Moving to My Own Website

I haven’t posted on here in quite a while. This isn’t because I’ve stopped blogging, but because I’ve only gone and got myself a proper website. It is on my list of 60 things to do before I’m 60 after all.

I started setting it up early this year and finally went live with it just before I disappeared off to the Arctic for the summer. Now I’m back I’m spending a lot of time working on it. I have soooo much to learn.

Come over and tell me what you think. You can find me at www.invertedsheep.com

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Tea at the Ritz

One of the more sedate challenges on my 60 before 60 list is to have afternoon tea at the Ritz.

When I first lived in London I worked at a sandwich bar on a hidden alleyway near St James’s Palace. I used to get the tube to Green Park and so twice a day I would walk past the Ritz on Piccadilly. I never ventured inside. Doormen in tophats and tails would swing the doors open for expensively clad people alighting from taxis outside; if it was raining they even held huge golf umbrellas to prevent elegant hairdos from turning frizzy.

I imagined the same doormen slamming the doors shut if I ever tried to enter in my old jeans and trainers. One day, I thought, I will go there and they will hold the doors open for me and I will go inside and have afternoon tea. (I considered afternoon tea to be the poshest of the posh when it comes to food.)

Although I’ll happily do most things on my own, this is one of those things that I think will be enjoyed more if I have someone to share the experience with. And as it’s expensive I knew it could take a while before I found someone willing. Fortunately, I’ve now found that someone.

A good friend and I were at the funeral of another friend this week. She was only 45 and died suddenly. After the funeral we went for a drink in her memory and got onto a maudlin discussion of how life is short and you never know what’s round the corner. I kind of know this already which is one of the reasons I have a list in the first place, but sometimes I need reminding of it.

By the end of the drink we’d decided that part of making the most of life should involve a weekend in London and afternoon tea at the Ritz. I went home and booked it.

Because we want a weekend date and don’t want to have afternoon tea at 7.30pm in the evening (that’s just wrong), the earliest date I could get is in October. At least we’ve got plenty of time to save up for it.

And maybe it will be raining in October. Even if it’s not, I might still ask the doorman to hold an umbrella over my head.

 

 

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A year ago I was at Up Helly Aa

Up Helly Aa has been and gone again. It’s always on the last Tuesday of January and brightens some of the darkest days in the British winter. Shetland being so far north, it gets even gloomier than Manchester. Something hard to believe with the gloomy, drizzly weather we’ve been having lately.

Last year I was fortunate to be able to spend a week in Shetland and attend the festivities. I got to have one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life (and there have been a few!) and to cross a challenge off my 60 things to do before I’m 60 list.

I’ve been following it closely online this year and wishing I was there. I’ve just been reminiscing with my photos. The low light, rain and fast moving Vikings made it difficult to get good photos, but even the worst photos have good memories behind them and I love looking back at them. I’ve selected a few of the better ones and have put together a Flickr album.

Up Helly Aa

I’ve written a few other posts on Up Helly Aa and they can be found by clicking on the links below.

After my trip last year, I wrote about the day and the night parts of the festival.

I’ve also written an overview of what Up Helly Aa is.

My potted history of the festival can be found here.

The Up Helly Aa website can be found here.

 

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Kungsleden Photographs

In the summer of 2014 I walked about half of Sweden’s Kungsleden (it translates as the King’s Way or the King of Ways, depending on who you choose to believe).

The Kungsleden begins well above the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland and follows a trail through valleys, over mountains and across rivers and lakes. Although there are camping huts spaced roughly a day apart, for the most part this is true wilderness with the nearest road often being several days walk away.

Basic food supplies can be bought at some of the huts, but for the most part you have to carry everything you need. The food in the huts is of the dried, canned and processed variety as it all has to be brought in my snow-mobile in March when the snow is at its deepest. It then has to last till the end of summer.

Water for washing and drinking is taken from the lakes and rivers and is some of the purest I’ve ever drank (and washed in).

I’ve put some photograhs (actually, I’ve put a LOT of photographs) on Flickr, but even the best photography can’t do justice to the beauty of this place. It’s one of those places you just have to see for yourself.

Click on the image below to access the album.

Kungsleden

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The Golden Circle at New Year

Having posted my wintry Reykjavik photographs yesterday and having my first Flickr experience, I’ve got a bit carried away and put another album together.

The Golden Circle is a popular day trip from Reykjavik. The 300km loop encompasses Þingvellir (the site of world’s oldest parliament and the place where the tectonic plates that form Europe and America are being slowly pulled apart), Gullfoss waterfalls and the geysers at Haukadalur which include Strokkur and Geysir (the one after which all other geysers are named). The tour also includes Kerið volcano crater, Skálholt church and the small geothermal town of Hveragerði. I chose to visit on New Year’s Day in 2012 when everything was frozen and under a thick layer of snow. The scenery I saw that day still takes my breath away when I think about it.

