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Showing posts from 2018

Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes by Phoebe Smith

Cover image © Shutterstock. It’s been nearly two years that I’ve been talking about my desire to go wild camping. So far I’ve bored my parents intermittently and failed to convince any friends to join me. I chanced on an article on the Guardian’s website by Phoebe Smith and realised that wild camping was an actual thing that people actually did. In my own inimitable style, I set about obsessively researching experts, equipment, locations and guides – a process that is still continuing at the time of writing. With this in mind, I looked up Smith’s book Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes . In the book, one of a few that she has penned on the subject of wild camping, she documents her own personal challenge to sleep in a number of extreme places: furthest points of the compass on the UK mainland, the highest/lowest places above/below sea level and the remotest in terms of distance from any roads. Her story begins in Glencoul, Scotland with what should be a bea

Iconic Places: Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.

Looking towards the Cliffs of Moher in the early evening light. Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland. On the train to Galway, I had the suspicion that something was going on. I had been talking about almost every topic under the sun with two men from Athenry for the majority of the journey out of Dublin Heuston station: Brexit, health, whiskey, the Irish border and brands of tea. All around us, there were young Irish guys and girls, drinking vociferously and listening to music out of Bluetooth speakers. No one seemed to notice. Other passengers seemed to just ignore it. I was beginning to think that Ionród Éireann (Irish Rail) might be some strange mobile party company. After all, it was only a Tuesday afternoon. Arriving at Galway Ceannt station, the train unleashed a herd of youngsters onto the platform resembling a migratory stampede of wildebeest. What was going on?  In the intermittent rain, I walked towards Salthill, a small resort on the outskirts of Galway City and into

Sultanahmet Camii, Istanbul

“All bounteous Heaven has added to my prayer a softer climate and a bluer air” – Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  After recovering from sleep deprivation caused by late night plane transfers and early arrivals, I walked up the winding Alemdar Caddesi back towards Sultanahmet Square in the early April setting sun. With this area of Istanbul standing on a peninsula that rises up above the meeting of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, the low springtime sun was casting a brilliant orange glow across the skies, catching the tops of buildings and trees in its wake. On reaching Sultanahmet Square, I saw that the warm colours were illuminating the minarets of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and I reached for my camera.  The Blue Mosque, as it is also known, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates from the 17th Century. Its distinct Ottoman appearance incorporates architectural features typical of both Byzantine buildings and traditional Islamic buildings.  Unfortu

Atay Maghrebi: The Slow Train to Tangier

Arriving in Grand Socco, Tangier, shortly before the maghrib call to prayer. Marrakech station is an architecturally magnificent mixture of older Moroccan motifs combined with modern palatial glass windows. It shimmers in Marrakshi tones of gold and umber even in the half-light of dawn, slowly waking up as weary passengers emerge from taxis in all directions. ❦ The first time I had taken the train from Marrakech, it was on the earliest departure of the day, shortly after 6am. I was shocked at how dark the place had been. A few low lights were on in the building, but the railway carriages had sat in perfect darkness. Being on a tighter budget, on my first journey northwards in 2016 I had booked a standard class ticket and hadn’t bothered to check the length of the journey. Ten hours later, having run out of cash, my back had been aching and I was massively dehydrated. I wouldn’t be making the same mistake again. This time I’d opted for a departure during daylight,

Galata Kulesi, Istanbul

"The city is difficult to write about for the same reasons the sea is difficult to paint." – Tobias Hill The day after arriving in Istanbul, on a visit in early April , I had done what I often do when travelling, let my feet discover the city with no real planned destination. Even in the Spring, the sun was quite warm and the skies and waters around Istanbul were ridiculously clear and blue – I'd even been able to spot dozens of small jellyfish swimming in the waters of the Golden Horn (Haliç in Turkish).  Walking back from near Galata Tower ( Galata Kulesi ), I walked along the lower level of the Galata Bridge, stopping part the way along to take this picture from one of the central abutments. The blue is particularly vivid mainly due to the use of a polarising filter on the standard kit lens.  What I loved about the image was how the city appears to be rising up in layers of varying levels of modernity, crowned by the top of the tower built b

Grenfell Tower One Year On: the black and sodium hours

Awake to watercolour-clear morning, broad-brushed by faded amber conflagration seen from the kitchen window. But through the lost, the black and sodium hours of the night, cries for help, desperate supplications shot skyward into the never-silent hum of the North Kensington sky, and the arrhythmic beating heart of Community watch helplessly the monolith shed its murderous skin, unshackling souls taken too soon. ❦ In the early hours of June 14th 2017, a devastating fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, North Kensington. The final death toll was set at 72. From the early hours immediately after the fire into the following days and nights, it was the local residents and community groups who coordinated the relief effort; ordinary people responding in an extraordinary way. That day at work, I will never forget the sense of relief at seeing all of my students sat there in front of me, some of whom I knew to live in the immediate vicinity of Grenfell Tower. A

