Growing up in the UK, Europe has always been the most accessible continent for me - I'm very thankful for that. I don't think there's anywhere else in the world where you can experience the same variety of cultures right on each-other's door steps.
This section is filled with my travels within the UK as well as those in Iceland, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Italy, Russia, Germany, Greece, Malta and Austria.
The Laugavegur is Iceland's most popular multi-day hike for good reason. Starting amongst the colourful rhyolite mountains around Landmannalagar, the trail climbs up into the snow fields and desolate black rock piles around Hrafntinnusker, before descending into lush green moss and the beautiful lake at Álftavatn. Amongst the mountains, there are several rivers to cross around Hvanngil, before the path leads further south across the black sand deserts of Emstrur – where every tiny green plant looks alien against its inhospitable backdrop. Finally, the trail comes to an end in the lush forests of twisted birch trees around Þórsmörk: a valley at the base of two glaciers.
Firstly, apologies that this post reads as one long lecture about all the things to do, not do and be scared of. I'm publishing it to help readers prepare, rather than as inspiration, but I certainly do not mean to put you off. This will be my fourth year working as a warden along the trail and these are the things that I always wish hikers knew before they arrived.
This information is not official, but just from my personal experience. It is not a substitute for talking to the wardens in the Information Office when you arrive, as there are some things which cannot be checked online. The hike is very dependent on the weather and other conditions on the trail.
It's more than half way through our season in Hrafntinnusker and although you might have some romantic notion of it being quiet or even lonely at the top of the mountain, that really couldn't be further from the truth. I'd been craving a little anonymity; somewhere people don't look at me twice and I can ignore them too. Ironically, it's often easier to find solitude in the city.
I had never seen Reykjavik in the sunshine before. Sorry, but I don't have words, only the photos...
I'm not going to pretend this is the "ultimate guide" or draw you a map as, having worked there for much of the last two summers, I know how important it is that you talk to the wardens at Landmannalagaur and ask for their most current advice. Please refer to the text at the bottom of this page for information you should know before you arrive.
Being flexible with your timing and working around the weather forecast can make the difference between a great hike and a disaster.
The two most reliable online weather predictions are www.vedur.is and http://belgingur.is (often more accurate for Hrafntinnusker). You should familiarise yourself with both of them. It is good to look some days in advance, but things can change quickly and you should not forget to make a final check just before you leave civilisation. Wind and rain are the most changeable factors which I have focused on here, but you should also be aware of general temperatures day/night, the effects of wind chill and decreasing hours of daylight. Fog comes and goes at will and your only real defence against it is a GPS device.
Always speak to the wardens at Landmannalaugar or Langidalur before you start and in each campsite you visit along the way, to ask their advice about weather and conditions. Up-to-date local knowledge is impossible to find online.
I had not seen my family, or visited the Hebrides, since the previous January; a trip to Islay was long overdue...
Sometimes I feel like my words are just a vessel to facilitate sharing a collection of (far too many) photos with you.
This is one of those...
It's nearly two years since I left Calais. The refugee crisis is less of a deafening scream, swallowing my other thoughts. Now it is more of a solid lump, a quietly judgemental resident
in the side of my mind; we are cohabiting the space and doing a somewhat reasonable job of getting on with another sort of life.
This isn't about my head though; this is about the group "Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced People". Observant readers will have noticed their link at the bottom of my site and anyone who follows me on social media was probably bored of hearing about them years ago.
"You don't even have a smart phone Katie! You haven't checked your voicemail for three years! Why do you care so much about refugees having phone credit?!" I hear you protest.
Let me tell you why it is so important for refugees to have phone credit...
Over the last six months, this blog has become a hikers' instruction manual. My "warden" job in the highlands is totally immersive — I love it for that — and there is little space in my brain for any other line of thought. Since we left, I've lost my focus; I've been stuck in my head and forgotten how to write it out. Those of you who only check this site* will be totally unaware that we have moved to the East Fjords. It feels like about time to show you what it's like.
