Beat the Blues in Bermuda: Photo Gallery

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 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.

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.

 

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Looking Back on My Adventures: 2015 Travel Review

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.

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.

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.

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.

All the best for 2016,

Vicky xxx

 

The Vagabond Guide to the Edinburgh Festivals

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Photo Credit: -LucaM- Photography via creative commons

It’s early August, and in only a few days time you won’t be able to walk down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for people breathing fire, pretending to be robots or juggling battle axes. Attempt to escape the crowds into a park, and you might stumble into an open air opera or a leading author reading from their latest work.

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Photo Credit: Yopizza via creative commons

August in Edinburgh is a perfect storm of Festivals, as events celebrating music, dance, literature, arts, and performance of all kinds spring up across the city. As well as the International Festival, Art Festival and Book Festival, you’ve got the world-famous Festival Fringe and the Military Tattoo. And at the end of the month Edinburgh Mela rounds everything off. It’s the best time to be there (having lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years, there’s a sense of excitement that spreads across the city like when you’re putting up the Christmas decorations at home), but it can also be the WORST time to visit. These are my tips for how to enjoy Edinburgh during the festivals (and save a bit of cash at the same time).

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Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific via creative commons
Book the big shows in advance.

If there’s something that you’re desperate to see, that would really spoil your holiday if you didn’t, don’t risk missing out. Big names and unique opportunities can sell out super quickly. However, you have the slim chance of picking up a last-minute ticket on the door, so don’t rule out your chances completely.

Don’t over commit to culture.

With more than 250 venues spread across the city and over 250,000 visitors (plus the odd local or two) making their way between them all, the festival can be EXHAUSTING. Be sure to leave plenty of time in your plans to get from A to B, check out some street performances, and perhaps to just sit back and enjoy the buzz for a bit.

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Photo Credit: Slainte74 via creative commons
Head to the Half-Price Hut.

The Virgin Money Half-Price Hut on the Mound Precinct (near the National Gallery) has a selection of tickets for events on-the-day or the following morning, with an appealing 50% discount on the usual price.

Festival freebies.

A real highlight (especially for a canny Scot like myself) was Fringe Sunday on the Meadows, a free showcase of Fringe performances. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened for few years due to a lack of sponsors, but there are still hundreds of free events to be found in the programme, including the Free Festival and many of the BBC events.

Work it, baby.

Possibly a bit late for this year’s events, but one way to experience the Edinburgh Festivals on the cheap is to get a job. There are plenty of adverts for unpaid street promotion work in return for tickets, and even the odd paid opportunity to be found on edinburghfestivaljobs.com.

Get some breathing space.

Don’t forget that there’s a whole glorious city to explore away from the Festival events. Take a break to climb Calton Hill, chill out among the flowers in the Botanic Gardens, stroll round the Shore in Leith, or visit the oldest pub in Scotland, the Sheep Heid Inn by Duddingston Loch.

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Photo Credit: raphael.chekroun via creative commons

A Vagabond March

Where I’ve Been

Lord Nelson tied up alongside the quay in Hamilton, Bermuda.
Lord Nelson tied up alongside the quay in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Well, this month’s update is a little bit of a cheat as I wrote it all at the very beginning of the month. I’m actually somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean right now, all being well, on board Lord Nelson, and cut off from all communications. We’ll see once I reach shore whether this is a good thing or I’ve died from lack of wifi. I expect there will be all kinds of things to keep me occupied on board; one thing I’m really keen to learn during the voyage is how to tie knots. Proper sailing knots, and some of the fancy ones too. I had a great teacher on Draken, Gerry, who showed me some of the knots and splices used most often, but I have to admit I didn’t practice too much, and now I’ve forgotten everything except a bowline.

Before I set sail though, I had a fantastic week exploring Bermuda. Even though its early in the season, I had a week of beautiful weather for enjoying the famous pink sand beaches, swimming in the sea, and hiking some of the nature trails around the island. I visited the UNESCO World Heritage site at St George’s, to find out about the island’s close connections to the UK and North America, the impressive Crystal Cave, and, in the name of research, the Swizzle Inn, home of one of the island’s signature cocktails. Look out for more about my Bermuda adventure once I get back to the UK.