Click on the picture below to get to the album on Flickr.

The Golden Circle at New Year

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Wintry Reykjavik

I’ve been seeing so many beautiful, wintry, snowy photos on Facebook recently. Each time I look at them I’m reminded of the snowy New Year I spent in Reykjavik a few years back. Nowhere else has ever come close to the jaw-dropping, fingertip-freezing scenes I saw there. Even ordinary streets and shops looked like something out of a Bruegel painting. Although the sun barely rose above the horizon the light and colours were stunning. I took hundreds of photographs, even though it meant I had to keep taking my gloves off, just because I wanted to capture every last icicle and snow-covered rooftop.

I’m enjoying looking back at those photographs so much I’ve put some of them together in my first ever Flickr slideshow. Unfortunately, WordPress and Flickr don’t seem to like each other and so rather than a smooth link I’ve embedded a link to Flickr in the picture below. Clicking on the picture should take you to the album. If anyone knows a better way of doing this, your advice will be gratefully received!

 

Wintery Reykjavik

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Thames Path – Henley to Reading

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I’d googled parking in Henley before leaving home and discovered I could park for free in a small car park by the section of the Thames Path I was intending to walk.

I parked, got my boots on and walked across a field to the river. As it was a nice half term day and not too far from the centre of town there were plenty of families about.

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Close to where I was starting today’s walk, houses and their gardens reached down to the river bank which should have necessitated an inland detour, but didn’t because a long, winding, wooden walkway sits in the river like a bridge connecting two parts of the same bank.

The walkway leads to a small island from which Marsh Lock can be accessed. The current lock dates from 1773, though there have been locks here for at least 600 years. The walkway, which continues from the island and returns to the bank, was originally created as part of the towpath, but is now a structure used for pleasure rather than work. An information board explains how the fish ladder to the side of the lock and weir works.

035Once the walkway deposited me back on the bank I was able to follow the river through a meadow until the path turned inland towards the village of Shiplake.

The path led alongside some rather large houses including one that has its own railway running through the extensive grounds. The railway is of the miniature sort, but still has its own station building looking very real, albeit scaled down to about half ‘actual size’.  The house is Thameside Court and has been owned by billionaire Urs Schwarzenback since the 1990s. It was after he moved in that the gardens were landscaped and the railway built. I guess if you’re a billionaire a miniature railway is no big deal. He could probably buy out Network Rail should he ever feel the whim.

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I followed the road by the houses until Thames Path signs led me along a narrow path before leading to Shiplake Station (the full-size one) and through the village. Eventually, I was able to walk across a field to get back to the river.

As I walked through fields, I was overtaken on the river by a military task force canoeing their way on, I presume, a mission to invade Reading.

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Houses and gardens yet again reached down to the banks of the river. So far today the problem of pesky private houses had been resolved firstly, by a walkway over the river the itself and secondly, by a long inland detour. I now found the third solution: to tramp right through the gardens themselves.

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Each garden had fences or hedges running right down to the river and in each fence or hedge was a gate with a Thames Path footpath sign. I felt a little strange wandering into people’s gardens, but soon got over my hesitation as no-one seemed to be around and the gardens were far too interesting to keep my eyes averted anyway. Each owner had their own style, though there is obviously a bylaw compelling everyone to have a Buddha and wind chimes in some form or other. My favourite garden was the first which had a lovely summer house at the bottom right by the river.

065The path signs eventually led right up someone’s garden and through a gate onto their driveway, I followed the road for a few minutes before getting back to the river at Shiplake Lock. The walk continued along a pleasant towpath with boats chugging by.

I crossed the bridge taking me back from Oxfordshire to Buckinghamshire and continuing now on the opposite bank, I stopped for a short break at Sonning lock and finished the coffee in my flask. There were a lot more people around now with many obviously just enjoying a short stroll.

I felt I was in Reading a long time before I actually reached it. I walked along playing fields with the river on my right and a busy road lined with modern office buildings on my left.

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As I came closer to the town centre an offshoot of the river disappeared behind apartment buildings on the far bank. I could have reached it by crossing a bridge, but had no reason to. Instead I took photographs of swans swimming amongst rubbish with backdrops of huge gas storage tanks.

It was only when I stopped a bit later on and checked the map to see where I should turn away from the river in order to reach the train station, that I realised the narrow offshoot I’d seen was actually the Thames and I was now walking along the Avon and Kennet Canal. It wasn’t a problem as I was still able to easily get to the station.

