Life on Board Draken Harald Hårfagre

Every ship has a rhythm, or several, that shape the way we live on board. The basic beat of any ship, Draken included, is simple: eat, sleep, work, repeat. It drives the crew, marks the passing of time. Times of day are different for parts of the crew, as we’re divided into three watches to work round the clock, but the beat is the same. It weaves into other patterns of activity to shape the rhythm of life on board.

draken figure head 2As a member of port watch, I’m on duty from noon until 4pm, when we hand over to midship watch, and again from midnight until 4am, after relieving starboard watch. We take turns on the helm, pushing and pulling the tiller to keep the ship on course, and on the lookout. We’ll trim the sail; change the tack; add or take off the bonnet on the foot of the sail. And there’s always little jobs to be done: stitching, whipping, splicing, knotting.

There’s always a lot of activity as we leave port. Mooring lines are coiled, fenders deflated and stowed, stores and personal belongings arranged and rearranged. Preparations for setting sail.  Then the arduous, cooperative effort of raising the yard, kaiing the aft end under the shrouds, dropping the sail, bracing the yard, setting the tack, tightening the sheet. All reversed as we stow the sail. The longwave rhythm marking the ends of a voyage.

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Rocking and rolling in the North Atlantic swell. Photo: Draken Harald Hårfagre, drakenexpeditionamerica.com

The most important pattern on the ship comes out of the galley, the tiny space at the end of the sleeping tent. Here the cook and his assistant prepare three hot meals a day for the 33 members of the crew, plus fika (coffee and cake) in the morning and afternoon. And there’s always a night watch box filled with snacks. We eat well, although the calories are needed to keep warm on north Atlantic nights.

For some, myself included, there’s a different rhythm that marks time on board; the swells and rollers that rock the ship and the sea sickness they bring. I find the first waves of nausea start to roll in 3 or 4 hours after leaving port. The only way of escaping the feeling is to lie flat, preferably face down, with my eyes tightly closed. (But that’s never really an option; it usually coincides with the beginning of the noon to 4pm watch).

Seasickness seems to have different stages. Once the feeling takes root, it’s a battle to keep awake. My eyes are so heavy, I sleep where I am: curled on deck against a knee; propped against the windlass; standing upright in the galley one night, waiting for a kettle to boil. I can’t track the passing of time. Did I sleep for the last hour? Or was I absent for a minute or two?

Suddenly, the sleepiness passes. There’s only one place I have to be now; downwind. Pulling scarves and storm hoods away from my face, I gulp the fresh air, but its not enough. Afterwards, it feels like all the warmth is drained from my body. I shiver, despite layers of wool clothes, until its time to go to bed.

Iceberg1My favourite thing is to be lookout, standing up in the bow watching out over the ocean. I scribble myself notes sometimes: numbers of fulmars, shearwaters and skuas; shapes of clouds bubbling up on the horizon; colour changes in the water. Other times, sea spray and squalls sting your eyes, making it hard to see, or it’s so cold the only way for the watch to keep warm is to “shake it off” with Taylor Swift for fifteen minutes.

The times I love most are the dark, still nights, when I stand by myself at the bow. I forget about the rest of the crew behind me for a few moments and look out at the sea and stars; I am alone on a wide, wild ocean.

And the thoughts running through my head? If a large enough wave breaks into the ship, that’s it. If the lookout doesn’t spot a growler, or a submerged shipping container, we’re done for. That this is for real. And that is a thrilling way to live, on the very edge of danger. Any rational person dwelling on the “what ifs” for too long would pack their kit bag and get off in the next port. So you get on, and pack those thoughts down into the bilges of your mind. You calmly accept this state of affairs.

PelayoRather, we occupy ourselves with the little details. Mundane, inconsequential things: where we sleep in the tent (and which is the best place); the type of chocolate available at fika; planning best times to visit the heads, especially if we’re wearing survival suits. Habits are founded, some even becoming rituals of great significance. It would be impossible to think about starting a night watch without a freshly-frothed vegan-friendly latte, or to end at 4am it without sharing a tin or two of “plane crash” with the rest of Mackerel Club.