Highlights

I booked a stand-up paddleboard lesson with Glenn at Island Winds, Bermuda. After sorting my balance, and a little bit of coaching for my technique, we explored the coast of Somerset Island, between Daniel’s Head and Kings Point, looking out for turtles and tropic birds. The clarity of the water is so deceptive when it comes to working out the depth underneath your board; fish swim by huge corals in water that looks knee-deep, but is really 3 or 4 metres.

I’ve Been Reading

I’ve loaded my kindle up with a couple of classic seafaring books for my voyage; Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana and The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin, in keeping with my adventure.

I’ve also been engrossed in A Writer’s World, by travel writer and historian Jan Morris. She claims it to be her last book, and it’s a reflection of the world during the half-century between 1950 and 2000, the changes, developments, and threats perceived over that period, twined into a memoir of her career. The writing is engaging and witty, capturing the character of the locations she visits in a blend of reportage and anecdote, and I hope I can begin to write half as well as she can. 

I also wanted to share this post from BBC Travel that gives you a reason to smile, as they give you 50 Reasons to #LoveTheWorld.  An here’s another…

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Fort St. Catherine at the northern tip of Bermuda

 

Coming Up Next Month

There’s still a couple of weeks before I wash up back on British shores (with a kitbag filled with laundry), so I’ll certainly be appreciating the comforts of home once I get back there. With the TGO Challenge looming in May, I’ll have to find my land legs again and get out on some training walks. I’ll need to start carrying a heavier load in my pack and practice pitching my tent at the end of the day. A camping weekend in Wiltshire or Hampshire might be on the cards.

Thanks for following These Vagabond Shoes. There’s not much happening on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter just now, but soon I’ll have plenty of updates from my sailing experience to share with you.

Blue skies, x

A Vagabond February

Where I’ve Been

My February was pretty quiet in travel terms, as I prepared myself for an epic trip I’m taking in March and April (more on that later). I spent several days working with the Ocean Youth Trust based in Southampton, as part of the refit team on their sail training vessel, John Laing, a 22metre-long custom-built sailing ketch.

After spending much of January preparing the boat, we were able to paint the keel, hull, deck and coach house. Layers and layers of paint, mixed and applied with precision, and she’s looking rather smart sitting in her cradle. A few more jobs, and she’ll be going back into the water at the start of March, ready to be rigged.

The Bear and I managed to get away for a few days to Staffordshire, staying close to the edge of the Peak District. We managed to rack up a couple of 20km plus walks, carrying our new backpack training for our TGO Challenge attempt in May, taking in parts of the Gritstone Trail and Staffordshire Moorland Way, joined by the Bear’s brother, Woo. We did consider camping, to add to the #30NightsOut total, but only very briefly; freezing temperatures overnight were up against Woo’s cosy house nearby and the chance to catch up with his family, Mummy J and Baby Sully.

 

Highlights

IMG_4142v2Getting towards the end of our walk on the Staffordshire Moorland Way, we arrived at a half-frozen Knypersley Reservoir just as the sun was setting. The temperature dropped as we walked through the woodland around the lake, just enough to catch your breath. Or maybe it was just that pretty.

 

News

The Telegraph Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show in London in the middle of the month was a great opportunity to listen to inspiring talks from explorers, and bask in the loveliness of Levison Wood of Walking the Nile fame. Although it feels that the main way into that type of career is serving in the Parachute Regiment or Royal Marines, my travel buddy Rach helpfully pointed out I do share the characteristic with them of “not really having a proper job”.

 

I’ve Been Reading/ Watching

Guy Martin. Crackin’.  Picture from Wikipedia.

This month I discovered Compass Cultura, an online travel magazine published monthly. Each issue has three long-form articles, of around 3,000 words each, that explore an idea, place or person in depth. There’s no advertising or sponsored pieces, and no Buzzfeed-style round-up lists. It’s quite refreshing to be immersed in a piece of well-written, compelling journalism. You can read one story for free each month, or subscribe for the full magazine, plus back-issues, and I urge you to check it out.

I’ve also been drawn in by Channel 4’s Our Guy in India, following motorcycle racer and all-round speed freak Guy Martin on a tour through India, from mountains and tea plantations in the north to the beaches of Goa. I’m a little bit in love with Guy, but it’s hard not to fall for his down-to-earth, cheeky-chappie personality, then be awed by his adventurous streak as he enters one of the craziest motorbike races you’ll ever see.

