Travelling 2016 - Arctic, Alps & Shetland

As the year ticks over, I always feel the need to reflect on what I’ve been doing and where I’ve been over the year and to think about where I'd like to get to in the next 12 months.  And I guess the urge to do that is particularly strong in what's been a rather strange (politically, at least) year.  

There's been a little bit less travel than in some previous years, but I’ve still managed time in the Arctic and the Alps - quite a lot of beach time both in Shetland and on the north of the Scottish mainland - and quite a lot of time in Coventry.

I’ve finally managed to see western Greenland in the sunshine (my previous photographs from were pretty dreich) and to take some decent pictures around the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord.

Getting to Greenland really doesn’t offer many alternatives to flying but some of the other destinations do offer other options.

The Alpine trip (to the Tiernsee in Austria) could have been done easily by plane or by train, so we opted for the train route travelling via Brussels, Frankfurt and Salzburg.  And yes, of course it all ran to the timetable except for the bits that involved tracks in the UK.  Watching the countryside of France, Belgium, Germany and Austria roll past seamlessly felt particularly poignant at a time when the UK electorate were gearing up to their collective act of daftness.

Over the last ten years I’ve gone to Shetland by several different routes - usually driving to Aberdeen and finishing the journey north by boat or flying from London via Glasgow or Aberdeen, but occasionally coming up with other variants.  In April this year, in a fit of individual daftness I decided that rather than fly north, I’d get the sleeper bus from London to Aberdeen and finish the journey by boat.  The direct bus turned into four buses, and involved a lot of time sitting around at various motorway services and bus depots.  All in all, the most commendable aspect of the Megabus service was the speed at which they were able to refund my fare (which had been refunded before the journey ended!).

Travel traumas not withstanding I did manage to see Shetland in the sun, rain, wind and snow (and not always on the same day!).  I’ve reassured myself that there isn’t anywhere that I rather be to unwind than on Scat Ness.

Top three travel experiences of 2016

3.  Going from London to Aberdeen by bus.  I’m noting this under “once-in-a-lifetime-experiences”.  I won’t be risking an overnight bus from London again anytime soon.

2.  Wandering the edges of the Tiernsee in western Austria.  Fantastic scenery and great strudel.

1. Flying across the Icefjord en route into Ilulissat on the little plane from Kangerlussuaq.

And plans for 2017

I have one trip into the Arctic by boat (to Jan Mayen Island, and on north to Svalbard) already in the diary, and have a strong hankering (but no booking yet) to get back to the Antarctic. There aren’t many trips to the Ross Sea, but it doesn’t seem right that I’ve not been on one yet!

I (bus experiences not withstanding) still want to do a really long haul train journey - maybe next year I’ll find an excuse to do the Trans-Siberian railway. 

And I really do need to spend a bit more time on Shetland in the next year - this year included lots of short periods in residence so I need to conjure up some longer ones too.

Not quite sure how to work all these ideas alongside my regular visits to Coventry - maybe some creative accounting or teleworking, at least, is needed.

Home from home

At the end of each year I tally up where my travels have taken me - this year I can (in addition to ‘home’ time in Oxford and on Shetland) lay claim to Ilulissat in western Greenland, Inverness in northern Scotland, Salzburg in Austria - and a surprisingly large number of nights in Coventry.

Over the last twelve months I’ve clocked up 29 nights in the various conference centres around the University of Warwick campus on the outskirts of Coventry.

I’ve spent four nights in the ‘posh’ centres (Radcliffe and Scarman) and the other 25 in the rather cosier little conference centre (Arden).  

Radcliffe Conference Centre

Arden  Conference Centre

Scarman  Conference Centre

My Warwick nights are my chance to have a couple of midweek beers (and even occasionally do some blog post writing) without needing to face the commute back down the M40.

And I might have acquired a taste for this....

Missing, December 2016

Over many years of taking a photo-a-day there have been a number of subjects that have appeared regularly.  In some cases, out of desperation (to ensure that I 'got' a picture of the day) I've resorted to photographs of the cat or of what I've been eating or drinking.

