who didn’t pick the orange man for another term.

Building a house in St Helena

Well I never thought I’d be writing a blog like this when I first started blogging my St Helena journey back in 2016, but here we are.

Regular readers know that I do this blog to share information. Back in 2016 there was barely anything on the web about St Helena; I remember looking at Google (before a family arrived with the street view camera from Google – thank goodness) and thinking, ok well there is one bar called Donny’s and maybe a shop and a bank, but I have no idea what else. Hence I started a blog.

Nowadays there is plenty on Google (although not everything) and a lot on the Tourism website and apps like Inside St Helena. That’s probably why the frequency of my blogs slowed. I’ve also repeated many walks and no reader wants to hear about Thompson’s Valley AGAIN.

But here we are, on a topic that I don’t think other people have blogged about. Back in 2018 I published an Investment Strategy for the Island, and deeply believed when writing it that St Helena was a good place to invest. Which is why when the tenants in the flat my dad and I owned in South London asked to buy from us, and in July 2019 I came into some money, I figured I should put my money where my mouth is.

The truth of it is, that building a house in St Helena, I project (and investment is a betting game) would have been a much better use of my money than repaying off another mortgage or leaving the money sat in the bank, especially when moving in will save me rent costs every month. Of course, I won’t know the return on my investment until any sale (which I’m not proposing be any time soon) but these are my projections.

Like anywhere, the price of land depends upon its size, whether it is ready to build, its location, and whether you are buying freehold or leasehold. A fine sized plot for a detached house (mine is 0.18 hectares / 18000 sqm) might be bought from Crown Lands for £5k. But it’s on a slope. 99% of what you would buy in St Helena would be on a slope. So if you instead buy from a builder, who has cleared the land and flattened it, then you’re talking about £25k. Add £10k if it’s got planning permission, and maybe even foundations. Add possibly £500-£700 for stamp duty. And around £2,000 to convert the leasehold to freehold (if that is available to you).

And here’s what you might budget for.

Windows and doors£8,500
Flooring£6,000
Fixtures and Fittings£1,000
Kitchen£5,500
Bathrooms£3,500
Building Materials and Labour for house, driveway and landscaping£90,000 – £100,000
Furnishings£5,000
Shipping£11,000
Duty£5,000
Electricity connection£1,700
Legal Contract£250
Own LabourPriceless 😉

Some things we paid more for, some things we managed to get discounted, so don’t see this as a true representation of my actual house, but its a starter for 10 if you wanted to know what to budget if you were aiming to build yourself. And the important thing. Add 10%. Some call this contingency. My dad and I affectionately call it “fuck up tax”. This comes in handy when your bathroom sink smashes to smithereens during transit like mine did or when you need a huge holding tank for the sewage because you couldn’t yet connect to the grid. You could spend anywhere from £150,000 to £250,000 depending on spec. Again, we went for a two story home, but single story is also popular here.

So, being an economist, I budgeted the bejesus out of this. July 2019 I sat there after work every evening salivating over bathroom tiles and cupboard handles. Having watched some architecture students at uni made mood boards, I figured what I needed is a clear theme to each room. So I donned the prit stick and home magazine cut outs (I’m kidding I didn’t, I just wrote some words on a spreadsheet).

Put simply I chose wood, metal and earthy greys and blues downstairs in the open plan kitchen diner, living room; forest green tiles and traditional white in the downstairs bathroom; and modern Moroccan style upstairs. Poor Rhys was ‘allowed’ to choose the colour of one room, the spare room (9 years of history had taught me that Rhys is great at a thousand things but picking colours for houses wasn’t one of them). He chose yellow. In order to avoid anyone sleeping in there being blinded by the brightness, we adapted slightly by painting below waist height yellow, and the top white, with grey windows and blinds.

I did get a contract written up by a lawyer who serves St Helena, but later I found out the law society has good templates which you can adjust to your own needs. And got scheduled into Robbie Greek [Robert Henry] (Rg S Contractors) agenda for a January start. Andrew Weir, who ship to the Island, have a service whereby you can send things to a warehouse in London over a period of 6 weeks and they pack it into a container for you for a few hundred pounds. This process was super exciting as I went on a buying spree over the six week period. I used 2 containers and it totalled £11k. It took about 3 months to arrive.

Robbie and his team were brilliant to work with, I must say, great communication (also hilariously funny) and a really good eye. To the keen builder to be I shall say that the construction industry here on Island is buoyant and if Robbie is booked up there are also some, so I hear, good builders offering their services. After that point the fellas did all the heavy lifting. Blocks, windows, roof frames, roof, plasterboard, partition walls, electrics, plumbing, plastering, painting, flooring, fitting, skirting, tiling.

