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Mwnt, Wales, Photography, Travel

Mwnt beach, Wales

June 6, 2017

Mwnt Beach, Cardigan

Mwnt beach has featured very close to the top of my ‘favourite places’ in the world list for years.

Last week, I was talking to an American couple who had been traveling around the UK for a few weeks and were headed to Wales next. They hadn’t got any solid plans yet and made the mistake of asking me for recommendations. I barely need an invitation to wax lyrical about Mwnt at the best of times, so I think they were a bit taken aback and soon regretted asking. I hope they went and saw it for themselves because it is such a wonderful place. I hope they went and tell all their friends about this beautiful little beach some crazy lady in their hotel told them about.

I first went there over ten years ago when my Nan took me, my sister, and my cousin on holiday. We stayed in a little cottage just up the road from the beach, and we would spend the day in the sea, building sand fortresses with moats and my cousin had an odd habit of collecting jellyfish in a bucket…There’s a hill on one side of the beach, which we used to climb up every night to call our parents. (If they thought they were escaping us by sending us on holiday, they were wrong. Not even rubbish O2 signal on a Welsh beach is going to stop me annoying my Mum.)

The second year my Nan took us away, I think she was expecting to go somewhere else but we loved the place so much we badgered her to go back. I’ve been back a handful of times since then, the last time being with Daz last summer. I would love to pop back before we head up to Edinburgh but it’s looking very unlikely at the moment.

For me, visiting Mwnt beach is almost like a pilgrimage. A lot has happened since my first trip there over a decade ago; I’ve passed exams, I’ve made friends, I’ve lost friends, I’ve had arguments, I’ve mustered the courage to stand up to people, I’ve quit uni, I’ve finished uni, I’ve worried a lot, but I’m still here.

Do you have anywhere like that in your life?

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Books, Travel

All Over The Place – Geraldine DeRuiter

May 30, 2017

All Over The Place by Geraldine Deruiter

When I first read that one of my favourite bloggers was releasing a book, I instantly began impatiently refreshing Amazon’s UK Kindle site until they let me pre-order All Over The Place.

I’ve followed The Everywhereist for years after following a link to it from an article her husband wrote on the Moz blog, right back when I’d just dropped out of university and started working in marketing. (I find it a little soothing that I’ve just finished her book and my undergrad. degree.) Geraldine’s blog was a bit of a beacon in the blogosphere for me because she was unashamedly traveling her way, getting lost, experiencing things her way, and telling hilarious stories about all of it. Her book is no different.

You are not going to read this book and gain an understanding of how best to fold your underwear, how to get the cheapest flights, how to avoid food-poisoning, or spend no money while exploring an expensive Scandinavian capital city. Instead, you are going to laugh so hard you might cry while she tells the story of the time her mother tried to take a pickax through security. Geraldine writes that All Over The Place should perhaps serve as a reminder of how not to travel; but with some of the stories she’s got out of her way of traveling, it’s hard not to want to do the same. (I am simultaneously thankful but a little disappointed that I do not have a relative who feels it perfectly normal to take weapons in their hand luggage on family trips.)

This is a book that oozes comfort. The writing is so natural and effortlessly funny that you sink into the book and feel like you’re sat in a cafe (eating cake, of course) with Geraldine. If, like me, you find yourself constantly living in fear of everything, you will also find another kind of comfort in this book. I found myself laughing out loud and pondering my own experiences as I read about Geraldine navigating her life, the relationships with her partner and family, her health, and her thoughts on life and the “path” we’re on.

One reviewer on Goodreads summarised this book really well for me, “All Over the Place is a travel book, except that the travel is at least as much internal as it is external. It’s not just about the places she, her husband, or friends explored; it was about what she learned about herself, life, her family, her husband, and her friends.

As you reach the end of the book, Geraldine takes her husband to the Italian towns her grandparents came from. She tells a story of meeting relatives and Italian dinners and it honestly feels like you’re sitting right there at the table. You can almost smell the pasta (and that is an excellent quality for any book to have).

I reached the end of the book feeling thoroughly satisfied. All Over The Place was everything I thought it was going to be. If you’re looking for something hilarious, but with some poignant life lessons, to read this summer this is the book you need in your life. In fact, I think it would be the perfect book to read while traveling because it is so easy to read.

What have you read recently?

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Canada, Photography, Travel

“We’re not gonna be eaten by wolves” @ Lake Minnewanka

May 16, 2017

Lake Minnewanka and Mount Inglismaldie at night

There are some things you can't imagine ever needing to say and "we're not going to be eaten by wolves" is a phrase I certainly never imagined myself saying. That said, I did have to tell my sister and various people we work with that we weren't going to be eaten by bears while camping.

