I 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.
At the heart of the British Isles, surrounded by Ireland and the United Kingdom, lies the Isle of Man. A dependency of the British Crown, the island is not part of the UK or the European Union, and has its own unique story. Here are 5 things you should know about this quirky island:
1. It has its own language, Manx. Closely related to Scots Gaelic and Irish, and known just as Gaelg by speakers, it’s an important part of the island’s cultural heritage. The last original native speaker, fisherman Ned Maddrell, died in 1974, but in recent years there’s been a language revival and use of Manx has become more evident, especially on signs and in print. Now, almost 2000 people (from a total population of around 80,000) speak the language to various extent.
2. It is home to the oldest continuous parliament in the world. The Manx people celebrated the millennium of the Tynwald assembly in 1979, its origins from the time the island was under the rule of the Viking kings of Dublin. The Icelandic parliament, the Alþingi, founded in 930, is older, but was suspended for 45 years around 1800. The original ceremony is preserved with an outdoor meeting every year on the fields below Tynwald Hill.
3. Whichever way you throw me, I will stand. The Three Legs of Mann (Tree Cassyn Vannin in Manx), a triskelion of three armoured legs joined together at the thigh, is the symbol of the Isle of Man, and appears everywhere. On flags and coats of arms, on banknotes and street signs, on car registration plates and on the front of the huge waterwheel at Laxey.
4. From the summit of Snaefell, the highest mountain at 620m (2034ft), it’s said that you can see seven kingdoms. That’s not the seven kingdoms of Westeros, Game of Thrones fans, but England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Mann. The final two kingdoms are said to be those of heaven and the sea, home of Manannán mac Lir, the mythical first King of Mann. That’s provided you have a clear day on this famously misty mountain.
5. The Isle of Man is a surprising centre of space travel research and development. Although the vehicle most associated with the island is a motorbike, a number of companies involved in building robots lunar rovers are based in on the island. And according to some sources, it’s 5th in the list of nations most likely to make the next moon landing.
Selfie was nominated as the word of the year last year by Oxford Dictionaries, narrowly beating bitcoin and twerk. I’m not really a selfie-taking type of person, or even someone who will ask others to take pictures of me. In fact, I rarely take pictures with any people in them. It has to be quite an exceptional situation for me to think about it. Like this one.
I know, its a terrible picture. You’d barely recognise me from it. You’d barely recognise anyone from it. That’s because the phone I took the picture on was in a waterproof cover, and the rain was so heavy it was running over the screen, over my hand and down the sleeve of my jacket. But as the wind was blowing the rain down my face and neck, and down the front of my jacket, I didn’t notice it too much.
I couldn’t really see the screen either, as my eyelashes were filled with windblown rain. And the wind was so strong, it felt like nails on my skin. Gusts were pushing me off my feet.
We’re a couple of weeks into 2014 now, and chances are you’ve made a few resolutions. I’ll even go as far as to wager that you’ve been considering ways to improve your health and fitness over the coming year. But the gym can get boring after a while and classes become repetitive, so why not combine the desire to get fit with your love of travel with my second travel resolution suggestion?
#2. Add an active challenge to your travel bucket list.
Some of the best adventures require more than a little bit of exertion, but once you’ve reached your goal you find that the rewards greatly outweigh the effort put in. So whether your thing is running, hiking, biking or swimming, here are 5 ideas to get out and get fit. Continue reading →
In April 2010 there was only one place that people in Northern Europe were talking about. Or attempting to talk about, as the Icelandic pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull proved too difficult for all but the most practiced of linguists. Ash from the eruption rose into the atmosphere and entered the jet stream, leading to the cancellation of air traffic across a large part of Europe. Ash falls were recorded in parts of Scotland, Ireland, Norway and the Faeroe Islands.
When I visited in spring 2012, there wasn’t any sign of the eruption remaining around the farms of Eyjafjöll, at the foot of the mountains. However, inland from the Hringvegur (Ring Road) on the Fimmvörðuháls mountain pass two new volcanic fissures opened up, each about 0.5km long. The craters were named Magni and Móði, after the sons of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, who gives his name to the mountain ridge of Thórsmörk to the north.
I love reindeer. I’ve been to visit the reindeer herd that live on the Cairngorm plateau in Scotland, and I’ve seen some grazing in fields next to the Hringvegur (ring road) in the Eastfjords of Iceland. I’ve been to Finnish Lapland and watched families take rides in reindeer-drawn sleds, and seen the Sami round-up pens in Kautokeino and Karasjok.
Skiing on the empty fells above Båtsfjord a small herd of reindeer crossed over the crest of the hill to our front. They continued down towards us, the only sound in the still* air was the soft crunch of snow under their feet.
*A tenuous link to Ailsa’s weekly travel theme of still.
It’s a few minutes to midnight; the soft violet-blue sky to our north is split in two by a pillar of deep rose pink light as the sun disappears behind the powder-blue snow-covered fells and sinks towards the frigid surface of the Barents Sea. Continue reading →