Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Works on the line again

Even the train complains as we pull out of Victoria Station, articulating its protest with an ear-splitting screech of steel. Engineering works on the line have turned my fifty-minute trip back to Brighton into a gruelling, two-hour trudge.

We grind past the ribbed turrets of Battersea Power Station and pass tall brick walls, decorated with coils of flayed-metal burglar-stoppers that spiral past like abstract sculptures.

We rattle past the backs of flats and terraced houses, just slow enough to take in a gallery of rooftop gardens; a spectrum of plant-pots nurture obedient herbs and well-trained shrubs. We gain speed until public parks and private patios blur into manicured lawns and bean-poled allotments.

As roots and stems start to crumble the concrete, we plunge into the earth, clattering through a blackened tunnel and then shoot out the other side into dense jungle: vertical banks are buried in a mess of matted weeds, emerald bushes cling to the verge, and lime-coloured creepers clamber towards the train-tracks. A ginger fox flicks its eyes and yawns wide its raw-pink mouth, its curling tongue framed by jagged white teeth and wet black lips.

And then tangled grasses transform into windswept fields, the wilderness tamed as we speed past stable-yards, cricket-clubs and farm buildings – a living Lego-land of controlled countryside. History happens in such as rush, as a ruined fort blurs past, succeeded moments later by the immaculate fortress of Arundel Castle, its commanding stone columns rising around the crenelated keep.

We whizz along the coast-line, passing modest homes, unremarkable towns and unassuming dog-walkers; splashes of a sparkling sea wink just a few hundred metres beyond as the raspberry-red sun kisses the English Channel. I sink into my seat, watching autumn’s early-evening hues melt into the horizon until, giddy from my adventure, I alight at Brighton station all too soon. Walking home, I hope that they’re still mending the line tomorrow…

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

My 2011 travels so far..

It’s been a busy year of travels for me, so much so that my blog has been neglected – poor thing. Here’s a round-up of what I've been up to, to get us kick-started again…

Feb 2011: Sainte Foy
After spending my early twenties skiing and working in Val d'Isere, I'd always made a bee-line straight for my favourite ski-resort, without so much as a sideways glance to the umpteen other resorts I passed on my four hour journey there from the airport. This year however, I stopped half an hour before hitting 'Val', at the tiny station of sainte-Foy. Staying at Premiere-Neige's brand new hotel-chalet, 'The Peak', I shuushed down empty pistes, explored silent summer hamlets and feasted on fresh legs of lamb roasted over an open fire at Ma Maison. Find out more about this addictive resort in my upcoming article in the Independent on Sunday, this season.

March 2011: Malaysia
Anna - one of my bestest ever friends - lives and works in Kuala Lumpur. When she announced that she was getting married to a diving instructor on a tropical island in the South China Sea, I had my ticket booked within a week. A family and friends reunion in KL was followed by driving north in convoy for 6 hours and then slamming and smashing across a stormy sea to the wedding island in a tiny speed-boat, whilst clutching onto champagne flutes, tea-light holders and a very pregnant wedding guest. Anna made me promise NOT to write an article about her wedding day, so I swapped the pen in my hand for a glass of bubbly and just about managed to restrain myself.

April: Philippines
After weeks spent pouring over a map of the Philippines and picking out which of its 7107 islands to attack, we decided to stay put. Saving on the domestic flights and ferry rides, we travelled a few hours north of Manila to the Cordillera Mountains and stumbled across a lesser-visited and fascinating kingdom, where back-doors open out onto vertical drops, ancient Ifugao tribes cultivate 2000 year old rice terraces and freshly ground coffee is enjoyed with home-made yoghurt and wild strawberries. Get a taste for this spectacular region in my winning entry to the Telegraph’s ‘Just Back’ competition, Festival Time in the Philippines.

August: Menorca
For the second year running, my other half’s family and I returned to a stunning villa that teeters on the cliff-tops over Mahon harbour (right opposite Branson’s place!). We spent two decadent days floating in the infinity pool, paddling around the harbour in our much-loved inflatable kayak - and peering into the port-holes of the super yachts – before I strapped on my backpack and boots and set off to explore Menorca’s recently re-opened ancient bridleway, that circumnavigates the island’s coastline for around 185km. Find out all about my hiking, biking and horse-riding escapades in my Independent on Sunday article: All along the Watchtowers in Menorca.

July-August: Peru
Working as an expedition leader with BSES, I travelled to the Pacaya Samiria national reserve in Peru for a three week adventure, with a bunch of hormonal teenagers. After 4 days of travel, my group, or ‘fire’ and I paddled, padded, stomped and sliced our way along piranha-filled back-waters, transects teeming with tarantulas and cochas alive with crocs. Read more in an article I wrote for the Guardian: 'Taking a baby crocodile's vital statistics...'

Sailing, fishing, rowing and ringo-riding in Newton Ferrers, surfing and mussel-collecting in Bigbury, autumn hikes and freshly-baked bread in Slaithwaite, riverside walks and Sunday roasts in Cambridge, Roald Dahl’s writing shed and woodland walks in Great Missenden, a steamy spa-day in a converted textile mill in Huddersfield, mountain-biking in the South Downs, white-night in Brighton…often some of my favourite trips are closest to home and I wonder why I feel the need to travel so far for adventure. Never the less, my next big trip is to....

Travel dates: 11 Jan - 30 Jan 2012
Travelling with: Gap Adventures: The Spirit of Shackleton