Daz and I are both flappers. We don't seem to get stressed about the same things at the same time, which is great because while I'm convinced we're gonna die in a kayaking accident 10 feet from the shore, he's says "no we're not, I got this." Which is great because I believe him over the voices in my head that try to tell me everything is dangerous.

Last August, we were booking campsites for our trip and we really wanted to stay at Two Jack Lakeside. We'd looked at all the other Parks Canada sites in the Banff area and Two Jack was easily the most beautiful and quietest looking. We tried to book and were halted by a message saying that due to a "wolf problem" the site wasn't accepting bookings at that time.

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Cloud over Lake Minnewanka

We soon discovered that some idiots had left food out at the site, which had attracted wolves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you provide a wild animal with a really easy source of food, they'll come back to find it again. Not only does that cause them problems by making them dependent on humans, but I think you'll agree a tent is probably next to useless in protecting you against a hungry wolf. You may as well wear Lady Gaga's meat dress and offer yourself to them. On a more serious note, a wolf had to be destroyed because of someone's thoughtless actions. The campsite re-opened and that was where we ended up staying for the last couple of nights of our trip. It totally surpassed our expectations and we're going back there again this summer, so it is definitely worth a visit if you're planning to stay in the Banff area.

It had been cloudy our entire trip and on the last night we finally had some clear sky, so I wanted to try a bit of nighttime photography. We drove to a little jetty (if that's what you call it) at Lake Minnewanka and I started faffing about with my camera.

This time, it was Daz's turn to stress. It was pretty much pitch black and we were the only people about. We'd been told to be vigilant for wolves (we didn't see any), had seen signs up about wolf sightings on trails in the area, and for some reason I'd seen fit to park at almost the furthest point away on the car park, which was surrounded by forest. This is how horror movies start.

It's one of those situations you look back on and wonder what on earth you were thinking. Especially given childhood nightmares about being eaten by a black demon dog / wolf. If I ever see a horror film again, I won't ask "what were they thinking?!" because I now understand that they were probably just trying to take some awesome nighttime shots.

Clearly, we did not get eaten by wolves, which I guess is pretty anti-climatic if you were expecting my title to be famous last words. I can't look at these photos of Lake Minnewanka without laughing to myself about the wolf incident.

Canada, Photography, Travel

Snow at Peyto Lake, Alberta

May 2, 2017

Snow clouds at Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake is easily one of the most photographed lakes in Canada and it's easy to see why; it's shaped a little like a wolf, is a beautiful milky blue colour, and is right off the Icefields Parkway.

Because of all the reasons above, it was high on our list of places to visit and was one of the first (if not the first) stop we made on the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper.

It probably takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk from the car to the first lookout over Peyto Lake, depending on how fit you are because boy it is a steep hill. I was incredibly unfit and Daz would not give me a piggyback. The panting, groaning and pain is worth it to see Peyto Lake with your own eyes and try to fathom that colour, and get a few photos that will probably be an instant Instagram hit (unless you got hit by the sucky new algorithm, yes, I'm bitter) because who doesn't love a lake the colour of the Night King's eyes?

While we were stood here it started to snow and a blanket of cloud descended on us. We had planned to keep walking up the trail to Bow Summit Lookout but wussed out because of the snow. If you decide to do that trail it's a 6km return hike, so it's easily doable in a morning or afternoon.

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit are high up our list for our return trip this summer and we're hoping not to experience snow in June, but who knows?

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake

Life, Scotland, University

We’re moving to Edinburgh!

April 27, 2017

View over Edinburgh from Edinburgh castle

Last week, we got the news we’d be waiting on since the start of February; the University of Edinburgh made me an offer on the best masters course I’d found.

I cannot tell you how many times I have refreshed my emails over the past two months, or how many times I’ve logged into their applicant hub hoping to see an update. The stress and hassle of my current university who don’t seem to understand what an interim transcript is and my tutor and I having to make one because they’re so useless. The anxiety Daz and I have had, stressing about how close it was getting and all the things we need to do and we still don’t have a decision. It was all lifted. I could have cried; but I didn’t because I am not human.

Well, I say the stress was lifted. It was and it was quickly replaced with a load more stress and things that need sorting.

Daz and I spent a few days in Edinburgh towards the end of last year when they had a postgraduate open day and we both fell in love with the place. I love Scotland, I love Edinburgh and the university was everything I thought it would be and more. Some of the buildings look like they’re straight out of Hogwarts; which I guess they kinda are since J. K. Rowling was living in Edinburgh when she started writing the books.

