Stage One – The jump – Harwich to Hoek of Holland – (travelling from UK to NZ overland and sea)

(‘Arrich to ‘Oek of ‘Olland)

Walking beside the beach (?) looking over to Harwich Port
Walking beside the beach (?) looking to Harwich Port

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

After arriving by train to Harwich International (at the port) I found my quaint Bnb five minutes away. Don’s dining room featured, amongst other treasures: Gainsborough-esque prints hung in golden curlicue frames from the wooden-panelling walls, an Australian-shaped clock on the mantlepiece, different-sized elephants trumpeting, a metal swan, a large wooden African mask, a teddy bear in velveteen dungarees eating from a felt honey pot (I could tell because of the little bees), a Greek vase, countless other vases from other lands, all topped by a little, old, framed photo of a curly, haired terrier, solitary and plucky on top of the shelf.

Beach huts surrounding the playing fields at Harwich
Fringe of beach huts containing the playing fields at Harwich

Harwich might be a bit bleak in cold weather but I was lucky enough to be there on a cheerful sunny day.

Harwich takes their beach boxes seriously
Harwich takes their beach huts seriously – not sure when they get to use the beach?
Nice walk beside the Harwich beach
Got to check your tides in Harwich!

I managed to get my goods in order so I could be ready and waiting at the departure point for my ferry bright and early in the morning.

Ticket in hand, I'm departing Harwich
Ticket in hand, I’m departing Harwich

When is the start of the journey? Boarding the ship? Casting off? Half-way across?

Boarding ferry in Harwich
Boarding ferry in Harwich

Can you see the ropes? I watched them go.

Trucks rolling in the containers on board the ferry
The little truck cabins clip on and off pretty fast. The containers have wheels, the drivers so skilled they can zoom up the gangway, turn 360 on the spot, swing the cabin out to the side, spin their chair so it faces the rear and drive the container quickly into position before snapping off their truck and leaving the ship to collect another.

Stayed outside until the ropes loosened, the blokes lifted them over the bollards and the engines kicked into gear, pushing the ship out into the stream and I began to cough.

You can find Stena Line’s sustainability policy here.

Is your emission really necessary?
Is your emission really necessary?

The gentle to and fro, the engines thrumming, strong and driving, dependable.

Pulling away from England
Pulling away from England

We had clear sky, growing some smooth flat clouds for the first couple of hours as we moved steadily towards darker-hued cauliflower fields. After an hour or two, the water began to fade to grey and there was a bit more movement to the ship. The strip of sea by the horizon took on a deep blue.

Big view out of the big front windows of the ferry
Big view from the big ferry front windows

On a number of occasions we drove towards rows of wind turbines in the middle of the sea, which given the lack of movement, looked more like grass flowers, thin stalks on the horizon. The first clump we passed were surrounded by cargo ships, perhaps queued for port or perhaps involved in building or installing the turbines.

Outside there was sky and sea. Inside the Monkees, Bee Gees and Maggie May, Rocket Man, Lighter Shade of Pale and the Bump. The sound of my old people’s home.

I wasn't sure if it was a sur-charge?
Sur-charge? Surf charge? Surf LARGE? This is for two hours of a seven hour crossing.

Where are you going? To NZ.

I think I will travel to NZ in a similar sized ship
Look! Freighter! I think I will be travelling in a similar sized ship from Taiwan

Via Holland? Yes, indeed. Well, that’s a long trip. Yes, it is.

Ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon!
Land ahoy! Hoek of Holland on the horizon

Foot passengers waited until after truckies, bikies and sundry drivers got away, then we were directed to the gangway and land. It was very straightforward and easy. The tram was waiting outside the ferry terminal and REMEMBER you must BUY A TICKET at the machine. THEN TOUCH ON!! When you get out at your stop you much TOUCH OFF! There were interactions with tram staff, all very polite and friendly, but firm. TOUCH ON! Ambassadors for travel.

The tram took half an hour or so to arrive in Rotterdam. I had been given clear instructions by my Airbnb host and it proved an easy walk around the corner to my abode.

Not sure what it tests? But at least we know where we are ...
Not sure what was being tested but at least I knew where I was …

I arrived tired and flustered to find my host Olivier Scheffer sharing long distance walking experiences with a guest. Olivier recently completed a 2,000 km longitude walk from Helsinki to Thessaloniki (not only because he liked the sound of the names!) His guest, a fellow peregrino, recently walked to Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. Some discussion of footfall, footstrike and RSI followed. These guys were experts.

Olivier's map - the scissors mark the spot
Olivier’s 2,000 km walk map – the scissors mark the spot

Olivier is an artist who prides himself on his Triangular Art House in inner city Rotterdam.

Walls decorated with pieces different tapes designed for particular purposes
Olivier’s dunny walls decorated with offcuts of different tapes
designed for particular purposes
Bathroom ceiling - not quite the cistern chapel
Bathroom ceiling – not quite the cistern chapel

Like the Airbnb, Rotterdam proved a fun and inspirational place to visit. Once the largest harbour in the world, Rotterdam still rules Europe but other cities in Asia have overtaken her. Popped in to the triangular Central Station to buy my next train ticket. Took me a little while to focus on the dates I needed. Because I’ve been planning this trip so far ahead there was a fictional quality to the time. I couldn’t quite believe that it was now. Time had more than crept up on me. Time had ambushed me. Mind you, there is nothing like being on an unknown tram or trainline with names you don’t know or understand going somewhere you don’t know to keep you focussed on the here and now!

Central Rail Station points at a huge building
The angular (controversial) railway station points at an engineering marvel. Rotterdam is essentially a swamp. Underneath that tall, shiny building is a massive underpinning
and presumably a gigantic budget.
Memorial in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall
Memorial to fallen during 1940 bombardment in front of the Rotterdam Town Hall. The woman represents grief, looking down and to the past, but still connected to the child of the future. The outward-looking man on the right, holding a spade, represents rebuilding and vision.
stronger through struggle
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands said Rotterdam was ‘stronger through struggle’
and insisted they could rebuild

Because of the devastating German bombardment in 1940, Rotterdam has been rebuilt with an enthusiasm for adventure and experimentation. And some controversy. Unlike Amsterdam, where original canals and buildings force restrictions, architects are encouraged to make their mark and the inhabitants tend to make their opinions felt by protesting ticket barriers at the train station or not using the Markthal for its original purpose.

The pencil sits beside the cube houses
The pencil sits beside the cube houses
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Markthal, known as the pencil sharpener, is opposite the pencil
Building connected to the closed art gallery complex of Rotterdam
The Rotterdam art gallery is closed for the next seven years
but with impressive designs like this one,
looks like it will be worth the wait.

Rotterdam’s greatest son is Desiderius Erasmus, who urged everyone to get out and travel. He travelled out of Rotterdam at the age of twenty and never returned. That’s why the UN called their study exchange program Erasmus.

Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Can you see Erasmus turn the page?
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam
Hope springs from a crane in Rotterdam

There is a lot of building going on in Rotterdam, together with art, cycling and smoking weed. The famous street of bars, galleries and ‘coffee shops’ is called Witte de Withstraat.

Witty translates to English just the same
Let’s hope so

Not far away is the Kunsthal – an art gallery that aims to make art popular

Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos
Solitaire by Joana Vasconcelos outside the Kunsthal – look at that ‘diamond’ catching the sun!
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage
Spirit is a beautiful vego restaurant in de Groene Passage

But for me, my happy place was in De Groene Passage with a delicious vegan buffet lunch at Spirit followed by some fantastic ethical window-shopping. I wished sincerely I could live there, in that restaurant, forever. Bliss. BTW, if anyone in Christchurch knows Alexa, could you please let her know Spirit says, ‘Hi.’

Rotterdam harbour reminds me of Hong Kong
Rotterdam harbour reminded me of Hong Kong

My next train stage takes me to another harbour in another of the great European cities. Here’s Stage Two! I hope you can join me!

Part VI – UK to NZ overland … The gathering

Contrails over Brighton Beach UK
Contrails over Brighton Beach UK

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Quick update: I have been granted an electronic NZ Endorsement, which I don’t need to print out. I trust the server will keep those records safe. Thanks, NZ Immigration!

Finishing up my summer teaching with Kings Education Brighton (I don’t know how I could have attempted this journey without Stephen’s support, thanks Boss DOS!) I moved to London for a couple of days to gather myself together.

A few chores and little shopping things: I wanted to get some currency, euros, roubles etc, just small change, so that if I needed a taxi or something on arrival in a country I wouldn’t have to panic looking for a bank. I found a cache of Money Changers nested close together around the Leicester Square Tube, near Covent Garden. It was raining. I went from window to window to compare rates and was informed that, yes, it was a good idea but I should have organised it three or four days earlier. They have to order in the different currencies. I could call back in the afternoon when they would have enough euros and possibly some yuan but unlikely roubles or zlotys. Every morning they start afresh.

Here is the lesson. If you want to go overland start thinking ahead. Minimum three months to get the ship and the visas and now, three days for the currencies!

Time for a quiet walk in a London park …

Regents Park
Regents Park

and an orange fog

fog from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life at The Tate Modern
In this installation from Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, at The Tate Modern, I could not see more than a couple of metres in front of me. It tasted sweet.
What would be ahead of me in my journey across the world?
Check out his https://littlesun.com/

and Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath with a British magpie
See the magpie?

to see a seminar in the How the Light Gets in Festival called Modern Crises and Ancient Gods. The speakers were Baroness Natalie Bennett and Roger Hallam (absent due to arrest), Sir David King and Sister Jayanti with moderator, David Malone.

King proposes to repair climate change by refreezing the poles.

Baroness calls out for system change and sustainable development goals.

Sister reminds us each and every one of us is part of our family.

(Note: the arrested one is silenced.)

King and Malone, Baroness and Sister on stage at the arena.
From left; King and Malone, Baroness and Sister

It was Saturday Sept 21 13:15, grounds of Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood estate
Kenwood estate in Hampstead Heath, London

My great-aunt Winifred (Min) was a charismatic dowager who took great delight in teasing status. She arrived at our house one day thrilled she’d caught a lift in a vehicle bearing the Royal Coat of Arms. She’d hitched a ride in the post-office truck, while wearing her fur coat, of course.

British Royal Mail Box at Harwich Port
Not sure if the NZ Royal Mail Box has exactly the same coat of arms but there it was in Harwich, UK!

She taught me the value of persistence.

Quiet tents at How the Light Gets In at lunchtime
Beautiful day on the Heath (not so many people visible at the festival).

When I arrived at the glamorous tent city that housed the UK’s answer to TED, I discovered that I had not purchased a daily ticket for eighty-four pounds online. (Eighty-four pounds!) Instead, I had two months previously, merely bought a ‘fast-pass’ for this one ‘Crises’ seminar for five pounds. I arrived half an hour early and the bag search people let me in as far as the ticket desk, shaking their heads, muttering to each other, how could it have happened? At the desk where I was told I could not enter without a daily ticket, I explained I could not stay for more than a couple of hours. Could they let me buy an afternoon ticket? Nope. All or nothing. (NOTE: This is how ideas are spread. By money.)

