Traverse 17 – My First Travel Blogging Conference

Last weekend I attended my first travel blogging conference. This is what it was like.

There are a lot of travel blogging conferences around such as TBEX and WITS. I see a lot about them online and they seem like they’d be both good fun and a good opportunity for learning and networking. I’ve quite fancied the idea of going to one for a while now, but various things have held me back.

They’re too far away, too expensive, not at the right time, my blog isn’t big enough and I won’t be able to take advantage of all the opportunities on offer …

All good reasons, but even so they’re holding me back. Continue reading “Traverse 17 – My First Travel Blogging Conference”

Brecon by Boat

An afternoon spent relaxing on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal got a bit more exciting when the boat I was on went on a rescue mission.

Brecon is somewhere I’ve visited before and used as a base for walking. This time I was passing through on my way to Cardiff and didn’t have time to get out in the hills.

Instead I had a wander round town and found myself by the new arts centre on the banks of the canal. Boat trips were leaving from just outside and the thought of spending a couple of hours floating down the canal and seeing the countryside from the comfort of a barge was really appealing. Continue reading “Brecon by Boat”

Ferry Across the Mersey

A WWI re-enactment, a ride inside a work of art, an iconic journey and a visit to a spaceport. Who knew a ferry across the Mersey would include so much!

Everyone must have heard the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ song Ferry Across the Mersey. But do you know any more than that one line? I didn’t until I found this Youtube video of their 1965 Top of the Pops appearance.

Why am I suddenly interested in this old song? Well, because this weekend I finally took the ferry across the Mersey.

Dazzle ship

I’ve been to Liverpool many times and always enjoy walking along the waterfront. But I’ve either not had the time or the ferry schedule hasn’t fitted in with my day, to be able to make this iconic trip.

Liver Building from the water
Liver Building viewed from the ferry across the Mersey

This weekend, with a friend and her 7 year old son who loves boats coming to visit, I was determined. We googled the ferries and found out that the commuter ferry doesn’t run on the weekend so we’d have to take a ‘cruise’ instead. It’s more expensive, but travels a bit further than necessary up and down the river enabling passengers to see more and spend longer on board.

Liverpool from the water

There’s also a commentary which I don’t know if you’d get on the commuter ferry. This actually made no difference as we spent most of our time on deck and so couldn’t hear much of it anyway.

Liverpool from the water

The ferry departs Pier Head on the Liverpool side of the river on the hour and makes two stops on the opposite bank. The first leg of the journey took 2o minutes and we disembarked in Seacombe.

Dazzle ship
All aboard the Dazzle ship

We’d paid a bit extra for our tickets to enable us to visit the Spaceport, but really didn’t know what this was or what to expect. It turned out to be well worth doing.

Two floors of exhibitions on the solar system, the universe and life of an astronaut with lots of buttons to press and experiments to perform kept us entertained for some time.

Spaceport

When we arrived we were just in time for a 25 minute film in the strange cinema where the seats are reclined and the film is projected onto the domed ceiling. The film was quite interesting – I learnt how astronauts start practising for space by wearing their bulky, clumsy spacesuits and diving into special pools where they are weighted in the water just the right amount to replicate the zero gravity found in space. They then have to perform the sorts of tasks they may need to do on space walks on replica space equipment – but the quality was poor. The colours looked very faded and it was hard to tell what some things were. My friend had seen the same film only recently in Winchester and said how much better it had been there, as there the colours were really vibrant.

The film had been included in the admission as was a ‘space ride’. This was a mock rollercoater ride through space. The carriage shunted from side to side and forwards and backwards as the ‘route’ was projected onto a screen in front of us. Although it sounds cheesy, it was quite effective and we enjoyed the 4 minute ride.

view from spaceport
Room with a view in the Spaceport

Leaving the Spaceport, we had about half an hour to wait for the ferry and so sat in the cafe with an ice cream and walked a little way along the river taking photos of the dramatic cityscape across the river.

Liverpool from the water

Back on the ferry, I took the time to read some of the information in a special exhibit explaining why the ferry was painted in such dazzling colours.

