Green Mountain, designated a National Park in 2005, is aptly named given the abundance of flora on an otherwise barren, bleak and harsh volcanic island. It has always been an area of utmost importance to the island and its inhabitants and in the past many people resided here. Currently the British Administrator of the Island and his family are the only permanent residents on the mountain – not a bad patch he has to boot.
In the 1800’s garrisons were stationed here to avail of the 360 degree views of the ocean it then provided, there being less abundant vegetation in those days. These early residents laid a number of tracks on and around the mountain. The local conservation department has done a fantastic job in salvaging and maintaining these tracks for visitors to enjoy today. There are in fact seven walks – classified as letterbox walks – in the Green Mountain National Park. I did five of these walks which, taken together, give a fantastic insight into the mountain not to mention the sweeping and quite stunning views across the island and out to sea afforded to those who walk.
Above is a rough, though perfectly adequate, map detailing the walks you can do on the mountain. I have written separate reviews on each of the walks I did. As an added incentive do at least some of the walks and to endure the very winding road to the Red Lion (a drive worth doing in itself!) the temperature on the mountain is always several degrees lower than on the coast.
Walks I did are:
I will say that lack of time prevented me doing the Scouts Path and Breakneck Valley walks but I should admit that both these walks involve much more serious gradients than the five above – which in terms of serious walking would be all be termed easy. All walks with the exception of Scouts walk start at or within a short walk from the Red Lion (pictured alongside) where vehicles must be parked. Scouts walks starts from the Administrators residence – The Residency. I should point out that the Red Lion is not a pub lest my British Reader head up here and be disappointed!
While you enjoy exploring the mountain bear in mind that most of the vegetation you see has been introduced e.g. Norfolk Island pines (used to provide timber for sailing ship masts), banana plants, ginger and bamboo along with hundreds of others and very little of the islands original or endemic vegetation remains – not that there was a lot to begin with. Green Mountain “forest” is reputed to be the only tropical forest in the world assembled from scratch.
That said, the conservation department is doing a great job in trying to save the seven remaining endemic plants (10 endemic plants have been recorded) most of which are critically endangered. A recent addition to Elliot’s Pass walk has been description plaques located close to a number of the endemic species making them much easier to spot for non botanists like myself.
The garrison’s troops referred to earlier were of course not just on the mountain for sightseeing purposes. They were there to keep watch on shipping in the days before radar and the likes . They also doubled as farmers and no doubt many other things – recalling that there was no local populace on the island to provide for the garrison’s culinary (or other) requirements.
The current settlements on the mountain nearly all owe their existence to prior military operations. Troops were initially housed in the old Marine Barracks (pictured above) until it was declared unfit for habitation due to damp at which point they were moved to the Red Lion. Various officers resided in Bells Cottage, Garden Cottage and North East Cottage amongst others. Post World War II many of these building were converted in pig-styes and cattle sheds for the short years that commercial farming was attempted on the island. Only Garden Cottage and the Red Lion are in use today. Garden Cottage can be rented as accommodation from the Obsidian Hotel and the Red Lion appears to be used for exhibitions though it was closed throughout my visit.
Potable water, or lack thereof, has always been a major issue on Ascension. Here again, at least in the early days, Green Mountain provided. Breakneck valley path provides access to the main water collection and distribution area used from the 1830s to the 1960s. From here water was pumped up to the Red Lion (via a 300m tunnel dug in the 1830s) and thence fed to Georgetown.
An additional large water catchment area (pictured above) can be seen adjacent to the old Marine Barracks. Nowadays all water is provided by a desalination plant on the coast run, rather oddly at first sight, by the BBC (British Broadcasting Company). Especially odd to the uninitiated is the fact that you can’t get BBC television on Ascension but you can get BBC electricity, and BBC water and drive on BBC roads. Aghh the good old Beeb. This strange state of affairs requires a separate review to explain.
Address: Green Mountain