George Orwell lived here - next to Hampstead Heath
On the way to the festival I passed George Orwell’s old home – not a museum – I don’t think he would have been impressed with 84 pounds for a day of chattering, do you? Ironic?

I asked to speak to a superior. Finally, Daisy the manager let me in just for the session, bless her. I did remember Min’s charming, cajoling ways. She would have been proud of me.

I explored the surroundings before my seminar began. No water refill station. No compost toilets. (The reason I’ve linked to UK companies here is when I asked organisers they said they couldn’t find any. Took me all of three seconds each, if you’re reading this for next year… ) What was I in for?

Lovely atmosphere on sunny day in Hampstead Heath
Music, comfortable convivial conversation and comestibles for the people who could pay eighty-four pounds for the day

King’s opening remarks began with the sad observation it took twenty-seven years to get the Paris accord and nothing has changed since then. Making a valient effort to speak to the topic, he noted Greek, Judeo/Christian philosophy has changed the original meaning of ‘physis’. No longer the universe we’re thrown into, where the Gods of the seas must be appeased with sacrifices to prevent them rising up and swallowing the sailors, but ‘physics’. He also referred to the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of nature as being separate from humans:

nature /ˈneɪtʃə  /
▸ noun
1 [mass noun] the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations: the breathtaking beauty of nature.

Oxford English Dictionary phone app

King, also a Knight and a Scientist (Chemistry), believes humans are both part of and separate to nature. He thinks we have treated the world like a dustbin and run the risk of losing the earth. He asked how did we lose the sense of the essence of the Earth?

As you know, I think humans are very much part of nature. What do you think?

The Baroness, also a Politican, agreed that we have used the planet as a mine and a dumping ground. She believes arrogant science attempts to offer solutions to problems without fully understanding the consequences. When she studied soil science, at Uni in Australia, fertiliser was all the rage for farming’s woes but now new science recognises fertiliser kills off micro-organisms, causing long-term damage. ‘Fertiliser is good for the father but bad for the son.’ She called for system thinking – bringing together knowledge from many different sources to develop sustainable goals.

I wondered if she recognised she was in a perfect position, seated between a representative for science and one for religion. How could this politician work with her neighbours to create a sustainable goal right then and there?

The Sister, also a Director, explained that not just one part of humanity is to blame. Each and everyone is part of our family.

We could compare that with the brother’s speech in the recent film Farewell, as he exhorted the granddaughter to follow the family tradition of working together to assume the emotional weight of the elder. The revered grandmother must not be allowed to suffer. Her children and grandchildren should take the emotional weight for her. The family worked to keep her happy. If the granddaughter had told her of her cancer it would only have been to assuage her guilt at not being honest. Not telling the truth? The truth so valiant and important? But who would that benefit? Only the granddaughter.

The-Farewell-2019-movie-poster
The family look after the weakest link

The Sister quietly reminded us that all human beings have values. It’s not science that’s lost values. It’s humans. She said, ‘Come back to knowing who you are’.

David Malone asked King if it was true that 80% of all nuclear power stations were within the projected sea level rise zone. The King (who has a past in nuclear matters) stated it was of greater concern that places like Calcutta and most of Bangladesh were currently in direct peril, with the probable consequence of unimaginable amount of refugees.

The Baroness suggested that science must become more critical of itself. That it was important to recognise all creatures have a need for quality of life. Wellbeing? What does that mean? If all are depressed and stressed, how can that result in a healthy planet? She thinks we need to think about our own existence as a natural organism. What is necessary for survival?

The Sister pointed out that if minds are in a state of chaos, if individuals are struggling  within themselves, that is reflected in the world outside. Everything starts from human consciousness. We have to shift our thinking, not just our own spiritual consciousness but our relationships with each other. We need to evolve to a state of harmony and from there to a harmonious relationship with nature.

The King feels now is a dangerous time. It’s not 1932, but similar, a slippery slope. He asked who controls the media? Big money. Not just to sell copy. They are influencing people. We have allowed a small percentage of people to acquire enormous wealth while there are people living on the streets. Consider Europe in the 1930s. Something is wrong. Polarisation does not always end in the right place.

The Baroness said that change has already started. People can see the system is broken. She believes centrist politics is dead. She said, ‘Chose, either Right or Green. We’re not going to stay the way we are. That’s profoundly unstable.’

The Sister wants us to change from within and work together as a family.

Come on, everyone. We can do that!!

Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley is home to ducks, herons and moorhens and other birds I didn't see!
After constant English class preparation and worry about planning a trip halfway around the world, a walk around Cheshunt Lake in the Lee Valley was the perfect antidote.

I spent a couple of nights in YHA Lee Valley, London. This hostel is set in a park full of lakes and canals although strictly speaking, it’s still in London.

Lee Valley White Water Centre
Lee Valley White Water Centre is apparently one of the best in the world according to the athletes who were assembling for a big competition that weekend

There’s water activities everywhere.

Cheshunt Lake 7:30 am light reflecting off the water into the shadowy trees
There is an angler just getting out of his tent in the middle of that light. I can just make out the top of his head but you probably can’t. He stood up right in the centre of the pic milliseconds after I took the shot as I backed away quietly.

Birdwatching hides and a dragon fly sanctuary, the young mariners club and a white water centre were all part of the once London Olympic complex. It was a great place to admire bird life and sculptures and it even had a proper dog playground with brilliant climbing frames and hoops.

Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey, Essex partially built by King Harold himself

I farewelled England with a quick visit to King Harold’s memorial in Waltham Abbey.

Memorial to King Harold 1066
Memorial to King Harold (1066 and all that)

Then I caught the train (forty-three pounds this time) from Cheshunt to Stratford to Dedham Vale to Harwich International. I would be delivered right into the port!

Dedham Vale for Manningtree and visa versa
My ticket said Dedham Vale. The duty person had never heard of it. That’s because the station is called Manningtree. The walk is called Dedham Vale.

One of my favourite poems is by ee cummings

r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

E. E. Cummings – 1894-1962

                                     r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r
                           who
  a)s w(e loo)k
  upnowgath
                       PPEGORHRASS
                                                       eringint(o-
  aThe):l
               eA
                    !p:
S                                                                        a
                                      (r
  rIvInG                              .gRrEaPsPhOs)
                                                                         to
  rea(be)rran(com)gi(e)ngly
  ,grasshopper;

From Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J. Firmage. Used with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright © 1923, 1931, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1976, 1978, 1979 by George James Firmage.

Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley
Stag beetle sculpture in Lee Valley – not quite a grasshopper

The gathering is over. Now, we leap … To STAGE ONE!

the fool from the Tarot a young man, with his little dog beside him, is looking up and about to step off a cliff
http://www.sacred-texts.com/tarot/tcc/tcc01.htm What will happen next?

What the flight?!! UK to NZ Part V

An English woman, a New Zealander and an Australian walked into a bar.

Wait!

They were all ME!

Augra, Dark Crystal, The Resistance @ BFI, London
Oooops. That’s Aughra.
Victoria Osborne
This is me. Blocking really cool street art in Brighton

And, it being a Brighton bar, I had a delicious vegan roast lunch.

Seven Stars Sunday Roast Brighton
Perfectly cooked greens at Seven Stars. And the rest was pretty good, too! Sunday Roast Brighton

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Whenever I saw ‘Contact’ on an email I felt sick. It would be from my shipping company. I would not open it until I was in a safe place and able to deal with their harsh reality. I felt like a moth fluttering against a window; unseen and incomprehensible barrier. Why did their company take such an unreasonable line?

Alexandra and Oceane, my two shipping company women, were brusque. No, there was no way to review the rules. The regulations were not available. I must travel from China to NZ on the British passport.

This put me in a bad position. I needed to enter Australia and NZ on the NZ passport. You would swap midair if you travelled by plane. Passports are only of interest at borders. If I were to arrive in Australia or NZ on my GB passport with no visa I would not be allowed to set foot on either land of my parents. I had no time to organise a visa.

The company’s flat, oft-repeated, position was that as the Captain sent the passenger’s passports forward to the next ports (all of which; on my itinerary, Taiwan, Australia and NZ, would accept an NZ passport without need for visa) their computer said ‘Captain only able to send one passport per passenger’. I had to leave China on the same passport, the one with the visa, that I had used on entry, the British. Why was this so unusual? I couldn’t believe I was the only dual-citizen seafarer, passenger or crew, in the lifetime of sea voyages.

The final straw was the email stating I had two options. Either travel on the GB passport or don’t go. Luckily, I was able to humbly correct them. There was a third way. I could join the ship at Taiwan.

My simple, elegant, time-saving plan was busted. Instead of a quick train from Beijing to catching the ship straight out of China, cleverly designed by me to improve on the Man in Seat 61 journey through all of South-East Asia, I would be seeing a bit more of the world.

All I had to do was organise train from Ningbo to Fuzhou, bus to Pingtan, ferry to Taichung, and train to Kaohsiung. Plus accommodation. I began to lose sleep. I tried to up my salad quota. Another yoga class. I lost things. Disarray.

I contacted Christine at Real Russia! So far she has organised my tickets from Warsaw to Ningbo where I was originally going to catch the CC Coral. Real Russia was the group to help! Could she help get me to Taiwan?

Christine from Real Russia
The lovely and helpful Christine Stadnik from Real Russia
organised most of my tickets.
I personally could not have got this far without Real Russia.

Nope. With the help of their Chinese agents, Real Russia could get me as far as Fuzhou but I would have to get across the water by myself.

I found differing information online. Man in Seat 61 provided link and suggested manipulating timetable to find out which dates the ferry ran from Pingtan to Taiwan (three times a week). Took me ages to work out he meant to check availability of  a return journey. Der. Two of my preferred dates were sold out. It looked like I needed Taiwanese ID to purchase tickets.

Found a travel agent who offered completely different dates. From completely different places.

Sue, fellow mum, met through my son’s school in years past, lived in Taipei. I messaged her with my ferry tribulations. On opposite sides of the Facebook world we looked at the same website and could not make much sense of it. She, having Chinese, was a lovely support as I struggled to understand through the Google translated site, where I was going. Having her there made the trip seem plausible at least.

Back in London again, I stayed in Earl’s Court YHA the night before I visited the Chinese Visa Centre. I liked to imagine all the Australians and Kiwis hanging around there in the fifties and sixties. London adventure time! I was excited to visit the Royal Court Theatre but not so impressed with the play. Accidentally bumped into a very pleasant vegan restaurant called Wulf and Lamb. ‘Run with the wolves, eat with the lambs.’ I ran with their delicious carrot cake – best vegan cake ever.

Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London
Outside the Chinese Visa Centre, London

There was something exciting, even clandestine, about organising to meet a courier carrying my passport outside the Chinese Application Centre in a street called ‘Old Jewry’. Right next to the Bank of China the red flag fluttered high above the long queue … wait on … very, very extensive queue right around the corner … how long was all this going to take?

The young man gathered the three of us Real Russian customers – the other two were expecting to travel in a couple of days so were even more rushed than me. We waited, poised for China, while the queue disappeared into the building. As soon as the clock struck 9:30, our courier guided us inside, found a bench and handed out our passports. He waited for our number, found us a desk to sit while our paperwork was checked, led us to the next place to be fingerprinted (an electronic plexiglass system like Russia) and we were done. (When I was nine having my fingerprints taken in Hong Kong for the ID card I remember the black ink didn’t come off for days.) The charming young woman wound an elastic band around my two passports without raising a hair. I noted other people in the queues snaking around the room looked exasperated, tired and confused as I sauntered past on my way to the exit.

