Beyond the Pier Head, and past Fort Thornton, the coast indents once more where the largest sweep of sand on Ascension, Long Beach sits. It is also the biggest of the turtle beaches, where females come in annually to lay their eggs. Turtles are now heavily protected and one of the most prized features for locals and tourists alike, but it was not always so. At the southern end of Long Beach are low stone walls penning in the sea. These were the turtle ponds. It must have astounded the early sailors to see so many turtles nesting in these bays, and the chance of getting fresh meat and eggs could not be passed up. So when the barracks were built, turtles were “stored” live in these pens, and picked out when ready to be used. Nowadays eating of any turtle parts is frowned upon, and the beach is protected. Nobody is allowed to drive across the beach, people living close to the beach side of town are encouraged to deflect or minimize their lighting as it is known young turtles can be disorientated by lights.
I said earlier many people seem to shut out the sea in Georgetown. Long Beach is the outlet for that; dog walkers and runners, picnics and parties, and of course Georgetown’s gravelly football pitch at the back of Long Beach means you get quite a crowd at the weekend. Given that it is coated in Green Turtle nests from one end to the other, it is not a particularly pleasant beach to traverse or even have a picnic on. The big rollers smooth out the forebeach twice a day, in some places eroding out a steep slope so people tend to walk at the edge of the waves.
The best place to get a view of Long Beach, indeed the whole of Georgetown, is to walk up the hill behind the RAF Commander’s house. A track runs sharply up the side of a Scoria Cone, an evenly sloped red stone pinnacle, called Cross Hill. I’ve never been sure if it is called Cross Hill because there is a large white cross on top, or whether a large white cross was put up there because it was called Cross Hill. Half way up, past the ruins of the old Administrator’s House, is the small unremarkable Bedford fort; nothing more than a gun emplacement overlooking the town. But what guns! They were originally attached to HMS Hood, a British Battlecruiser who saw distinguished service in the Second World War. The guns had been taken off in the 1930s and shipped to Ascension Island, and remain one of the few parts of Hood to survive – the ship itself sank in battle in 1941.
I would often walk alone at the end of the day to Fort Bedford, and then try and clamber onwards, passed some old oil tanks and back to the beach. You had to be careful exploring beyond Georgetown on your own. Although it looked like everything was close by and somebody might come and help, you could find yourself stuck in a small depression and out of eyesight of anyone. Without water and mobile connections, what started out as an evening stroll could very quickly make you feel lost and isolated. But it did not stop me exploring. The walk along Long Beach itself was almost a mile. If you stayed on the sand instead of the gravel track at the back that was a good enough work out and there were always some others around. But usually I wanted to go further. At the end of the beach, past one of the many huts people used to hold parties or barbecues, you could scrabble over the black rocks. These were usually easier than the lava flows at the back of town as they were rounded down by perpetual wave action. A pathway is scratched out of the rocks and leads over to a beautiful little black rock arch. I would sit out here, absorb the sun set, wait for the RMS (more of that later) to leave, or just watch the rollers come in.