*I post photos on my facebook page most days.
Skalli is a marked, 15km day hike from Landmannalaugar. The peak is around 1027m, but the path skirts around it on the southern side. Landmannalaugar is at 550m, so the elevation gain is probably something around 460m. Depending on your fitness, pace and ability, you should allow between six and eight hours to complete the loop.
Unless you have a GPS devise (with the route saved into it), it is only advisable to attempt this hike in good weather and later in season — towards the end of July, August and early September — once most of the snow has melted [and you can see the stick markers]. The wardens in the information center can advise you whether conditions are suitable on any given day, so you should always talk to them before you set out. Don't be disappointed if it is not possible for you to do this hike as there are many other amazing day hikes around Landmannalaugar which are less weather dependant.
Please note the the majority of these photos were taken on two incredible days of sunshine. You would be very lucky to experience such weather on a short trip to Landmannalaugar, but it is definitely worth checking the forecast before you arrive and planning your trip around it.
Strútsstígur is an unmarked path; it is not possible to follow indications or footprints. It is also not guaranteed that you will meet staff working in campsites or even other hikers. It is therefore, vitally important that you are experienced at hiking in Iceland, have a GPS and are entirely self-sufficient. I have added some useful information at the bottom of this article.
Painfully brought to the public's attention by the genius series Blue Planet II, plastic pollution has been a hot topic this year. As bloggers, photographers and general Planet Earth enthusiasts, it's easy to present the places we love as we wish they were; to crop out the ugly parts or direct our cameras elsewhere. This collaboration is an attempt to rectify the rose-tinted vision we have often portrayed. Nowhere is left unaffected by the plastic plague.
I am starting this with a happy disclaimer - I liked my first Friendly Soap shampoo bar (and the company's ethics) so much that I wrote to them and asked if they'd like to work with me... They sent me some more things to try and sponsored this article. I hope that is fine with you, the reader? If you have a problem with me advertising on this site, please email me and we can talk about it. I have done a lot of research on ethics and sustainability and I will never, ever advertise a company I don't fully agree with.
2018 was my second Summer in the Icelandic Highlands. My job as a warden revolves around the Laugavegur hiking trail and its campsites.
Passing through areas of colourful geothermal activity; across snow plains; over ice bridges; through vast, black lava fields; and finally down into a twisted birch forest with the view out towards two glaciers – all within 56km – it's no surprise that the Laugavegur is Iceland's most famous hiking trail. It's an incredibly beautiful trek, but for every nine people I've met having the time of their lives, there was [at least] one who hated it. Aside from a defeatist attitude or serious lack of physical fitness, the most certain thing to ruin your hike is the lack of adequate gear. Though temperatures are not that much more extreme than many other places in Europe, the wind can get phenomenally strong, and you'd be very lucky to pass a whole day without having to don your waterproofs.
Before catching a bus to Landmannalaugar (or Þórsmörk), please also read these articles I wrote about how to prepare for hiking the Laugavegur trail and how to read the weather forecast. They include everything else you should know.
Always fond of Cornwall, but never quite sure where to start, I found myself in Portreath with the sole purpose of buying Dan a new bodyboard. That was the beginning of a series of trips we made in the van.* Dan could play in the surf while I hiked the coast path. Gwithian to Perranporth was hardly a grand epic; I began wherever the surf was good, left Dan in the water and walked for a couple of hours to a designated point where he (and Burt) could pick me up again. Along the way were some of the most incredible places I've ever found in England.
I've arranged the segments logically (west to east) for your sanity...
*The now deceased "Burt".
I'm writing this in the present tense because I can't sleep. Burt [the van] is broken, but we still don't know if this is the end of the road. Hopefully the mechanic will tell us in the morning and the wait, at least, will be over. On life's scale of problems, this is small fry, but I'm not good at waiting.