We were done and dusted, signed, sealed and delivered and it was 9:40 am. Thanks again, Real Russia!

I thought it best to seek culture. Noting ridiculous queues outside British Museum chose instead the London Review of Books shop wherein to drink a delicious Chinese tea called Sichuan Dew from Jing Tea. It did taste as described, grass meadow with flowers. Chef from Frankston. Told her about my Frankstonite barber in Brighton. What were the odds?

Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London
Deet, Dark Crystal, The Resistance, @ BFI, London

Went to see the World of Thra exhibition at BFI and got into a free Empire magazine showing of the making of the Dark Crystal Resistance. Very happy to watch some keen young puppet captains demonstrating their craft.

Met a woman in a library who planned to fly to Melbourne next month. Suggested she plant some trees to offset her carbon. Perhaps I was judgy. But how else do we change? Flygskam!

Accept I’m going to Taiwan. Here’s an article about the ferry between China and Taiwan.

On return to Brighton, my comfy little student’s den at Kings Education, I watch ten eps of Dark Crystal, The Resistance. (Not all at once!) Beautiful pictures but I couldn’t help wishing for a script editor – someone who could bring some poetry and delete the explanations. But the story was great.

Kings Education Brighton English Teachers Office
My office (well, empty staff room at weekend!)
Signage in Kings Education
Going up

Delightful Sue in Taipei helped me realise I could not book ferry tix from China. More research required. Here’s some Trip Advisor unanswered questions. Attempted to fill out an online form for the ferry to Taiwan. Looks like I have some options. Have made email contact with csf but no promise of ticket as yet.

Begin to worry about different currencies. Should I carry roubles and yuan? Hang on, Chinese money … renmimbi?  More research coming up!

Then, I had the realisation.

I would still be leaving China on the GB passport. I must leave China on the same document, with visa, that I arrived on. For this plan to work, I needed to arrive in Taiwan on my NZ passport. On one voyage. On one ship. Does this sound familiar?

Was? I? Stuffed?

Would the ferry be the same as the cargo ship in not allowing me to swap passports midstream?

Snookered. I realised I might be pinging backwards and forwards between Aust and NZ until someone saw my citizenship extended past the Captain’s say so and rescued me.

More emails and research informed me of the existance of an NZ Endorsment. I could get this sticker in my GB passport. It would alert officials that I was a New Zealander travelling on a different passport. I would not, however, be able to land in Australia.

Remembering Chinese wisdom I sought I Ching. Reading about leaving Danger and Unknown and, finding strong steed, moving to action, success and light. Main message? Keep going. I take it a strong steed is a train or cargo ship? Authentic, wouldn’t you agree?

symbol of hexagons and yin and yang to illustrate I ching
https://astrology.com.au/psychic-readings/oracles/i-ching

Strain beginning to show in right eyeball. Philip Pullman’s first book in Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage has his character Malcom experience a rainbow shimmering crack in vision. So did I. It did shimmer like a thin new moon to start with and grew larger and more open, shifting to the side. It did not hurt. It was quite wondrous. An internal kaleidoscope. But I took an aspirin in case it became migrane. Tired. Slow. I managed to get through my classes.

Booked massage with expert Charlotte Softly. (If you’re ever in Brighton!)

I was not getting clear messages from NZ as to where to get the NZ Endorsement stuck in my passport. My passports still with China so there was not much point panicking yet but …

There had to be a way through this section. I kept trying. I Ching told me so.

I discovered I could get an NZ Endorsement over the counter. I found an address.

Discovered NZ Endorsement is also known on the website as ‘Endorsement’ and as ‘First Endorsement’ which explains why I couldn’t find it in the drop-down menu.

Lunched with fellow teacher Karolina to pick her brain about Warsaw (Chopin museum?) and record her saying ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I only eat plants’ in Polish. It is always nice to eat with a friend. Dziękuję Ci.

A working lunch for Karolina

After school, Nurse Ruth gave me the two-injection-NHS-travel-combo of Hep A and Typhoid, Diptheria, Tetanus and Polio. Given I would be travelling on a working cargo ship I could probably expect rough edges and rusty metal.

Travel vaccine card
Thanks, Nurse Ruth! (Don’t worry, I filled it in.)

She was as gentle as a mosquito and, as a bonus, provided me with surprising admiration for my feat. I felt quite chuffed as she exclaimed over my itinerary and even told a passing colleague of my plans. I thought I’d better get some more business cards printed so I can get folk to read this blog! Hi, Nurse Ruth if you’re reading this!

On the train from Brighton to London to pick up passports, threw lukewarm coffee all over my front, marched up and down train to find working toilet with cold tap to rinse, sat with wet (clean) front, raced to Real Russia, picked up one passport – hang on there, young fellow (who is covering for Bill cowering out the back who does not want his photo taken) – where is the other one? In a separate different place. Got it. The GB is now weighty with four glistening new visas. Wonderful.

Raced over to NZ. It was quicker to walk. Not NZ House where my grandfather’s name marks the entry, but a scummy office building, looking like it was built to store archives, somewhere in the back roads with other archive-type buildings. Immigration has been outsourced. NZ shares a floor with Italy which covers an extensive office of waiting rooms and computer screens, board room and long customer counter. NZ is in a cupboard. The NZ nook.

The young woman there, with whom I had a prior email relationship, was alone and unwell. She coughed and sputtered unhappily and called me Madame even though I insisted on calling her by her first name. I handed over form and two passports. I had eighty pounds in cash ready. She examined the form and asked for my visa photo. I pointed out the form stated I merely needed to show her the NZ passport. She had to ring someone to verify. She asked if I intended to travel within 26 days. I said yes, I was leaving the UK within ten days. She asked for ninety-nine pounds. When questioned she said the service fee of nineteen pounds is listed on the internet. I offered the cash. She explained she could only use the card. I pointed out the tick on the form saying I chose to pay in cash. She said that was not possible. I paid by card.

She said the Endorsement would be emailed to me within 26 days.

I pointed to the tick in the form where I had chosen the option of a sticker.

She said I could not have a sticker. No one could ever have a sticker. The NZ immigration office was closed. I could only have an Electronic Endorsement. I would have to print it out and carry it with my GB passport.

I asked if I could get it in a hurry.

She said she could try. She tapped at her computer. She looked up doubtfully and said, ‘Madame, you could write a letter to explain your circumstances.’

I said, ‘Right-oh,’ and dashed off a note, on paper, pleading for haste and mercy to the Immigration Office (presumably not the one that has closed).

All things considered, it would be better for me to be allowed to enter NZ on arrival.

BUT

No sign of it so far. Nor of ticket for little ferry from China to Taiwan.

BUT

Sue forwarded a link to the typhoon warning system!

Travelling overland from the UK to NZ should not be this tricky. Nor this expensive. Flying is too cheap. One of the students in Kings Brighton flew to Cophenhagen for twenty pounds last weekend. Rail is too expensive. It cost me forty-two pounds to travel from Brighton to the YHA Lee Valley.

Contrail above Brighton Pavilion
Bye bye Brighton and thank you!

Next stop, Harwich! I’m on my way!

AND

UPDATE FROM MARCEA IN TOTNES!

Hi again – well it’s the final week before the global climate October Rebellion. Our area is assigned the theme of food and scarcity – and will be a multi faith platform of speakers. I have been told to pay £105 costs for obstructing the highway last April and not to get arrested again for 6 months. I will be looking after arrestees this time as they leave police cells. I’m making skeleton costumes about hunger and to go to fossil fuel conferences in London with placards etc – we have weekly meetings and 3 times more folk have signed up than April – we don’t know how it’ll go but it’ll be a big impact around the world so let’s hope it’ll nudge the politicians in the right direction!

Marcea made patch
Marcea made my patch so I can nail my colours to the mast

AND

Need help?

Do you feel the Earth move? Here’s who was Rebelling last Friday. Where will you be on 7th October?

https://twitter.com/sallymcmanus/status/1178082679020904448?s=20

Part VI continues here.

Real Russia – the real support system for a trip OVERLAND from UK to the Antipodes! Part IV

Central contrail cuts the blue sky over the roof of a passing train
Contrail splits the sky over a passing train

Welcome to my flygskam overland journey!

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found Real Russia, or rather, to have the Man in Seat 61 tell me about them. After only a quick enquiry, Anastasia took charge of my visas while Christine became my ticket gurini, setting me up with a tracking page so I could see at a glance where I was up to. (If I could find the link.) Both were based in Russia, in the south, in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) so I wouldn’t be able to meet them this trip. But I am so grateful to them.

Anastasia gave me a good talking to about filling in the required visa forms (Belarus, Mongolia, Russia and China) ASAP. They’re all arranged via the Real Russia website. I spent two late nights in the school office, sweating over details like next of kin and employers, the dates of my parents’ deaths, my income and if I should be including my darling son’s passport number when he’s a grown man and nowhere near this expedition!

Also required in the forms were my accommodation. Aaaaargh! I quickly searched through Booking.com and found The Strawberry Duck Hostel (!) in Moscow and the Beijing 161 Wangfujing Courtyard Hotel – blearily looking at maps, negotiating dates and trying to understand different currencies. (As a result, both bookings contained errors which took a week or so to sort out later.) But I completed the forms, hit submit, and dragged myself out of the office and into my comfy little student room upstairs.

Phew. Made the deadline. The next step was a date with destiny (actually Bill) at Real Russia London to deliver my passport. I had to negotiate time off with my work which I was reluctant to do. I felt so grateful to Kings Education, Brighton, not only for giving me the opportunity to teach such a wide range of people, ages and cultures but also to live within the establishment. I had to work in reception once a fortnight or so but what a marvellous opportunity to save money for this epic journey!

I caught the train the afternoon before, walking up and down the main street of Brighton to find a photographer who could do the visa photos. Der. When I got to Victoria Station there was a machine. Just like the one in the Brighton Railway Station. But I sat up straight and finally achieved useful snaps.

(Stayed in the St Pauls YHA (you can hear the bells beautifully) and enjoyed Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingmar Bergman at the BFI.)

The next morning I woke with the bells and was glad I had extra time to travel the short distance from Tower Hill tube station to Real Russia so I could worry if I had the correct paper work, passports and photos, worry if the photos, suitable for American and Indian visas, would suffice for Russia and China and worry … worry … where the heck was the office?

The Tower of London and London Wall
The ancient city walls and the Tower of London

Real Russia is a little bit difficult to find.

Corner of the Minories
London is building everywhere

The address is 122 Minories, London.

Minories to the right. 122 Minories around the bend to the left!

The door is not on the Minories. It’s around the corner.

Real Russia's address is Minories
Real Russia is just around the bend
Real Russia sandwich board
I do not think this was outside the door the first time I came to visit. I thought I had better capture it when I could

I could not work out the twisty corridors, choosing (why?) to head downstairs to an abandoned stairwell that looked as if it had suffered a midnight flit or a sudden search with fallen lost things and pamphlet failure. Real Russia is just on the first floor, that’s all. If you’re clever and take the lift it’s easy.

