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Getting High On The Great Stone Top Post Box Walk

Great Stone Top (right) and Little Stone Top, viewed from Levelwood

Great Stone Top (right) and Little Stone Top, viewed from Levelwood. The airport site can just be seen on the far left.

GREAT STONE TOP Post Box | Darrin Henry Turns out I suffer from acrophobia; a fear of heights. Not vertigo, as I had previously believed. Unfortunately, it’s the highest elevation that tends to offer the best vantage points for landscape photography, which had brought us to the 494m Great Stone Top; the top of yet another cliff, trying to hold the camera steady, with knees (mine) quivering. This coastal post box walk measures about two crow flying miles to the south east corner of the island after starting from the eucalyptus forest of Bellstone, in the Levelwood district. We parked the car and started walking a few minutes before 6am. Cloud cover had increased significantly since checking the skies at 4.30am, but we gambled it would clear again. We were hoping for a good view and picture of the new airport under construction, and Great Stone Top promised a good angle for this and other landscapes.

Levelwood catches sunshine from a thin break in the early morning cloud cover. This taken at 6.21am, soon after we set out.

Levelwood catches sunshine from a thin break in the early morning cloud cover. This taken at 6.21am, soon after we set out.

Creeper plants that are everywhere. This was taken on the return journey which shows the contrast in view of Levelwood from earlier.

Creeper plants that are everywhere. This was taken on the return journey which shows the contrast in view of Levelwood in distance, from earlier.

Wooden arrows point the way, although it's difficult to get too lost on this walk.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Wooden arrows point the way, although it’s difficult to get too lost on this walk. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Generally, this walk is pretty easy; the outward journey anyway. It’s downhill to start with then level-ish for the long mid section. There are ‘ringing’ stones lying along the pathway, or trachyandesite to use its correct geological name. The sudden ascent at the end of the walk takes some puff, as the coastal hill rises up suddenly. The trick we found were regular ‘catch your breath’ stops. At the top, the last 40m or so, the path runs right near the edge of the cliff. Spectacular views if you have a head for heights. Exactly 1 hour 18 mins after leaving the car, we were at the post box.

Water stop during the ascent. Little Stone Top is the peaked hill in the background, and Levelwood is beyond that.

Us at the top with Prosperous Bay Plain and the airport site in the background.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Us at the top with Prosperous Bay Plain and the airport site in the background. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The amazing landscape of St Helena - looking inland with Sharks Valley running below.

The amazing landscape of St Helena – looking inland with Sharks Valley running below. Peak of Flagstaff in the distant right.

Some of the plants found on the Great Stone Top post box walk.

Some of the plants found on the Great Stone Top post box walk.

Sharon brave enough to peer over the edge. Camera is out on a pole to capture this shot.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Sharon brave enough to peer over the edge. Camera is out on a pole to capture this shot. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Cloud still blanketed the sky, but it’s a fantastic view down to the airport site on Prosperous Bay Plain, so we settled in to wait a bit for brighter skies. It was mesmerising watching the fairy terns and red billed tropic birds, tracing large, lazy circles below us as they hung effortlessly on the updraft of air coming off the cliffs. Even further below us a deep green thicket of wild mango bushes lined the narrow bed of Sharks Valley, snaking its way from below Levelwood in the distance, all the way down to the coast, out of sight below us. (As I understand it, sharks are rare around St Helena, so not sure how the name Sharks Valley came about). Across a bay, a ridge and a valley, a mile and a half away, the airport site finally resembled an airport. For more than two years it had been little more than a red tinted, lunar landscape, mutilated by the excavators and heavy earth moving equipment that scurried around 24 hours a day levelling the area. Filling the chasm that was ‘Dry Gut’ valley, had finally been completed, and now the tightly compacted layers of stone rose neatly out of the randomness, with the new runway perched precisely on top. Beeping of reversing trucks and the drone of a distant generator made its way across to us. Otherwise the only sound was the surf on the rocks 494m below.

Passing time reading the comments others have left in the visitors' book.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Passing time reading the comments others have left in the visitors’ book. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The visitors' book.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The visitors’ book. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Waiting (hoping) for the clouds to clear, we passed the time reading and laughing at the humorous comments in the post box visitors’ book:

1 April 2013 – Hungry, hung-over and happy! Amazing views and the spectre of an awesome night at Donny’s. Happy Fools Day! Glen Westmore & James McCabe. (no date) – Paul Williams, Post Box Supervisor. My daughter Megan moaned all the way up. I expect the same all the way down. She is only 15. Kids are so unfit. (no date) – Martin Warte, seasoned walker. Is it really necessary to put people’s lives at risk by placing yet another post box in a dangerous position? Come on guys! Isn’t it enought to have climbed the peak?

Two lots of walkers had been here on New Year’s Day 2014. Sheila & Chris Hillman from Blue Hill, and Graham and Sandra Sim & Cassey. People from Kosovo, South Africa and Sweden had written in the book. We scribbled our own message; always a pressure moment that, trying to come up with something original. I bet most walkers had spent many minutes pondering their entry. The effort to reach the post box and the amazing views seem to demand something more profound than we can manage. Oh well, “good walk, great views,” it is then!

St Helena's airport under construction on Prosperous Bay Plain.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

St Helena’s airport under construction on Prosperous Bay Plain. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Finally, more than 2 hours later, after a few false starts, the cloud burned away enough for some reasonable photos. It’s always a challenge to capture the scale of a landscape in a single picture. The incredible height and ruggedness of the cliffs in front of us, condensed into the three inch display on the back of the camera. Ten minutes later all the pictures were done. Having lugged the telephoto lens up it wasn’t needed; we were close enough to the airport site that the 24-70mm filled the frame as required.

