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Sandy Bay: Most Beautiful District On St Helena

The view down over Sandy Bay from on top of Diana's Peak, the highest point on St Helena at 823m.

The view down over Sandy Bay from on top of Diana’s Peak, the highest point on St Helena at 823m.

THE PLACE TO RELAX | Darrin Henry

Sandy Bay is a bit of a show off among the St Helena districts when it comes to landscape, but you can hardly blame it once you see the place – it really is stunning.

Beautiful, charming scenery across the island of St Helena is a common feature, but the south side of this spike on the mid-Atlantic ridge is surely the showpiece.

From the moment the car crests the legendary (among Saints) ‘Sandy Bay Ridges,’ the countryside on display below takes our breath away. A spectacular, natural amphitheatre, set against flax covered slopes on the inland side all sweeping dramatically downward to the tiny, peaceful settlement dotted about the valley.

Flax Industry On St Helena

The sea of New Zealand flax is one of my earliest childhood memories of St Helena and, for me, the defining feature of Sandy Bay. From 1907 – 1966 the flax industry on St Helena thrived with up to nine mills at one stage producing the fibre that was exported to England and South Africa. Then enforced redundancy hit in the late 1960s as global manufacturing switched to cheaper synthetic fibre. Fifty years on the wild growing flax still dominates the island’s central slopes.

New Zealand flax covering the Sandy Bay slopes on St Helena. The road which can be seen curving down into the bay is often referred to as the 'Sandy Bay Ridges.'

New Zealand flax covering the Sandy Bay slopes on St Helena. The road which can be seen curving down into the bay is often referred to as the ‘Sandy Bay Ridges.’

Sandy Bay is bursting with beautiful flowers of all colours. One of our favourites is the Datura Suavolens, more commonly known as Lady's Petticoat (left) which can be found in great numbers near St Peter's church.

Sandy Bay is bursting with beautiful flowers of all colours. One of our favourites is the Datura Suavolens, more commonly known as Lady’s Petticoat (left) which can be found in great numbers near St Peter’s church.

Looking down on the column of Lot with Sandy Bay Beach visible in the distance to the right.

Looking down on the column of Lot with Sandy Bay Beach visible in the distance to the right.

Ahead, on the distant coastal perimeter of Sandy Bay, the greenery gives way to hues of brown and red where the barren volcanic ridges meet the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. It’s a gorgeous panoramic that I will never tire of.

The road down the Ridges twists and turns through the spidery flax fingers. The picture perfect scenery pops into view through occasional breaks in the flax, very tempting for photography.

The SHAPE of Sandy Bay

Below the flax line the vegetation turns dense and tropical with gingers, yams and banana trees. The air is cool and fresh. There’s a mystical feel to the place, walking in Sandy Bay, enhanced by the sounds of hidden streams beneath the foliage, thickets of ginger bushes and clusters of damp bamboo stalks huddled around the turns in the road. Warm air blowing in off the sea mixes with the cooler mountain air here, often generating foggy and low lying cloudy conditions over the peaks and Sandy Bay. But when it’s clear, like it is today, it’s spectacular.

My favourite fruit that grows wild on St Helena, the delicious loquats. These are found in great numbers around Sandy Bay.

My favourite fruit that grows wild on St Helena, the delicious loquats. These are found in great numbers in this part of the island.

A typical view across one of the valleys in Sandy Bay with banana trees.

A typical view across one of the valleys in Sandy Bay with banana trees.

The view looking across Bamboo Hedge and some of the houses, with the Sandy Bay Ridges rising up behind, topped by cloud cover over the central peaks.

The view looking across Bamboo Hedge and some of the houses, with the Sandy Bay Ridges rising up behind, topped by cloud cover over the central peaks.

We’re now down in the central hub of the district where we find the main concentration of homes although even these are sprinkled around the hillsides. The only flat terrain are the excavated plots for building sites. Rising up dramatically behind us are the mountainous central peaks, including the highest point on St Helena, Diana’s Peak. Every now and again you can’t help but stop and gaze around at the magnificence of it all.

The old Sandy Bay school house is now the SHAPE centre, providing employment, training and support for vulnerable and disabled adults across the island. Other small, outlying district schools, such as this one, have closed as the island’s population has declined since the turn of the century. The school is not the only casualty of this change.