There’s a Riverside Museum in Reading that I’d quite like to come back and have a look at one day. If I do, I may also walk a loop of the Thames and the canal so as to complete the small section of Thames Path I missed out on today.

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I found Reading Station, bought a ticket to Henley, checked the platform number and time of the train, then, as I had lots of time, went for a wander. It was only when I went to catch my train that I realised just how big Reading Station actually is and I hadn’t allowed enough time to get to the platform. I arrived in time to see my train pulling out.

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I had to wait a while for the next train and by the time I arrived back in Henley it was completely dark. I set off along the river to follow the Thames Path for today’s final kilometre to the car park. Although it was dark my night vision soon adjusted and I didn’t need to dig my head-torch out of my backpack. I’d expected this to be a lonely stretch as it was dark, but there seemed to be plenty of joggers and dog walkers still about. I quite enjoyed this last part of my walk even though I couldn’t see anything. It felt like I’d sneaked an extra bit onto my day.

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Thames Path – Marlow to Bourne End

Thames in the evening light

I was heading south for half term. I planned to leave early on Sunday morning and spend the day walking a section of the Thames Path before arriving at a friend’s place in the evening. However, feeling grotty with the remains of a cold meant I didn’t get myself into gear until much later than I’d intended.

By the time I got anywhere near the Thames it was far too late to think about doing a long walk. Particularly as the clocks had just changed and so I’d be losing daylight earlier as well.

duck on the river

It was a beautiful afternoon, perfect for a walk along the river, so I churned ideas over in my mind as I chugged down the motorway. I remembered I still had to walk the couple of miles between Bourne End and Marlow, as when I’d previously walked this section I’d had to cut out this bit due to flooding.

Thames

Ideally I would walk from Bourne  End to Marlow as I’ve generally been heading west on my walk, but I knew I could park for free in Marlow and it wouldn’t  be a problem returning in the dark. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do this at Bourne End.

Marlow lock

Marlow Lock

Train times between the two places meant it made sense to start walking straight away and catch the train back from Bourne End rather than take the train to Bourne End and walk back to Marlow from there. Not a problem. It’s not the only section I’ve walked ‘the wrong way’ and I don’t really mind which direction I go in as long as I eventually walk the whole path.

 

I parked my car, got my boots on and walked the short distance to the river. A year ago when I was here and walked to Henley it was a hot, sunny day and I couldn’t quite believe it was the beginning of November. People were out in hordes strolling along the riverbank in t-shirts and eating ice-creams. It was a nice day today, though not quite as warm as last year and being later in the day, there weren’t nearly so many people around.

Turning east at the river I walked towards the weir and lock. As I looked back  the low sun cast Marlow in a beautiful light.

Marlow Lock

I soon left the houses behind on my side of the bank and stopped frequently to take photos of the dazzling array of autumnal colour trying to capture the perfect image of red, orange and gold reflected in the silvery river. Although I was quite happy with some of my photos I never quite got that perfect shot.

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Across the river, the wooded bank rose steeply and was dotted with mansions, some in colours vivid enough to rival the autumn leaves with their brightness. If you’ve ever hankered after a Barbie pink mansion, this is the place to find one.

Pink mansion

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The Marlow bypass is the only ‘ugly’ bit of this walk and it’s soon passed by.

Quarry Wood on the opposite bank is thought to have been the inspiration for the ‘wild wood’ in The Wind in Willows.

I kicked my way through the leaves and eventually came to a series of fields, the first of which was home to a herd of very inquisitive cows. A couple of young cows were standing in the river eating from the side of the bank. I wondered how they’d get back up, but as they seemed quite content presumed they knew what they were doing.

As I tried to photograph them one cow in particular was very curious about my camera and kept pushing its face towards the lens. I was worried it make try to take a bite out of it, but I think it was just trying to photo-bomb my pictures.

These were the fields that had been completely under water when I’d tried to walk here a couple of years ago. The fields are bordered by the river on one side and the train line on the other and there’s no way of avoiding them without a long detour along roads away from the river.

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There were quite a few boats on the river, some were posh yachts, others were like this tiny boat with two men balanced inside enjoying a bit of fishing.

As the sun started to set and the moon began to rise, lights started to come on in some of the houses opposite and smoke puffed out of chimneys.

Large flocks of geese rose and nosily made their way across the river to their roosts.

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I passed the benches I’d photographed from the train last time I was here. Then I could see only the tops of them above the water.

