I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.
I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.
I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.
Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.
I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.
Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.
I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.
I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.
It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.
Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.
Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.
Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.
Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.
Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.
As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.
This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.
The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.
Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.
For outdoorsy adventurers, hiking is a much-loved choice of activity taken close to one’s place of habitat or place of visit.
The subtle differences between hiking in different parts of the world are on the type the equipment, the style of the hike like the intensity of the walk, and the distance covered. This reveals a lot about the flora and fauna, the weather conditions expected in general and the end objective for the hike.
This article presents a short oversight of hiking in the south of the United Kingdom, and towards the end of the winter. The overall equipment relevant message is to wear comfortable waterproof boots, bring a change of cotton t-shirts, carry 1-2 litres of water, prepare lunch snacks and carry cash for group saver fares, the pub lunch option and pub celebration at the end.
I have hiked in India, the Pacific North West in the US, in Scotland, in Bali, in Italy, in the Arctic part of Norway, in Morocco, on the north coast of Trinidad and in Tobago and in Fuerteventura and every single hike was different on many aspects.
In the south of the UK, hikes tend to be longer, often including a couple of very steep climbs up hills and the same dissent. The most recent hike took me up and down Pitch Hill in Surrey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twice climbed it on the same day, a near-vertical and rather muddy aspect, and over a distance of 30km round trip on foot.
Walking sticks were encouraged whereas in other parts of the world they are prohibited as it can attract lightning strikes in tundra conditions. UK’s well known cloudy skies, even in winter, require sunblock as there is still plenty of exposure doing outdoor sports to cause skin damage.
20 min stops every two hours are also encouraged to take in the views from higher viewpoints. In contrast, stopping for this long or any period of time longer to a couple of minutes, in the middle of the winter, in the northernmost part of Norway, will cause your body temperature to drop really quickly and dramatically and make the focus of the latter part of your hike an effort to warm up instead of watching the path or scenery. This can make the body feel very uncomfortable, and rather demoralising, in severe sub minus C conditions.
The photos in this post are from my hike in Surrey this week.
It looks mud messy but it was a great all round exercise. I could not recommend anything else more satisfactory to do outdoors this time of the year. Hiking engages people in community spirited discussions, recharges the body with a full-on exercise uptake, and in the UK, it is rewarded with log fires in the pub, local bitter brews, and new memories and vistas to take away.
So you know how things go. You are flowing by with studies, work, friendships, relationships when something new gets introduced to your routine. It starts as an off beat recommendation, and whilst you’re not doing anything else that’s specifically central or significant in your life, you join in on the flow of this new thing in life.
Then weeks go by and despite hesitations because of other well established patterns in your life, you find yourself making more space for this new thing. Then you need to sense check, so you pull away, dismiss it, and there it goes it pops up again seeking your attention.
So you start thinking, what to do. Time invested means previous patterns are being challenged, smoked out, and you’re still unsure if it’s a fluke or will stick around for a while. And then more time goes by and it is still there. Sometimes it feels annoying, tiring, unbalanced, but you realise like with most things settling into a new job, relationship, friendship, hobby is an ongoing process of exploration.
And then the penny drops; your commitment to keep exploring is the juice of life, and as long as you don’t get stuck in a tunnel vision, the scheme of things will keep on evolving and merging with who you’ve become.
So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.
Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.
The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.
Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.
On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.
Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.
My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.
Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.
Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.
Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.
There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.
We are still in January and naturally been spending a fair amount of time indoors.
Whether it is in our nature to be looking ahead or instilled by the tradition of looking out at vistas, the landscape is our place of contemplation, connection and restoration.
We have in modern times moved away from trying to beautify it. In the 80’s and 90’s work by photographers like Martin Parr and Willie Doherty showed us our reality of urbanisation with landscapes littered by rubber tires and eye blinding beach accessories offending the natural flow of a beachy landscape.
In our sense of voyerism, I have been fighting my own struggle of being in a city whereas I feel being in nature is my call.
To balance this feeling I recorded the landscape as it changes with the weather from my office window. It doesn’t talk about the environment our damage to it or any of that. It is what you see, and with little description, I invite you to be part of that experience.