Inside Thorpe's shop, Sandy Bay.

Inside Thorpe’s shop, Sandy Bay.

Patsy Williams (left) serving a customer in Thorpe's shop, Sandy Bay.

Patsy Williams (left) serving a customer in Thorpe’s shop, Sandy Bay.

Patsy Williams moved to Sandy Bay 36 years ago after she got married. Patsy told us, “One of the biggest changes in Sandy Bay has been the closure of the farm [Bamboo Hedge].” Once a plentiful source of fresh produce in the district, now only the piggery remains in operation. Patsy has been working in Thorpe’s Grocery Shop in Sandy Bay for the last eight years. The best thing about Sandy Bay “is the quiet, the beach and the views.” And the worst thing? “The mud!”

Meet The Saints Of Sandy Bay

Across the valley from Thorpe’s shop is St Peter’s church, although so well camouflaged is the building by the trees it is easy to miss, especially with the distracting view in the opposite direction. The church itself is incorporated into a two storey house and is surrounded by fruit trees – dates, loquats and guavas all crying out to be picked.

We find Bamboo Hedge Farm a little further along the road. The piggery is indeed still in operation and turns noisy when the animals see us approaching. This was previously one of the Sandy Bay flax mills.

The piggery at Bamboo Hedge was once the site of the Sandy Bay flax mill.

The piggery at Bamboo Hedge was once the site of a flax mill.

The sign for St Peter's Church in Sandy Bay has been there for a while!

The sign for St Peter’s Church has been there for a while!

St Peter's Church in Sandy Bay.

St Peter’s Church in Sandy Bay.

Sandy Bay resident, Jeff Francis, out for a Sunday morning cycle through the district.

Sandy Bay resident, Jeff Francis, out for a Sunday morning cycle through the district.

Campbell Buckley with dog, Daisy. Campbell told me not much has changed in Sandy Bay since he was a boy growing up, just a few more houses in the district.

Campbell Buckley with dog, Daisy. Campbell told me not much has changed in Sandy Bay since he was a boy growing up, just a few more houses in the district.

Campbell Buckley, a Sandy Bay resident is out with his machete to tackle the invasive white weed that is putting down roots in one of his fields. Campbell’s story is a familiar one. He grew up in Sandy Bay, emigrated to the UK where he lived and worked for 38 years, before returning home eight years ago to retire. He now enjoys a gentle routine driving the SHAPE bus for few hours each morning and chores such as today’s white weed offensive.

“Not much has changed in Sandy Bay, just more houses, that’s the main thing,” Campbell tells us. Knowing we’re exploring the district he suggests Lemon Grove right at the bottom of the valley may have been home to Fernando Lopez, the first resident on St Helena.

Jesus Lives In Sandy Bay

Sandy Bay can appear very quiet and deserted if you’re driving through. The island’s electoral register (Feb 2016) indicates the population of Sandy Bay accounts for just 6% of everyone listed. That would work out to around 250 people living in the district. But take a walk or sit and rest for a while and you will soon meet some interesting characters.

Raymond Isaac, (nicknames: 'Jesus' and 'Sandy Bay') works on a banana plantation in Sandy Bay.

Raymond Isaac, (nicknames: ‘Jesus’ and ‘Sandy Bay’) works on a banana plantation in Sandy Bay.

Raymond Isaac is another Sandy Bay original; in fact one of his nicknames is “Sandy Bay,” the other is “Jesus.” His long beard and authentic ‘mountain man’ look makes him very popular with tourists who regularly request to have their photos taken with him. “A whole busload once stopped and asked to take pictures with me!” chuckles Raymond. “I’ve been growing my beard since September 1975. Before that I’ve only taken a full shave about 11 or 12 times.”

Raymond spent many years working as a rigger for the BBC on Ascension Island. He returned home 23 years ago and now, at age 62, tends one of the banana plantations in Sandy Bay.

Rex Thomas (nickname: 'Doggie') travelled the world for 15 years working on the Union Castle ships in the 70s.

Rex Thomas (nickname: ‘Doggie’) travelled the world for 15 years working on the Union Castle ships in the 70s.