The front door of Real Russia
The London Office of Real Russia is upstairs, behind a quiet, unassuming door.

Once inside, I met Bill Watkins, cheery Englishman with gold neck chain, who examined the electronic forms, corrected my mistakes and had to call in Irene, who knew he loved her, to explain why there was such a strange pop-up in my page.

Everything had to be done in the correct order. We had to go to Mongolia first and we had to expedite Russia, then apply to China and finally Belarus. I had left it way too long and I had let my finances get away from me. I would need to return to London once more to deliver my passport to Russia (for the biometrics). Bill looked as if he’d clipped many photos to size and attached more than a thousand forms to their passports. He admitted he could do them in his sleep. I surrendered my passport to him. (Duel citizens must carry the Chinese visa in their British passport.)

Bill was not there
Where in the world is Bill?
(That’s Lenin on his desk. Remember Arthur Ransome’s pal?)

We had a nice talk about identity theft. His sister is extremely paranoid about it. Bill, who works for a Russian travel agency, thinks that if anyone wants his identity, they’re welcome to it. To put up defences against any kind of theft is enormously difficult. Better not to have too much stuff, really. I told him I’d been really nervous four years ago when I had to copy and email my passport for the Spanish government via an insecure network. The NZ passport. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve copied them since then. Both passports, that is. That’s right. I’ve got two passports.

I am incredibly lucky in this world. Because I was born in London, I’m British. Because my mother was a New Zealander, I travel between Australia and NZ on an NZ passport. And, because my father was Australian, I am also eligible for an Australian passport as a citizen. Whilst in Europe (hah bloody hah Brexit) I’ve been able to freely move around with my British passport. However, I was employed by the Spanish Government as a NZ citizen, so they were able to utilise both passports.

Real Russia had everything under control.

Back on the road again, I found I could attend the matinee of Peter Gynt at the National Theatre, written by David Hare and Ibsen, an energetic romp through modern madness. My London outing was complete and I returned to Brighton refreshed and ready to prep for more classes.

And, after hours, fix up my mistakes. As it turned out, I’d mistaken the accommodation dates because I had no idea it took nineteen hours and twenty seven minutes to train from Warsaw to Moscow.

Clocks over Bill
Ulan Bator, London, Beijing and Moscow

You mean all that distance takes time?

That’s the best thing about overland travel. There’s a sense of time and distance that’s completely lost in a plane. Especially if you can’t see land from the window. You appear to be drifting in fluffy clouds – a sort of living heaven – where sun beams bless your face intermittently and flight attendants bring you assorted plastics smeared with some kind of indistinguishable food stuffs.

I do like flying – I’m quite good at it. But now I am a proponent of flygskam – a Swedish word meaning “flight shame” – favour eco-friendly transport such as trains over planes. 

I was through the worst of the planning. Real Russia was handling all the visa application processes. All I had to do was deliver the passports to the Visa Centres when required and get finger printed. The next trip to London would be to visit Russia.

Costs of visas as at August 2019   
£98.46 Mongolian Single Entry Mongolian Transit Visa application (Standard service consular processing)   
£134.03 Russian Tourist Visa application   
£101.18 for Fast Track Russian Tourist Visa application   
£89.56 Single Entry Belarusian Transit Visa application   
£193.80 Chinese Tourist Visa application   

I negotiated time off on a Monday thinking I could get back in time for my afternoon class but as it happened I did not have such a thing so I had time to play in London. I picked up my passport from Real Russia, walked past the Barbican Centre and the London Museum, to the Russian Visa Application Centre in Gee Street. The centre has a wonderful photographic wall of Moscow, whetting my appetite for my visit to the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral. I could see concerned people thumbing through papers, attending to payments, having to sit down again and wait for their number to be called, attend to another thing, then back to wait again while I, friend of Real Russia, leapt at once to my feet with my number, presented, signed, held four fingers on a yellow disco perspex place then the other fingers then two thumbs close together, dah, better. And biometrics over, back into the London sunshine again.

I went to visit Mary Quant at the V&A. I had such a delightful hour or so there, wandering past my youth frozen in glass cases, the stylised daisy logo, the tights, frocks and short hair …

Back in Brighton, back at school, searching for scissors or holepunch or some textbook or other, I opened a drawer in a classroom and came upon a DVD. There were no DVDs in Kings Education. Everything on the IWDs was online or on desktops. I’d never seen one before. But this DVD was Joanna Lumley’s TransSiberian Adventure.

You may or may not be able to view all three episodes online.

She began her trip in Hong Kong, where she used to live as a child. SO DID I, Joanna Lumley! Wow! Only I was there a bit later, from the ages of 8 to 10 years old. So on my return I was able to remember a bit and walked around our old neighbourhood with the mental map returning to mind.

Cicada in foreground overlooking buildings in HK
A cicada-eye view of the ever encroaching buildings of HK. My birthday treat in 2016 was a visit to our old home in Bowen Road, now a fitness trail. There used to be wildlife here, monkeys and birds. There are still insects.

It’s a bit of a stretch, but it could be said my entire journey started in April 2016, in Hong Kong, so there is another similarity. Ms Lumley, though, got on and off the train, met people and did adventurous things. I’m just going to sit on my bum and stare out the window for seven days. Also, she went the other way, ending in Moscow. I’m going to start from the UK (where I was born – another kind of beginning) and head out across the Channel to Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Russia and China.

One of the teachers said to me on a Friday afternoon, ‘Who will you talk to on the weekend?’ Well, I spoke to Abdullah and Ned and Simka and a Chinese lady who is staying in Brighton for four days with just a few words of English. I realised I’m going to China with NO Chinese. Quick! XieXie. And Russia with NO Russian. Spasibo. Learning starts at home.

I was getting excited. Had my undercut sharpened up at ‘Hello Sailor’s Barber Shop’. Suitable, I thought, for someone about to sail from China to New Zealand. The barber came from Frankston in Melbourne.

BUT

NEWS from the shipping company.

Alexandra and Oceane want me to chose ONE passport. They have to send it to the Captain who will then send it on with the list of passengers to all the ports.

Gulp.

By return email, I explained that, because the Chinese visa will be in the Great British passport, I have to exit China as a British citizen. But I must enter Australia and New Zealand on my NZ passport as that is how I exited Australia. Could they please help me?

Alexandra and Oceane say, ‘Pick one’.

More emails. I fight back with the NZ regulations:  https://www.immigration.govt.nz/knowledgebase/kb-question/kb-question-1170 pointing out the international waters don’t care about my passport. It’s only relevant when I enter and exit a territory.

Their reply:

“It’s the rules – we can’t do nothing. If you want to cancel the trip – please let me know.”

Part V!

Marcea at the Global Climate Strike in Totnes
Update from Marcea. She’s on the left, Friday 20th Sept 2019, supporting children striking for their future

UK to Antipodes OVERLAND Part III … via TOTNES!

Welcome to my planning reports.

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Two bands of contrails across a blue sky
Contrails might only be the visible marks of a plane
but around that water vapour also fizzes the remains of burnt-up av-gas

In a somewhat nefarious manner I picked up the NHS application forms at a local doctor’s surgery where I had not made application before. The receptionist said (voice tinny through security speaker) it was against the rules at this outrageous time, seconds after closing, but she did reluctantly agree to slip the papers through the door. She opened it only a few centimetres to prevent my bursting in upon the doctors unannounced. It felt very clandestine. The next day I returned the forms, brazenly walking right up to the desk, the office now formally open. Signed, sealed, delivered. I have no idea why I couldn’t have been accepted in the closer surgeries. They didn’t like the cut of my jib, I suppose.

It would be a couple of weeks before I could get an appointment. I must reassure you, everything was honest and fully disclosed except I neglected to mention that pesky medical certificate for the shipping company. That would be between me and the doctor. When I got an appointment. If the forms were accepted. What could possibly go wrong?

On a journey half way across the world? Many, many things. Did I really want to do this? Could I take all the risks? By myself? Oh, I was nervous.

I needed a holiday, a little break. I would go to Totnes. Why Totnes? Because of Transition Towns!

The main street of Totnes
The High Street of Totnes might have been littered with horse manure four or five hundred years ago but historical buildings are still to be seen jetting over pedestrians
in this modern market town

I first heard about Transition Towns perhaps a dozen years ago, during a Symposium at our son’s school. I’m not sure how I first heard about the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium. It might have been organised by Be the Change Australia although I also attended one held by Engineers without Borders before I became more involved with the Action Circle Discussion Groups which helped our small community to learn about sustainability and deep green philosophies.

My family also joined our local Transition Town, watched films like The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, ordered our fresh organic veggie boxes straight from the co-op and enthusiastically supported our first CarrotMob!

I’ve just mentioned a lot of groups.

Paul Hawken calls the environmental movement the largest movement the world has never seen. There are millions of organisations, from Transition Towns to The Red Cross, WWF and Greenpeace to the Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum and 350.org, all working together to heal the wounds of the Earth. Paul Hawken calls these groups (Amnesty International, Sea Shepherd, the Wilderness Society) the white blood cells of the world.

Which groups do you belong to? You are part of the movement.

As well as Transition Towns, Totnes is the home of Schumacher College, Charles Babbage and … for the Australians in the audience, Wills (from Burke and … )

Totnes is famous for many things - for an Australian - Wills! From Bourke and ...
Right in the centre of town, famous Australian explorers,
Bourke and … (Did I say successful? No, I did not.)

You can read more about my theory of places of power here but I am sure Totnes must be such a place. There must be Ley Lines near. It’s first mentioned in history in 907 AD but apparently Brutus of Troy landed here to found Britain way back before there was writing. There is definitely a wonderful energy, particularly around the Dartington Estate during the summer music school.

On the approach to the estate
Wetland area of Dartington Estate – singing frogs, singing people …

I found a delightful Airbnb and wrote to the host, Marcea, to confirm dates and establish communication. After I explained my interest in Totnes, she was pleased to tell me of her own long-time involvement with Transition Town. I was particularly interested to hear she hopes to get a place in their co-housing project. Her children are grown and gone and, as mature-aged ladies, we established a rapport even through these early emails.

When I walked into her house, here is one of the first things I saw.

Extinction Rebellion Flag
A patch for Extinction Rebellion made by Marcea.
The symbol represents an hour glass hemmed in by limited time.
Marcea, my Airbnb host, a delightful climate activist
Marcea was one of the thousand arrested in the April Rebellion.
(Note her little home-made felted badge.)
Birds flying to freedom drawn by Marcea during her short incarceration
Marcea spent only a few hours in prison but it felt long and lonely to her.
This is her statement
with her drawing depicting a longing for freedom.

Marcea is currently awaiting trial with some trepidation. Although Extinction Rebellion does offer legal and emotional support, Marcea is not intending to make any grandstanding speeches. She’s a grandmother. She didn’t want to be dragged when she was arrested, in the middle of the night, at Waterloo Bridge. She has a sore shoulder. Even though the police are slowed considerably by having to use four officers to shift one climate protester, Marcea chose her more sedate walk to the police vehicle, not wishing to add to her already high stress by causing police too much trouble.

