On Two Legs in the Peak District

Buffeted by a blustery wind, I took in the burnished autumnal hues of the Peak District. A frisson of warmth in the last few days had painted the countryside, and the pockets of trees splashed russet, gold and auburn among the green pastures of the hills. The picturesque village of Castleton, built in grey Derbyshire stone, was dappled with sunlight and shadows as clouds drifted across the sky. I couldn’t imagine a place I’d rather be on a crisp, sunny, November day than at the top of Mam Tor. Mam Tor means Mother Hill; she’s also known as Shivering Mountain. Apparently, the name’s due to some landslips that caused this peak to tremble, but it seems apt for different reasons when you reach the summit and the wind whips wildly around you. Whatever you call her, she’s a majestic feature of the Peak District, with the high, wild Dark Peak in one direction, and the undulating, limestone White Peak landscape in the other. When I moved back to Sheffield just over a month ago, one of the things I was most looking forward to was having the Peaks right on my doorstep. It’s one of the UK’s most beautiful natural areas, and its oldest National Park. I live on the edge of the city, and it takes just minutes to leave urbanity behind and find myself on the winding roads of the Peak District. But for the last few weeks, I’ve had problems with my legs, so I’ve barely left my everyday surroundings of home and university.  I’ve found walking difficult and driving painful, and I can feel my...

The Marvel of Marvão

I pulled the car into a parking space with a jolt. Laid out before me was the most magnificent view: a patchwork of green hills, dusky mountains meeting a cheerful blue sky, the afternoon sun illuminating vineyards and whitewashed houses with a flattering golden hue. Somewhere lay the invisible border, dividing this harmonious landscape into part-Portugal, part-Spain.  It was the kind of view to be savoured, gasped over, truly and deeply appreciated. But I couldn’t really process it; not at that precise moment. My only thought was: ‘I can’t drive through that!’ ‘That’ was a set of quaintly narrow archways set into the medieval stone walls which encircled the town of Marvão. My car was on the small side, and I had just watched two cars emerge from the town, unscathed. It’s just that my nerves were a little shot after being tailgated around hairpin bends by an impatient idiot, and I knew all too well what small town Portuguese roads were like – impractically if attractively cobbled, and as narrow as they could possibly be. After a moment or two of taking deep breaths, I fired up the engine and crawled through the arches, feeling more like I was steering a ship through a tight harbour than simply driving a car. I was relieved to find that my hotel, and the town’s main car park, were only one tiny street away, and I was able to relax. This is a long way of saying that Marvão is a town which far pre-dates cars. There are several of these medieval fortified towns dotted around Portuguese hillsides, but Marvão was...

The Mythical Isle of Skye

Myth, magic and legend – welcome to the Isle of Skye.   I’ve just returned from a week-long tour of Scotland and I have so much to share about the country, my head is spinning. It is without doubt, one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I’ve climbed a mountain, found my ancestral home, whale-watched and walked barefoot on a deserted beach, among other things.  But the place which stands out most in my mind as I think back over this extraordinary trip is the mythical Isle of Skye.   Skye is windswept, wild and utterly glorious. If you only have a short time to see the Highlands, this is the place to go. I was on a Haggis Adventures tour, and our guide, Andy, a native highlander, declared this ‘winged isle’ to be his favourite place. As we had already seen lochs and mountains of breathtaking beauty, Skye had a lot to live up to. But it was love at first sight. We arrived into Kyle of Lochalsh in the early evening, just as the sun was bathing everything in a golden glow. This village is actually still on the mainland, but it is the point of entry to the Isle of Skye, just a few metres over the bridge. It was the perfect introduction. Andy took us on one of his ‘romantic walks’ – for which he became famed over the 5 days – to the undeniably romantic ruins of Castle Moir, which sit atop a small island, on the stretch of water between Kyle of Localsh and the Isle of Skye. As the...

Seeing the World from Up High

To travel the Starry-Eyed way, you don’t need much; just a thirst for curiosity, a good dose of spontaneity – and a head for heights. It doesn’t matter where I am; out in the desert, deep in a jungle, in the midst of a metropolis, or in a small town by the sea, there is one thing I just have to do in every single place I visit. And it involves going up. I have always wanted to be close to the stars. As a child, I had an attic room with a slanted roof window. Without my parents knowing, I often used to clamber up and out of that window, and sit with a book in the ‘V’ of our roof and next door’s, dangling my legs in the nothingness below. It was the most delicious feeling of a half-forbidden freedom. So perhaps it’s no surprise that, wherever I go, I head for the nearest rooftop, clifftop or mountaintop. The moment I fell in love with Chicago was when I saw it  from the Hancock Tower. In Coroico, Bolivia, the steep climb to the guesthouse I was staying in was made utterly worthwhile thanks to the views. Arica, Chile, is a pleasant enough border town, the kind of place you just pass through, but from the top of a cliff, it reveals itself as a man-made oasis in the desert. Languedoc-Roussillon, France, becomes a place of myth and legend the moment you ascend into the mountains. But it doesn’t have to be quite so high or quite so dramatic to take my breath away: one of my favourite...

A Highland Adventure: From Edinburgh to Glencoe

  No trip to Scotland is complete without a Haggis Adventure. And no, I’m not talking about the oaty goodness that dances on your taste buds. The Haggis adventure I’m talking about took us on a Highland tour. After an evening spent exploring Edinburgh Castle and tapping our toes to some seriously bonny beats, we wandered home only to pass the window display of Haggis Adventure Tours. Posters advertising a trip departing the next day at seven am lined the glass. We’d already seen some of Edinburgh’s delights and rugged Scotland was calling us. Tomorrow we’d be going on a Highland adventure. So here we were; seven am, aboard a Haggis bus and listening to the Proclaimers. Our animated tour guide was poised to show us some of Scotland’s best and before long we arrived at Doune Castle. Any Michael Palin or Graham Chapman fans may recognise it from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After a walk about the place it was time to get back aboard the bus and continue North. We didn’t get far before stumbling across an old weaving house stowed aside the mottled landscape. Aside from the chilly temperature, you couldn’t help but notice the hum of the hills that made for an eerie yet well trodden atmosphere. These hills were soon to become mountains as we ventured further into the mist. Then, as we approached Glencoe, we stopped at the first of many dramatic lochs. Our cameras flashed and we inhaled the dewy air. The steely water lay dormant, a mirror of what rose above served to conceal whatever slept beneath. It’s rare...
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