Atay Maghrebi: Hendrix Myths on The Road to Sidi Kaouki

The ubiquitous and the disparate: the eclectic mix of ingredients that make the Atlantic Coast at Sidi Kaouki strangely beautiful. The familiar washed-out and salt-tinged ocean air coloured the sky, lending it a soft pastel-blue light as I sat and tried to recall what I had been doing the day before. I hadn’t been feeling one hundred percent since eating a weird tasting kefta   tagine in a Marrakech establishment (that shall remain nameless), but I was beginning to feel little more like myself after a few days of freshly cooked food at the Atlantic Hostel. As I sat on the sofa at the highest point of the roof terrace, my red Moleskine in my hand, I spotted to my left a pile of blankets and thought nothing of it. That is, until it started moving and a young man who looked like an Amazigh version of Captain Jack Sparrow emerged, greeted me in French and stumbled down the stairs. ❦ After a few coffees, I went searching for some light breakfast and a short walk away f

Yel Değirmenleri, Bodrum

"And you fall from the sky with several flowers, words spill from your mouth in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt - sweet..."  –  Reginald Shepherd. After a week traversing Istanbul and the small city of Konya in early April 2018 , I took an internal flight and headed to the coast in Bodrum. On my first evening there I had noted the direction of the sunset as the whole of the sky became flooded with a beautiful orange light. A couple of the days later, I walked up to what I could see was the highest vantage point in the vicinity by the Yel Değirmenleri , a group of 18th-century Greek windmills. The windmills are in a terrible state of repair with one Tripadvisor user lamenting it as a "waste and insult to the [city’s] past." In almost any direction, the location commands views over Bodrum Bay or Gumbet Bay, and is perfect for capturing sunset over the landscape and Aegean Sea. Playing with the manual settings on my Nikon D3300 (don’t ask

Living for the Weekend: Queens Park Rangers

View of a QPR attack during the second half form the Ellerslie Road Stand. William Shakespeare once wrote “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” He wasn’t talking about watching Queens Park Rangers play against Aston Villa at Loftus Road, but due to the weather he might well have been. I haven’t been to Villa Park in a long time and so I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to see them play when they visit the capital – the last time was a hammering at the hands of Arsenal during a woeful season that almost saw them relegated. On this occasion, a colleague, John, had spotted the fixture and managed to get tickets at the last minute. Unfortunately for us two Villa fans, we were in with the QPR supporters as the travelling Villa contingent had sold out the School End many weeks before. On Saturday 18th November 2017 , the weather had been nothing but appalling since the morning and with John caught in traffic in the Bermuda Triangle that is the Uxbridge Road on a

Eminönü Kadıköy İskelesi, Istanbul

"The boat was rolling over in an ocean; The dream threw me on the shores of Marmara!" - Mehmet Akif Ersoy On my first day in Istanbul, at the start of April 2018 , I decided that I would avoid the tourist cruises that navigate around the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. Instead I took a commuter ferry between Eminonu pier on the European side of the city to Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city. The trip isn't too long, doesn't cost much with an Istanbulkart (the Istanbul version of London's Oyster Card) and has a small café for anyone in need of a çay top-up. Some of the ferries look particularly battered and bruised and some websites imply that a few were actually built on the Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. This photo was taken whilst I was deciding which ferry to randomly jump on. There had been intermittent rain all day which was trying to clear, leaving half of the sky behind the Galata tower cloudy and the other half much brighter, something ev

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

Cover image © Vintage Classics In the mid-2000s I had read parts of Robert Macfarlane’s book Mountains of the Mind for a Masters Degree assignment on Percy Shelley’s ‘Mont Blanc’. I must admit, until he appeared on my Twitter feed with his ‘Words of the Day’ tweets having been retweeted by someone else, I’d almost forgotten how knowledgeable he is.  How does this all link to a book by a completely different author? Well, Macfarlane and writer Julia Bird, decided that over the festive period they would run a Twitter-based, read-along reading group based around Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. The #DarkisReading and #ArtisRising hashtags were born. The story, despite being written for a younger audience, is full of rich descriptions of landscapes and nature. Furthermore, Cooper seems particularly adept at recreating the otherworldliness of the snow-bound countryside: “The strange white world lay stroked by silence. No birds sang. The garden was no longer there, in thi

The Soundtrack to My 2017

Over the latter half of 2016 I had enjoyed curating a short playlist of songs that evoked a particular memory of a place or feeling at the time. The process itself was so interesting (never truly knowing which songs would still be melting my iPhone headphones many months later) that I thought I would repeat the process all over again in 2017, adding, deleting and re-adding to my Apple Music playlist over the course of the entire year. As before, the criteria for inclusion was simple: the songs had to have spent a substantial amount of time getting played on my Apple Music account over the previous 12 months, whether they are from 2017 or not. As for 2017, it was a lot less weird for me on a personal and professional level, but completely eclipsed 2016 in terms of bizarreness at times. Right Stuff by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds I feel that over the two years, not only have I been guilty of neglecting Noel Gallagher’s solo material, but I feel there has been a bit