Apparently, right now is the most depressing time of the year. The combination of dark mornings, dreich weather, and the return to normal duties after the excitement of New Year. The arrival of credit card bills, the failure of resolutions for better health and fitness, and well, just …January. All these factors combine into what the media had dubbed Blue Monday, the flattest and most listless day of the year.
But, so-called Blue Monday got me thinking about the blues, and the dazzling array of blues that coloured my stay in Bermuda last winter. The sea wasn’t just azure, it was turquoise, cobalt, indigo, and ultramarine. Sugar-cube cottages, hibiscus flowers and and whispy-white clouds contrasted skies that were cerulean and sapphire.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of St George claims to be the oldest European settlement in the New World.
The shallow water on the reef fringing the islands made BBermuda a treacherous place for ships, and a valuable fortress in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
The mild climate, tropical flowers, and distinctive local houses lend Bermuda an air of uniqueness.
A carved totem watching on the roadside
The islands were once served by a steam railway, claimed to be the most expensive railway ever constructed.
The trail has been restored for hikers and mountain bikers to explore the islands.
Hidden beaches with crystal clear water entice hikers to stop for a swim to cool off.
Hidden beaches and coves can be found by hinking on the old Railway Trail
The first settlers on Bermuda found their way ashore in 1609, when the Sea Venture was wrecked on the reef, inspiring Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. And the famous pink-sand beaches, tinted by the crushed shells of tiny crustaceans, are every bit a castaway fantasy. Although locals might pass on swimming in the sea during the winter, low water temperatures are similar to what would be a great summer day at the beach back in the UK, so there’s no competition for a spot on the beach. And there’s more than 30 beaches to choose from.
Lord Nelson tied up alongside the quay in Hamilton, Bermuda.
In March the weather is fine and the water warm enough to swim, although Bermudians think its still winter. You’ll have the beach to yoursef.
The beautiful beaches of Bermuda are famous for their pinkish hue from the shells of tiny crustaceans.
Paddling on the perfect Bermuda blue.
Exploring the rocky coves and islands around the coast of Somerset.
Far from the nearest neighbour, Bermuda has a rich maritime tradition.
The deep blue of the open Atlantic ocean, just outside the reef.
The memorial to the Sea Venture, and the first colonists to arrive on Bermuda.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a tall ship
Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean, the islands were visited by ships sailing between Britain, the Caribbean, and North America, leaving a rich maritime history. Perfect for a winter get-away, and a great way to beat the blues.
There truly is no better way of exploring places than on foot. Walking heightens the senses like no other form of transport can, giving a genuine understanding of the world around you. Much of what I’ve discovered on my travels I’ve learned through my feet, walking through cities, coasts and countryside.
Walking feeds the senses
Moving at a slower pace, in, rather than through, your surroundings, enhances your awareness of the small sensations of a place. The reverberation of sounds from near and far, a sudden bright splash of colour or a sharp waft of smell, even the gentle movement of air, translate into the types of experience all travellers relish. Stumbling upon a pavement café with excellent coffee and cake, or a street food vendor dishing up a local delicacy. Catching a glimpse of the flyer for live music at at a hip venue, some distinctive local architecture, or the intriguing piece of street art, laden with political meaning. A fresh breeze round a corner showing the direction to the harbour, with the promise of freshly-caught seafood and a chilled glass of wine as you watch fishermen go about their business.
Then the intangibles of the place that confirm its geography: salt-loaded air, the shriek of gulls, sparkling crystals in the grey granite walls of my home town, catching the low sun of a northern autumn day. The lapping of water, the leafy shadows across the path, blossom on the trees, weather changes, birdsong. Noticing everything as an ardent naturalist to pin down the season, the latitude and longitude, the reason for being in this place, here and now.
Walking makes connections
Cities, in the main, are designed to be walked. Possibilities open up beyond bus routes and tube stations, and walkers invent their own ways to go, building new links between A and B. With many people now spending a majority of time indoors, at home, in the office, in shops, hotels, bars, galleries, a number of disconnected interiors, walking inhabits the spaces in between. It gives a sense of moving through the whole world, not just a modest part.
On foot, landmarks take on additional relevance, as travellers look for focal points in the landscape, building their individual maps and orientating themselves by experience. Coming and going, getting to know places, you seed them with a crop of stories and associations. Relating personal geography to maps provides bearing to locations in both space and time, revealing hidden histories through street names, districts, parks, trail marks, and creating new possibilities for exploration.