 

Best of the Blogs

Earlier in February I wrote about why I’m not a food blogger. Simply put, it’s because I like to eat and I don’t like to share, and am too lazy to cook and clean up after myself. But I do enjoy occasionally dipping into other travel blogs that write about food, just to see what they’ve got cooking, like Vanessa’s awesome pomegranate and mango salsa on Turnipseed Travel, or Niamh’s gluten-free buckwheat pancakes with plums and almonds on Eat Like a Girl.  I made a little bit of an effort for Pancake Day, with some basic pancakes spread thickly with Nutella.  They were gone before I could get my phone out of my bag to take a snap.

I’ve also really enjoyed reading about Emma’s exploration of the Oxford food scene on Gotta Keep Movin’. It’s a place I know well, but she’s given me a new side of the city to discover on my next visit.

 

My Most Popular Instagram

IMG_4190v2It was this one, of the interior of Litchfield Cathedral. An impromptu lunch stop on our route home from North Staffordshire.  The cathedral is famous for having three spires, and seeing intense fighting during the English Civil War.  Holes from musket fire are still visible in the outer walls, which look a little like this:

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Coming Up Next Month

As you read this, I’ll be on the verge of taking part in my biggest trip for a long time. At the very start of March, I’m flying across the Atlantic to the heavenly holiday hotspot of Bermuda, famed for its coral reefs, pink sand beaches and rum cocktails. How lovely does that sound? Mark Twain is claimed to have said, “You go to heaven if you want – I’ll stay here in Bermuda.”

Unfortunately I can’t stay there forever, but I will be leaving the islands in style, on board TS Lord Nelson, a three-masted barque owned by the Jubilee Sailing Trust. “Nellie” as she’s affectionately known, is unique in the world of tall ships (along with her sister-ship Tenacious), in having been designed with accessibility in mind, allowing people with different physical abilities to sail together on equal terms.

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Lord Nelson. Photo from the Jubilee Sailing Trust.

I’ll be part of Nellie’s crew for an Atlantic crossing, taking her from Bermuda back to Britain, arriving into Southampton in mid-April, after 30 days or so at sea. It might be a little quiet on the blog and social media over that period, but keep a look out for updates and for a full-account of the adventure once I get back.

Thanks for following These Vagabond Shoes. For real-time updates (when I have connection with the outside world!) you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Extinct is Forever: Why We Need to Save #JustOneRhino

I saw a rhino the other week. Out on training walk for the TGO Challenge, I took a footpath that led me along the edge of the nearby safari park, letting me look through the heavy security fence, and watch as it trundled over the plains of Bedfordshire.

It was a white rhino. Although it wasn’t remotely white; rather a dark grey. Not even the pale sort of grey, the grey that you might be able to call off-white in the wrong light. Just plain dark grey. Its name actually comes from a mistranslation of the Afrikaans for wide, referring to the animal’s mouth, which is wider than that of the black rhino. Incidentally, the black rhino is also dark grey in colour, although they just happen to be very slightly darker shades of grey than the white rhino. Continue reading

A Vagabond January

To help meet my goal of being more focused on work, and in the rest of my life, I’ve been noting down little achievements in my journal. But without taking time to revisit what I’ve done and reflect on milestones I’ve passed, I’ll never maintain the momentum I had at the start of the year. So each month I’m aiming to publish a review of what I’ve been up to.

Where I’ve Been

I kicked off my #30NightsOut challenge to spend more time outdoors in 2015 with a Hogmanay camping trip with a few friends to White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire. Huddled round the campfire, we celebrated the New Year with a feast of ribs, corn on the cob and sweet potatoes roasted on the fire, and washed down with a few glasses of bubbly. We were able to watch several firework displays from our vantage point, until wind and drizzle forced us to bed in the wee hours. Grotty weather put paid to our plans to climb the hill in the morning, so we retreated home to the comfort of pyjamas, duvets and endless cups of tea.