What are my favourite things? The staircase was pretty spectacular, made locally to spec with glass panels (approx £2.5k). The bifold doors (£5k each), the argon PVC grey windows from House of Windows (such an easy company to use), my Berkley Slate Blue entrance hall tiles from Topps tiles, the wooden ribbon cupboard handles from my Howdens Kitchen, the traditional freestanding shower bath from Victorian Plumbing and the four poster bed from Wayfair.

And how much is it worth? Well one can only do a comparison using the Island’s online property listing http://www.propertyfinder.sh/ But for now, we will very much be enjoying living in it.

Now we are moved in, we have been working on the garden. Both having worked at the Environment Agency in the past, we are very green minded. We have a solar water heater, a solar home made hot tub heater (made by Rhys) and any used water from the sinks and showers go into a tank which we pump onto the garden. We’re starting to grow a small lawn. Meanwhile water from the roof flow into a tank, which is partly used to fill the downstairs toilet, and partly used to water the fruit trees and strawberries I’ve been growing in the front garden patch. We are deciding how the sewage fares; it is processed through 3 tanks and the theory is it could come out clear enough for more gardening. If not Connect can pump it out and dispose of it.

And the benefit to the Island? About four jobs for around 10 months (builders), business income (design, survey, driveway, glass cutting, plastering, carpentry, electrician, plumber, DIY stores, shipping, utilities) and finally tax and revenue (import duty, stamp duty, crown land sale).

See below, the in process and finish pictures.

Jerusalema

I write from the UK. A huge, largely overlooked, opportunity presented itself as a result of the pandemic and South Africa originally calling a halt to international travel – that was the trigger for a DIRECT flight to London Stansted, which took 9.5 hours including a stopover at Accra. The flights have been taking place every 6 weeks.

Considering my first journey to the Island was an 11 hour flight to Cape Town, an overnight stay and 5 days by ship, this was a huge deal.

Titan, who runs the charter, isn’t in the habit of running commercial routes (i.e. where they sell tickets and run the risk of not breakong even) so this might be short lived, but the point is, that it’s possible to send an ETOPS certified Boing 757-200 from the UK to St Helena and back, with stops to Ascension if necessary. The ticket price was about £950 each way and the plane is likely to have broken even if the passenger numbers were higher (the plane has a 140 passenger capacity) and COVID didn’t present the challenges it did. Something for the longer term future perhaps.

Whilst I have been gone the Island saw Carnival (with the theme “free spirit”) and also prepared it’s version of the hugely popular Jerusalema dance, which I leave here for your viewing pleasure.

A tour of Bradley’s Camp Quarantine

Since March 2020 there has been a requirement for new arrivals to quarantine on entry to St Helena. Originally this took place in people’s homes, or where this was not possible, in specific locations such as hotels. A scare occured, the word on the street was that someone had a cough and their washing might have changed hands with someone else, (and who knows what actually happened as per a lot of the street gossip), despite no one having COVID-19 the scare was enough for the public to demand new arrivals stay as far away from the community as possible.

Bradley’s Camp was built for the airport workers. It was temporary accommodation for Basil Read, although temporary, some workers, mostly migrants for example from Thailand, lived in the camp for long periods of time, in some cases, years.

Bradley’s Camp had previously been suggested as future a holiday camp, even a location for a space park for earth stations, that is until March this year.

My husband was part of a team who had to convert the blocks into livable quarantine accomodation within 6 weeks. I can tell you that him and so many of the other workers worked early morning to late night through the weekends to get the site ready for a flight arriving from South Africa. Since then there have been 3 further flights from the UK. The capacity is around 50-70 max. Therefore inbound flights such as the 757 who can take up to 140 passengers is restricted to the number of rooms at Bradley’s which obviously makes it difficult, nay impossible, for the flights to break even commercially.

Its fairly obvious there are challenges of putting all the arrivals in Bradley’s; but at this time by being near the airport the public feel safer.

Of course there are several alternatives to using the Camp for everybody such as testing regimes, quarentining at home, social distancing and a combination of all. Each has its own risks, and of course the data needs to be clear about effectiveness of testing, risk reduction by mask wearing and social distancing, probability of non-compliance, and there needs to be procedures in place such as what happens if someone skips quarantine or contact tracing becomes a necessity.

The Incident Emergency Group have been dealing with such issues so far.

And for those people who are facing 14 days in the camp. Download movies in advance, bring exercise equipment, and books.. see below for a tour of the camp.

As usual all opinions are my own and not representative of SHG or any other organisations that I am affiliated.

A walk around Bradley’s Camp
Preparing the ICU
The hospital in Bradley’s