The loneliest island

I’m lucky to have visited one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands twice. Ascension lies in the middle of the Atlantic, roughly halfway between Africa and South America – and the only reason I’ve been there is because of its runway: if you’re flying from one side of the planet to another, Ascension is a strategic place to refuel, and both times I’ve visited I was flying between the Falkland Islands and Britain. That’s 8,000 miles, or 13,000 km, and the only plane that flies it is a slightly modified Airbus A330 chartered by Britain’s Ministry of Defence – mostly for military personnel, though with a few seats on each flight for civilians.

Last year I was flying back after visiting Antarctica, and stopped on Ascension to make a radio documentary for the BBC about the island’s unique conservation challenges. Click here for details.

This year I was returning after making a programme on the Falklands, and stopped on Ascension to write for the FT newspaper about the island’s potential for tourism – the first travel feature, I believe, about Ascension in a major media outlet anywhere in the world. (If I’m wrong and you know of another, please let me know in the comments section below.)

I’ve reproduced the text of the FT piece here – or click on the page scan below to enlarge.

Since I was there, life on Ascension has changed utterly. The island’s only air link – which formerly ran twice a week to/from the UK – has been withdrawn by Britain’s Ministry of Defence, rendering Ascension virtually unreachable. (Details in the article.) A replacement flight, once a month to Johannesburg, has yet to materialise. Businesses have already closed, and more will follow in the months ahead. Long-term residents are leaving. The future is very uncertain.

Which makes the email I received from someone there, after having read my article, so touching. “One of the best articles I’ve read about Ascension,” they said. “Factually correct, and portraying the island the way so many of us love it.”

Isn’t that nice? I’m keeping that email.