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Coming towards Bourne End the path passed through a narrow walkway with wooden houses lining both sides. Exiting this walkway I continued past the marina before turning in to find the main road and the train station.

 

 

 

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Chungking Mansions

This is a piece I wrote recently for a Wanderlust competition. I didn’t win, but it’s still nice seeing my work on their website. The criteria for the entries was to write about a ‘high place’ you’ve travelled to. Instead of mountains, I chose to write about my time living as a backpacker in Hong Kong in the mid-1990s.

 

The Seventeenth Floor

Fifteen people stood waiting for the lift, the one that stopped at even-numbered floors only. Most of them were Westerners. That was no good. Although the sign inside the lift claimed it was designed to carry six people at a time, it neglected to mention that this didn’t include Westerners. Being on the whole much larger and heavier than the local Chinese, the lift would refuse to budge if more than four squeezed in at once.

If I was going to have to wait for the lift to do its journey more than three times, it was quicker to walk. I turned and pushed through the doors leading to the stairs. I was good at this now and no longer needed to pause for breath as I climbed to the seventeenth floor.

Living on the seventeenth floor, I felt like I was part of a secret club. Most people didn’t know it existed. Of course the even-floored lift didn’t go to the seventeenth, it stopped at the sixteenth, but for some reason the odd-floored lift didn’t go to the seventeenth either. It stopped at the fifteenth.

My building was officially called a Mansion, but was more often referred to as a ‘death-trap’ or a ‘den of iniquity’ and sometimes, when a journalist needed to pad out his word count in the South China Morning Post, as a ‘cockroach-infested, iniquitous death-trap’. He wasn’t far wrong.

I shared a room with ten people. Those on the top bunks had to carefully manoeuvre onto their beds so as to avoid decapitation by the uncovered ceiling fans which were constantly whirring in a vain attempt to counteract blood-boiling temperatures and humidity levels of nearly 100%.

We shared two toilets, not just my roommates and me, but the people in the other rooms too. The toilets were holes in the floor. The limp bit of hose dangling from the wall was the shower. To use it, I’d stand straddling the toilet hole; if I dropped the soap, I was never getting it back. I’d wave the hose around as tepid water dribbled out. Water pressure was an unknown concept on the seventeenth floor.

When the air became too stifling; the noise too deafening; the smells too overpowering, there was an escape. If not many people knew about the existence of the seventeenth floor, even fewer knew of the rickety ladder leading to a trapdoor at the corridor’s dark dead-end. Pushing up through that trapdoor led to the roof.

In among the grimy water tanks and pipes, leaning on the low wall that edged its way round the roof, I could look out over all the other buildings and peer down onto the flashing neon billboards strung across the road and plastering the buildings. It was quiet up here. Peaceful. Almost tranquil. It didn’t even smell too bad.

Overcrowding and a lack of land meant there was a need for tall buildings, but the jumbo jets circling low as they descended to the airport, put paid to any idea of Dubai-style skyscrapers. Planning regulations in Kowloon dictated that buildings couldn’t be higher than seventeen storeys.

On the roof of the seventeenth floor I was the highest person in Kowloon. I was up there with the planes, trying, but never quite being able, to see the faces of the passengers which I knew would be glued to the glass the same as mine was when I first flew into Hong Kong. I’d never had an introduction to a city like it; a pigeon’s eye view of the streets I’d soon be walking down.

I knew I lived in a dive. It was a place my Chinese students were too terrified to enter. It had weirdos and people hawking up phlegm. It had police raids at 5 o’clock in the morning. It had cockroaches and rats. But it also had the best Indian food and the friendliest people. It was a hive of activity. It was a hub of multi-culturalism. And there, perched on that roof top, gazing out at the lights reflecting in the harbour, caressed by the warm night air, I knew Chungking Mansions was the only place I wanted to be. It was home.

 

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Well that was easy …

I’d mentioned in my last post that I wanted to transfer all my old posts on Blogger over to my new WordPress blog so I’d have everything in the one place. I anticipated this taking a very long time and thought I had around 100 hours work ahead of me. Then the wonderful Ruth over at coastalwalker chipped in with a comment telling me how I could bring the whole lot over in just a few clicks.

I’m not too bad at figuring out how things work when it comes to computers, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that this would be possible, so of course I’d not looked for ways to do it and was going to slowly copy and paste each individual post.

With Ruth’s advice I was quickly able to export my Blogger blog and import it into my WordPress blog in one fell swoop. How easy and quick was that!

Now I just have to tidy up the tags and categories AND get round to finishing all the posts I have sitting in drafts AND make more effort to post regularly. I don’t suppose anyone knows a quick way of getting posts to write themselves do they?

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