Three of the most popular walks on St Helena
There is no better way to explore St Helena than on foot, which is why the island is a walker’s paradise. It offers spectacular views and routes that take you through a startling array of environments and microclimates, from arid desert regions to cloud forest. There are twenty Postbox Walks, devised by the St Helena Nature Conservation Group (SNCG), named because at the summit of each walk there is a Post Box containing an ink stamp and a visitors’ book. Once you have ticked these off, you might then progress to the more obscure walks, known as the Blue Dot Walks because of the blue spray paint used to mark the path with small blue dots.
Anyone new to the island who’s interested in walking will sooner or later be pointed in the direction of Ed Thorpe. Every weekend, Ed leads a group of avid walkers up hills, through fields, down valleys and, for the most intrepid, to some seemingly inaccessible and vertiginous spots, places that would test the resolve of the most sure-footed island goat.
Here, Ed introduces you to three of the island’s most popular walks:
1. Diana’s Peak
The highest point on St Helena and home to many species of endemic flora and fauna. It is described by the SNCG as “a very popular walk providing stunning views around the Island on a clear day, with interesting and unique ecology”. This is a fairly easy walk along well-maintained paths, but it does rely on good weather to make the most of the views.
The Peaks are accessible from Black Gate, Wranghams or Stitches Ridge.
2. Banks Battery
As the most significant line of fortifications on the island, Banks Battery was once the first line of defense against enemy ships approaching Jamestown. Ships had to approach from the north east side and sail close to the guns and fortifications otherwise they would overshoot James Bay. Approaching ships would be hailed from Repulse Point, and a runner would be sent to town with the name and nationality of the ship. The lines were abandoned around 1870 when the advent of steam meant that ships didn’t need to sail so close to the shore, so they could approach out of range of the guns.
The lines have now sadly fallen into disrepair and the path is narrow in places where the retaining wall has fallen away, so this is not a walk for those afraid of heights! However it still remains one of the easiest coastal walks as the path follows much the same contour. Banks also boasts a sheltered cove for swimming and fishing. Walkers wanting a stamp for their book will have to continue for another half an hour to Sugarloaf, as there is no postbox at Banks.
3. Longwood Barn
Although Longwood Barn is not as hard as it looks, the path is narrow in places so it is best left to the more confident walker. Good weather is essential because if the mist comes down while you are on the Barn it can be very difficult to find your way. Once on the top, head towards a mound called the ‘Haystack’, where there is a postbox. Here there are good views over Turks Cap and Prosperous Bay, where the airport is being built.
The Barn was once home to a hermit called Louden Ben who lived in a cave, presumably on the seaward side. The authenticity of this legend was verified by two intrepid Saints who found a cave with a low stone wall and the remnants of a cooking pot. However, the whereabouts of the cave remains a secret, possibly because the approach is so dangerous that the discoverers don’t wish to encourage anyone to visit it.
Ed’s top tips for walkers:
- Take plenty of water (more than a litre)
- Wear a decent pair of walking boots to provide ankle support
- Take a hat and sun cream, you can burn even on an overcast day.
- You will need a rope for some walks (i.e. Swanley and Castle Rock Plain).
- Look out for spray paint marks, mostly blue or yellow.
- Add or repair existing cairns.
- Take litter home with you.
- Tell someone where you are going.
- Always keep an eye on the sea, rocks which are dry may be swamped without notice.
- Keep close together on some paths to avoid rolling rocks on people below you.
If you visit and try out one of the walks then do leave your feedback by leaving a comment below or dropping The St Helena Tourist Office an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.