This is now our forth night here in Gavião. I spent the first day moping in the room of our guesthouse; it was raining, but I still should have ventured outside. By yesterday I was already stir crazy; irritable and bored. The sun came out, so I walked out of the village, down the main road, round an empty roundabout and out of sight. The roadside trees, plots of tall cabbage and distant barking dogs did me good. This place didn't even know I was there. I floated loosely through reality like Schrödinger's cat, wondering if I might have disappeared.
After three weeks of storms and surf, I cruelly dragged Dan away from Sagres. We were going to head north.
Finally free from the English winter, semi-permeated with grey but not entirely swallowed, I [we] fled south. Snow storms descended on northern Europe, clutching after Burt's* exhaust as he valiantly chugged through France; down past the ancient wood-striped houses south of Le Havre, missing a baby boar on the road and all the way to Basque country without even a drop of rain. In the small village Garmarthe, perched low on Pyrenean slopes, we bought cheese from the loft of a sheep barn; bread from bakeries and vegetables from green-grocers, we were determined not to just be a drain on the places we visited this time.
*Burt is the name of our van.
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.
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.
South from Ubrique, towards Alcalá de los Gazules, we drove an hour or so along small roads, though idyllic forested mountains, only persisting because every turn off was marked clearly as private land. For once our severely unspecific road map was correct in assuring us that there were no real settlements here, but under a mountain we found another "area recreativa". Somewhat of a labyrinth, "El Picacho" had barbecues cut into large boulders, picnic tables fashioned from giant hunks of wood and the generally overgrown delightful air of not having been visited much since last summer. The tree branches crooked above us like ancient witches fingers and we hid under the bridge, as the odd car passed above, like grubby trolls bathing in the river.
By now we thought we were getting a little better at travelling in the van. We were driving in little hops, poking into the countryside or along the coast for an hour or two each day, never waiting until after sunset to find somewhere to sleep. Water was easy enough to find from taps in children's play parks, fontes or town centres, fuel was cheaper in Spain and we knew just about Spanish to make our lives a little easier. Slowly but surely our body clocks began to adapt from a slovenly 11am until after midnight norm, to one which made better use of the light. With little to do in the evenings, we were sleeping before the majority of eight-year-olds and I often woke up just before dawn started to scratch through the curtains. We appeared to have escaped the winter.
Had it not been for the gloom, I would have liked to stay beside Pantà de Rialb longer in the eerie silence, but we chased the promise of sunshine South. Skirting around Lleida, we followed a succession of steadily diminishing roads, looking for a blank spot on the map, as if paddling upstream to the source.
The sky was stubbornly overcast as we approached the lake. Though with all the elements of beauty; reflections of leafy trees onto the green water's surface, rocky outcrops and a silencing distance from the highway, we couldn't shake the feeling that it was a little bit too quiet down this rough track. On the map, these roads lead to nowhere. I possibly expected a picnic site or somebodies house at the point where on paper it descended to the bank in two directions, but instead we got to a sign, "PELIGRO INUNDACIONES", and it simply became impassable in the van; great hollows and troughs down a steep slope.
On foot the road disintegrates into mud clots, completely disappearing and being replaced by shrubby bushes and rocks. What at first appeared to be a chimney poking out of a small clump of trees, turned out on closer inspection to be an empty shrine, simply a window to and from nowhere without the Mary doll to stand in it. We followed a faint and precarious pathway, still twenty-five meters above the water level, around a small headland and confusingly emerged onto the remains of a two direction tarmac road; only slightly faded white lines in the centre, but edges crumbling into emptiness. Over a sinking bridge, once proud enough for an archway, metal barriers meant to protect impossible traffic, bent towards the water like discarded staples. Sloped into a disturbing width ways diagonal, as well as the simple down-hill gradient, the road plunged into the water and obscurity.
The morning of our intended departure from Morgins, Dan discovered that we (he) had left the head-lights on all night. Burt was in a coma. The oldest vehicle in the village by a good fifteen years you can imagine the spectacle we made heaving the van to the top of an icy hill and then charging down again with only the hand-brake to rely on. The slope out of the car park wasn't enough, but the only remaining gradient was right down through the middle of the village, road lined with kit laden skiers and troops of school trip children. A kind old man helped me get up some momentum and we watched as Dan hurtled a good hundred meters before bellowing out a puff of smoke. I hadn't been keen to be in the drivers seat...