Walking is good for body and soul
Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity, requiring no special training or equipment. Almost everyone can do it, anywhere, and at any time. Those new to idea of exploring places on foot can start slowly, building up gradually as they gain confidence, whilst others more comfortable with distance and direction will know where and when they can push their limits. And like all physical exertion, especially that taking place outdoors, in the fresh air, the surge of chemicals within your physiology focuses the mind, and leaves the body relaxed.
Walking is free, and freeing
A mainstay item of the budget traveller’s itinerary, walking is magnificently free of charge. But more than this, the degree of self-reliance, the little bit of imagination, and the sense of adventure necessary to walk out and explore, gives you freedom. Freedom from schedules and timetables, freedom from the usual daily routine; the luxury of time and space. Freedom to think.
That great ideas and thoughts are formed whilst walking, especially whilst walking alone, is a concept many writers adhered to, from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to travel writer Bruce Chatwin to criminal mastermind Agatha Christie. New places offer up new thoughts, new alternatives. The frequent punctuation of a city, imparting countless grains of ideas, giving way to longer, more uninterrupted thoughts in open landscapes, stretching all the way to the horizon.
And then myself, the buoyant rhythm of arms swinging in time with legs that only comes from long miles, is a meditation on living in the moment, of being aware of here and now. As a child, roaming freely in my surroundings, the opportunity to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back, was what developed my sense of adventure, my imagination, and my independence. I relish the opportunity to go out of my way, beyond the boundaries of what I know, then find my way back those few extra miles, on a new trail or by the needle of a compass; to lose myself for a time, though I know where I am. Then to round a corner or crest a ridge and return to the start, to the familiar, and see it as if I have never seen this place before.
As the old year ends and the new begins, we’re drawn to reflect on happenings from the past 12 months, and start to ponder possibilities for the future. It’s an odd position for me, as I’ve had an unpredictable employment situation for the past few years, working short-term “filler jobs” whilst I tried to get back into conservation. Things that made planning tricky, if not an impossibility.
However, 2015 was the year where I learned to embrace the challenge that a complete lack of structure offered, and to jump at any opportunities that turned up. These are some of the highlights of my adventures.
Tring Reservoir, Hertfordshire
Lymington Keyhaven Nature Reserve, Hampshire
Reedbeds at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk
Marbled white butterfly in a wildflower meadow, Hampshire
Ryde Sands, Isle of Wight
I visited lots of nature reserves and national parks across Britain, and beyond, and indulged my love of the natural world. I got a job, just for the summer, as a Ranger in the idyllic New Forest National Park. Then when that seasonal contract ended I got another, just for the winter, as a Ranger watching migrating birds visiting the coast of the Isle of Wight.
The Old Railway Trail follows the route of the railway for several miles connnecting communities, beaches and pockets of woodland.
Resting my feet by Barisdale River, Knoydart
World War II memorials, Lepe Country Park, Hampshire
I did a lot of walking this year. I walked most of the way across Bermuda on the Old Railway Trail. Then hiked to the volcanic summit of the island of Faial in the Azores. And I completed over 100 km across Scotland too, taking in a couple of mountains on the way, on the TGO Challenge. (I had to withdraw halfway to go for an interview, but I did get the job, so it was worthwhile). I got to know the more out of the way parts of the places I visited, learning their secrets and hidden histories.
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on a tall ship
Watching the sunrise nearly 1000 miles from land.
Tall ships racing on the Solent
I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, from Bermuda to England, via the Azores, on a tall ship. I moved house, twice. Three times if you count living on the ship, as I stayed on after my voyage to do maintenance work. I joined the crew of another boat for a while too. I caught up with old friends all over the place, and made lots of new friends along the way.
One thing that really didn’t keep up with the momentum was this blog. Oops! Ideas for improvements dragged on without ever happening, and several weeks without communications didn’t help either (I have a fat handwritten journal from my sailing voyages beyond the realms of wifi). So my big resolution for 2016 is to get writing and really make an effort with making this blog brilliant.
And, as for the rest of the year? Well, I know my current job will end at the end of March, and most likely there will be another house move on the cards. And there’s a couple of things in the pipeline for the summer, fingers crossed. But although I don’t know exactly what’s to come in 2016, I know I’m more than ready for it.
The final thing left to say is a massive thank you to all that read my blog. These Vagabond Shoes started life as a journal of my travels for family and friends, but since then it’s continued to grow, and my adventures have been read by more people than I ever though. Thank you so much for the support, and I hope you stick with me to share the stories that the future has in store.