The true scale of the landscape is difficult to capture in a picture.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The true scale of the landscape is difficult to capture in a picture. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The airport site with The Longwood Barn in the far distance.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

The airport site with Flagstaff and the Longwood Barn in the far distance. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

This is Little Stone Top in the foreground, on the way back. Levelwood and central peaks in the distance.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

This is Little Stone Top in the foreground, on the way back. Levelwood and central peaks in the distance. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

It was nearly 10am by the time we started the walk back; the sun was out and it was hot. Colourful marl gouges in the hillsides are my favourite landscape features around St Helena. About the halfway point on this walk there is one such spot, looking up toward Levelwood. The red, blue and brown earthy tones contrast spectacularly with white chalk like seams. It had been dull on the way out, but these marls were lit up on our return journey. My limited research has suggested these hues are created by deposits of clay and silt, rich in lime. This proved too tempting a photography excursion, despite our desire to get out of the increasing heat. Fifteen minutes of sliding around in the soft ridges later, we were homeward bound once more.

These amazing colours always get me. Can't resist.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

These amazing colours always get me. Can’t resist. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

This shot of me scrambling into the marl gives a good idea of scale.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

This shot of me scrambling into the marl gives a good idea of scale. The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Dragging ourselves up the long hill back to the car, we met a group of four walkers just starting out on the same route. Our frazzled appearance from the heat didn’t deter them, however, and after a quick chat they headed off into the shimmering haze. (We later found out they had completed the walk and enjoyed it, but one or two were a bit sore from the sun). Nearly five hours after setting off, we arrived back at the car and the cooling shade of the Levelwood eucalyptus trees. A final obligation; to ‘ring’ the Bell Stone. Lying on a slight incline, like a huge turtle shell, the trachyandesite stone has become a tourist attraction, even having a local wine named after it. The stone gives off a sonorous sound when struck. It’s a surprisingly rich ringing noise, not at all what you would expect from a large stone. Upon hearing it for the first time you tend to do a double take, almost to check it’s not a lump of metal being struck. Like many before us, the ringing ‘bell’ signalled the end of another St Helena post box walk.

Sharon ringing the Bell Stone at the end of the walk.  The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Sharon ringing the Bell Stone at the end of the walk. Note her left arm with post box stamps on them! The Great Stone Top post box walk.

Resource references: St Helena: One Man’s Island by Ian Baker – Bell Stone detail

COMMENTS

  • May 16, 2015

    Reblogged this on the5gigabytediet and commented:
    It’s always interesting to see a familiar walk from another point of view. Here is Great Stone Top as seen by Darrin and Sharon Henry. Their site is well worth a browse.

  • Patricia Williams

    February 21, 2015

    Another lovely read! I have been to Bellstone but not ventured out to stone Top yet, you have scared me now with the heights and that cliff edge!! 🙂 I might challenge that one day, thanks again.

  • Billy Leisegang

    February 4, 2015

    Hi Darrin, you will get over the acrophobia after many miles of hiking, I did, but still can’t stand near the edge of a cliff.
    My friends and I will watch the blog for future great entertainment, well done to you both.

  • Sandra crowie.

    January 20, 2015

    Great pictures Sharon and Darrin. well done to you both for sharing some amazing photos for our island! Keep up the good work and let me wish you the very best in all you do !

  • Valerie Wallbank

    January 18, 2015

    A great beginning to your blogging. I am really looking forward to my visit to your fascinating island at Easter but think I should be in training to cope with the challenging terrain! Heard about your adventure on SAMS Radio when my grandson interviewed you.

    • January 18, 2015

      Hi Valerie, thanks so much for your comment. Yes, bring your walking shoes/boots, there are plenty of walks, from the very easy to the not so easy! But great views on all. Hope you have a fab visit at Easter. I shall let your grandson know we are in touch! Cheers 🙂

  • January 17, 2015

    Fond memories of our trip years back to St Helena and its beautiful scenery. What a wonderful Island it is and must return some day when the airport is complete

    • January 18, 2015

      Not long now to wait. Nice to have you along with us on the blog. Thanks.

  • Phosphoros Carduus

    January 15, 2015

    Beautiful pictures… Keep on the good work… 🙂
    It would be great to post a detailed map so that we can physically follow your escapades…!

    • January 18, 2015

      Good idea, we’ll be working on something for a new post soon. Thanks 🙂

  • grainne

    January 14, 2015

    Hi Sharon & Darrin, really enjoying your blog and pictures from a grey and cold Dublin, Ireland. Best of luck with everything!! G x

    • January 18, 2015

      Hi Grainne, never mind, St Helena will be like that soon too. Plus we’ll have mud 🙂

  • Sam

    January 13, 2015

    Hi – do you have the name for the plant in the 8th photo down?

    • January 18, 2015

      Hi Sam, we emailed, but in case anyone else was wondering, it seems like this is the Crystalline Ice Plant.

  • Dot

    January 13, 2015

    I’m not one for heights so thanks for this, enjoyed viewing your ventures from my chair haha. Thank you

  • Shirley Greem

    January 13, 2015

    Thank you for a lovely read and fantastic pictures , we made it to little stone stop and have pictures. Eating fish cake sandwiches sitting g on top , the landscape has definitely changed around that area , dry gut fill looks amazing what an achievement. . Xx

    • January 17, 2015

      Shirley, we had cheese crackers and an apple at the top. Would have been much better with fish cakes! Agree with you, the fill does look amazing. So neat, eh!

  • Mark

    January 13, 2015

    Loved reading your post….good stuff!

    • January 13, 2015

      Thanks Mark, we want to be back at this post box when a plane is landing/taking off, one day!

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