Armchair Travel: 10 books set in the desert

A selection of my favourite books with a desert setting.

This instalment of Armchair Travel brings you a selection of the best reads that capture the arresting beauty of arid landscapes and the unique challenges for those who live in or travel through them. Including riveting accounts of adventures, classic travelogues, and fictional works that bring deserts to life, there’s something for all interests.

Read on to find inspiration for planning your next travel adventure, or just explore the desert sands without leaving the comfort of home.

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Armchair Travel: 10 Books about Running Adventures

My selection of the most interesting and inspiring books about running adventures around the world.

I’m very much a walker rather than a runner, having decided I quite enjoy keeping my toenails connected to my feet. But a few years ago I dipped my toes into the world of ultra-running (distances beyond a traditional marathon length of 42.2km or 26 miles) and endurance events as I trained alongside my friend Rachel while she prepared to complete the Marathon des Sables, an incredible 251km (134 miles) race over several days in the Sahara Desert.

Very much at the lower end of the epic scale, my greatest ultra running achievement was completing the Isle of Wight coastal path, 113km (70 miles) over two days, with a lot of sunburn and just a mild case of heatstroke to show for it.

So if you’re looking to find the motivation to maintain your New Year’s running resolution, or you’re more than comfortable as an armchair ultra runner, read on to find inspiration for your next running challenge, or enjoy the vicarious exploits of these incredible individuals.

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10 Munros for Hillwalking Beginners

Are you new to hillwalking or visiting Scotland’s mountains for the first time? Have you heard about Munro bagging, and are looking for a way to get started? Are you looking for a new challenge in the outdoors and to push your skills and experience a bit further?

Mountains in Scotland over 3,000′ (914.4 metres) in height are known as the Munros. Named after Sir Hugh Munro, the first person to compile a list of the peaks back in 1891. With improved mapping and measuring techniques, the list has grown and contracted over the years, but the most recent revision puts the total number of Munros at 282.

In addition to the Munros, there’s also Munro Tops. These are summits over 3,000′, but considered a subsidiary top of a nearby Munro. There’s currently considered to be 227 Munro Tops.

A good day out in the hills.

Below are 10 of my picks for the most straightforward Munros, and dare I say some of the easier ascents, which are ideal for beginners to Munro-bagging or for a short day out walking in the Scottish hills.

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A Beginner’s Guide to the Munros

What is a Munro?

In the simplest of definitions, a Munro is a mountain in Scotland higher than 3,000′ above sea level. However, the full answer is just a bit more complex. Just think of some of the long ridgelines linking several summits, like the Cuillin of Skye, or the grand massifs of the Grampians. Which of those peaks actually count?

Leabaidh an Daimh Bhuidhe, the highest point on the Ben Avon plateau.

The definition from the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC), the organisation which maintains the official list is a Munro is “distinct Scottish peak of 3,000′ (914.4 metres) and over, of sufficient separation from their neighbouring peaks”. So what does sufficient separation really mean? To be honest, that’s all down to Sir Hugh Munro, who compiled the original list for the SMC journal back in 1891. That list was a work in progress at the time of his death, and didn’t actually contain a precise definition of what he meant by the phrase.

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Armchair Travel: 10 books about women in the mountains

A selection of some of the best books about women’s experiences in the mountains.

In time for International Mountain Day on 11th December, this edition of armchair travel retreads a little bit of old ground. I revisited my selection of books with a mountain setting, picked out a couple of titles, and used them to dive deeper into mountain books by, and about, notable mountain women and their achievements at altitude.

Read my selection of my favourite books with mountain settings, with a couple of new choices thrown into the mix. Or how about a selection of thrilling stories about survival and disaster?

But first, read on and find inspiration for your next mountain adventure or enjoy the vicarious thrills of these incredible women that got high.

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What I’ve been reading this season | Autumn 2021

Another little collection of interesting, thought-provoking, and beautiful essays, articles and blog posts from around the internet I’ve found over the past few months that I want to share with you. This autumn, I’ve been inspired by thoughts of island escapes, the meaning of remoteness, and the real isolation of a disaster.

Islands

The Irresistible Lure of Island Life

Island explorer Gavin Francis examines the ideas of isolation and insulation, community and connection, and the contrast between city and island life, in an introduction to his latest book, Island Dreams.

Of Pirates, Volcanoes and Irishmen: The Westmann Islands

Tracing the old transatlantic links between Ireland and Iceland, Marcel Krueger winds through the events that have shaped the history of Vestmannaejar, also known as the Westmann Islands, off the south coast of Iceland.

Land of the Faroes

The Faroe Islands achieved notoriety in 2021 once again for a traditional whale hunt, this time at a scale exceeding any previous grindadráp. This article by Jamie Lafferty looks into island life beyond the whales and the wild weather.

From the Frayed Atlantic Edge

Historian and paddler David Gange connects coastal communities around the British and Irish Isles, using his kayak as a means to explore and form an understanding of maritime histories along the Atlantic littoral.

In Search of the Golden Eagle

An expedition to photograph the majestic golden eagle is David Dinsley‘s key to unlocking the incredible wildlife of the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides.

