We were on an almost flat surface, a red billiard table of fine gravel. Stedson pointed out a number of small depressions. These were not some volcanic features from centuries back but in fact the result years of target practice by the military.
I looked around nervously in case a fighter jet came screaming over the horizon. Stedson laughed -” it’s not done now”, he said. On the edge of the cliff we came across more military hardware, this time in the shape of three frigate birds. They were not animals but wooden decoys and apparently the navy would sail around this side of the island and crew would shoot at them to improve their aim. Nearby , Stedson had some of his spurges that he had planted out and he checked them as we passed. They were kept in cages to reduce the amount of cropping any passing herbivore might attempt. Why a rabbit would head all the way out to this desert when there were rich pickings up on the mountainside was beyond me.
The weather had turned gorgeous as the morning had progressed and as we reached a real live Royal Mail letterbox that is the end of the “Letterbox” walk for Letterbox, we dug into our sandwiches, soaked up the sun, and eased our aching feet, and in my case, my aching rib cage.
I had to sign the book in the letterbox. The aim of these walks is to allow people to have a target; you open the box to reveal a plastic bag containing pencil and paper so you can log your achievement and read the comments from other visitors. There is also a little rubber stamp that you can put in a tourist guide to prove you reached the destination. Most letterboxes are simple sealed boxes or even pipes, but this one was grand. A proper UK style rectangular shaped red post box. Like all post-boxes they are stamped with the initials of the monarch of the time. This one was Edward VII Rex. Considering he only reigned for about ten years, this is a fairly rare example. The only other one I have ever seen was in …. Georgetown here on Ascension Island too.
After lunch we ambled over to the western side of Letterbox. The land here was no longer a billiard table as lava flows had spilled over the underlying geology. But this was the area where the most successful colonies of nesting birds on the mainland of Ascension, save for the Wideawake Fairs. Several species together flocked together in around 6 colonies, and Tara, Simon and Stedson estimated the number of birds individually and averaged out their findings. Mostly masked boobies were present here although a few brown boobies were also mixed in. The rocks around were white with guano and the smell was overpowering.