View of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

The course is my dream course. Friends and family kept asking me if I’d applied anywhere else and I kept saying “no, because no where else does a course that is anywhere like this one. I have to get in because everything else seems pointless in comparison.” It was, of course, the most expensive course I could have applied for but the way I see it is that it would have been a waste of money doing a cheaper course because it wouldn’t get me where I want to be. The optional modules are all so exciting and I CAN DO A MODULE ON FORESTS! I cannot tell you how excited I am for that. I love forests.

Having lived in my hometown all my life, I’ve visited places and yearned to experience what it would be like to live somewhere else. Especially somewhere so fancy-looking, I mean Edinburgh has a huge castle on a hill (Ed Sheeran?) that is always in the corner of your eyes. What I also like about Edinburgh is that it isn’t so busy that it overwhelms me and stresses me out; though I’m told it will be completely different when the Fringe Festival is on.

I’m looking forward to living somewhere new but I am very comfortable where I am, as is Daz. The thing I am most nervous about is leaving my current job and finding a new one. I love the people I work with, it’s like a family. I am worried that wherever I end up working in Scotland (Hard Rock Cafe, I’m coming for you…goals) won’t feel quite the same.

Of course I will also miss my family and friends. There are plenty of ways for us to keep in touch though, and none of them appear remotely unhappy about the prospect of visiting us in Edinburgh.

It’s a really exciting next chapter that seems full of a lot of unknowns at the moment but I’m sure things will become clearer over the next few months. We’re also both seriously excited about getting to explore Scotland on our days off because it is all kinds of beautiful.

It sure is a weight off.

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Canada, Photography, Travel

7 days in Banff & Jasper, Alberta

April 25, 2017

7 days in Banff and Jasper, an intinerary
7 days is no where near enough time to discover all that Banff and Jasper have to offer but we found that we got a surprising amount done in a week.

When we arrived at Canadian border control, the chap behind the desk did seem a bit befuzzled about us visiting Canada for just seven days but hey, you do what you can with your holidays.

In reflection, the way we planned our time in Banff and Jasper could have been a little better as we spent a couple of nights in Canmore, before driving up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper for a few days and then coming back down to spend some time in Banff. I'm not suggesting this is the perfect itinerary but I think it gives you a good idea of what things to try and see on the same days.

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park

Day one: Emerald Lake & Takakkaw Falls

Emerald Lake is about an hour and a half drive from Canmore (and a bit less if you're staying in Banff) and boy is it worth the drive. You will no doubt have seen photos like this (to the right) on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest because it is just so beautiful and shareworthy.

Take a couple of hours to stroll around the lake, gawking in absolutely awe of the crazy blue colour of the water which makes it look like photoshop in real life. You can also hire kayaks to go out on the lake as well; we didn't do this but it would certainly be worth it. The price for kayak hire is pretty much the same at all the lakes we went to. We didn't really consider it to be cheap but it is worth it for the memories and experience of getting to kayak on a lake that looks like someone dropped some huge blue bath bombs into.

Pick up a snack from the little hut next to Emerald Lake Lodge and then head down the road to visit Takkakkaw Falls. The road up to the falls is well paved but can be quite windy and tight at times but do not let that deter you because it is stunning. The falls are about a 10-15 minute walk from the car.

If you want to find out more about Emerald Lake, I did a whole blog post about it.

We stayed at: Windtower Lodge & Suites in Canmore

Emerald Lake Lodge, Yoho National Park

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The Icefields Parkway

Day two: explore the Icefields Parkway

We were camping for the rest of our trip so we picked up our camping equipment from Rent-a-Tent in Canmore. If you are thinking about camping go for it because these guys were amazing and we're hiring from them again this summer.

The Icefields Parkway is a 232 mile (144 km) road connecting Banff and Jasper that features in a lot of "best roads to drive" lists, and for good reasons too. The views from the road are absolutely stunning and there are no shortages of places to stop off; whether it's a lake that is just at the edge of the road or the start of a hiking trail.

We made a few stop offs on the way up, including Peyto Lake and the Athabasca Glacier. It is possible to drive the entire length of the Icefields Parkway but as we stopped off a few times it took us about six hours.

In the evening, take a stroll around Jasper and find somewhere to eat. We found that some of the restaurants stopped serving food about 20:00 - 20:30, I'm not sure if that's normal in Canada but do keep it in mind.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground, a few minutes drive outside Jasper. You can find out more about it and reserve a pitch through Parks Canada.

Maligne Lake boat house and kayak rental

Medicine Lake, just outside Jasper

Day three: Medicine Lake & Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake can be very busy during the high season, so it's worth getting up early if you want to avoid the crowds. Also, if you get up early you are more likely to see wildlife; we saw a huge elk stood on the bank at the side of the road, looking out across his kingdom. We also saw a bear just outside Jasper early in the morning too.