Extinction Rebellion provides a web of educated communicators and different levels of involvement. Marcea is no longer part of the arrestable group but will support those who have been imprisoned. She says the joy of seeing a friendly face and being handed a peanut butter sandwich on her release was one of the highlights of her life.

Extinction Rebellion faces accusers who believe the idea of white middle-class protesters putting themselves in the way of arrest is immoral. How can the Extinction Rebellion be a rebellion for all people? Read an excellent article about this here.

Only the wealthy will be able to weather the initial storms of climate change and after a few years even they may find basic supplies harder to access. Climate change is for all people.

This is not a drill is a collection of essays and think pieces about the future and humanity's place in it
‘This is not a drill’ is a very entertaining and informative book.
You can pick it up, read a short piece or hang on to read many opinions.
I really like the Social Contract at the end.

Extinction Rebellion is trying to broaden their reach and has already managed to get Great Britain to declare a Climate Emergency, one of the main objectives.

Extinction Rebellion’s website states the following aims:[12][13]
1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025.
3. Government must create, and be led by the decisions of, a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_Rebellion

This is why Marcea was willing to be arrested. She believes something must be done and … ‘if good people do nothing … ‘ At least the Extinction Rebellion protests with art and good humour. With no alcohol or drugs, violence is strictly prohibted. Yoga classes, singing and dancing are strongly encouraged. The blockades are for families, sharing food and discussions.

Police said they had been forced to divert officers from tackling crime and policing neighbourhoods to deal with April’s protests – which saw a pink boat block Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge fitted with greenery and skateboard ramps.
Activists called it “Garden Bridge”.
Mr Taylor said officers arrested more than 1,150 people during the protests and around 180 have been charged so far. He has previously said he wants the Met to push for every one of those arrested to be charged.
“We absolutely respect people’s fundamental right to protest, but we do not accept that extends to causing misery and mass disruption to everybody,” Mr Taylor said. “Absolutely I can assure Londoners we will do everything we can to avoid that situation again.”
But Mr Read said “any disruption that we cause is just a vanishingly-small fraction of the disruption to our entire civilisation and utter misery that ecological breakdown and climate breakdown are starting to bring.”

https://us-issues.com/2019/08/06/extinction-rebellion-you-cant-arrest-us-all/

And then there’s Greta Thunberg, the Joan of Arc of the environmental movement. She too travels lightly upon the Earth and I wish I had a fraction of her fortitude.

Okay, Greta. Okay, Marcea. I’ll try. I will continue with my plans to travel without flying.

Greta

And so, with renewed Totnes vigour, fired up from Greta’s successful Atlantic crossing, I returned to Brighton to find the NHS had accepted me! I could make an appointment with a doctor which I did, forthwith. He tested my blood pressure, made me jump up and down, listened to my chest and looked at my old teeth. Then he signed the necessary medical certificate! I was on my way!

Once I sent the paper work to my environmentally-minded shipping company, I could start booking the rest of the trip. I needed to clarify my dates backwards. Starting from Ningbo, China, where I would catch the CC Coral, I needed to book accommodation, because the dates of the ship are ‘around’, given the exigencies of tide and wind. Then a train from Beijing to Ningbo. Once I had my dates for the TransSiberian, Moscow to Beijing. I’d need visas.

I spent a few anxious hours trying to work out the Chinese and Russian visa procedures. I’m sure it’s only a matter of going step by step. I looked at the Man in Seat 61 again and then the Lonely Planet guide and finally decided I needed help.

I contacted the wonderful Real Russia and asked if they could advise me. When should I start organising my visas?

Last month.

AAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaargh!

Tune in to Part IV to discover how much visas for Belarus, Russia, Mongolia and China cost. Especially when you have to pay for the rush version.

Flight or … ferry, train, freighter … UK to the Antipodes Part II

This is the story of my journey to a family reunion in New Zealand in January 2020. I’m in the UK. How to travel without burning av gas?

If you’re new to my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.

I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.

First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship. These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something like $4,000 Australian dollars).

To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely people:

http://www.cruisepeople.co.uk/

http://www.travltips.com/cruises/freighter/overview.php

or

http://www.freightercruises.com/

And, I’m not sure how I discovered these kind people:

https://www.globoship.ch/tour/grosse-asien-australien-asien-reise/

Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.

They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.

The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!

I found it difficult to visualise where I would be going. I needed support. I went to the library.

Lonely Planet guides for planning
Off to the Brighton-Hove Library!

Then I called in to international company, STA travel, a travel agency that helped me plan my initial Gap Year – three and a half years ago in Australia. Way back then I booked a flight from Melbourne to Madrid via Hong Kong (to revisit my childhood). A simple year away in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago and working in a school in Catalyna evolved over time, not only because I was reluctant to return south by air, but also because after the Camino I decided to develop a writing project. This project eventually needed research across France, England and Belgium. So much travel, so little time! The Gap Year stretched and stretched …

And then, so did the novel! But that’s another story …

Back to the freighter cruises.

STA travel could offer me a package deal on the TransMongolian (even suitable for old people such as myself) which would take all the worry out of planning and give me some expensive friends to play with along the way. Did I mention my budget?

The kind representative proffered the fat, glossy brochures of both European and Asian holidays – which gave me a plan. Taking them both, I proceeded to the nearest large bookshop and bought a map of the world. I pinned it to my uni-accomodation wall and proceeded to chop up the glossy brochures, liberating pictures of landmarks and cities the train would visit on the TransMongolian Express! Office-craft with destination in mind.

Starting at the UK, I pondered how best to get to Moscow. I loved the Eurostar and I had travelled by ferry between Dover and Calais and also between Santander and Plymouth. Humming and haaaing and using the ecosia search engine often, I saw it was time for a new ferry. This time from Harwich (pronounced ‘Arrrich because it’s England) to Hook of Holland. I’d already visited Amsterdam, time for Rotterdam.

Three years ago I journeyed with a Eurail pass to many of the bigger cities, such as Paris and Munich. Now I particularly wanted to visit Hamburg – on the Camino I had met many argumentative people who told me that Hamburg was the most beautiful city in the world. Really? I was nonplussed. And what about Sydney harbour? You can’t tell me a little old German town can beat the home of the Eora people? Really? THE Harbour Bridge? That Opera House? Oh, they insisted, it could. What of the glory of the two rivers, the artificial lakes, the churches … I wanted to go to Hamburg and see this magnificence for myself. Sticking up more little signs I added Berlin and then Warsaw. There was a nice direct line beginning to happen. Straight ahead to Moscow and just under a week to Beijing. Simple. Then I had to get to Singapore.

Map of half a world showing possible route from UK to Oz
First draft of overland trip from the UK to Oz

Soon I had a neatly-labelled wall of the world. I could see for myself where I was going. It made a big difference to my thinking. No longer a world away, here were colourful representations of these places right in front of me. I examined the route with interest. Only, as I stared at the journey, it began to look very complicated. I did not want to be a tourist. I wanted to be a commuter.

I watched YouTube videos of the train journey to China and, thence, most particularly, the border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. What a shemozzle. It sounds as if a new trainline has now cleared that particular blockage but it did cause me more than one second or third thought. Thailand. Vietnam.

On the Camino Frances I met Kay, a true intrepid traveller, who had been on the TransSiberian more than once. Both times with friends, she had experienced warm temperatures as well as a winter sojourn. She had stopped in many places, particularly Lake Baikal where there is an annual ice festival

She thought it nothing to cross half the planet by train. ‘It’s easy,’ she said.

Another intrepid Australian woman, Narelle, told me, if in doubt, one should just pretend to be invincible. ‘And you will be.’ She reminded me of my typing teacher from the early 80s in Sydney. She was a small elderly lady with terribly died hair. One day as she attempted to straighten my paper or point out some error in my typing ways (there were many) I noticed the tattooed numbers on her arm. I paid attention to her. She told me to sit up straight, hold my wrists correctly and pretend to be a typist. I was an acting student at the time and she thought I should make the most of this experience by ‘acting like an efficient secretary’. It would probably work. In these mindful days she would probably say, ‘Be the person you want to be.’ I sat up straight.

Okay. I’m an efficient secretary and an invincible traveller. If I can walk across Spain then I can sit on my bum in a train for a few days!

Yet, I was not sure I wanted to go to Cambodia without seeing Ankor Watt or the Bayon Temple and I did not want to buzz through Thailand without exploring … aaaaaaah the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see. Budget. Time.

Somehow the messages I was getting from the freighters became mixed up as I dithered over routes and final destinations. I started to see that if I really wanted to be in New Zealand in January what was I doing going to Sydney or Fremantle? There were curls and twists in the different itineraries. Every day at sea gets more expensive. I began to imagine landing in Fremantle and catching the Indian-Pacific train across the Nullabor to visit my sister in Adelaide. That would add a mere twelve hundred dollars to the budget. But how cool would it be …

I got more and more confused until I contacted the company that most of the agents seemed to be quoting about directly.

Voyages en Cargo by CMA CGM

Once I established I was speaking to a real person (two, in fact) and this was a real company with a real address (they had recently changed both) I was able to proceed. I made a decision.

https://voyagesencargo.com/lines/cargo-ship-travel-asia

Now my pin board was rearranged.

I would no longer be travelling UK to Australia via Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. I would be going straight from China. And I would be travelling to New Zealand.

Map of the world showing route across Europe towards NZ
Now China to Taiwan to Australia to Auckland

I had a plan. I paid the deposit. I filled in the forms.

I just needed to organise a medical certificate. Pop in and see a doctor.

But.

I couldn’t get past the guardians of the various reception areas. Or email enquiry forms.

‘Not in this medical centre.’ ‘We don’t do that here.’ ‘Our doctors don’t do certificates.’ ‘Not here, sorry.’

I couldn’t even pay for it. One surgery gave me the NHS forms to fill out, then when I returned them, realised I was only a short term visitor and gave me the short form. She took it, smiling and nodding. The next day I popped back in to hear her say, ‘The doctors are not prepared to fill in the certificate,’ as she handed me back my carefully filled out NHS forms. She would not register me in this surgery.

How was I going to be able to see a doctor in Brighton?

I could not proceed with my ticket purchase until I had that certificate. I tried writing to my Australian family doctor (they do not use email) with no reply. Long shot. After all, I had not seen them in over three and a half years.

Now what?

Access to the vessel is dizzying [préciser la hauteur pour les grands navires], the passenger shall be able to climb the access gangway with luggages on his/her own.]

Some passages in a container vessel are narrow or hard to access. It is essential to ensure the passenger has full mobility. The passenger may have to promptly don an immersion suit if need be.

If the passenger is on regular medication, the latter shall bring on board medication in sufficient quantity for the length of the journey increased by fifteen days taking in account the uncertainties of the sea passage such as weather conditions, maritime accident, deviation.

Flight or … is there any other way? OVERLAND (AND SEA) FROM UK TO ANTIPODES Part I

Sunset picks out air trails crossing rural France
Air over water?

OVERLAND (AND SEA) FROM ENGLAND TO NEW ZEALAND – Is it possible?

PART I

Pre-pre-planning or

WHY?