On other days I've photographed local landmarks.

One of the local landmarks I've photographed many times is a distinctive tree in my local park, Bury Knowle Park in Headington.

My favourite picture of The Tree is probably one I took in the snow in early 2009.

February 2009

Over the next few years The Tree survived several big storms pretty much intact

December 2010
May 2011
October 2013
February 2014
October 2014
January 2015

In early 2015, one of the big branches finally gave way, but the rest of the canopy remained intact.

March 2015
March 2015 
February 2016

Then, finally at some point between February and today (December 2016) The Tree was finally removed.  Not sure why I've not noticed before (I've clearly been taking my emergency pictures elsewhere), but it does feel like there's hole in the Park.

December 2016

Keeping Them Guessing, Shetland November 2016

It wasn't quite an out-of-office message - but it was my twitter equivalent as I arrived on Shetland at the weekend.

If anyone wants me, I'll be on the beach

Nicely ambiguous.  There are a lot of beaches at the south end of Shetland, and even on a short trip (with some dodgy weather) I managed to walk quite a lot of them.

West Voe Beach
Quendale Beach
Scord Beach
St Ninian's Beach (northside)
St Ninian's Beach (southside)
Spiggie Beach
And just to keep the variety up, I also spent quite a lot of time on Scat Ness too in both mild and wild weather.

Scat Ness - mild
Scat Ness - wild
Quite a good record, since I was only on Shetland for about 20 daylight hours this time.

On Show. November 2016

I’m going to be showing photographs at a number of events over the next few weeks.

If you're in Oxford over the next couple of months you’ll be able to see some of my pictures (alongside other Arctic-related artworks) at the Oxford Museum of Natural History.

Artweek Arctic is open from 11th November until 29th January 2017.

I’m also going to be giving a talk (about polar bears) at the Museum on the evening of Monday 5th December

I’ll be open for Oxford Christmas Artweeks – from midday-6PM on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th November at 34 Stile Road, Headington, Oxford, OX3 8AQ

And finally (at the moment) I’ll be at St Andrews School Headington, Oxford OX3 9ED for their annual craft fair on Sunday 4th December.

Ilulissat Icefjord, Disko Bay, Greenland

Different Perspectives. October 2016

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the Cairngorms and along the coastline of northern Scotland over the years.  I love both areas and always enjoy the escape that being there as a visitor brings.

Sometimes however you need to look at things through a different set of lenses.  

We’ve just spent a week in the northern edges of the Cairngorm National Park, which let us spend time both in the mountains and on the coast.  The new lens was  “What would it be like to live here?”.  

This gave us the excuse to think about things a bit differently. What would road/rail/air communications be like?  Where would we go to do the weekly shopping? Where’s the nearest bookshop?  Is the weather always like this?  What are the house prices like?  Will my mobile phone ever see 4G again?

Suffice to say we had a really good time exploring, and that more research is needed…

Lochindorb Lodge
Loch Morlich
Nairn Beach
Loch Morlich
Nairn Beach
Findhorn Beach
Findhorn Bay 
Evening Mists

Walking The Walk. October 2016

2015 was my Lairig Ghru year, over the 12 months of a rather strange and disrupted year I managed to stick with my resolution to walk up from Aviemore into the Lairig Ghru every month of the year.  Some months the weather intervened and I was only able to get part way before being blown or blizzarded off my feet.  In other months I was able to have a picnic at the Pools of Dee looking over into Deeside.

Then at the end of the December I stopped doing the walk - project done, just needed to sort out the photographs and write about the whole endeavour.  

The real problem has been that I’m missing the regular walks. I stopped off briefly in June en route to Inverness for a quick fix, but until today (October 2016) I hadn’t had, or at least hadn’t conjured up, the chance to redo the walk.

Today I got reminded of how lovely the walk up from Loch an Eilein is.  

I started by watching the mists rolling across the Loch, before climbing up through the autumn colours past Lochan Deo, over the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, turning right at Piccadilly before climbing up through the tree-line and to the Rothiemurchus Lodge turn.  

