You seem to have found yourself on "Feathery Travels". My name is Katie Featherstone and sometimes I go places. Often I stay longer than originally planned.
After falling down a black hole into the refugee crisis for nearly half of 2016, Dan and I escaped with the remainder of our sanity in our van "Burt" to recover. Through several strokes of luck and kindness, we found Summer jobs in the Fjallabak nature reserve in Iceland; that has allowed us to maintain this slow, travelling lifestyle much longer than expected.
I am updating snippets more regularly from here and slowly trying to piece together the rest of my words.
Probably aged seven or eight, the first time I came across a stuffed animal I made my Mum hide it behind the sofa, I wouldn't look at the mummy in the Tutankhamun exhibition (Dorchester, not Egypt) and finding a dead sheep on the beach gave me nightmares. More recently I stopped eating meat for all the sensible environmental reasons, but partly also just so I wouldn't have to think about dead things while I chewed anymore; an ancient building full of them shouldn't have held much appeal...
Despite visiting the Lake District three times on our winding ways up and down from Scotland in the van, I had never walked further into the wild than the banks of Haweswater Reservoir.
It had been five months since we first arrived in þórsmörk. There was nobody there then either; it was a privilege. There were swathes of snow in May, some filling gullies and plenty on the mountain tops. We had it on our tents at one point. The spring flowers, a scattering of yellow and purple, have come and long since fallen to the ground. The birch was golden when we came back, and lime green in parts; yellow leaves decorating the paths.
Jason has been living in China for almost as long as I've known him. I don't think he intended to be there for so long, but something about Beijing has obviously reeled him in. I first asked him if he would do an interview for me, about his life there and photography, on the 3rd of January 2015; between the two of us, we have managed to string it out until now... I think it was worth the wait. I particularly love his photos of lights and rain in the darkness and for me, his answers are a rare insight into a idea I once considered for myself. We cannot be everywhere and do everything in the same lifetime, so it's good when our friends can be some places for us. I hope you enjoy the read.
We have been working in the huts and campsites along the Laugavegur since July. More and more so, I am drowning in uncertainty as I try to cobble this together. It's taken me weeks just to whittle down the photos. The most colourful are attractive, but I don't want to give you the impression that it's always sunny here; sometimes we don't see blue sky for a week.
This three word title... the alliteration I like, but regardless of the shortening days it was not intended as a pun on the American term for autumn. Despite our mother tongue becoming the most wide-spread "global language", the English are still paranoid about loosing it. Living and working here in Iceland, the irony is tangible. This is about Fjallabak; I can barely even pronounce it.
This is dedicated to all the people who helped form this unbelievable summer. Thank-you for sharing this small/enormous part of Iceland with me; I couldn't have imagined it would be this magical.
It's been several months since we lived in our van "Burt" and I still haven't finished the story. Though I can easily pick holes in places I was not that keen on or point out the most beautiful part of an otherwise average location, it rips at my heart strings to fail in describing a place I really loved. There is plenty of "average" in this final account, but my memories of Galicia are too special to be faithful to.
As a further avoidance tactic, I will begin by telling you about the North of Portugal and the van itself...
Burt was sick. He squealed and spluttered into life each morning, making a noise which sounded like a loose fan belt, but maybe not quite. As the wooring noise seemed to go silent after a couple of minutes, we ignored it for two days...
My notes say "near Afonsim? between Vila Pouca de Aguiar & Ribeira da Pena".
Walking towards the brow of the hill, I contemplated that although I like wind turbines, they seemed alien here. The last village we'd driven through had been half derelict, some newer buildings, but mostly old stone constructions, huge square bricks that reminded me of the Incas, but weren't quite as easily tessellated. People had stared at us as they often seem to, but it wasn't Burt, there were lots of old Hyundii H100s around Portugal. Sometimes they had open mouths or frowns, and we were starting to feel a bit self-conscious.
I'll quickly hop you through some of our more attractive one night stops before we get to one of Portugal's crowning jewels - the Serra de Estrela, some great archaeology and a magical spot by a frog filled river.
After Nazaré, we spent a final night with the waves beside the lighthouse at Praia Velha, São Pedro de Moel, before heading further north.
When I first met Hannah, I was already a bit of a mess. For months, we lived in a muddy industrial estate, slipping past each-other like grinning ships in the night.
"How are you?!"
Both of us were in our twenties, trying somehow to manage teams of volunteers in the never ending battle
to provide aid and a little more dignity to the inhabitants of the now-demolished "Jungle" refugee camp. Whereas I was mostly a deranged clothing and bedding woman, Hannah worked in "Calais Kitchens". This home-grown set up provided tinned food, ingredients and a degree of independence to the whole camp. They were inspirational as an organisation and Hannah's smiling, approachable demeanour appeared to surround her as a bubble of calm (whatever she might have been feeling like inside).
Though I could probably dedicate this blog to the creativity of Calais volunteers for the rest of the decade, I've been particularly struck by Hannah's style. She will not appreciate the comparison to Picasso and I have never made such a leap before without implying that someone was meaning to imitate his work; she isn't. The level of energy she exudes in her drawings make it obvious that this is purely her. I'm a little in awe.
This is a bitty sort of story, partially filled with a combination of places I didn't really like that much and their best bits. I saw the biggest waves of my life, nearly fell to my death
off a Roman aqueduct and got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Enjoy...
After the best part of a week, the rain descended on Sagres and we fled up the coast. There are many more dramatic cliffs and windswept beaches past Bordeira and further north, but we didn't venture out for more than five minutes at a time, my hair blown horizontal, until the sun came out two days later. In the interim, we slept on the cliffs beside Monte Clérigo; I hadn't felt so buffeted since being in a storm under canvas and cooking was more or less impossible.
Only ever spending any time together at busy music festivals and other people's parties, it took me almost a year to learn about this part of Helen's life.
Often secret talents turn out to be infinity more rewarding once discovered than those you've been hearing too much about - Helen's designs and illustrations are addictive. Sometimes using computer manipulation as well as more traditional techniques, I usually have no idea how she has created a finished piece, but that only adds to the intrigue.
The main intention of this haphazard adventure was always to delve into Portugal, though I would have been surprised to find out that we'd enter from the South. Passing the most built up stretch of the Algarve in the rain, we bee-lined towards Sagres on the promise of surf.
March is a good time for waves, but attracts far less ordinary holiday makers. Though relatively quiet and very easy to park up our van at this time of year, I think you would have to be more careful in the Summer.