Port Howard, West Falkland

  
   - darkometer rating:  3 -
 
A small settlement on West Falkland, the sparsely populated "lesser"of the two main islands of the archipelago. It features one of the best of the little war museums about the 1982 conflict. And in the surrounding area some impressive war relics can be found, most notably some of the best preserved crash sites of planes shot down back then. 
  
More background info: For a general summary of the main events of the conflict see under Falklands War, and also see the main Falkland Islands chapter.
  
Port Howard is the main settlement on West Falkland, but it's still no more than a tiny village. The whole of West Falkland these days only has a resident population of ca. 150 in total, and about 20 to 30 of them live in Port Howard (there is some seasonal fluctuation). It's main purpose in life is that of the centre of a substantial sheep farm – and it has its own large shearing shed – but it is also the main gateway to the island, both thanks to the ferry port and the two nearby airfields. 
  
It is a place as remote as it is tranquil and peaceful – although that briefly changed once in its history in 1982 during the Falklands War.
  
Port Howard played a comparatively minor role in the whole context of the war. It was occupied by Argentine troops serving as one of the main garrisons on West Falkland, and the village school was used as the Argentine officers' HQ. The inhabitants of Port Howard were otherwise more or less left to carry on with their lives here – despite the presence of around a thousand Argentine soldiers. 
  
When I was there in December 2013, so was a former resident who was actually born in Port Howard, but had more recently moved to East Falkland. He was basically visiting his former home village with his family for a post-Christmas break. It was interesting to hear from him about his time here in 1982. He was only a 13-year-old kid back then, and said that for him the whole thing was a bit like a great adventure. He even played football with some of the Argentine conscripts (remember, Argentina was reigning World Cup champion at the time!) who were, after all, only a few years older than him anyway ... 
  
The area around Port Howard saw some war action in the form of aerial attacks and fighter plane dogfights. Hence the plane wrecks in the vicinity (see below). The most memorable incident near Port Howard during the conflict, however, took place on a ridge overlooking the village: 
  
Here a British SAS man, Captain Gavin John Hamilton and his signaller had a secret observation post just a mile and  a half (2.5 km) from the village/garrison, from where he reported about Argentine movements. On 10 June, i.e. just days before the British victory and the Argentine surrender, they were discovered and a skirmish ensued. Having found their position nearly completely surrounded, Hamilton then engaged the Argentines in a gunfight on the ridge while at the same time sending his signaller to safety in the other direction, covering him with gunfire. The signaller made it but Hamilton was killed on the slope. The Argentines, themselves apparently impressed with this display of selfless bravery, buried Hamilton in the village cemetery with full military honours ... except that they failed to obtain a British flag for this from the villagers. The grave is one of only two still in its original position (most others were reburied after the war). 
  
Hamilton, who had also been involved in leading positions in the retaking of South Georgia as well a daring sabotage raid on Pebble Island (see Falklands), was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.   
    
  
What there is to see: The reason for a dark tourist to come here is, unsurprisingly, what it offers in terms of battlefield touring. One attraction doesn't even require venturing out of the village, as the local war museum is located right next to the lodge. It is one of the better small museums of its kind in the Falklands and is therefore given its own separate entry here:
  
  
  
The host of Port Howard Lodge can also take you around on a driving tour in his 4x4 and show you various points of interest that are further afield. The highlight of these tours are the plane crash sites where Argentine fighter jets were brought down during the Falklands War. They are the best preserved ones that are relatively accessible in the whole archipelago. So they shall be given their own entry here too:  
  
  
  
Beyond these, the battlefield tour includes a visit to the ridge above the village to see the memorial for SAS Captain Gavin John Hamilton who was killed here towards the end of the Falklands War (see background). You can also see his hiding place / shelter under a leaning rock high on the ridge. His grave is to be found in the village cemetery. 
  
The cemetery is not in the village, though, but quite a way outside. You wouldn't find it so easily on your own. The same applies for the locations of the memorial on the ridge. So you do need a guide/driver. 
  
Within the village, two buildings are particularly noteworthy in the war context. Firstly the old village school which served as the Argentine officers' HQ back then, and secondly the big dark shed in the north of the village, where the Argentine soldiers were held as POWs after the surrender (or so I was told; it doesn't quite tally with other accounts I've read that said the POWs were almost immediately transported out of Port Howard on 15 June). 
  
If you walk down past the big sheep shearing shed to the ferry jetty and beyond you will see that the coastline is fenced off and that the fence is lined with minefield warning signs! Do take them seriously – even if you see that the local bird life doesn't. In fact, I've been told that even sheep are not at risk from these mines. It takes the weight of a human (or cow or horse) to set them off. But don't put that theory to the test!
  