Dazzle ship

It was dazzling because it had been painted to replicate the Dazzle ships of the First World War. Dazzle ships were naval vessels that were painted in a array of brightly coloured zigzags and stripes to break up their silhouette on the horizon and thus confound the Germans. Ships painted in a solid block of colour stand out against the choppy sea. These days, with radar, it wouldn’t make any difference, but back then when ships had to be sighted for anyone to know they were there this gave our navy quite an advantage.

Dazzle ship

The Dazzle ferry is part of the First World War centenary commemorations and was designed by artist Peter Blake. I’ve always liked his work and loved the idea of being able to experience one of his works from the inside!

Leaving Seacombe, the ferry sailed to Woodside 10 minutes away. Here there is a U-Boat exhition which is included in the cruise ticket price, but we’d run out of time and it was about to close. Instead we stayed aboard and travelled the final 20 minutes back to Pier Head.

Liverpool from the water

Was it worth waiting so long to get the ferry across the Mersey? Definitely, because I got to do it on the Dazzle ferry (which is only going to be like this for a few months) and experience a Peter Blake work of art in a unique way.

As for that song? I was humming it in my head all the time I was on board. But only that one line. At each stop the ferry played it over the tannoy as we arrived and then departed, but they only played that one line too!

Beetles and the Liver Building
Bumped into these fellas just after leaving the ferry. I believe they were quite famous for their music in Liverpool too.

 

Sailing along the Seine

A boat trip along the Seine was the perfect start to a day in Paris.

Having spent a long time living in London, I’m now of the belief that a proper city has to have a river running through it.

A big river.

A river that can be called the lifeblood of the city.

As London has the Thames, so Paris has the Seine. Of course, I gravitated towards it.

I saw some very crowded tour boats chugging up and down, but it was later in the day and the tourists were out in force. The following morning I made sure I was up in time to get on the first trip of the day when it was much quieter. The light was nicer too.

The trip gave me a good overview, but now I’m thinking of how nice it would be to go back and do a long a walk along the banks and explore properly.

I really enjoy walking the Thames Path (even if, after 15 years, I’m still only about a third of way along it). I wonder if there’s a Seine Path?

I’ve put my photos into a Flickr album. Click on the photo below to access it.

 

Sailing along the Seine

Stockholm From the Water

A boat trip was the perfect chance to sit down for an hour.

Stockholm is a watery city. Built on the edge of the Baltic coastline, the city is the gateway to an archipelago of 30,000 islands and skerries.

Stockholm from the water

I didn’t have time to explore the outer reaches of the island area, but I couldn’t leave without spending at least some time on the water.

Stockholm from the water

Stockholm from the waterThe 3 day Stockholm Pass I’d bought had a scenic boat tour included and so early(ish) on my last morning I was standing in line for the first trip of the day.

Stockholm from the waterHaving spent the last three days racing around trying to do as much as possible, I was quite tired and was looking forward to starting my last day chilling out on a boat for an hour or so.

Stockholm from the waterStockholm from the waterIt was another lovely morning and would have been nice to sit out on deck, but the only seating was inside. I suppose this is practical for most of the year, but it was a shame that it couldn’t be opened up on such a nice day.

Stockholm tour boat

Having to take pics through the windows also meant that most of my photos have refections in them.

Stockholm from the water

Stockholm from the waterThe tour itself was worth doing despite the lack of fresh air and dodgy photos. The boat was comfortable and each seat came with a multi-lingual headset, so I was able to hear the commentary in English.

Stockholm from the water

Stockholm from the waterWe saw lots, including some places I recognised – Skansen and Vasa for example – and were given lots of information. Being tired and ready to relax a bit, I focussed more on what I was seeing than listening to the spiel.

Vasa from the water
Hey, I know that place! That’s Vasa.

I’ve put pics on here without much info because, well, I don’t really remember what I was looking at or where it was.

Stockholm from the water

Stockholm from the waterIt was a good way to start the morning though and by the time the tour was over, I’d woken up enough to race around making the most of my last day.

Stockholm from the water
I couldn’t not take a photo of this great big Viking ship.
Stockholm from the water
And this crane disguised as a giraffe was just too funny to miss.

