My favourite travel memories from A to Z shared with the #AlphabetAdventure hashtag on social media.
This year, travel has been on the backburner in a big way, with international flights shut down, and many countries, including my home in the UK, imposing a domestic lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 and ease pressure on health services over the peak of the pandemic.
Throughout April and early May many travel bloggers shared pictures of their travels on social media with the hashtag #AlphabetAdventures. It was a chance to remind ourselves of the wide, wild world out there, waiting for us to explore once the coronavirus pandemic passes, and relive some memories from our travels. It also gave us the chance to travel vicariously to new destinations while we stay safe at home under lockdown.
The archipelago of the British and Irish Isles, on the Atlantic fringe of Europe, is home to a wealth of vibrant communities, historic landmarks, and inspiring locations. Not to mention the breath-taking views and the incredible diversity of landscapes over such a small geographical area. There really is just so much to see in and around these islands.
From stark mountain summits and bleakly beautiful moors, to sweeping silver sand beaches and spectacular rocky coasts, from cityscapes that blend the futuristic and the historic, to picturesque villages and towns that tell our industrial story; I’m sharing this list of my 30 favourite places to visit in Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.
As with all lists of favourite places, it’s highly subjective, influenced by the places I’ve visited over the years, often again and again, and the memories I’ve made there. It’s very also much a list of current favourites, as there are so many places around these islands that I have yet to visit. But I hope you enjoy my choices, and perhaps you’ll be inspired to visit some for yourselves. Who’s for a road trip? Or a sailing voyage?
1. Stromness, Orkney. I have a thing for small coastal towns with lots of old boats and rusty, rotted fishing gear. And I’m fascinated by the local connection to exploring the Arctic and the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
2. Ben Loyal, Caithness. Its distinctive profile dominated landward views from our family favourite holiday destinations of Talmine and Scullomie, on the coast at the mouth of the Kyle of Tongue.
3. Oldshoremore, Sutherland. A few miles further on the dead-end road from the fishing port of Kinlochbervie, a sweeping curve of pink-gold sand that collects Atlantic rollers.
4. An Sgùrr, Isle of Eigg. A striking fin of basalt rock that rises from the island, making it seem like a rolling whaleback from the shore around Arisaig.
5. Rannoch Moor and the Black Mount. I’m sure a couple of hundred years ago, I’d be one of those “grand tour” travellers that became mesmerised by the mountains and have to be committed, insensible, to an Alpine sanitorium. I just can’t not look at the Black Mount. Which is awkward if you’re walking in the opposite direction.
6. Glen Tanar, Royal Deeside. The Cairngorms hold, in my opinion, some of the most stunning landscapes in the whole of the UK, and in late autumn are the place I want to be. Gold, scarlet, bronze and deep green gloss the trees, and the light is magical.
7. Haughs of Benholm, Aberdeenshire. Home.
8. Oban, Argyll. Most visitors will pass straight through, getting off the train and onto one of the ferries. But the town has plenty of character, and entertaining characters. And plenty of old boats and rusty fishing gear.
9. Isle of Coll. I only spent a few days here last summer, but this was one of those places that stole a little bit of my heart. I want to live here one day.
10. Schiehallion, Perthshire. The fairy hill has such a perfect pyramid profile from the west. Read more here.
11. Corrie Fee, Angus. A steep-sided bowl of rock at the head of Glen Clova in the Angus Glens, just below Mayar and Driesh, two of my first munros.
12. RRS Discovery, Dundee. The place to where I can trace both my love of tall ship sailing and the history of polar exploration. A favourite school trip destination.
13. Tentsmuir, Fife. A deep, dark pine forest, opening out onto a vast bright expanse of beach. I’ve seen grey seals and red squirrels, vast white-tailed eagles and tiny coal tits, and one day, one of the 30,000 or so eider ducks I look at each winter will be a king eider.
14. Rathlin Island, Country Antrim. Allegedly, the home of wise spiders that can give you advice for success in your endeavours.
15. Peel, Isle of Man. A favourite port of the Viking longship Draken Harald Hårfagre.
16. Tynemouth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The North Sea is “my” sea, and just as beautiful on a slaty-grey winter day as in the height of summer. Plus Super Gran’s house is here.
17. Tryfan, Snowdonia. A great snaggletooth of rock sticking out into the Ogwen Valley.
18. Barmouth / Abermaw, Snowdonia. As a teenager, we’d travel all the way from northeast Scotland to Snowdonia for an Air Cadet adventure training camp, making Barmouth seem extremely exotic and exciting.
19. Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. A collection of ethnographical treasures collected from around the globe; a fascinating introduction to world cultures. I was a volunteer here when I first moved to England.
20. Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. A fascinating place, telling the story of polar exploration from the early days, through to cutting edge research in glaciology and climate science. I’ve been lucky to spend a few days working here before deploying to Antarctica.
21. Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire. Practically on my doorstep for a while, this is a favourite location for woodland walks, trail runs, and wild camps.
22. Maritime Greenwich. My favourite part of London, and the place that I think tells most about the history of Britain and its place in the world.
23. Stackpole and Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire. A beautiful corner of West Wales.
24. Lundy, Bristol Channel. Just one night on anchor, surrounded by swirling clouds of thousands of Manx shearwaters looking for an overnight roost.
25. Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth. I’m a bit too young to remember the raising of Mary Rose, but I think the restoration featured often on Blue Peter. Watching it led me to the realisation that we can read the stories of people who have gone before us through the traces they leave behind, and it was exciting to finally visit.