From the moment I arrived in Europe I knew I didn’t want to fly long distance again. Flying felt wrong.

Sunset picks out the trail of a solitary plane as it crosses rural France
A solitary plane crosses rural Saint-Julien-de-Crempse, Aquitaine, France

This is the first of a series about my sustainable (?!) journey across the world, here’s a menu to help you find your way: http://www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com/overview-overland-uk-2-nz-without-flying-eleven-stages-in-fifty-days/

For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!

My feelings of guilt were not allayed at various airports where I could see glamorous airline bill-boards claiming successful research into fuels made from seaweed or boasting forward-looking management teams with gleaming teeth who reassured the public beside the ugly heaps of plastic water bottles mounded up by the entrance to security areas.

We all know flying causes pollution. Yet, who doesn’t fly? Today I’m sitting in the reception area of an English Language school in Brighton, UK, where over a dozen people are about to leave for the airport. When I asked a class (focussed on travel) of language learners what they thought about av gas pollution, they stuck out their bottom lips, turned the corners of their mouths down and shrugged their shoulders. A young Italian man said, ‘Oh, that is nothing. Air travel is the same as car travel.’

Nothing?

I realised I couldn’t argue. I had simply accepted aviation was a contributor to climate change and should be avoided. Maybe I was wrong after all. Maybe it was just, ‘Nothing’. Maybe I should rush to the nearest airport with all their vegan cafes and seaweed fuels and jump on the first jet outta here.

Instead, I went to Wikipedia, where I read that ‘The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates and gases which contribute to climate change[1][2] and global dimming.[3]Airplanes emit particles and gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor, hydrocarbonscarbon monoxidenitrogen oxidessulfur oxideslead, and black carbon which interact among themselves and with the atmosphere.[4]

The WWF site told me, ‘if the entire aviation sector were a country, it would be one of the top 10 carbon-polluting nations on the planet’

The Conversation agrees with the environmental cost adding, ‘The second problem is, as Air Asia puts it, “Now everyone can fly”. It’s so cheap and easy! Just ask Skyscanner or Momodo or Expedia or ALL THE OTHERS … Of course, the number of travellers grows every year. And why would those numbers slow when more people all around the world can sit in their own homes with their own online systems, getting travel alerts for cheap international flights at lower prices than catching a local bus to their own town centre? They too can visit relatives and friends on the other side of the world, have a sexy beach holiday in the Mediterranean or adventure hike all the way up there. Why not? Travel broadens the mind!

Surely someone must be doing something, somehow, to change this dangerously polluting system? Don’t they realise climate is in the air? Don’t they know we’ve only got, twelve, wait, eleven, (sorry that old IPCC report came out in October 2018) years to do something to save our planet?

What does the industry body, representing 193 members have to offer? ‘International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention). 

Their environmental page tells me:

In 2004, ICAO adopted three major environmental goals, to:

  a. limit or reduce the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise;
  
  b. limit or reduce the impact of aviation emissions on local air quality; and
  
  c. limit or reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate.

Climate change rates last. Something? Admirable. Effective? Old news? Er … I find more up-to-date information on another website: Phys.org is a physics gossip site which says the aviation industry itself has set up ‘an emissions trading scheme that aims to stabilise the situation at 2019-2020 levels’. Ah. Someone is doing something. Really?

The young people wheel their 25 kg of luggage each out to the waiting taxis. Gatwick is calling. The ninth busiest airport in Europe, 46.1 million people in 2018 also felt the call. These numbers are huge and the profits so profitable …

Guess that inevitable climate change and uncontrollable weather is most certainly on the way. Or, hang on, maybe the aviation industry knows something I don’t. Maybe they think unpredictable weather is going to be a benefit? Is global warming good for business somehow? Maybe flying isn’t affected by the weather?

According to ‘Bureau of Transportation Statistics, an average of 65% of all flight delays from June 2003 to May 2014 were weather related and of the total delayed minutes, nearly 75% were due to the weather (since weather delays tend to be longer waits than other causes).’

Inconceivable. It seems airlines intend to keep their shareholders rich … er … until hurricanes start blowing their planes out of the sky.

This is a global climate problem, everyone. This affects all of us. All the corporations know it. All the insurance companies know it. But we keep booking an aisle seat because it’s so annoying having to climb over people to get out to the toilet …

But is air travel really a problem just for one little person?  Stefan Gössling, a professor at Sweden’s Lund and Linnaeus universities and co-editor of the book Climate Change and Aviation: Issues, Challenges and Solutions, says, “On an individual level, there is no other human activity that emits as much over such a short period of time as aviation, because it is so energy-intensive.”

There is no safety in numbers here. Every individual flying off with their 23 kg of fashion causes more pollution than anything else they do. Have you calculated the size of your environmental footprint recently? (You could even try it including flying and without to compare.)

A recent article at the NY Times offers some helpful tips. The first is, ‘Fly Less.’

Okay. I’ll fly less.

Here’s the problem.

I’m in England. There’s a family reunion in New Zealand in January. I have a limited budget. I’m flying less. How am I going to do it? My personal preference is always train. I knew I could get across Europe, through Russia and into China by train but, as you know, there’s a body of water around Australia and New Zealand that is, as yet, non-navigable by rail.

Before you get all thrilled and retirement-home-positive for me, I am not going on a cruise. For a start, I don’t have that sort of money and secondly, WHAAAT? Some of those ships carry more than 6,000 passengers. Plus staff. And they eat and drink and have fun. And flush their toilets straight into the sea.

And it’s not just human organic waste. Given the heavy fuel cruise liners use, data shows that ‘standing on the deck of a cruise ship is similar to being in one of the world’s most polluted cities’.

Here’s a link to a short, informative video. I hope you haven’t eaten recently.

I think you will agree, the WWII slogan, ‘Is your trip really necessary?’ needs a dust-down and perk-up.

Original Vintage Posters -> War Posters -> Is Your Journey ...
Time to return to conservative thinking?

We must go at once to the wonderful The Man on Seat 61. Well known as The Train Expert, he lays out a possible journey from the UK to Australia in simple steps. I sent him an email to thank him for doing the hard work for me. He replied, wishing me an enjoyable trip. Gulp. Am I really going to do this? Europe, Russia and China, people. For a start. Then, there’s ocean and the South China sea. Where they have Big Waves.

It looks like I’m planning the trip of a lifetime! I’m not alone. Check out this article about the Flight-Free movement.

Stay tuned for Part II where I ask the next exciting question, ‘How?’

Or, I could wait for the seaweed …

Or, even better, the hemp!!!

https://www.captain-planet.net/worlds-first-plane-made-powered-by-hemp-is-10-times-stronger-than-steel/?fbclid=IwAR1YsBhJEXEBs8WmdYkWKD3Ial2pREgP7a9dIrl1RYUISuGfHQlN5HY6OKg

Check out Part II here!

Rivers

I’ve just been swimming in a chemically-treated, lightly-perfumed, over-lit indoor pool in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. I loved it. On my way to the pool I pass this fountain.

Oviedo fountain fireworks – waterworks doesn’t quite describe the uplift and spray, does it?

It’s the centre piece of a roundabout which illustrates the cycle of water showering through it every minute. Round and round we go. Up and down, through the pipes, over and over again. Humans have used water, in more or less elaborate ways, to enhance our lives as long as we’ve been drinking liquid to survive. You do know you’re soaking in it? In my time in Spain I’ve seen fountains in plazas, roundabouts and parks. I’ve also seen viaducts.

Segovia viaduct built with no mortar

As I’ve said before, imagine having to work in a frock and sandals to make this big old drain run from mountain to castle for your Roman leaders.

There’s plenty of sculptures too, like this one in the city of Valencia, remembering the river that used to run through it.

Valencia remembers their river with a colossus striding over water

One of the most amazing things about Valencia is that for the last thousand years a group of Spanish farmers, or their representatives, meet, every week, on the steps of the Valencia Cathedral; the tribunal de las aguas. They’re there to debate water; who gets how much, when. You can see them on a Thursday. They don’t keep records and their decisions are final.

Tour guide in Valencia explains the democratic nature of water decisions on the steps of the Cathedral

Compare that to negotiations around the Murray Darling basin in Australia. Irrigation is the largest user of water from the Murray/Darling rivers. Admittedly white farmers haven’t been there for a thousand years yet but they are certainly having trouble working out equitable ways to share the water and keep a healthy river. Couple of Aussie blokes made a tv series about it, if you’re inclined to view a cruise down a river?

The farmers downstream in South Australia do not stand a chance against the farmers upstream in New South Wales and Victoria. There are regular scandals on the border of Queensland and NSW.

Cubbie Station, a Japanese and Chinese owned cotton empire, has a dam described as the same size as Sydney Harbour. Down the other end of the river in SA, Goolwa’s water sometimes slows to a trickle. There’s no regular meeting to solve this ongoing crisis. Just earnest attempts, bitter blaming and ecological desperation.

Back in Spain, Valencia went so far as to move their river away from the city.

Old Valencia river bed is now a running track

Now a lovely park featuring running tracks, modern architecture and playgrounds, the river bed flooded too often and the civic powers showed the flow who was boss and shoved it out the back somewhere.

Valencia tamed their river beds and turned their minds to the future

The same thing happened in Seville. The Gualdaquiver, once a bustling shipping artery, was split to control potential flooding.

Seville’s quiet backwaters

I suppose in Spain climate change may be working for humans because there’s been less rain than normal for many years.

El Torre de Oro – The Tower of Gold – built in the 13th Century – across the river Gualdaquiver

 

The public face of the river in Seville

On the other side of the Iberian Peninsula, I lived last year on the border of two provinces, Barcelona and Girona, in Catalunya. The border was a river, La Tordera.

Standing on the bridge looking out to the sea and the railway bridge on one side and up to the township of Tordera on the other

In the summer La Tordera dried up. You could walk across it. In the winter it was a full, flowing river. I used to take a photo every time I walked home. There’s no sound track on the following slide show. Do you want to listen to Al Green while you check out the pretty Spanish river?

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In the beginning of my little compilation, you can see the mouth of the river at Blanes beach. In the summer, the mouth is closed. As the waters build up through the cooler months, they breach the sand. Water will find a way.

With my back to Blanes beach, here’s the mouth of La Tordera in cooler days.

Also, the nearby city of Girona features a river bed dry and bare in the summer. The winter rains and their outpourings created marvellous reflections for tourist photos.

Girona quiet waters in autumn – not a marvellous tourist photo

This year I work in the Valle de Nalón in Asturias. When I arrived, El Rio Nalón was a mere trickle.

Tiny little Nalón in autumn

Nalón in the Winter

Now spring is here and the snows are melting in the nearby mountains.

Nalón in spring

Churning white waters fleck the brown flood that chunders down the river bed.

Rivers come and go as seen in two stories in the Guardian today. When Nature’s had enough https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/01/argentina-new-river-soya-beans and farmers have taken all the deep-rooted trees away from the water table, is it surprising that nature will take her own course?

But more achingly important is this story about giving nature a right to exist; https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/01/its-only-natural-the-push-to-give-rivers-mountains-and-forests-legal-rights

The idea of giving a river legal personhood is pleasantly close to finding Naiad or a River God swimming along the Yarra, or the Thames or the Seine. But remember, “No river, no people, no life.”

