Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Camping on Tristan

Day 1:

We're camping on the base at 750m in a grassy gulch. It's 7.30pm and the sun has disappeared behind a thin sliver of silvery-edged cloud low on the horizon. Immediately below there is a gaping chasm, and the broad expanse of The Base covered with Phylica arborea (Island Tree) and Blechnum palmiforme (Bog Fern). In the distance and far below I can just make out and hear waves on the sea.  Behind me and above our sodden tents, the peak, tinged red by the setting sun.

We’ve had a 4 hour walk with heavy rucksacks in driving mist and drizzle. We arrived just before midday soaking wet and pitched the tents - and stayed there until the wind and rain eased off - four hours later. Unlike Scotland you can't survey in bad weather because of the complex landscape and vegetation. Maps are not detailed or accurate enough to navigate with safely. You must be able to see.

It's now a fantastic sunset. The clouds have turned red. The flow in the waterfall above our tents drops noticeably. There is not much flat sheltered ground for pitching tents. So we had to use this gulch. It was dry when we arrived but water soon began to flow and puddle perilously close to our tents. We cut drainage channels. The vegetation in the floor of the gulch is entirely non-native. Quite depressing really. It comprises of Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire Fog) and Agrostis capillaris (Common Bent), so I don’t feel bad about it. Lourens compliments me on my moat - which seems to work.  We used Island Tree branches as extra strong (and long) tent pegs.  So we're now secure for the night.  Silent but for the sound of trickling water and distant sea.

Day 2:

We had planned a first-light start. But it has been drizzling and misty since 5am. Now it's 10am and we're still in the tents. This hasn't happened often but it is very frustrating when it does. All the effort getting here wasted. A blink of sunshine. Maybe it's clearing... An hour later blue sky appears and we breakfast and set off and have a really good day despite the late start.  We happen across the right ridges and gulches for once and cover a lot of interesting ground without huge effort.  Our route to the edge of the base is enlivened with rare encounters with Radiovittaria ruiziana (Bootlace Fern). From there we walk along the exposed edge, where the vegetation is wind blasted and easier, into the next square.

We return at 7.30 – with just enough time to prepare dinner before dark.  Spaghetti and mince (again).  With enough saved for tomorrow’s lunch.  Pudding is a thick slice of home-made tea-cake.  The sun sets on a crystal clear Peak tonight.

The Peak in evening sunshine
Day 3:

The day does begin with blue sky, but I can’t see the peak or the sea and the mist quickly closes in.  We breakfast, break camp and return along the boggy path towards Burntwood.  It’s at the end of the only road on the island and where we parked the quad bike.  We don’t have to make a final decision on whether to survey for a couple kilometers.

It seems to clear and we decide to survey.  Over much of plateau the vegetation comprises of no more than 25 taxa. I hope we chance upon an interesting gulch.  But here the gulches are narrow, weedy and scrubby.  Progress is slow and the botanising disappointing. 

We reach the edge of The Base eventually and see waves crashing onto Anchorstock Point far below. There is an even scattering on non-natives amongst the vegetation on the escarpment.  Most noticeably Leucanthemum vulgare (Ox-eye Daisy) and Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire Fog) but less obviously Aira caryophyllea (Silver Hair-grass), Vulpia bromoides (Squirrelltail Fescue) and Cerastium fontanum (Common Mouse-ear).  On a landslip, there is a large population of the native Apium australe (Wild Celery) in flower.

The weather closes in again and our return is windy and wet.  We stop and monitor Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair-grass) by the path.  As far is known this is the one and only population on the island.  How it got here is a puzzle. 

Just before the final descent, I collect Empetrum rubrum berries for Peak Berry Crumble.  The berries are just beginning to blacken and sweeten. (I’ll let you know how it tastes).  The highlight of the Burntwood descent is a 700 foot scree run. For once easy ground!

(Written in the field)


  1. Do Empetrum rubrum berries taste like crowberry when raw? I never tried crowberries cooked. I should have thought Des flex would be a pretty universal plant. So how did Aira car get there either? Presumably the same way??

  2. Yes I thinks so. Quite bitter - you need to add a lot of sugar. At least Empetrum rubrum berries are a bit more fleshy and less seedy. The other big difference is that E. rubrum plants are often heavy with berries - and so a lot easier to pick a pieful!