What’s hard to explain to people hoping for tales of derring-do on the high seas, is that this ship is our home (albeit with less of the usual home comforts) and the rest of the crew is as close as our family (with all the usual quirks and oddities of every other family). And that means that life at sea is just as grand and electrifying, as silly and strange, and as normal and boring, as life everywhere else.

Draken Harald Hårfagre: A Beginner’s Guide to the World’s Largest Viking Ship

I was a crew member on Draken Harald Hårfagre as the ship made a historic crossing of the North Atlantic ocean, from Norway to Canada, in the late spring and early summer of this year. This is the first in a series of several posts with my thoughts and observations from the voyage.

Draken leaving the Greenland coast for the Labrador Sea. Photo: Draken Harald Hårfagre, drakenexpeditionamerica.com

I’m going to start off by thinking about the end of that journey (or more specifically, the end of my part of the ship’s journey), and how the crew has gone through something of a transition over the last month. From being explorers in the more remote reaches of the North Atlantic, seeing only each other for days on end, we turned into storytellers and presenters, meeting hundreds, if not thousands, of people a day at events in various ports in Canada and the US.

If you do visit the ship, (or already have) I hope you’ll forgive us. It’s not an easy task to distill the experiences we had during the expedition into short soundbites that fit into a whistle-stop tour of the ship. Nor the years of construction work, project management and planning that led up to the voyage. At best all we can do is give you some of the most interesting facts and figures, and just the briefest hint of what life on board an open ship was like.

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Draken moored by Hvalsey Kirk, which dates from the Norse settlement of Greenland.

So, to start my expedition journal, here are a few things that you really need to know about Draken Harald Hårfagre, the world’s largest viking ship built in modern times

The Name.

I always try to introduce Draken by her full name, Draken Harald Hårfagre, with my best attempt at the Norwegian pronounciation. It’s that Scandinavian letter å, sounding a bit like –owh-, that doesn’t exist in English, that makes it a bit of a mouthful for many of the crew. Not Arild though, this is how it should sound.

The translation is much easier; Draken means dragon, referring to the dragon’s head mounted on the bow, showing the world that this ship that would have belonged to a powerful and important chieftain or king. Having looked at the figurehead mainly from the back for months, it’s crossed my mind that our dragon might look a little giraffe-like (it’s the ears, I think). I don’t think I’m the only one in the crew that’s had that thought.

And the second part of the name, Harald Hårfagre (who is referred to as Harald fair-hair or fine-hair in English, depending on the translation), is to honour of the first king of a united Norway, who hailed from the area around Haugesund – Draken’s home port.

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The dragon figurehead breathing smoke into the clouds.

Not a Replica.

Describing Draken is tricky. The ship has often been called a “replica” in the media, but this has a very precise meaning in maritime archaeology, referring to vessels built from scratch as an exact copy of another known vessel. Within that definition there are several different categories: true replicas, hull replicas, operational replicas; none of which really describe our ship. Calling it a “reconstruction” can also be a bit problematic; this term is used to describe historic ships that have been repaired or rebuilt with new material to return to a known earlier condition.

Draken was built in Haugesund between 2010 and 2012 from entirely new materials, drawing inspiration from a number of sources, to create a representation of what an ocean-going ship from around 1000CE may have looked like. Accounts from the Norse sagas, archaeological findings, and the living tradition of wooden boat building in Norway informed the design and construction process. Many of the lines reference the Gokstad ship, one of the best-preserved examples of Viking-age shipbuilding, on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. A best-fit way of describing Draken is as an “operational hypothesis”, but that loses a bit of the romance and sense of adventure around her.

Did you row?

Probably the most asked question when we meet people. And I’m sorry to spoil the perception, but the answer is very little. And then only for showing off whilst lots of people are watching. It’s really hard work to shift a ship weighing around 90 tonnes, y’know?

Draken was built to be rowed with 25 pairs of oars, with two oarsmen on each oar. That’s 100 people! We just haven’t got the space for them all while we sail, or for the 50 oars they would need. We’re only able to carry between 12 and 14 oars with all the changes that were needed for sailing, and have one oarsman on each, so it would be a much harder, slower job than it was before.  And it can be dangerous in anything more than flat water: “catching a crab” could pin you to the deck and cause an injury. 