Shipwrecks, Sailing, and Icy Silence

Arctic Horror is Having a Comeback

In a year giving us the hottest July on record, a summer of extreme heat and wildfires across the Arctic, we were transfixed to our televisions by historical horror from an icy realm. This essay by Bathsheba Demuth explores the nostalgia for a north of our darkest imaginations.

New discoveries from the lost Franklin Expedition

This blog post by Claire Warrior of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is a fine diving off point for deeper reading around the fate of the Franklin expedition, and the archaeological work on the wrecks of the Erebus and the Terror.

A dead whale or a stove boat’: whaling in the 19th century

Historian Kate Jamison reveals an insight into the challenges and faced by sailors in the Arctic whaling industry, which provides the backdrop for the psychological horror of the television drama series The North Water.

Sailing Antarctica: Vendée Globe veteran’s memorable return to the frozen south

Ocean racing veteran Nick Moloney shares an account of a sailing voyage south to the Antarctic Peninsula on sailing ketch Ocean Tramp, including a visit to Bransfield House at Port Lockroy, and meeting the UKAHT team.

How to start Mountain Leader Training when you can’t get to the mountains

Have you been thinking about the Summer Mountain Leader qualification, and not really sure how to start down the road towards it? Or just a bit curious about what the qualification actually involves?

In June 2021, I completed the six-day Mountain Leader training course at Glenmore Lodge, in the Cairngorms, but the journey to becoming a Mountain Leader didn’t start (or end) there. I’d been thinking about doing the qualification for years beforehand, and started filling in a log book when I was 18, but it wasn’t until very recently that the stars aligned*, and I finally had the free time, a bit of spare cash in my account, and easy access to a suitable training environment. And then… Covid-19… National lockdowns… Stay-at-home orders… You know the rest.

*and I got over being a master procrastinator, easily distracted by shiny things, penguins, and old wooden boats.

Looking down into the Loch Avon basin in the heart of the Cairngorms plateau.

But you don’t actually need to be in the mountains to prepare for being in the mountains. There are plenty of things that you’ll need to get set up before doing the training course, and with a little initiative and adaptability there are ways of building up your skills and practising parts of the syllabus.

So here are a few steps that you can take on the journey to undertaking the Mountain Leader training course, or to consolidate your experience before the assessment, without actually setting foot on a mountain.

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An Architecture Tour of Ålesund, Norway

The port town of Ålesund is often considered to be the most beautiful in Norway, largely down to the distinctive Art Nouveau style of architecture of the buildings, set on a canvas of several small islands, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains dropping sheer to the fjords below.

The famous view of Ålesund from the Aksla Fjellstua viewpoint. (Blue Clipper is tied up alongside in the mouth of the harbour, on the right hand side of the picture).

Wandering through the streets of the centre is an ideal way to explore the Art Nouveau influences throughout the town. Now I must admit, I have never studied architecture or design, or anything creative beyond high school art, so this is a guide produced by an appreciative amateur, not an in-depth lesson in architecture.

What is Art Nouveau?

Saying that, let’s start off with a little introduction into the style known internationally as Art Nouveau. It defined the look around the turn of the 20th century; Europe of La Belle Époque, the gilded age that led into the darkness of WWI. Crossing architecture, art, graphic design, furniture making, and crafting, the style was heavily inspired by dynamic forms found in nature, making use of asymmetry, whiplash lines, and ornamental motifs like flowers, trees, and insects.

In Scandinavia, Germany, and the Baltic nations, Art Nouveau was known as Jugenstil (Youth Style), in Spain as Modernisme, especially Modernisme català in Catalonia, and in the UK as Glasgow Style. You’ll recognise the Art Nouveau style immediately in the entrances to the stations of the Paris Métropolitain, on the façades of Sagrada Família and the other works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona, in the Willow Tearooms of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, in the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, and in the jewellery of René Lalique.

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Armchair Travel: 10 books telling the stories of cities

A selection of some of the best books that dive deeply into the daily lives of cities and the hidden worlds that lie within.

This instalment of Armchair Travel dives deeply into cities around the globe through rich and engaging histories, compelling travelogues, and works of fiction where the city setting is as much a character as the protagonists. These books really are the essence of armchair travel, capturing the character of a place and time yet unvisited.

Here are 10 of the best books that explore cities around the world, plus a bonus that looks into what makes an urban environment so alluring.
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Five Reasons Why You Should Explore Cities on Foot

There’s something about walking. Studies continually show us that walking can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, in addition to the benefits to physical health from moving our bodies just to get around.

Cities, generally, are designed to be walked. Walking means we can dictate our own tour schedules, with no peak time travel charge, and possibilities open up beyond bus stops, tram routes, and metro stations. choosing to skip out on places or stop and linger longer. It means a journey from A to B can be just that, or run through the entire alphabet of diversions en route as we invent our own routes and build new connections.

The distinctive structure of V&A Dundee, a world-class design museum that was part of the revitalisation of the Scottish city.

I think there’s so much to be gained from setting out to stretch our legs and test our bearings whenever we visit new places, or become reacquainted with the old familiar streets.  Here are my five top reasons why exploring cities on foot is the way to go.

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