On the way to Maligne Lake, it's worth stopping off at Medicine Lake and to see some of the eerie looking prescribed burn sites. Interestingly, Medicine Lake isn't really a lake and is actually a part of the Maligne River and it fills up to become a lake when the melt water can't drain away fast enough.

Once you're at Maligne Lake, there are a few trails you can follow, or you can take a boat tour around the lake, or go kayaking. We followed the shortest trail around the edge of the lake and into the forest before deciding to hire a kayak. Let me tell you that I do not recommend you do that if it's a windy day because it was pretty tough and was not entirely relaxing. You can read more about our windy kayaking experience on Maligne Lake here.

On the way back to Jasper, we stopped off at Maligne Canyon and had a walk around for about 45 minutes. Heights don't usually bother me, but looking down into the canyon was a little mind-bending.

We stayed at: Wapiti Campground again.

Athabasca Falls, just outside Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

A canyon at Athabasca Falls, Jasper

Day four: Around Jasper & Icefields Parkway

In the morning, we explored some of the stops on the Icefields Parkway closest to Jasper. The first one we went to was Athabasca Falls, which is about half an hour out of Jasper, as we decided we'd drive to the furthest point and then start coming back on ourselves. It was basically like a grander and fancier version of the canyon we visited the day before. It had longer trails, a roaring waterfall and the drops seemed even deeper.

The next stop was just a few minutes up the road; Horseshoe Lake and it was a real hidden gem. To get to the other side of the lake you have to follow this trail, which feels quite overgrown in comparison to pretty much all the other trails we saw. It was the only time in Canada where I felt like I might get snook up on by bears. The water looked so inviting and I had to stop myself from jumping in.

After that, we headed back through Jasper and stopped off a Pyramid Lake. When you see Pyramid Mountain from Jasper and the sun hits it at the right angle, it seems to glow a little and reminded us of a dragon's egg, so we took to calling it Dragon Mountain.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Edith and Annette Lake. The two lakes are really close together and you can easily walk between the two in a couple of minutes. In between the lakes are loads of picnic areas and you can just imagine how packed it must be come a nice summer day.

 

Snow on the icefields parkway

Lake Minnewanka, Banff

Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Day five: around Banff

We left Jasper just before 11am and only stopped off a couple of times on the way back down the Icefields Parkway to make the most of our time in Banff. It took us about three hours to drive from Jasper to Banff and we headed straight to Two Jack Lakeside campsite to set up our tent.

After being in the car for so long we took a walk around Banff, explored Vermillion Lakes, and Lake Minnewanka. Vermillion Lakes is on the edge of Banff and is a nice little route that takes you past the lakes, that have a distinctive sulphur smell.

There is a loop road around Lake Minnewanka called Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive, and there are a couple of trails which start off the loop as well.

Where we stayed: Two Jack Lakeside campsite. Again, this can be reserved through the Parks Canada website.

 

Kayaking on Lake Louise

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Day six: Lake Louise & Moraine Lake

Our sixth day was a seriously jam-packed one. We drove up to Lake Louise to see what all the hype was about; yes, it's very touristy but it is for a good reason because it is beautiful. We followed the Lake Agnes teahouse trail up the mountain to the teahouse, where we enjoyed a spot of well-deserved lunch. It probably took us about 40 - 50 minutes to reach the teahouse and it is possible to go onto do another tea house, called the Big Beehive, but we were not feeling fit enough at all.

When we returned to Lake Louise we decided to hire a kayak for an hour (read more about that here), which was more than enough time because it doesn't take that long to explore the lake.

Afterwards, we drove to Moraine Lake as we'd seen it on the cover of our Lonely Planet guidebook and wanted to see it for ourselves. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and there were buses, camper vans, and cars parked everywhere. Despite that, it wasn't that crowded and it certainly wasn't anywhere near as crowded as Lake Louise.

I think we both wished we had kayaked on Moraine Lake instead, hindsight is a wonderful thing. For both of us, Moraine Lake was an absolute highlight of the trip so if there is one thing I recommend you do, out of everything listed here or anything you see in guidebooks, it's Moraine Lake. Photos do not do it justice at all.

Kayaks at Moraine Lake, Alberta

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Morning reflection in Two Jack Lake

Day seven: Banff

If you are staying at Two Jack Lakeside, or even in the Banff area, I recommend getting up early and visiting Two Jack Lake as the sun rises. I am not a morning person at all but Daz managed to drag me out of the tent at 7am and I was rewarded with this stunning view. If you're hunting for all the red chairs, there are two on the banks of the lake.