Sailing is far faster and a more efficient way of travelling long distances, and well, I’m sure if you asked most of the crew, we’d say it was much more fun too. We’ve got a great big, beautiful, silk sail, and it’s a shame not to use it as much as we can.

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Catching the sunset in the silk sail.

The Crew.

A full crew on Draken is 33 people, give or take, although we were a smaller crew heading up the St. Lawrence, and will probably be again at the end of the summer. During the ocean crossing, 13 of us were women, and the proportions have evened out even more during the last few weeks in the Great Lakes. If you’ve been on board, you can probably imagine the amount of space each person has to themselves.

Not everyone in the crew is Norwegian, or even Scandinavian. I’m from Scotland, and there has been at least 14 different nationalities making up the crew at various points in the journey. Countries as different as Russia and the US, Spain and Sweden, and even Switzerland have been represented. Add to that a wide range of ages, from the youngest at 18 to somewhere in the mid-60s. We’re a bit of a mixed bunch really.

How do you sleep/ eat/ wash/ do other things on board?

The simple answer is that you just do it. The things that you need to do, you find a way to get on and do them. Or you decide that they can’t be done on the ship, and wait until you get ashore. There’s a lot of challenges when it comes to the business of living on an open ship: being so tired, but finding it difficult to sleep with the noise, stuffiness and movement; feeling terribly seasick but knowing that you need to eat and drink; looking after personal hygiene with no washing facilities; finding an escape from the rest of your watch for five minutes. There’s no quick way I can sum up all my thoughts about all that, so I’ll try to cover it in other posts.

What was the voyage like?

The hardest question of all. How do you sum up two months of an expedition into areas little travelled by others; challenging weather conditions and nerve-racking sea states; close encounters with icebergs, into a short conversation with someone you’ve just met? How do you explain to people that haven’t been part of a sailing crew about living in each other’s pockets; how day-to-day things happens in expedition conditions; silly in-jokes; about blowing off steam when you get into port? That now you’re back in civilisation, with a comfortable bed, good coffee, and a reliable internet connection, you really miss it all?

I usually say the words “cold” and “wet”, which at least are true. And now, as I’m able to make more sense of everything that happened, I can also add “one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done”.

Leaving the Faroe Islands at dusk. Photo: Draken Harald Hårfagre, drakenexpeditionamerica.com

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

 

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

5 Seafaring Tales for a Sailing Holiday

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

I’m all at sea this month, quite literally, as I sail from Bermuda back to Britain on the STS Lord Nelson. On board we keep a watch system, with four teams working a rota to keep the ship sailing and carry out the tasks essential for everyone to live together in such close confines. Our down time, plus the lack of distractions, gives plenty of time to get lost in a good book. So, here are my recommendations for seafaring tales to take on a sailing trip. Continue reading

Crossing the Ocean on a Tall Ship: What’s in Store for Me?

I’m about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, joining the crew of a tall ship to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. I’m in Bermuda right now, and in a few days time I’ll meet my ship, the Lord Nelson, and set off on a 31-day transatlantic voyage back to the UK. Although I’ve sailed before, the thought of crossing an ocean under sail leaves me feeling rather nervous (fantastically excited, but still quite nervous!).

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Lord Nelson under sail. Photo from Jubilee Sailing Trust.

When I visited the Adventure Travel and Outdoor Show in London at the start of February, I met adventure traveller Tori Howse, founder of Another World Adventures, who made a similar trip in 2011. So, I asked her a few questions to get an insight into what will be in store for me on board Lord Nelson, and what it will be like to sail across the ocean.

Tell me about your trip.

I sailed on the Bark Europa in October 2011, making a 27-day Atlantic crossing from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. I then spent 3 days in Salvador, but decided that I wasn’t finished with tall ship life, so I go back on board for another 18 days down to Uruguay.

 

Europa credit Another World Adventures
Bark Europa under sail. Photo Credit: Another World Adventures

Why did you decide to do it?