I’ve entered the 2015 TGO Challenge, a demanding backpack across Scotland from coast-to-coast, that will take place in May. The Bear (my bf) and I are going to hike for approximately 14 days, so we’ve been out on several training walks in the countryside of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

I’m not really one for sitting about, as you might gather, so while I’m looking for work, I’ve got myself involved in a project with the Ocean Youth Trust based in Southampton. I’m working with a team over the winter to refit their sail training vessel, John Laing, a 22metre-long ketch custom-built to be able to sail anywhere in the world. So far, my jobs have been rather dusty as we strip back old paint, ready for a fresh coat.

Highlights

After a hard day of sanding on John Laing, I escaped out to the pretty village of Lymington in the heart of the New Forest for a walk across the wintry heathland. The pale silvery sunset looked like it might promise some snow, but all we got was a crisp hard frost that turned the heather crunchy.

News

I visited the Adventure Travel Show in London on the 18th January. It was exciting to browse the stands and see travel options available, but the most inspiring part of the day was listening to talks from people like Benedict Allen and Ann Daniels. I was particularly inspired by a talk by Russ Malkin about filming his travels, and really want to try some of his tips for myself.  Just need to get a camera…

I’ve Been Reading

I’m a massive bookworm. Getting stuck into a good read is just one of life’s pleasures, and I particularly love books that explore a topic in exquisite detail. Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland is a spell-binding examination of the connection between forests and fairytales, and how both have shaped the culture and experience of Northern Europeans like myself. Each chapter ends with Maitland’s retelling of a familiar tale.

As a lighter diversion, I also read Sihpromatum: I Grew My Boobs in China by Savannah Grace, which I picked up as a Kindle freebie. A self-published memoir written for young-adults, this is a coming-of-age tale that charts Grace’s transition from a whiny, self-centred teen to a young adult with a wide-eyed wonder about the world.

I’ve also spent a lot of my usual reading time this month listening to the BBC podcast of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Quite frankly, big books feel a little daunting to me (perhaps from the time I dozed off and dropped the hardback copy of A Game of Thrones on my face, giving myself a black eye), but the hour long chunks of the story have been perfect, and I can lie back on the sofa and daydream of the drama and romance of Tsarist Russia without worrying about injury.

Best of the Blogs

This month I shared an account of the time I set out on a trip to explore Oslo, and only managed to spend time in the hotel before flying out again. Visiting Scandinavia at this time of year is likely to mean snow and freezing temperatures, but these tips for making the best out of winter travel curated by Turnipseed Travel will inspire you to get out into the cold. Closer to home, I enjoyed following the bloggers that took part in the #blogmanay experience, in particular these stunning pictures of Glencoe by Finding The Universe. But if getting knee-deep in snow really isn’t your thing the naughty guide to winter in London by Girl vs Globe might be more up your street.

My Most Popular Instagram

IMG_3651v1This shot of the Parthenon, at the top of the Acropolis, is a flashback to my time in Athens for the TBEX Conference in October last year.

Coming Up Next Month

I’ll be obsessing over maps in February, as I put together my route across Scotland for the TGO Challenge, and send it off for approval from the event co-ordinators on the 14th. I’ll also be out for some more long training walks and to test some of the equipment I’m planning on carrying.

I’ve got a short-break to the Peak District planned for the start of the month, which is bound to include more hiking. Depending on conditions, I might also be tempted to spend a night under canvas for my #30NightsOut challenge, although I’m keeping my fingers crossed for snow and the excuse to find a good pub with a roaring fire at the end of the day.

That’s it for this month. Thank you for following These Vagabond Shoes. For real-time updates from my adventures, you can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

My Goals for 2015

Kaikoura Dawn2I really love this time of year. Those few days between Christmas and New Year are always packed with activities, obligations and chores, then the celebrations themselves fill your time. But now, a few days into the new year, it really does feel like a fresh start.

It’s exciting and motivating, and naturally it feels like time to set goals for the year ahead and think about the things I want to achieve, while I’m galvanised to action. I do like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but never manage to pin down my hopes and intentions into one fully-formed idea in the past, let alone strive to keep to a plan or smash a target by a certain time. And don’t New Year’s resolutions tend to end in failure anyway?

But, I think it’s essential to keep developing as a person, to learn new skills and improve or master others, to try new experiences and fulfil ambitions, in short to become a more rounded, insightful and appreciative person. So, I’m going to go with the crowd and set myself some goals for the year ahead, keeping them bite-sized and thus hopefully achievable.

Here’s what I’ll be working at in 2015…

Continue reading