MEP goes to Narborough (Island)

The pretty village of Narborough lies to the south-west of Leicester in the East Midlands region.  I drive past it often.  It has a good rail service to Birmingham.  And I particularly recall that one of my former assistants Cat Bray came from Narborough — I think she’s now working for a conservative think-tank in Washington DC.
Narborough was not a name I particularly expected to come across in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but Sunday December 13th saw me arriving for a dry landing on Narborough Island in the Galapagos, almost on the Equator.  Narborough Island (known locally to the Ecuadorians as Fernandina) was named for the 17th century British sailor Rear Admiral Sir John Narborough, RN (born c.1640 — d. 1688).
For decades I have had a special interest in the work of Charles Darwin, and especially in human evolution.  A few months ago I visited Down House, his family property in Kent now owned by British Heritage.  In 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his “Origin of Species”, I decided to join a Cambridge Alumni study tour of the Galapagos, led by the Director of the Cambridge Botanical Garden Prof. John Parker. 
The islands had a powerful effect on the development of Darwin’s thinking.  It was here that he saw species on the different islands which were distinct, yet similar to each other and similar to South American mainland species, and was forced to the conclusion that the variations between the islands were the result of variability — that species were not immutable.  The alternative — that a Creator might have designed separate but similar species island by island — was too preposterous to entertain.
We now have a much better understanding of the geology of the islands, which are volcanic.  They are broadly no more that five million years old, and those at the west side of the archipelago much younger.  Narborough is one of the larger islands, and the most recent, with continuing volcanic activity.
It is fascinating to observe the colonisation of the new, sterile volcanic islands by early plant and animal colonists.  Narborough, as the newest Island, has very limited flora and fauna, but around the coast we found mangrove trees, which are very successful early colonisers.  These led to my only mishap on the trip.  The combination of lava trail with mangrove swamp and dead leaves caused me to slip over and dash my knee on the lava — which as I can attest is remarkably hard and rough.
The 1000-ton Isabela II on which we toured the islands had twenty guest cabins, forty guests and around 20 crew — more motor yacht than cruise ship.  Yet Darwin’s Beagle, in which he spent best part of five years circumnavigating the globe, was a mere 235 tons, and only 90 feet long — less than half the length of the Isabela II, at 186 feet.  And packed into that tiny ship was a crew of 73 men.  The crowding must have been appalling.  It is extraordinary to reflect on the privations suffered over so long a period in the interests of science.
The photos above show me on the Isabela II with Narborough Island in the background, and also the Ecuadorian national parks marker on the island (and the blood on my knee!).  It was nice to find in Narborough Island in mid-Pacific a link to a Leicestershire village.

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2 Responses to MEP goes to Narborough (Island)

  1. Zuri says:

    Fernandina is the most volcanically active Island in the Galapagos archipelago and its volcano has erupted several times, last eruption was on May 2005.

    It’s remote location and striking volcanic landscapes turns it into one of the most exotic Islands in Galapagos

  2. Thanks Zuri. Spot on. It’s also the youngest island, with the least developed flora and fauna.

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