If you've been dropping by for some time, you probably remember a little hype around last June. We'd saved and stagnated for over a year in Exeter. Unexpectedly, I'd found many things to love in that sleepy South-Western city; a small but solid medley of people, plenty of camping on Dartmoor and Devon's coast. Still, I was restless, we were gearing up for a great adventure. Burt the carpet van spluttered into our lives as a kind of tiny home on wheels, a fortified tent with space for a duvet, and we finally set of on our epic European road trip. Though the weather was better, things started that month the same as we just have, with a trip up to Scotland. As you might also know, that first drive up North and down was our last great road trip of 2016. We finished the year in Calais, laughing and crying and forgetting to shower. We're starting that original plan from scratch.
Having spent quite some time ranting about the refugee crisis, I wanted to write about something else close to my heart, incredibly
important, but not yet personal enough to make me shake with rage.
Covering almost three-quarters of the Earth, holding 97% of our water, producing almost half of our oxygen and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, I can't exactly overstate how important oceans are to our planet's survival. Despite being vital to our economies and way of life, gone are the days when it was possible to believe the deep blue sea was simultaneously an infinite wealth of resources and an invulnerable dumping ground.
For the irritable lefties amongst us, those not fans of bombs or anyone who'd rather not think about thousands of people drowning off the coasts of their favourite holiday destinations in pursuit of a better life, 2016 hasn't exactly been the new page of peace and opportunity we'd been hoping for. Maybe every year is the same if you mull upon it in the right way for long enough, but somehow this one doesn't feel like anything I can round up in a listicle.
Anything I write or do now seems trivial and trite compared to what's been on my radar the last half of this year. I've almost forgotten how I used to write about beautiful things, but here we go...
In the end we spent five months in Calais; stretching over nearly half of 2016, it went by in somewhere between a flash and a lifetime. Days were over before they'd begun, but the weeks dragged out endlessly. Now that we're out, it feels like waking from a bizarre hallucination.
For months the "Jungle" was our entire existence; warehouse, jungle, warehouse, jungle, lidl, warehouse, junglejunglejungle...
We lived and breathed it until there was little left of our previous selves, but then they were taken away. We have no idea what has happened to the vast majority of the people we saw every day.
Exhausted and lacking direction, most of us left. It seemed like our work was done, but Dan and I faffed, tying up "loose ends" and fitting
new brake disks to our long immobile van. After the children were finally gone, I languished around the yard for the best part of a week, occasionally attempting a little clothes sorting or answering the questions of new volunteers with dead eyes and monotone half sentences.
What were we doing?
I'd gone from taking clothing and shoes to almost exclusively adult men and older teenagers, to spending all of my time trying to care for children. Frankly I had no idea what I was doing and neither did 90% of us. We tried to occupy them with football and games in a field next door, but spent most of the day and evening listening to their problems and trying to make sure they have working phones before they disappeared. They were growing boys and hungry however much we try to feed them, there was no running water inside the containers and many told me that they washed their faces in the water from the toilets. Helplessly I worried for their teeth.
I've written very little about Calais over the last three months I've been here. There is so much to say and yet none of it forms in my head into a coherent narrative, message or anything even close to a solution. The jungle is finished, but I still feel like I have so much to learn. I never took any photos, I never said my goodbyes, all lost threads from a tapestry of unsolved problems.
Time melts on as if it has no meaning. The rumours are rife- "Jungle finish?" we're asked each day. Nobody wants it to be here but they (and we) are constantly anxious about what that means. Nobody wants another eviction, we can't loose any more children in the process, but there's no way we can sustain over 10,000 people over the Winter without being allowed to build more solid homes. We live day by day, maintaining their existence, providing clothes, food and some sort of shelter, but it's not getting better. In over two months, I've taken a few days to myself, but there are others who've been at it since Christmas.