26. Lymington, Hampshire. The walk along the old sea walls between Lymington and Keyhaven is an old favourite.
27. Newtown Creek, Isle of Wight. Watching the sunrise on frosty winter mornings with a coffee, listening to the contented purring of brent geese. Discover more here.
28. Swanage pier, Dorset. More accurately, the underside of Swanage pier; one of my favourite coastal dives in the UK, and where I saw a John Dory swimming for the first time.
29. Helford River, Cornwall. I’ve only arrived in the river by night while under sail. Living my best Poldark smuggler life.
30. Newlyn, Cornwall. While not as picturesque as nearby villages like Mousehole or Porthleven, as a working fishing port, Newlyn is full of characters and there’s always a story to listen to in the Swordfish pub.
Are any of these places in your British and Irish Isles top 10?
Tell me what makes your list in the comments below.
Unlike the last couple of seasons, I’ve not travelled particularly far and wide in the last few months. Since returning from the Algarve at the beginning of November, I’ve been based in the UK, and making the most of the opportunity to get out and about while I look for work.
Over Christmas and New Year I headed north to Aberdeenshire to spend time with my family. The crisp, and clear weather was perfect for long walks along the coast, with the odd dip in the icy North Sea, and into the hills of the Angus glens. And short winter days quickly gave out to long dark nights, filled with stars and the arc of the Milky Way (although unfortunately no glimpse of an aurora), and a driftwood bonfire on the beach.
There was also enough time for a visit to Dundee to explore the new V&A museum, as well as some of my old favourite destinations in the city, like McManus Gallery, Clarke’s bakery and RRS Discovery.
Back in Bedfordshire, I got out and about in the Chilterns often, especially around Dunstable Downs and Ashridge Estate, for long walks, trail runs, and the pleasure of just spending time in the woods, watching the turn of the seasons.
What I’ve done
I set myself a challenge to start the year; undertaking to make time every day to get outside and do some kind of physical activity for Red January, and at the same time to fundraise for Mind, the mental health charity. I live with depression, and through the winter often find there can be more bad days than good, so try to take steps to manage my condition. I’m extremely pleased to say I met both of those goals, and discovered a real love for my weekly Parkrun at Rushmere Country Park at the same time.
In mid-January, I headed to Wiltshire, to the Team Rubicon UK HQ, on the edge of Salisbury Plain, on what was possibly the coldest night of the year to pitch a tent. Team Rubicon is a disaster response organisation, working around the world in communities devastated by natural disasters to aid in the immediate aftermath, and to help build resilience against future events. In an intense few days, I completed my basic induction to TRUK and the Domestic Operations training course. I’ve got a blog post coming soon about the experience, and what it might lead to next.
Unseasonably warm weather in late February (as much as 18C, just a week or so after the snow) made it easier to continue getting outside for runs and walks almost every day, and to try my hand at a new pastime; forest bathing, spending time immersing myself in the sights, sounds and smells of the woodland. It was the perfect way to remedy to a stressful couple of weeks while I moved into a new flat.
The first brimstone butterflies, nuthatches tapping on tree trunks, jays, hazel catkins bursting open, showers of hawthorn blossom, and the very first leaves. On warmer, damp evenings frogs and toads are on the move to the nearby pond, and I’ve been out with the local Toad Patrol group, rescuing amorous amphibians attempting to cross the road. Spring is well and truly on the way.
Film: The Little Prince, an excellent animation based on the classic children’s book (and standard text for studying French) by Antione de Saint-Exupéry, that explores the idea of wonder, exploration and excitement and how it changes as we grow older.
Clothing: I’m still rocking those toasty warm White Stuff flannel pyjamas at every opportunity, usually teamed with the biggest, softest blanket scarf that my sister got me for Christmas. It’s a combo that’s been especially welcome after REDJanuary runs in the rain and sleet.
Equipment: I picked up a new tent in preparation for the TGO Challenge in May. After researching various possibilities and budgets, I decided on the one-person Robens Starlight 1, which seemed ideal. Unfortunately, there was a manufacturing flaw in the tent delivered to me, so after a bit of faffing around trying to get a replacement, I’ve actually ended up with a Wild Country Zephyros 1. I’m hoping to get out soon to put it through its paces.
Health: I’ve started taking vitamin D supplements, which have been suggested to help lift a low mood at this time of year. We naturally get it from exposing our skin to sunlight, something that can be hard to come by in higher latitudes in winter.
Treats: My winter treat has been finding a cosy spot to curl up and read, along with a cheeky glass of amaretto and ice. I’ve also found a shot in a flask of coffee is lovely on a cold winter day on the coast (a tip from Ebby the kayaker on the Isle of Wight).
I’ve got a few things already planned for the spring, starting with my first experience of leading walking tours. I’ll be exploring trails in the South Downs National Park and surrounding areas, and sharing the experience with a group on a walking holiday.
Then the TGO Challenge is quickly approaching, with just over two months to train for a self-supported crossing of Scotland from the west coast to the east. I’m planning on a few nights of camping, testing out different food for the trek, packing and re-packing my backpack, plus plenty of walking days in preparation.
Thanks for following along with These Vagabond Shoes.
You can keep up to date with my travel and adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Here’s to fair seas and following winds in spring.
I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to this season, or any plans you have for the season ahead.
Let me know in the comments below.
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*Maybe enough for a coffee. Not enough for a yacht.