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…

Bermuda2
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

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5 Fantastic Facts About Bermuda

Ah, that’s where it is. Image from bermuda-online.org

A tiny dot on the map near the middle of the North Atlantic, Bermuda the oldest Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.  The 100 or so islands that make up the archipelago lie closer to North America, which exerts a strong pull, but despite this mix of influences, the island has its own unique story. Here are 5 things you should know about this offbeat place:

1. In the years between discovery by Juan de Bermúdez in 1503 and the first colonisation attempts in 1607, Bermuda was often called the Isle of Devils, and reputedly inhabited by spirits and ghouls. This superstition may have been fuelled by the calls of nocturnal seabirds, like the Bermuda Petrel (Pterodroma cahow), known locally as the Cahow. Bermuda’s only endemic bird, it was thought to have become extinct shortly after colonisation as it was easily caught, and quite tasty. However, a small population was discovered in 1951, nesting in the rocky isles of Castle Harbour, giving it the status of a Lazarus species, one that was found to be alive after being considered extinct for some time.

The Cahow, or Bermuda Petrel. So rare, it was considered extinct for 300 years. Photo from Arkive.org

2. I‘d always thought I’d had a pair of Bermuda shorts as a kid, but it turns out I was wrong. My neon pink and yellow knee-length shorts, with a print of palm trees and nautical charts (it was the 80s, and that was acceptable back then), were actually board shorts. The terms aren’t interchangeable; neither are Bermuda shorts the same as cargo shorts, cut-offs or baggies. Genuine Bermuda shorts are far more formal, made from wool-blend fabric or cotton twill, and when teamed with knee socks, and a blazer and tie, are the everyday working attire of Bermuda’s business men. White Bermuda shorts, at regulation length, and knee-socks, are part of the uniforms worn by the British Royal Navy in tropical locations.

Check out these dapper chaps on the way home from the office. Photo from bermuda-online.org

3. Bermuda shorts, albeit in more casual fabrics, are also considered appropriate dress by many golf clubs. Which is handy, as Bermuda has the greatest number of golf courses per square kilometre anywhere in the world; seven 18-hole courses for a land area of 56km². I’ve also seen it claimed that the island has more golf courses per head of population than anywhere else, but as a Scot, that seems to me like a pretty big brag for a tiny wee island. So, as it was a quiet day when I wrote this, I crunched a few numbers:

  • Population of Scotland = 5.295 million (source Google)/ number of golf courses = 578 (source Scottish Golf Union) = 1 golf course per 9160.89 people
  • Population of Bermuda = 65,024 (source Google)/ number of golf courses = 7 (source Bermuda Golf Association*) = 1 golf course per 9289.14 people

Nice try, Bermuda, nice try.

*10 clubs are listed, but one appears to be repeated 4 times.

Former Bermuda resident, Catherine Zeta Jones playing golf. In Wales. Not Bermuda. Or Scotland. Photo from BBC.co.uk

4. Many of the buildings in Bermuda are painted in cute pastel shades, with a few in more daring neon colours, but almost all have a distinctive pitched whitewashed roof. This isn’t after a particular fashion, or the result of keeping up with the Jonses (or even the Zeta-Jonses!), but serves a valuable purpose. The island has no freshwater rivers, lakes or springs, and fresh drinking water is not supplied by the local authority. Instead home-owners must collect rainwater falling on their roof, and store it in underground cisterns. The whitewash contains lime, which ensures the water is sanitised, and the colour makes it easy to remove dirt and debris from the roof. The roof of a building must also be sturdy enough to withstand the gale-force winds that can occasionally batter the island.

Downtown Hamilton in cute candy colours. Photo from Wikipedia

5. The Bermuda Triangle is a notorious area of the North Atlantic, roughly corresponding with the sea area between Bermuda, the east coast of Florida, and the islands of The Bahamas and Puerto Rico. A number of ships and aircraft are reputed to have disappeared mysteriously within the triangle, although a report by Lloyd’s of London states that this is not the case. Things allegedly lost in the Bermuda Triangle include: several aircraft, including a DC-3 carrying 36 passengers; the crew of a five-masted schooner, the Carroll A. Deering, which ran aground off Cape Hatteras; two lighthouse keepers on Bimini, Bahamas; the USS Cyclops (AC-4), and all of 309 crew, the largest non-combat loss of life for the US Navy; and Barry Manilow’s woman.

Barry Manilow. He can’t smile without you. Photo from Wikipedia.

Santorini on a Shoestring

The name Santorini is likely to have captured your imagination long before you even set eyes on the islands that make up this tiny archipelago at the southern end of the Cyclades chain. Famed for the spectacular sunsets that wash over whitewashed villages perched on precipitous clifftops, turning them rose and gold in the gloaming, it is very much on the tourist trail through the Greek islands.IMG_3809v2head

Chances are your impression is also that Santorini has an air of exclusivity around it, somewhere only for the rich and famous, or a romantic destination just for honeymoon couples, with a price tag to match. If you must watch the sunset from a private balcony, cocktail in hand, or dip in an infinity pool on the caldera rim to make your stay special, that’s certainly true. However, it is possible to visit Santorini on a shoestring budget, and have an unforgettable experience. Continue reading

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.

The Adventure Continues…

What a difference a week can make. Two weeks ago, Draken Harald Hårfargre was tied up to the quayside in Lerwick, sail and sheets piled on the foredeck, the yard lashed along the starboard rail, after we lost our mast crossing the North Sea. The crew were camped out in tents on the edge of the high school playing field, just opposite the Coastguard station. And after initial relief at our safe arrival subsided, it was replaced with an empty uncertainty, as we waited to find out what would happen to the expedition. Continue reading

Nomads and Vikings

wnroadtripblogpostimage

The winners of the World Nomads Travel Scholarship competition were announced the other day; with three writers selected to take part in a writers workshop in Berlin, before each setting out on a 10-day roadtrip through part of Europe in August. Winning would have been an amazing opportunity, but I’m not too disappointed as I was one of 30 writers shortlisted from many that entered, and I’m rather proud of that achievement.

I’m looking forward to reading the other entries on the shortlist, especially the winners; Rachel Ecklund, Amanda Richardson and Jarryd Salem and keeping up with the winners journals over their trips. Hopefully I’ll glean some writing tips from them as they travel.

And the reason I’m not too disappointed about missing out on a European roadtrip is that I’ve made some plans for the summer too. I’m going to rejoin the crew of Draken Harald Hårfarge at the end of June, for a sailing voyage that will take us from Norway, across the North Sea to Shetland and Orkney, through the Hebrides and down the west coast of Scotland, to Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and finally into Liverpool, before returning.  So here’s to blue seas, fair winds and beautiful sunsets.

Any seasickness remedies you can recommend are much appreciated!

Night Sailing in the Norwegian Sea

Last month I entered a competition hosted by WorldNomads.com, aiming to win a travel writing workshop with an expert. The prize includes a 10-day road trip through Europe, and a commission to write a journal of the trip and follow-up articles. Results are announced later today, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

This is my entry:

Continue reading