Searching for a van was a mundane daily hell...
It took us months. We were looking for something that didn’t have a massive amount of miles (many under £2000 had around 200,000 on the clock), with no major mechanical problems and that wasn’t too big. More importantly, it still had to be long enough for Dan (who’s 6’4) to lie down in.
Having never owned a car before, we took vital and occasionally contradictory advise from the internet and other more experienced family and friends. Dan’s dad (Rod) came along to view and test dive any potential options and we listened to the advice of a friend's trusted mechanic before we finally took the plunge*. Our budget was £1500 and eventually, after many false starts, we eventually spent £1150 on a Hyundii H100 from 1997, an old carpet fitter's van, and £350 on repairs and a new MOT.
Deciding what to do with it next and getting materials...
Before we could begin, we spent a day dismantling and removing the ugly carpeted wooden platform and shelving from the back of the van, removed the mouldy panels from the walls and cleaned the van inside and out.
After a very slow and somewhat arduous trip up to Swansea, Wales the week before, we were particularly relieved to make it up to Scotland in relatively good time without any major mishaps.
In between fixing rusty holes in the van, changing our oil (and spilling a whole tank full onto my parents’ drive) and generally trying to sort ourselves out a bit better before leaving the UK, we found a little time for the beach...
Having got to know each other over long, stressful nights in the library, the least organised History students in our year, it's hardly surprising that Dan and I struggle to get ourselves together before a (hopefully) long trip. Despite slogging and saving for over a year in preparation, we found ourselves committed to leaving our jobs forever in two weeks time, with no van to move into, half a flat full of things and Dan still learning to drive.
Floating around the restaurant with an enviable aura of calm, Laura never seemed repressed by the sometimes stiflingly misogynistic atmosphere of our work place half a decade ago. After her smile, I first noticed her tattoos- a tall ship, mermaids and an intricately twined circle on her back. Getting to know her a little better, I learnt she designed them herself. I've been in awe ever since and could not be more excited to introduce you. This is Laura Wilson.
Were you artistic as a child? How did you get into illustration?
I wanted to be an artist from a really early age! Art was my favourite subject at school from when I was very young, and it was something I’d spend hours each evening doing. I drew an awful lot of mermaids! I had a few years during my teens when I gave into the ‘art isn’t a viable career option’ rhetoric that sensible adults were telling me, but eventually I decided that following my passion was worth not being as financially stable as I might be if I chose a different career path!
One cold, soggy winter in Southampton we were dreaming of an adventure.
My friend Bryony and I had been struggling to find any inspiration in our grimy university accommodation and imagined spending long days painting on quiet beaches; I bought a map of the Cyclades and we began to highlight dots to aim for.
Milos was so beautiful that our island hopping adventure didn't end up as extensive as we imagined, but I haven't regretted it for a second.
As a child I used to take my Mum’s accusations of stubbornness as a compliment. Without the thought process to understand that my 4, 7, 16 year old self might benefit from a little open-mindedness, I believed it insinuated I had some sort of unbreakable iron will; the sort of perseverance that a suffragette would have needed on hunger-strike or what made Rosa Parks stay on that seat. Not yet appreciating that the vast majority of the human race believe themselves to be right at all times, I imagined that this sort of attitude would eventually result in justice.
Having absorbed enough contradictory information over the last decade to understand that there is rarely a reliable answer to anything, I'm more confused by the world than ever, but can't help retaining a trace of that original pigheadedness. A mystery to the most of my friends, these are a few quirks that I am for some reason trying to swim with against the tide of the 21st century (and maybe adulthood?).
I've been rotting indoors for months as we "prepare" for an as-of-yet unspecific adventure elsewhere in Europe. I bounce resigned from one box to another, staring between screens and sitting so badly; my back is aching. Wild camping for Dan's birthday has become somewhat of a tradition and as the weather is starting the clear up again, we ventured out to Dartmoor to absorb some wilderness as an antidote.