Rex Thomas also has a great story. He left St Helena in 70s along with 34 other Saints and spent 15 years working on Union Castle ships. He told us tales of his amazing travels: Japan, Tasmania, Alaska, South and North America to name a few. His favourite place was the “prairies” around Philadelphia in the USA. Rex also spent time working on the old RMS St Helena (pre 1990) and on the Falkland Islands.

St Helena Coffee

We stroll on past Colin’s Bar, a popular if distant get-a-way for islanders looking to enjoy a drink with a different view.

Around the next bend is one of the coffee plantations in the district, clinging to the side of the slope. This particular coffee plantation in Sandy Bay is owned and managed by Solomon and Company. St Helena coffee enjoys prestigious status on the world market, something to do with the climate and soil conditions I believe.

Coffee beans growing in Sandy Bay. It is reported (Ian Baker: St Helena, One Man's Island) that Arabica coffee was first brought to the island from Mocha, Yemen, in 1732.

Coffee beans growing in Sandy Bay. It is reported (Ian Baker: St Helena, One Man’s Island) that Arabica coffee was first brought to the island from Mocha, Yemen, in 1732.

Sandy Bay throws up all manner of photography delights - just take a walk with the camera and all will be revealed! Clockwise from top left: Ginger flowers, shop scales at Thorpe's Grocery, traditional door, worn key chamber on door lock.

Sandy Bay throws up all manner of photography delights – just take a walk with the camera and all will be revealed!
Clockwise from top left: Ginger flowers, shop scales at Thorpe’s Grocery, traditional door, worn key chamber on door lock.

Flax growing around Bamboo Hedge in Sandy Bay. The heavy cloud cover seen over St Helena's central peaks is typical weather up higher.

Flax growing around Bamboo Hedge. The heavy cloud cover seen over St Helena’s central peaks is typical weather up higher the slopes.

Medlem fruit and figs, easy to pick right next to the road in Sandy Bay.

Medlem fruit and figs, easy to pick right next to the road in Sandy Bay.

Oranges on a tree overhanging the road in Sandy Bay.

Oranges on a tree overhanging the road.

The diversity of flora throughout Sandy Bay is remarkable. Walking along the road you soon spot all types of fruit dangling on long limbs out over the banks, daring you to try reach them. Oranges, locquats, plums, bananas, medlems, guavas, and wild raspberries are the main ones depending on the time of year.

Sandy Bay Baptist Chapel

The Sandy Bay Baptist Chapel, a little church set against the towering column of Lot, signals another change in landscape. We are much lower down now and the greenery here changes rapidly to a more dry and dusty terrain.

Sandy Bay Baptist Chapel with a great view of Lot in the distance, about half a mile away.

Sandy Bay Baptist Chapel with a great view of Lot in the distance, about half a mile away.

An old ruin right at the bottom of Sandy Bay valley. Down here the vegetation is more hardy in keeping with the more barren terrain.

An old ruin right at the bottom of the valley. Down here the vegetation is more hardy in keeping with the more barren terrain.

The column of Lot's Wife which sits on a coastline ridge in Sandy Bay.

The column of Lot’s Wife which sits on a coastline ridge in Sandy Bay.

Below the chapel the route turns quite precarious, as the road becomes steeper, narrower and tighter in the hairpins with unsettling drop-offs into the valley. But once down this last stretch you find yourself in the bottom of the Sandy Bay valley.

Down here is one of the most remote places to live on St Helena. Streams that originate on the peaks above, converge here, running all the way down to the sea. The tell tale line of green runs through valley, marking the flow of water.

And finally to Sandy Bay Beach with its black sand nestled between towering cliffs on either side. It’s not suitable for swimming here but the area is popular with locals for picnics and fishing trips and there are historic fortifications that can be explored. The Lot’s Wife’s Ponds Post Box walk also begins from here.

Time to head back up the hill!

Sandy Bay Beach, right at the bottom of the valley. The landscape here is completely different to upper Sandy Bay.

Sandy Bay Beach, right at the bottom of the valley. The landscape here is completely different to that found in the upper reaches of the valley.

COMMENTS

  • Martin Lovell

    October 16, 2017

    Hi Guys,
    In a months time we are visiting st helena for 8 days – arriving on the RMS St helena and then flying back to SA. We have been reading all we can find about the island and love your website and blog. my wife sarah’s grandmother came to england back in the 1920’sand we would love to be able to find out more about her family on the island and background. can you help point us in the right direction to do this?
    Cant wait for our trip.