On the hillside just above the village to the north is another memorial (walkable in theory) dedicated to a naval incident during the war that took place in the nearby waters, namely the sinking by of an Argentine vessel carrying aviation fuel and other supplies. The wreck, sunk by the British frigate HMS Alacrity just the night before the British landings at San Carlos, lies a few miles south from here off Swan Island. Interestingly, the memorial's Royal Navy plaque is dedicated to the memory of those engaged in this action on both sides!
  
  
Location: at the head of a narrow bay on the north-east coast of West Falkland, i.e. on Falkland Sound, roughly 15 miles (25 km) from the opposite shore and ca. 70 miles (120 km) west of the capital Stanley (as the crow – or FIGAS plane – flies)   
 
Google maps locators:
  
[-51.6119,-59.5215] – village school building next to the lodge
  
[-51.60544,-59.50576] – village cemetery across the bay and hill
  
  
Access and costs: remote even by Falkland standards, but easy to get to. Slightly less expensive than other lodges and battlefield tours elsewhere in the islands.  
  
Details: Port Howard boasts two airfields! One is located right on the eastern edge of the village, the other a bit further away (the latter is used when the wind conditions are more difficult). There are regular connections by F.I.G.A.S. (Falkland Islands Government Air Service) – see under Falklands.  
  
The only other way of getting here is by car and then taking the ferry from New Haven on East Falkland – the ferry terminal (jetty) is right by the bay just south of the village. 
  
Port Howard Lodge is the place to stay here. Accommodation in the lovingly old-fashioned guest rooms is comfortable and the food provided on a full-board basis is of excellent home-cooking standards (actually better than anywhere else of what I had in that category during my stay on the islands). There is an honesty bar too. Prices for full board and tours are not as steep as in some other lodges. Personally I also liked the hosts very much! This was the first place I stayed in during my time in the Falklands (i.e. before I had any standards of comparison) and when I look back now I think it was my favourite lodging of the lot. 
  
If you want to be taken on one of the battlefield tours offered here it is probably best to have that pre-arranged together with your booking too. 
  
  
Time required: to see all the sites listed here, one whole day or a day and a half could do, so you'll need two nights at Port Howard minimum.   
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: see under Falklands in general – other than the ones mentioned above, only few further war-related sites can be visited on West Falkland (except with some serious effort and a very good guide). So better head back to East Falkland/Stanley ... or perhaps to Pebble Island. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Port Howard is an oasis of quiet tranquillity, so it can be a good place to simply relax. Activities other than those described above that can be enjoyed around Port Howard include, in particular, fishing. You can even play golf here. Otherwise it's just hiking ...  and a bit of wildlife-watching thrown in for good measure (although it can't really compete with the wildlife hotspots of e.g. Sea Lion Island or Volunteer Point – see under Falkland Islands).
  
That said, though, life isn't necessarily all quiet all the time here. We also experienced a surprisingly lively party in the village community centre/social club. I think it was for somebody's birthday, but that didn't matter so much – it was just an opportunity for some of the locals to let their hair down, and we as mere visitors were made very welcome to join in too. Amazing. 
  
To explore West Falkland beyond the walkable environs of Port Howard you'd need a car – and if you want to drive yourself that means you'll have to hire one, preferably from Stanley and come by road and ferry rather than internal flight ...
  
    
 
  • 01 - the settlement of Port Howard01 - the settlement of Port Howard
  • 02 - the lodge02 - the lodge
  • 03 - school building which was used as the Argentine officers HQ during the conflict03 - school building which was used as the Argentine officers HQ during the conflict
  • 04 - the barn in which Argentine POWs were held at the end of the war04 - the barn in which Argentine POWs were held at the end of the war
  • 05 - Port Howard harbour with ferry jetty and sheep shearing shed05 - Port Howard harbour with ferry jetty and sheep shearing shed
  • 06 - sheep shearing shed06 - sheep shearing shed
  • 07 - mines at the coastline07 - mines at the coastline
  • 08 - explicit sign08 - explicit sign
  • 09 - oblivious birds in a minefield09 - oblivious birds in a minefield
  • 10 - the cemetery across the bay10 - the cemetery across the bay
  • 11 - SAS memorial cairn on the ridge above the settlement11 - SAS memorial cairn on the ridge above the settlement
  • 12 - shelter12 - shelter
  • 13 - ridge with stone-run13 - ridge with stone-run
  • 14 - turkey vulture in flight14 - turkey vulture in flight
  • 15 - turkey vulture over dead sheep15 - turkey vulture over dead sheep
  • 16 - the eagle is landing16 - the eagle is landing
  • 17 - at the airfield17 - at the airfield
  • 18 - FIGAS plane landing at Port Howard18 - FIGAS plane landing at Port Howard
  • 19 - crested caracara in a tree19 - crested caracara in a tree
  • 20 - idyllic Port Howard20 - idyllic Port Howard
  • 21 - village shop with very limited opening times21 - village shop with very limited opening times
 

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