 

St Kilda in a Day

I actually made it to St Kilda AND got to see a shoal of tuna along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first thought about going to St Kilda I didn’t think about a day trip. In the absence of having my own yacht and not having the kayaking abilities to paddle my way out there (yes, some people do) I’d decided the only way to get to St Kilda would be to join a National Trust for Scotland working party and go for a week or two. However, in spite of these being quite expensive, they are still allegedly very popular and hence difficult to get on to. What makes it almost impossible for me though, is the time of year. The working parties are pretty much finished by the time English schools break up for the summer holidays.

Not wanting to let a simple thing like fixed holiday times get in the way of my ambitions I looked around for alternatives and after meeting someone in Unst last year who’d been for a day, decided that maybe a day trip wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

During my time in the Hebrides I’ve been trying to get myself booked onto a tour with one particular company. It’s always a bit touch and go whether the trips go ahead or not, because they are very weather dependent. If one trip is cancelled the people booked on to it get taken out the next day meaning no free spaces for other people. A spate of windy weather seemed determined to prevent me from going. But then another company said they had room and the chances of actually going were pretty good on the day they were offering me.

The night before I drove out to the small pier at Miavaig in the Uig area of Lewis. I set up camp beside the office which conveniently had a toilet and wash basin round the back. I got everything ready for the next morning and settled down to sleep. I’d not been asleep long when I woke feeling a bit headachey and queasy. Not the best feeling at any time, and certainly not before such a big day.

By morning the headache had gone but I still felt a bit sickly. Hmm, what to do for the best when feeling a bit sick? Stay in bed, rest and relax? Or get on a little boat and spend 4hrs being tossed and churned as you crash your way across the Atlantic? Of course the only choice I really had was the latter. If I didn’t go today, I wouldn’t be going at all. 

Before it got rough

The other passengers arrived, about a dozen of us in all, and after re-arranging cars on the pier we boarded The Lochlann.

I strapped myself into a seat and prepared for the worst. Once out at sea the roller-coaster started in earnest. The boat felt as though it was being plucked up high and then being dropped from said great height. Each time this happened the ‘BANG’ as the boat hit the sea and the reverberations through my body lifted me out of my seat. If it wasn’t for the seat belt I’d have repeatedly hit my head on the roof.

I tried to sit with my eyes closed willing the horrible feeling in my stomach to go away. No chance. I’ve never been sea-sick before and I have been on some tiny boats on some pretty rough water. But then again, I’ve not got onto a tiny boat on pretty rough water whilst already feeling sick.

My guts had no chance of recovering and at one point I had to stagger to the deck to lean over and throw up. I wanted to rush, but it’s a bit hard when you’re getting thrown from side to side and have to plan each move to ensure at least 3 limbs are firmly planted at all times. If I didn’t have sympathy for people who suffer with sea-sickness before, I certainly do now.

One highlight of the otherwise dismal trip was seeing a shoal of tuna leaping and swimming in front of the boat. Even I stood up to get a look and watch them for a while. The tuna were dolphin sized, and look nothing like they do in a tin. Having seen them, I can understand how the nets used to catch tuna also manage to snag dolphins. I don’t understand how the dolphin friendly tuna nets work though – how do they manage to keep the dolphins out? As a veggie I don’t buy tuna anyway, but have wondered why next to the ‘dolphin friendly’ label that can be seen on some tins of tuna, there isn’t another label next to it saying ‘tuna unfriendly’? Apparently it’s quite unusual to see tuna so close like this so we were very lucky.

St Kilda slowly came into sight and we could make out people sitting around on the jetty. These turned out to be students who were on some kind of placement on the island. We decanted ourselves into a dinghy and travelled the last tiny bit to the pier. Once we were all on dry land we were met by the warden who gave us a chat about dos and don’ts and told us about what there was to do on the island.