      • Martin Lovell

        October 18, 2017

        Thanks for the help. Maybe we could grab a beer in Jamestown?
        Martin

  • Bonnie Denhaan & Sam Denhaan

    February 26, 2017

    Our good neighbour Lou sent us this site about her birthplace. Fascinating! Here in the middle of wintry Alberta, Canada, almost no one has heard of your Island, except vague references to old Nap. What a lovely place, so varied – and nice and warm! Don’t ever let too many “tourists” find you – that can Disneyfy and spoil a place even while the $$$ roll in. If your inhabitants are even half as great people as our neighbour, you really are special!

    • February 27, 2017

      Hey Bonnie and Sam, thanks for that lovely comment, glad you’ve found us (thank you Lou). Will try not to let the place get overrun but will be nice to have just a few more visitors to show off to 🙂 We made it in to Canada for the first time ourselves recently, only Toronto, but it was great, can’t wait to go back and see more of your beautiful country. Take care, cheers 🙂

  • Lou Patjas

    February 25, 2017

    Thanks Darren, you have certainly put SH on the map, with your narratives and pictures. Sandy Bay is the gem part of the island. So enjoyed my stay there with nephew Jeff and family( man on bicyle 🚵) while there 2014/15.Like most Saints, we never appreciated the beauty of the island, u until we return back home.Having left there as a teenager in 1955. God bless you, keep up the good work.so enjoy your blogs.
    Lou (moyce) Patjas

    • February 26, 2017

      Agreed about Sandy Bay being the “gem” part of the island. You always get that sense of ‘freshness’ going down there. Sometimes you actually need to go away to really appreciate your own home, it’s only then you can really measure it up to somewhere else. Thanks for the lovely comment and following the blog Lou, cheers 🙂

  • Larry Macemore

    September 11, 2016

    Great article, beautiful pictures.

  • Hazel Richards

    September 11, 2016

    This was so wonderful to read. I grew up in Sandy, but I don’t think I appreciated the beauty and wonder of it until I left the island. Always a pleasure to go back to. Thanks x

    • September 11, 2016

      You know, I think all Saints are guilty of not appreciating our home fully until we’re away from it. Whenever I’ve been in the UK for a period of time it’s the amazing views of the vast blue sea that get me when I get home. It seems like we all have amazing views on the island, no matter where we live. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  • Nicola Francis

    September 11, 2016

    Lovely article, very descriptive. I could imagine where you were when describing the landscapes. Not sure about seeing Jesus thou lol…

    • September 11, 2016

      Haha, Jesus is a legend in the ‘Bay.’ Thanks for the comment, glad you enjoyed the post. Cheers 🙂

  • Steve Evans

    May 2, 2016

    I particularly liked this article as it brings back fond and vivid memories of the 14 months I lived in Sandy Bay. My wife and I lived in the St. Peter’s Church residence and, of course, spent many hours chatting with Patsy and Leslie at Thorpes, Joyce and Leatrice at Solmons shop, and all the other warm and colorful inhabitants of Sandy Bay. Beautiful photos as always. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • May 2, 2016

      Sandy Bay is a place where you have to just chill, slow down and synchronise to enjoy it. So peaceful. Thanks for your comment Steve. Cheers 🙂

  • Myrell Clingham

    April 19, 2016

    NICE!! 🙂

  • Jeff Francis

    March 6, 2016

    Great article. Totally agree that Sandy Bay is the most beautiful district on St Helena, described by some as “the jewel in the crown”. One small correction – Lemon Grove was the home of the first Governor of St Helena (Jenkins); there is a plaque on the wall which shows this.