Mention you're from England to any continental European and after mocking you for your cooking, they will most likely mention the weather. Although our continuous drizzle is often exaggerated, several days of downpour have the potential to make life very miserable if you're sleeping in a tent. After several summers of English music festivals, these are my tips for embracing the mud and enjoying the party regardless...
After two weeks of stumbling through our daily reality, Dan and I were struggling to find any purpose. Stretching the Easter bank holiday weekend, we found lifts over to Calais and were quickly back in the build team. With its regimented streets of chicken coops, Dunkirk couldn't be any more different to "the jungle". Having never seen the old camp, I can only repeat other volunteers' stories of children trying to play in a wood turned swamp. No building materials or tents had been allowed in for months and Winter conditions must have been nearly impossible before the move.
Overshadowed by the jungle, Dunkirk was just one of many forgotten refugee camps in Europe. I'm struggling not to get too political, but the new camp, set up by MSF and volunteers, at least gives a small amount of dignity back to the thousand and a half people it has space to shelter. There are toilet facilities, showers, somewhere to wash clothes and food distributions from the other charities involved. It hasn't solved their long term problems, but hopefully eased a bit of suffering in the mean time.
This collaboration of magical camping spots has taken an embarrassingly long time to put together, but I can't help but feel proud of the result. With some of my traveller idols, friends and even family involved, it's hard to decide if I'm more excited by the contributors or the places they have written about. If this doesn't persuade you that you don't always want to sleep with a roof over your head, then I'm happy to keep the wilderness for myself.
*If you haven't got time or energy to read my waffle and are simply interested in the logistics of
volunteering, slide right down to the bottom and read the useful information section.*
**These photos are borrowed from the friends I met in Calais. Thank-you in advance.**
I'm struggling to find the tone of this article; shying away from self-congratulatory or callous, and after only a week there acutely aware of my naivety. On leaving, nearly everything in my normal life seems pointless and yet I still bumble along as if before.
I've been wanting to help the people stuck at Calais since early last year, but excuses tumbled over each-other and it wasn't until last week that we finally sorted ourselves out enough to spend a little time around "the jungle"*.
*The name made me uncomfortable before we went out, but since meeting a few of the refugees, I begin to think of it as a dark in-joke between those who've been forced to live in a situation that many of us wouldn't wish on our pets.
Trundling along on the megabus, somewhere between Bristol and London, I only started talking to Louis Masai after we broke down. Far from the usual delays, we were entertained by a teenage dance troupe and previously unconnected folk band who just happened to be travelling back from Plymouth together. I felt the hour slip by with little resentment and only once back on the bus realised how close I was coming to missing my connections to Vienna that night. Ice broken by the bizarre situation, I began to learn a little about Louis' work. After nearly a year of following him on social media, I recently decided to ask him for an interview. This is what I learnt...
After discovering his impossibly detailed pen and ink drawings, doodles I could get lost in for hours, I'm incredibly excited to introduce Olivier. His intricate layers of disproportionately sized wildlife weave together into the masterpieces you can see below. Though this website is never going to do his pictures justice, the playful twist on an environmental theme seemed perfect. I'll hope you'll enjoy getting to know the artist a little better as much as I have.
Something I wrote this time last year...
As the second time our family had ever gone abroad together, my Mum chose well with Gozo. Visiting in the Spring, it was warm (but not roasting!), the flowers were blooming and most
importantly for the Featherstones, we almost had the beaches to ourselves.
Gozo is one of the Maltese Islands, little dots in the Mediterranean between Italy and Libya...
Approaching the end of July, somewhere in the countryside near Cambridge, England, an otherwise sleepy patch of farm land transforms into the Secret Garden Party. Stages hatch out from the fields, gigantic circus tents are pitched in clusters and psychedelic bunting stretches overhead. People abandon their mundane lives for a few days to loose themselves down the metaphorical rabbit hole.
Dan and I have spent the last two Christmases far away. Firstly in Australia back in 2013 and then somewhere in a Bolivian forest last year. This year we made the journey up to Scotland, narrowly dodged the UK's December storms and squeezed onto one of the few remaining ferries that made the crossing to the island.
