Saturday, 2 Dec 2023

The pretty islands 7,500 miles away with volcanoes that actually belong to UK

Britain’s empire may be a relic of history, but its overseas territories sit as the last official vestige of a colonial past. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is one such example of the UK having jurisdiction over land outside of mainland Britain. But why did Britain claim these ancient volcanic islands and why does it still control them?

The answer to the first question goes back to 1775 when the UK claimed sovereignty over South Georgia after James Cook circumnavigated the island. However the South Sandwich Islands weren’t claimed until 1908 when a letters patent was sent out establishing British rule over the islands.

However, less than two decades later, Britain’s claim to the South Atlantic territories was threatened by an emboldened Argentina.

In 1927, the South American state claimed South Georgia and then in 1938 the South Sandwich Islands.

In the years that followed, Argentina made several attempts to secure the islands and even had a military outpost there from 1976 to 1982. However during Britain’s victory in the Falklands conflict, the outpost was shut down and the islands returned to British rule.

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The territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were formalised into one territory in 1985, having previously been part of the Falklands Islands Dependencies. Today, they’re uninhabited.

Despite being turfed out from the islands in the 1980s and losing the Falklands War decisively, Argentina still lays claim to the islands as part of the Tierra del Fuego province.

As well as contested histories, the islands have fascinating geological features. South Georgia is blessed with eleven peaks and steep glaciers, the largest of which is Fortuna Glacier. The South Sandwich Islands meanwhile comprises eleven separate volcanic islands.

Unsurprisingly, the islands aren’t exactly sun-soaked. In fact, average temperatures are so low they make mainland UK appear positively tropical.

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South Georgia’s Bird Island, for example, has an average low of -5.4C in August.

Fortunately, at more than 7,500 miles away from the south coast of England, Brits don’t need to travel far to avoid the islands’ frost.

For those willing to brave the conditions and visits the islands, travellers can board cruises, albeit at a steep cost.

Prices start at more than £12,000 for a cruise stopping by at the overseas territory in 2024.

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