After packing up our tent we went into Banff to get a couple of souvenirs, headed back to Canmore to return the camping equipment, and then went to the airport.

If your flight is later on in the day there are loads more things you could do around Banff, like visit the Cave & Basin museum, take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, visit Banff Hot Springs, go to the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary on the way to the airport, and so much more.

Life, Photography, UK

Going up the Wrekin / aka how unfit I am

April 11, 2017

View from the top of the Wrekin

In the Midlands, we have this saying "going around the Wrekin" which we use when someone is doing something a really long way, or if someone is rambling and taking forever to get to the point. It's based on a hill in Shropshire, called the wrekin, which provides amazing 360 views across the area.

Last Wednesday, the weather was looking pretty good and we decided it seemed almost criminal to stay indoors, especially now that my dissertation is done and I don't need to spend all day staring at a screen. We've recently been joking that we need to practice climbing hills and mountains because of all the hikes we want to do in Canada, so the Wrekin seemed like a good place to start.

This way or that way sign post
The summit of The Wrekin
View from the top of the wrekin
Don't get me wrong, at 407 metres high it is hardly Snowdon but I felt so incredibly unfit. My state of fitness (or rather absolute unfitness) is not a joke now; if I want to tackle some Canadian mountains I need to do some exercise because Daz says he won't be giving me a piggyback.

The climb up is fairly steep and took my breath away pretty quickly indeed. In about five minutes I was wishing I could transport into the bodies of all the happy excited looking dogs that were running up the hill.

The view from the top was well worth it though. I have always felt there is something really calming about being up a hill, a mountain, or even a building, and enjoying the view around you. Everything seems literally and figuratively small. Interestingly, there are also a lot of Pokemon up the wrekin so, y'know...Pokenerds, go! (Yes I am still playing it.)

The view over Shropshire from the top of the Wrekin

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The view from the Wrekin

The top of the Wrekin

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I'm trying out a different style for the format of blog posts, doing away with the sidebar and trying out different styles with the images. I've seen it on a couple of blogs recently and it's a style I really like in posts which have a lot of photos; what do you think though? You're my readers, do you like it? Is it a pain to find the copy amongst all the images?

Travel

Why I fall in love with places; what about you?

April 4, 2017

Walking through Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Photo taken in Gamla Stan, Stockholm

Sure, some places are awe-inspiring but I fall for the feeling, the possibilities and all the little things about a place.

My Mum would tell any one of you right now that I fall hard for places. Everywhere I go, I seem to fall for it and I’m plotting ways to get back there before I’ve even got on the flight home. It’s what I do.

I have lived in the same town all my life so when I visit somewhere new I can’t help but wonder what it might be like to live there. How it might feel to have mundane stuff to do, like visiting the post office or going food shopping, in places like Reykjavik, San Francisco, Banff, Stockholm. How it might feel to be going out for pizza and looking a little to your left and seeing mountains tower over you (that happened in Banff and it felt goooood). What it might be like to immerse yourself in a new language. How awesome it would feel to wake up and see a few feet of snow outside and know you’re probably stuck at home today. What it would be like to take the dog for a walk and see the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance (I did that too, it was seriously cool).

I suspect this is one of the reasons that I’m beginning to shy away from hotels and prefer things like camping or Air BnB because I think it gives you a slightly less touristy outlook on your trip. If you’re staying in an Air BnB you can stay in a residential area and find out what it’s like to get into the city, and maybe pretend for a minute that you’re a local. Or if you’re camping you need to find a grocery store to stock up. It’s not that I think there is anything bad about being a tourist at all but I definitely like to try and get a feel for what a place is like if you are a local.

When I went to San Francisco last year I stayed with a friend and it was easily the best experience I have ever had in terms of seeing somewhere as a local. We went into Oakland on a Friday night when they had an art festival on and went to this amazing little cinema with sofas and food delivered to your seat, and it was incredible. We stopped by one of her favourite Mexican food places and coffee spots, and I walked to hers from the BART station feeling the warm evening air. Yes, we did the touristy things too but those little things allowed me to pretend to be a local for a few days. 

While I do like to go sightseeing and exploring, the things I remember first are always the feelings:

  • The feeling of calm or that nothing else matters in Canada; it was long a really nice exhale that instantly relaxes you.
  • The chilled out, welcoming “everyone is equal” feel of Reykjavik.
  • The diversity and acceptance in California.
  • The friendliness of the locals in Ireland.
  • The unsurprising go-go-go atmosphere in New York.

Why do you fall in love with places?

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