    • March 8, 2016

      Another interesting little nugget about the ‘Bay’ area. Thanks for the comment Jeff 🙂

  • Rev Graeme Beckett

    March 5, 2016

    Great photos. Sadly, the old sign at St Peters seems to have finally disappeared. I believe that the St Peters church also incorporated a school (I believe the schoolroom wall was taken down to enlarge the church). I believe that Rev Heinrich Frey, who arrived in 1843 from India, lived in the flat and taught liberated slaves to read and write in the school. He was Lutheran, but was ordained as a deacon by Bishop Robert Gray in 1849. He died in 1870. He was not intending to come to St Helena from India: He was returning to Germany for health reasons but his ship was badly damaged in a storm in the Indian Ocean and it limped into Mauritius and was abandoned to the insurers. He managed to get another ship and was again caught in a storm off Cape Town. This time the ship limped into James Bay, and Frey spent the rest of his life on the island, and made himself useful.
    Quick observation re your first photo from Diana’s Peak: There appears to be a hill in the distance which seems above the horizon, indicating it is higher than Diana’s Peak!! Maybe it has something to do with the curvature of the earth, or there is a higher spot on the island!

    • March 8, 2016

      The distant hill is High Peak, not higher than Diana’s Peak, just an ‘impression’ thrown up by the angles 🙂
      Thanks for the feedback and revealing another layer of Sandy Bay/St Helena history – fascinating. Cheers

  • March 2, 2016

    Loved reading this – great to see a celebration of the people of Sandy Bay. And also to take another look inside the wonderful Thorpe’s shop. I hope it’s still there when I get back to the island. Thanks, Darrin and Sharon.

    • March 2, 2016

      Thanks for the comment Simon. The shop is even more of a focal point since Solomon’s shop closed, it’s as much a meeting place as a shop. Cheers 🙂

    • March 3, 2016

      Great article indeed. Loved the pics; especialy those of the Saints there. I remember leaving JT early in the morning on day in late 1997 heading for Lot’s Wife Ponds. Reached the place; had no water with me! Headed home; had somewater from a stream; then asked at a house (think it was “Jenkins’”) for something to drink. Had a long rest at Thorpe’s shop (a CASTLE); Really great memories.
      By the way: on my way to The Ponds I stopped at Solomon’s Sandy Bay Shop and took a photograph of the lady behind the counter. This shop was closed August 31st 2015.

      • March 3, 2016

        We actually took a ‘rest’ as well at Thorpe’s shop while doing this article, Windhoek though (changing times) and it went down very nicely 🙂 Thanks for the comment, cheers 🙂

  • March 2, 2016

    Lovely article, great photos; a very special place

    • March 2, 2016

      Agreed, a very special place – cheers John

  • Elaine & Spud

    March 2, 2016

    Brilliant blog and amazing photos always ☺️. Proud to be a Sandy Bay gal ☺️.

    • March 2, 2016

      Haha, thought you would like this one. Thanks for the comment, cheers 🙂

  • March 2, 2016

    Darren this is a great article, some great detail you never take any notice of when you live on Island, it Emphasizes Sandy bay that we all remember and of course Rex and Jesus (bay legends) that we probably forgot. I am sure they were set on the milestone there. I did not see any guavas or did I scroll too quick. Airport will never impact Sandy bay.
    Amazing!!

    • March 2, 2016

      Blogging makes us appreciate these details now that we took for granted before. Yes, Sandy Bay will remain timeless, I’m sure. Didn’t include the guava picture, always end up with too many images and having to make the tough decision on what to drop – perhaps another picture post later 🙂 Thanks for the feedback

  • Richard Brown

    March 2, 2016

    Great photos and great narrative…I can’t wait to be there!
    Richard Brown

    • March 2, 2016

      Thanks Richard, I think a lot of people are waiting for you to be here too! Cheers 🙂

  • March 2, 2016

    Brilliant post, Darrin. And those photographs are amazing.

    • March 2, 2016

      Glad you like the pictures. The oldest one in this post was taken 11 years ago! Thanks for the comment, Cheers 🙂

  • March 2, 2016

    Marvellous photos – as always from you! I also enjoyed the quotes of the people you came across and how real portraits emerged in just a few sentences.
    http://www.theworldelsewhere.com

    • March 2, 2016

      Thanks for this feedback Oliver, much appreciated. There were a lot of stories recounted during those conversations in Sandy Bay that couldn’t be printed!! Loads of fun as you can imagine. Cheers 🙂

  • Sheila Turvey

    March 2, 2016

    A very interesting and informative article, with, as always, beautiful photographs!

    • March 2, 2016

      Thanks for the comment Sheila. Always good to hear from you, cheers 🙂

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