They know that in Cape Town, they know it in Los Angeles. Around the world it’s estimated 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.

I don’t have to tell you, do I, that we’re all part of nature!

There’s a lot of charities about clean water; the tap project, charity; water, lifewater, water.com

The Source of the river Aube, one of the tributaries of the Seine, in the Haute-Marne region of France

When I stayed near Auberive, Champagne-Ardenne, France, I was fortunate to visit the Source of the river Aube, set in mysterious forest and retaining an atmosphere of magic. For about twenty metres around this area, the ground is wet and the steady seepage from below begins a flow that ends up joining the Seine. Here was a place it was easy to imagine a Naiad living.

Would we be more interested in protecting water if we returned to the days of worshipping? Would that be enough for us to form a human shield against the likes of Nestlé and Coca Cola? Remembering corporations already carry their own personhood, like Deities!

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, hydro-electricity is looking a lot greener these days. And rivers are so beautiful that Don McGlashan wrote a song about them. Made famous by singer Hollie Smith, here’s a version featuring the composer, a casual rehearsal to swim in.

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Thanks for getting into this river of thought. What, and where, are your favourite rivers? Have you been involved in any water charities? Let me know in the comments section below!

Searching for Mervyn Peake in Sark

Arrrr, those pesky pirates! You know the sort; nasty, violent, GREEDY? Take what they want, arrrr, and care not one whit for the contentment of the many, nor even of the few wealthy owners, nor even for that super royal family to whom tax is most certainly due.

Peake pirate from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ce/f1/86/cef186f038796cc4d647be6035063f1f.jpg

Queen Elizabeth I (arrrr) knew all about pirates and she didn’t like them. She’d seen too many ships disappear, together with her income, and she wanted the pestilence fixed. Looking toward the Continent, she could tell Jersey and Guernsey were populated and policed enough, but Sark, a teeny island, a craggy outcrop of rock, drilled through by the sea until it resembled Swiss cheese, was trouble. Sark, even now holding the honour of the most caves of the Channel Islands, was riddled with pirates.

Peake’s first published work was Captain Slaughterboard, written and illustrated by Mervyn himself

Queen Liz wanted Sark cleaned up. She gave the entire island of 4.5 square miles (Sark 2017 Official Map) to a Lord, The Seigneur, and charged him with protecting her waters and getting rid of the blasted bandits.

The Seigneur, in his turn, allowed thirty-nine of his closest armed friends to rent a cheap piece of Sark so long as they kept guard. All they had to do was keep it free of pirates and enjoy the sort of dreamy rural existence made romantic by HE Bates. It can’t have been easy, I’m sure. The early settlers might even have had trouble finding topsoil on that windy place. But they soon found enough to grow sheep, vegetables and send their children off to fee-paying English schools and eat delicious French food. They invented lazy summer holidays and horse-drawn tourist peace and all was well.

After a few hundred years came World Wars and German invasion. This was difficult but eventually the locals overcame the barbed wire and life went on in the same idyllic manner. But, what if, after 450 years of dutiful protection, the locals became complacent? What if they forgot their obligations to the crown and their duty to protect Sark? What if modern pirates began circling the island in their helicopters with their fancy new technologies? What would happen if the Sarkese didn’t realise they were under attack until it was too late?

Peake apparently knew Treasure Island by heart http://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ea29c77f532850e2945dc298b35da651.jpg

I was awarded the Titus Groan trilogy for debating at a small girls’ school in Dunedin, New Zealand. Even when staring at the pencil illustrations on the covers, I knew I’d been handed the key to another world.

http://mervynpeake.blogspot.com.es/2011/05/illustrated-gormenghast-anticipation.html

The Gormenghast books were satire, adventure and a description of enclosed society. Mervyn Peake, artist and writer (as much as those two roles can be separate in his life) conceived and wrote much of the trilogy when Peake and his family lived on Sark. Much has been written about his childhood in China and how that experience might have contributed to the strangeness of his creation, but having visited Sark, I think that’s where he found the core of Gormenghast.

The Peakes moved to Sark in 1946 and lived an arcadian lifestyle for three years as he planned the series. As a single man he had lived on Sark for four years before the war, in an artist’s colony. He was an eccentric fellow with a pet cormorant and a penchant for nudism. He became an art teacher and a war artist later. 

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07779/Mervyn-Laurence-Peake

Seventy years on, I went to Sark in search of Peake, hoping to find evidence of his inspiration. He was the first world builder I’d ever encountered, in words or pictures.

“My voice has all the lushness
of what I can’t abide

And yet it has a beauty
most proud and terrible
denied to those whose duty
is to be cerebral.”

To me, Peake was more than a friend. He was a soulmate.

Waiting to buy tickets for the ferry at Granville

To get to Sark, one must travel by sea. Port de Granville of France was not colourful. The buildings were grey, beige or cream or a clotted mix and the sea was slate grey. The sky was filled with ashen clouds. The boats were once white with an odd faded blue for contrast. As I waited for the ferry I watched the floating world go by. As the ferry prepared to leave, I watched two men and a clump of fishing rods bump out of the protection of stone walls in a surprising bright yellow inflatable.

This is not the ferry. A fellow traveller.

It’s difficult to imagine how those old sea walls could possibly have been built without the aid of cranes and heavy engineering equipment. I suppose each wall, built on the remains of the previous, becomes stronger over the ages, like nearby Mont Saint-Michel, a dramatic medieval castle-cathedral, which may also have influenced Peake.

Mont St Michel

Au revoir La France! A bientôt!

From Granville we sailed to Jersey. “In Transit” whilst at Jersey meant walking off the boat, waiting for customs to look at the passport, getting a new boarding pass, walking to the waiting room and, without sitting down, getting in the queue to return with treble the amount of people wanting to visit Sark. In less than an hour we were on our way again, past a proud fort crouched on the Jersey coast fringed with cranes poised this way and that. Jersey, as far as I could tell, was an island plagued with developers.

Jersey fort

On board the ferry, I stood on deck, leaning into a bend in the rail, loving the rise and fall, the spray from the ploughed waves stinging my face. The wind was icey but there was warm sun on my back and soon enough we neared Sark waters. Rocky waters. Great dark craggy outcrops jagged from the white water all around the cliffs. A black tidal mark or plimsoll line bruised the rocks just above the water where the waves have engraved a thinner waist for the island.

Black lichen high water mark around Sark

Extraordinary harbour walls featured steep steps up to a road, which wound through a tunnel in the cliff. I found it difficult to imagine the grasping hands and burning backs, tearing muscles and broken legs; the vision and the technology that had to be utilised to build these sea walls.

Maseline is the main harbour of Sark, where the ferry and the mail boat visit – and not every day. The weather conditions are extreme. The sailors must be very skilled indeed to negotiate their paying customers up and down the steep steps to the ferry.

I puzzled, how could those early tenants have tamed the fierce thundering waters long enough to build towering stone walls right into it?

Welcome to Sark

There, through that proscenium cliff archway, was a walk up the hill. You could catch a tractor ride if you preferred but I chose the lovely green twisty path, and on, straight up the dusty thin carless road to the Sark Visitor’s Centre.

Leading us up the Sark garden path

My first impression of Sark town centre was ‘English Country Garden’. It was all very picturesque and human scale, apart from the giant vibrant begonias in all the bridesmaid colours of the world. I had no idea they could grow that big!

Over-sized begonias in the Sark garden experience

Sark seemed almost too good to be true.

The information officer told me that not many people come to Sark to seek Peake. What? REALLY?! The only reason I came was Peake. What else could there possibly be?

On the way up the main road it was difficult to ignore the amount of shops for rent and closed businesses. One entire side of the street was empty. Shut. This was peak tourist season – the middle of summer – August. The information woman told me crossly it was because of the cost of electricity. Far too high. (And not one solar panel in sight.)

I trooped off to La Vallete Campsite (a couple of paddocks on the cliff edge of a farm) where I put up my borrowed tent. When I fronted at the campsite ‘office’, more a mud-room entry space really, Linda said she found all her emails blurred into one – which camper was I? What did I want? Exactly? Just a place to lay my weary head.

Incredibly grateful that Roseann, Olivier and Mike lent me their tent!

I was unused to camping, unprepared and unskilled. I chose a site close to the edge of the cliff, though fenced in on two sides with blackberries. It appeared someone had desecrated the corner with some toilet paper streamers. They had been rained on. I tucked them back into the blackberry bush with the tent-peg mallet, of which there were several on offer. I put the small end of the tent into the prevailing wind but who knew where the wind would blow next?

There were a few puffy clouds looking thoughtful and attractive about this intense blue sky while the sun beat down meaningfully. Several charming yachts were drifting below, parked in La Grève de la Ville like a school of tethered white and blue tuna.

What sort of pirates sail the high seas?

What to do next? Obviously I had to go to the Vicar’s Fête, one of the Sark calendar highlights. Apparently the Peake family had lived nearby in a housed called Le Chalet. While I struggled to decide what book to buy at the bookstall (couldn’t) the auction began. I assumed the auctioneer was none other than the vicar himself and he proceeded to give a progress report of the Fair. There was a loud cry of despair from two women next to me when they heard there were no cakes left. A chap muttered to the bookseller, ‘Well, I’m not surprised. There weren’t many to start with.’ Suddenly I looked left and right. Was I in an episode of Midsummer Murders? The all white and cashmere Vicarage workers were certainly over fifty years old (many harking back fondly to their seventieth birthday). A small gang of vaguely Gothic teens/early twenties lounged on the grass to prove the exception.

The Bank. Summer outfit.

As I left the Fête, I noted a few summer visitors – I suspect you wouldn’t get called tourists – harrying their children around on bicycles. Because there’s no cars and you can easily hear a tractor on the way, or one of the horse-drawn carts, children hoon about freely.

Up by the path to the lighthouse (now an Airbnb with no public access) I found a well-placed bench overlooking the yachts to my left and several rugged rock islets scattered over the waters to my right. The waves were rustling below, tickling the shore. I could hear seagulls crying out somewhere and behind me in the bush grasshoppers (or crickets) sang a high-pitch bed of noise.

With lighthouse to the right and La Grève de la Ville to the right, my dinner bench was a peaceful spot

As I ate my dinner I watched currents moving under the water. The current coming around to the right (towards Maseline Harbour) was smooth, in contrast to choppy scuff marks sweeping the current along. It was as though someone had come through with a big wooden spoon and made a curvy pattern across my sea view. A speedboat ripped across the water. Dark navy depths rejoined as the white zipline faded away. The water then had a nap, brushed wrong way in a pleasing curve around me and smoothed further out like a rainbow arc but all tones of navy stripes. Then came a flotilla of small jet boats – possibly fisher folk returning for their dinner? Possibly cocaine smugglers for cocktail hour?

Les Fontaines where there are definitely smugglers caves just out of frame

The next morning I skittered down steep stairs to La Fontaine Bay, a sheltered and rocky smuggler’s cove where the sun blasted down. A seagull in the distance tangled with a plane far too high, altogether there were far too many planes roaring overhead. There were two great caves on the opposite side of the bay. I thought the tide was out because the seaweed was still fresh wet on the rocks. I thought of Peake, and Titus, as he might have walked these rocks and pathways, and how the woman in the tourist information office said, ‘Well, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, is he.’