Sailing across the ocean had been on my ‘bucket list’ for a while. I’d done a little sailing before and loved being on the water, but it was a travel piece by a journalist who had sailed on the Europa before that really inspired me to do the transatlantic crossing. I just thought it sounded so romantic and exciting, and as a passionate environmentalist, I liked the idea of getting to South America without flying. I cut out the article and had it pinned on my wall at home for a couple of years before I decided to make it the starting point for my sabbatical in 2011.

What did you expect beforehand? Did it live up to expectations?

I was hoping to learn some new skills, meet interesting people and just disconnect from the world for a bit. I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone and I was interested to see how I would react.

The reality was it surpassed all expectations and remains without doubt one of the best travel experiences of my life.

Deck shoes credit Another World Adventures
Don’t look down! The view from the rigging. Photo Credit: Another World Adventures

From the moment I stepped on board I was surrounded by a wonderful bunch of people from all walks of life, some of whom would become close friends and one my future business partner! The ship is beautiful, with traditional rigging, comfortable cabins, delicious food and space to relax. The professional crew of Europa are mainly Dutch, and are an incredible bunch; helpful, relaxed, and loads of fun, so you quickly gel as a team.

Before I joined the ship, I had been worried that I might get bored – but there was never a chance! Working a 24hr watch system meant I got to experience sailing the ship at all times of the day and night. From helming the ship to steer a correct course through a storm at night, to climbing up the mast to help set or strike the sails with amazing 360 views of the ocean, everyday was different. From the deck we saw the constantly changing sea and sky, watched wildlife including whales, dolphins and albatrosses, and at night experienced the sky lit up with millions of stars. We had a film night on board one night, and watched a film set at sea, sitting on the deck… at sea! It was surreal, and brilliant. My highlight was the day we turned the ship into the wind to slow her right down, and jumped overboard to swim with 3km of ocean beneath us!

Sail Shadow credit Another World Adventures
Sheets, lines and shadows on the sail. Photo Credit: Another World Adventures

Apart from the experiences and memories, the crossing also gave me some precious time to reflect and take stock. The lack of internet and phone signal was a wonderful chance to switch off and truly be present in the moment, with no ‘to do’ list. My world shrank to the boundaries of the ship, with no outside news or distractions. It was something that I had rarely experienced before and was very liberating.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about doing a trip like this?

My advice would be don’t put it off – just go! You won’t regret it. Go with an open mind, a willingness to learn and make new friends, and you’ll have an incredible time.

Packing: what did you take that was indispensable, and what do you wish you’d brought?

My main tip would be to remember that you’re going to encounter all kinds of weather, so take layers. Even if it’s hot and sunny in the day, it might get cold when you’re on watch at night. Other things I found indispensable were:

  • a sun hat and sun glasses
  • books to read, then swap with others
  • cards or a small board game (perfect to keep you awake on a late night watch break)
  • small torch (for finding your way back to your bunk after a night watch
  • a journal to write down all your amazing experiences
  • iPod and headphones (because nothing is better than watching the sun go down or rise over the ocean whilst listening to your favourite track)
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Europa at sunset. Photo Credit: Another World Adventures

Finally, what did the experience mean for you?

For me it was life-changing. On board I made a life-long friend, and together we set up a travel company, Another World Adventures, to help more people find epic adventures. I often think that the best experiences in life start with an active decision to do something out of your comfort zone, and for me it was one of the best ones I ever made.

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:

IMG_4191v2

 

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.

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.

And now for the weather…

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. A quote that can be variously attributed to Sir Ranulph Finnes, Alfred Wainwright, Roald Amundsen*, and my Granny Mac. That the worst the elements can throw at you can be repelled with a good waterproof layer on the outside and some warm, cosy underlayers. And it’s true, mostly, except when the weather actually is bad.

SkyeRainWeatherMap
Weather forecast for 0900 Monday 11th August 2014. From bbc.co.uk

As we left Peel on the Isle of Man, skies were clear, the sun shining and the wind was just right to take us north. Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic Ocean a weather front was moving eastward towards the British Isles, strengthened what was left of Hurricane Bertha after the storm battered into the islands of the Caribbean. A wave of strong wind and heavy rain were forecast to sweep over the UK and Ireland, with several weather warnings issued across the country. Continue reading