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.

 

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

 

Seas of Red at the Tower of London (Photo Gallery)

On 17th July 2014, a Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London (also known as a Beefeater) planted a single red porcelain poppy in the grass of the moat surrounding the Tower. Other poppies followed, and the installation named Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was first revealed to the public on 5th August, the centenary of the United Kingdom’s entry into the conflict that became known as WWI.

Ceramic poppies spill from a window high on the Tower wall, pooling in the moat below, washing the base of the stone walls. As more poppies were added to the display by volunteers working on the project, they surge up in a wave over the causeway leading to the entrance to the Tower.

Created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, the installation will be completed with the planting of the final poppy on Armistice Day on 11th November. This will bring the total number of poppies flooding the moat to 888,246, each representing a British and Commonwealth soldier killed in the conflict.

The installation has been criticised in some quarters as a sanitised interpretation of the grotesque and bloody events of WWI, however the sheer scale of the work has captured the imagination of the British people and the many visitors to London. Those attending at sunset everyday for the sounding of the Last Post and the reading of the Role of Honour, can’t fail to be moved viscerally by the thought of a name, and a family, attached to each and every one of the fragile flowers blooming brightly for a few short months.

Peel Castle, Isle of Man

Towards the centre of the Irish Sea, like a ship ploughing though the water, lies the Isle of Man. Tall cliffs and rocky shores at the southern end of the island lead into upland heaths and hills, dropping away to a flat plain in the north before sliding into the sea.

Surrounded by Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man is at the heart of the British Isles, but not a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; of which the Manx are fiercely proud. The island has its own parliament, the Tynwald, claimed to be the oldest continuous parliament the world, celebrating its millennium in 1979.

Peel, on the rugged west coast, is the island’s only “city” (on account of the Cathedral), and was the arrival point for many raiders, invaders and settlers, including the Norse who brought their system of laws with them.

The harbour is dominated by the imposing Peel Castle, piled on top of rocky St Patrick’s Isle. Celtic Christian monastic buildings were built on by the Norse, under command of King Magnus Barelegs, and the castle took shape. Centuries of Manx history lie within the castle walls; defences against raids from the sea; pagan Vikings buried in Christian graveyards; the first cathedral; the artillery positions and garrisons from the Napoleonic wars.

 

The best views of the castle are from the outer harbour at water level, ideally towards the bottom of a spring tide, when the high arched window of the chancel looms above the bay. But if you haven’t arrived in Peel on a Viking longship, then the view from the carpark at the end of the causeway is just as impressive, especially with waves washing up Fenella Beach.

Entry into the Castle is £5 for an adult, or there is a combination ticket with entry to the House of Manannan, including an audio guide to the history of the site. There is also a walk around the outside of the Castle walls, accessible through an archway at the top of the breakwater.

After walking round the Castle walls, I hiked up Peel Hill to a strange tower on the heath high over the cliffs. Nothing whatsoever to do with the Castle, it was a built as a folly by a local eccentric, in a spot where he enjoyed the view. The castle was completely hidden by the hill, however, the clear skies meant I could see the coasts of Ireland and Scotland off in the distance.

Another Day in Paradise at the Eden Project (Photo Gallery)

My last post about the Eden Project just didn’t contain enough pictures to do justice to the amazing displays, fantastic flowers and informative interpretation. So here’s a selection of pictures to guide you through the different biomes.  Continue reading