This would have been someone’s living room

I set off for a wander, still feeling queasy. I had hoped to walk up to at least one side of the cliffs but didn’t really feel up to it. Instead I wandered round the derelict village, poking in and out of the old houses. They were mostly laid out in one main street and in between the derelict building were a few restored ones which were used for accommodation and a museum. I spent a while in the museum finding the exhibits and the information provided quite fascinating. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MOD, as part of a long-running arrangement, have workers based on the island and their accommodation and offices are in green painted buildings near the pier. Maybe these could be said to be an eyesore and spoil the antiquity and isolation of the island, but the MOD have played such an important role on the island I’d like to think that in future years these buildings and their role will be seen as just as relevant to the history of the island as the remains from the St Kildans are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A helicopter landed and took off whilst I watched. The unique St Kildan sheep roamed around, birds flew or skittered across the ground, the sun shone, a perfect day. If only I could have enjoyed it more.

We had a stay of a few hours on the island and this was plenty of time to have a really good look round the village and museum and would also have given me time to go for a bit of a walk had I felt so inclined. Just before the boat was due to leave, the warden opened the shop which sells souvenirs of St Kilda as well as a range of books. Next to the shop is the restored school (one classroom) and church and I had time to have a look round them. 

The Museum
The Church
The School

Once back on the boat we circled the island and went out to a couple of the stacks to look at the birds before heading back for Lewis. It was much later that evening before I started to feel alright again. 

I managed to enjoy my day on St Kilda even if I wasn’t feeling great. It’s such a special place and felt like such an achievement to get there, that even an upset stomach couldn’t put too much of a dampner on things. I doubt I’ll ever get back, so I’m glad I didn’t decide to give it a miss, as I now have memories that will last me a life time. 

The Details

Company I travelled with: Seatrek
Cost: £180
Depart: 7.30am
Arrive back: 8pm
Time on Hirta: approx. 3.5hrs

Here are a couple more posts on St Kilda:

The St Kilda Mailboat 

Getting closer to St Kilda 

and one on Mingulay – an island that found itself in a similar position to St Kilda.

Here’s a copy of the press release Seatrek issued regarding the tuna we saw. I’ve copied it in rather than just linking to it, in case it later disappears off their website.

Shoal of Tuna off Lewis

Press Release 30th Aug, Seatrek

Tuna Sighting West of Lewis

On one of our regular day trips to St Kilda on the 24th of August 2012, our Seatrek vessel, the  motor cruiser Lochlann, sighted an unusually large and concentrated flock of diving gannets.
We decided to go over and investigate, fully expecting to find the usual dolphins feeding on a shoal of herring.  We told the passengers to get their cameras ready for the spectacle of diving birds and jumping dolphins and possibly minke whales. We very often see diving gannets in a feeding frenzy as they can spot the fish from a great height. The gannets are helped by dolphins, which herd the fish to the surface.
The leading edge of the diving gannets was unusually fast moving at 5 knots, and as we closed in we could see the fast moving splashes among them. We were amazed to see the characteristic upright, thin forked tails of tuna darting through the water.
Some were coming to within 10m of us and you could see they were about 6/7 ft long, maybe more. The sight was amazing. The furiously diving gannets were accompanied by fulmars, skuas, manx shearwaters, sooty shearwaters, black backed gulls and herring gulls, all looking for a piece of the action.
We watched them enthralled for some time and thought they were possibly Bluefin Tuna;  such an unusual wildlife sighting we had never experienced before so close at hand.
The next shoal was moving much faster, say 10 knots to the SW and zigzagging with birds showing their whereabouts when near the surface. The tuna were about the same size.
Earlier in the day we had seen a handful of smaller Bonito type, 2ft long, just East of Gallan Head, Uig, Lewis. These were fast moving along the surface just beside the boat but were unaccompanied by birds.
The rare sighting of tuna so far north of their normal habitat was a memorable experience. Unusual also was the distinctive spectacle of the exceptionally large number of gannets that were following the shoal of fish. We have never seen such a large flock in such a small area; they could be seen from many miles away.

Mingulay

A day trip to this abandoned island included sea caves, basking sharks and a gannetry.

boatI made it to Mingulay. Last night I rang the boatman but I was only the third person to book onto the trip to this deserted island and he needed five as a minimum to make it worth his while. He told me that there was still time to get two more recruits and so I agreed to turn up this morning in the hope that he would be going. Continue reading “Mingulay”