People talk about knowing a path like the back of their hand, and there are times when I think I could walk the walk blindfold, or at least in the dark.  (I have walked bits of it in the dark, when I’ve dawdled too much).

But truth be told, it’s not a walk I’d ever want to do blindfold, the views are just too good to miss.

Loch an Eilein
Rothiemurchus Autumn
Above Allt Druidh
Near the Rothiemurchus Tree Line
Looking into the Lairig Ghru
Every Autumn Colour 

North Wales, October 2016

When I announce that I’m heading North that often means I’m heading off to the Arctic Circle, or at very least to Shetland.  This time my ‘North Weekend’ wasn’t quite so far away, only to 53N.  My excuse was a John Muir Trust meeting in the Snowdonia National Park, and a chance to spend a couple of days on the North Wales coast.

At one time I used to visit Snowdonia quite regularly - it was an ideal mountain location for weekend trips from Bristol in my student days (the Lakes were good too, but it took a bit longer to get there, and Scotland really only worked for longer trips).  I’ve got clear (nay, vivid) memories of being in North Wales, and in almost every case the memories involve getting wet and being wet.  The one exception was getting burnt to a crisp walking the Snowdon Horseshoe over a Bank Holiday weekend.  My other recollection of weekend walking in Wales (in the early 80s) involved trying to figure out which places were dry on Sunday (and I’m not talking about rain).

So back to North Wales it was.  This time no tent or youth hostel involved, just a little hotel with a seaview in Llandudno.  I suspect that if I went in search of a meteorologist s/he would tell me that it rains on something like one day in three in North Wales. I’ll dispense with the science, and confirm that based on my recent observation it does indeed rain on one day in three in North Wales.  In my experiment, this meant one day of almost continuous rain from just after dawn to just before dusk sandwiched between two days of cloudless blue skies.

The first sunny day lured me up onto the Great Orme just outside Llandudno - visitors are lured to the top by tram, cable car, road and foot.  I opted for the foot option and climbed the 200 metres to the top of the Orme - splendid views, with the Isle of Man just visible on the horizon (there’s an island I’ve not yet visited).  Having climbed up (and down) 200 metres, the next stop was out to sea (and back) by 700 metres along the Llandudno Pier.

Top of Great Orme - looking down towards Llandudno
Llandudno Pier
On the rain day, the sun did put in a very brief appearance as it crept about the top of the Little Orme at the eastern  end of Llandudno Bay. And having popped above the headland it promptly disappeared behind thick cloud and the rain started.  Fortunately I got to spend the entire day (inside) at the Plas y Brenin mountain centre talking about rewilding in Wales, and it was (as our hosts pointed out) a very good day to be inside.

Early Light over Llandudno Bay
Plas y Brenin in the Rain
Having got the rain out of its system, the weather returned to summer.  I took this as a prompt to add a new entry to my list of visited islands, and headed along the coast road and across the Menai Strait onto Anglesey.  Anglesey is connected to mainland Wales by two bridges - an older one built by Telford in the 19th Century and a much newer one rebuilt in the 1970s to carry traffic to the port at Holyhead.  I spent a little bit of time exploring Menai Bridge (the town at the Anglesey end of the old bridge), and around Beaumaris.  

Sunny Sunday Morning in Llandudno, with the Clouds clearing from Snowdon
Menai Bridge
Beaumaris Castle
Having spent long enough there to be able to add Anglesey to my list, I heading back along the A5 across the old bridge and through into the Snowdonia National Park.  

Through the Mountains, Snowdonia National Park
It was a beautiful autumn day to be in the mountains, and an awful lot of people had came to the same conclusion, and I suddenly recalled one of the challenges of being in North Wales.  The scenery is fantastic but it is very accessible to a huge population - and the paths and parking spaces all fill up very early on good days.  So with the occasional roadside stop I wound my way through the mountains surrounded by caravans, motorbikes, cyclists and classic cars. I’m sure the roads would have been quieter if if had been raining, but I guess the views wouldn’t have been as good.