Before experiencing Ottery St Mary's unique Guy Fawkes celebration, I couldn't have imagined such an event could possibly have survived Britain's nanny state long enough to pass on its legacy. For a first-timer the spectacle is confusing; the village is flooded with spectators, after the enthusiastic locals, a crowd of primarily drunken young people from the surrounding area. The mood is impatient as we strain our necks in anticipation, until a plume of smoke and roaring flames give away the tar barrel's spot. This quietness is the tell tale calm. As the barrel comes up above shoulder height, the furnace seems to mill about in the distance for an eternity. Is this what we've come to see?
Let your mind drift for a moment however and you're likely to find yourself alone in the dragon's pathway...
In the third part of my intermittent mismatch of a series, weird and wonderful things to do if you find yourself in Exeter, I'm looking at a couple of ideas for the city and some beautiful places further afield. With the weather drawing in for Winter, it seems even more important to make the most of those last flecks of sunshine. I've tried to keep outside as much as possible...
Three years ago my weirdo friends and I experienced Boomtown Fair in it's relative infancy. Ramshackle constructions lined the streets as hoards of wide-eyed inhabitants bumbled around in a mixture of wonder and confusion.
The gigantic spider Arcadia was our focal point. Grown from recycled metal, it had flaming acrobats twirling from its legs and heavy drum and bass bursting from its chest. We were mesmerised.
Two of my many dodgy Arcadia photos from 2012...
With its hidden meanings, revolutionary techniques and pieces that you just "might not get", the art world can sometimes seem pretentious. Although street-art is a different scene, I'd always assumed the artists would think themselves a little too cool to talk to me. That was until D7606 commented on my blog to thank me for featuring his work. I was so excited to be directly contacted by him. His crayola coloured pop-art paste ups brighten the grimy walls they adorn in such a fun way, that I wondered where he was coming from. Here's a little insight into his world...
I'd never even heard of Pitch, but had been looking for somewhere to see my hero Bonobo and figured that we could do worse than hopping on the bus to Amsterdam. With no real expectations, money or knowledge of the majority of acts, it could have gone either way.
In fact, despite having to camp off site, Pitch turned out to be the easiest and most consistently enjoyable festival I went to all summer. It was relaxed, friendly and a manageable size, but with varied enough music to keep the weekend exciting.
...I'm tempted to make some sort of joke about 'perfect Pitch', but am worried I might lose some of you.
I wrote this post a couple of years ago, so ignore the dates.
I'm going to introduce my series of 'Festival Fact Files' with a bit of a banger. Glastonbury is the biggest, muddiest and undoubtedly most exhausting of all the festivals I've ever been to, so why is it breaking my heart this much to watch the resale date sale past?* Although its size can be a little overwhelming at first, Glastonbury is unbeatable for its unique combination of friendly atmosphere, variety of performances and incredible line-up. I've been lucky enough to make it to the last four, but this year I'll leave the tickets for you- resales are on the 24th and 27th April. Get on it!
Lack of money while travelling can put anyone in amusing, difficult, or sometimes just exhausting situations, and our final day in Greece this summer proved to be all three of these things. Casually cooking pancakes on the morning of our flight, we overheard a boy moaning about having to walk into the Acropolis from our hostel. Having done this in about half an hour the day before, we asked him what the problem was and took his reports of a capital-wide strike with a pinch of salt, casually continuing our pancake feast until a computer was free for Googling the situation. At this point, our plans crumpled around us: not only were there no trains, trams, buses or metro, but the taxi drivers had chosen that day to rebel against the government's plans to liberalise the taxi sector too and there was even a strike at the airport. Maybe we could walk? A quick Googlemap later and that option wasn't looking hopeful. The airport was 30km out of the city, along a motorway, and hitching in a riot didn't seem like the best plan either. It was the first time when our motto of, "Everything works out in the end" seemed to be mocking us.