A local grandfather made the Epeguerie rock pool many years ago. It’s leaking now. And, look, there’s George’s boat taking a load of tourists around the island!

I spent a good part of the day in my togs staring in a rockpool instead. The rock pools were heaving with little fish. When I assumed the gazing position, rubbernecking into the shallow twinkles, two fish came to look at me as if they were watching telly. They watched me watching them. Another swam through. Quickly. Then another. One of the watchers changed position, coming a little closer. They all kept a steady eye on me.  A darker one took shelter on an outcrop, just under the surface. As a fragile cluster of guppy things swam by, the dark one up above slapped the water somehow, making a surprising snappy clapping. I took up various positions around this Grandpa-made pool, leaking slightly now, but still absorbing viewing.

I marched up to the nose of the island, Bec du Nez, where seagulls sit like complacent white crowns on royal lumps of rock, their soft feathers littering the sheep-gnawed grass around them. It’s called the common and the guide suggests counting butterflies. Too many flutter by and I take it the counting is a joke. Mostly quiet brown creatures, perhaps with a spot or a bit of pale and some colourful ones too with flashes of orange and yellow. I mainly walked around the Eperquerie area, eating far too many blackberries. I wanted to get to the historical society in time to enquire about the ruins up there and ask what that black stain is. I took a bit more of a stroll to examine the Buddist carving on a rock. Not sure why it’s there. And then a snooze in the sun.

Perhaps the Buddhist carving is simply for us to ponder while relaxing in the sun or, maybe, it is to protect the island from evil.

When I eventually regained enough strength to eat more blackberries I got back on track and hit town too late for the historic society. Turned off by the Sunflower Café but admired the Sunflower Project, a two acre field donated by the farmer to grow sunflowers and other plants for birds and insects. Very happy to see Shenanigans Café open where a friendly young lady from Cardiff lent me her charger, made me a coffee, and a cherry jam sandwich. They even employed a solar panel or two. All well with the world.

Although impressed by the ancient windmill, I was saddened the bakery was no longer used. In fact, there’s no bakery open at all on the island. Here’s an opportunity for someone to run the place the way it used to be. Or stick up a new windmill to get things cooking. (Could they afford the thousand-pound-a-week plus rent the owners are asking for the bakery on the main road?)

The windmill’s wings are clipped (off)

The next day I woke to the tent flapping briskly in the wind. I had a dream in which I was picked up (while still in the tent) and moved to a hall. In my dream hall, many people were sleeping next to each other. I woke up (in the dream) to find myself between two bickering young men. One stretched out, over me, to annoy the other and I slapped his arm lightly. He was upset but I didn’t care. A young doctor came to look at my prone self. She looked worried. They hadn’t been able to wake me previously. I reassured her that I was in fine fettle. I must have fallen into such a deep sleep because I’d been awake after I thought I’d lost my wallet.

This last bit was true. I wanted to see the famous Dark Sky so when I woke I jumped at the chance to wander over to the toilet block. But I didn’t need a torch. The sky was bright. There was a full glorious moon. As I watched she pulled an elegant cloud-veil across her face. I dreamily went to watch the lighthouse flashing around the bay. This was the sign-posted lighthouse, now closed to the public, certainly a working warning light so that was reassuring. No big boats about to crash into the cliff. When I arrived back to the tent I discovered my wallet missing. Panic. Flashed the torch everywhere it might have been. Raced back to the loo and the lighthouse viewpoint. Started planning survival strategies. Got back to tent, tried to avoid dew soaked tent flap, began sorting and found wallet straightaway. Thank goodness. Asleep immediately to dream the wind picked me up. But it didn’t.

It was all just the wind in the tent. 

La Coupée is a very thin and wind vulnerable connection between Sark and Little Sark. Note the droppings left by the most popular form of tourist transport.

The next day I walked over the steep, curving La Coupée, a road built and fenced by prisoners of war, to Little Sark. Believing strongly in discretion above valour, I decided not to climb down to the Venus Pool alone. Looked arduous and I still had time to return to the historical society. If no one hears you scream did you actually fall to your death off a rocky cliff?

At the peak, I lounged on a soft patch of vivid green with tiny stalks bearing little cups of crispy white petals. Sark. Blackberries, sweet as desire. Butterflies, light and mobile as an already forgotten thought.

Sun bore down in full force, sea birds wheeled around and overhead. Many spattered brown birds – herring gulls? No wonder Peake thought of angels when he came to write Mr Pye, his book actually set on Sark. The jagged landscape is covered in fluffy white feathers.

I was so KEEN. Arrived at the historical society office 12:25 with plenty of time before they shut. Popped in to the loo, no potable water there and came to stand in line at the Heritage Room. Or rather, I waited in the corridor. A man held forth to a small elderly lady. She did not see me but I sort of bowed to the gentleman to indicate that I intended to move into the room, was that allowed? He met my gracious greeting with a blank stare I took to be assent so I moved into the space. Glass cabinets and folders of information about Sark surrounded me. I looked up the meadow pippet in birds of Sark, as the meadow pippet is my favourite bird. I think I may have seen a rock pippet near the old mines. I could find, as I slowly perambulated around the room, precisely nothing about Mervyn Peake. Nothing about pirates or the dark plimsoll line.

Meanwhile, the man held forth about the crimes of the British education system. He used to be a headteacher. He despaired at the constant measuring to which children are subjected in the current British system. As does his wife, a sixty percenter, but working full-time. As it turned out, you wouldn’t believe it, he, Richard, came from Wollstonecraft (or somewhere), which is EXACTLY where the thin, elderly lady’s brother and sister-in-law reside. Extraordinary coincidence. After that they spoke about the exhibits in front of them, neolithic axe heads and other items of geological interest. I believe he may now be a geologist of some sort. They were getting on splendidly and I’d perused the flowers of Sark and the rocks of Sark and the moths of Sark and the interesting beads, possibly made from Baltic amber found around Sark, when I realised these two had just begun to warm up. I took my departure (unnoticed) and headed to the Post Office where I intended to buy and post postcards.  And there, at last, in The Gallery Stores and Post Office, I found Mervyn Peake and his creations.

All the Peake Offerings in the Sark Post Office and Gallery

After dealing with postcards I went back to request the nearest potable water tap at tourist information. While I waited I looked through a beautiful coffee table book, ‘Art for the Love of Sark’. This is the record of an inspirational visit to Sark by twenty artists from Artists For Nature (http://www.artistsfornature.com/projects/sark/) It is a remarkable venture and I urge you to peruse the website and buy the book, if you can. One of the artist members, Rosie Guille, runs a delightful little gallery on the main street of Sark where you can pick up the book, perhaps one of her own evocative paintings or practice the art yourself. Here is her online gallery: https://rosanneguilleart.com/

http://www.sark.co.uk/958-958/

Back in the Sark Visitor Centre, the kind officer offered me the still warm water from her kettle. She preferred to boil the bore water. They have a good water table. Don’t need to go down too far. I remarked upon the lack of visible water tanks and that bore water is, of course, finite. She felt not. A good water table is a water table for good. I continued in my strident, visitor knows best sort of way, surely that’s the problem in California? She said, ‘Sark gets more rain than California.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that a good reason for water tanks?’

Didn’t seem like a smooth conversation did it, so I bought up Mervyn again. I wouldn’t let him go, I just couldn’t, and I said what a shame it was there was no shrine to this great writer. She said, ‘There’s a lot of artists that came from Sark. They couldn’t possibly commemorate them all.’

I said, ‘Like who?’ She said, ‘Cheeseplate and Topless’, people I hadn’t heard of so I added, ‘Oh yeah,’ I muttered dismissively, ‘And let’s not forget Victor Hugo!’ 

One of the closed hotels features a bar honouring Victor Hugo

Wasn’t it amazing that Victor Hugo had only been on the island for two weeks and he had a cave and a bar named after him while Peake had lived here for seven years? ‘Oh, she said, ‘Hugo was here longer than that.’ I said, ‘Not according to the pamphlet over there … ‘ And she looked askance at me.

Well, they hedge their bets, don’t they …

In order to lighten the atmosphere I added that I had started to see Gormenghast as a satire about Sark itself, what with all that inherited fifedom, and the enclosed nature of the island. She hadn’t read it but agreed that although many people had wanted democracy in 2008, many had wanted the island to stay the way it was. Is that so? To swing it all back to Mr Peake and his glory, I said it was a shame there was nothing available in the tourist information shop about him and she said, ‘Perhaps there’s nothing of his available to sell?’ And I said, ‘Well, there is in the Post Office!’

After a desperate pause in which we both wanted to be polite, she said, ‘Did you know he used to live there?’ And I said, ‘No, really?’ (Which was a lie because I did know by then) and she said, ‘Before it was the Post Office, of course. They had some pictures up once, showing him painting there.’ After making all the correct admiring sounds I said, ‘I had heard when he first lived here, when he was freezing in a barn, he worked in the fields to get money and had a pet cormorant.’ She looked askance again, ‘Well, you know better than I do, for sure.’

So I said that she was lucky to have the books to look forward to, that they were wonderful and thanks for the water. I could have reminded her that the books were all available in the PO but you know, I’m proud of myself. I knew when to stop.

There was the dead bakery on the main road. CLOSED. Another shop on the main street, CLOSED. Then, on the way to Dixcart Bay, a great swimming bay, I passed a large fancy hotel. CLOSED. What was going on? Time for some research.

Sark, straight ahead?

The price of electricity has little to do with the price of politics in Sark. Turns out Sark does have a darker side. Sark really is too good to be true.

Under all those pots of petunias, pretty tree-lined laneways and those quaint seventeenth century stone buildings lies a squawling ten-year-old democracy, fighting a 450 year-old-fifedom. Or is it?

Shady laneway in Sark – around the bend?

The democracy was apparently born of twin media barons, David and Frederick Barclay, trying to buy their way into tax-free law-making power. Come on. Did Mervyn Peake write that stuff? (NB: There were twins in the drama of Gormenghast but they were victims. Cora and Clarice were killed by Steerpike, a young man thirsting for power.)

Peake certainly loved pirates as described by Rob Maslen in a fine blog post but I don’t think Mervyn would much care for these boys. The Barclay Brothers have caused a sort of disease, a kind of cancer, in the form of untended grapevines, empty hotels and falling down buildings holding up the land.

Vines in apparent summer disrepair

I really felt at home in Sark but what a beastly thing this duo of billionaires have done. They’ve bought a good percentage of the ancient tenements but have not yet managed to sway the democratic elections enough to get their chosen people in power to make the legal changes they require. They want to make their bit of the island a separate tax haven. They normally live in Monaco but they’ve built a showy castle on a their private mini-island called Brecqhou.

They’ve installed a helipad and roads and landed cars – against the rules, nay ethos, of Sark. They own all the empty shops and most of the main island’s hotels; those now standing empty. So there’s no work in those CLOSED hotels and no paying visitors. Which means the population of the island was half its normal summer number last year.

You can watch a Panorama episode available on You Tube that explains how these two media moguls have been trying to play monopoly and throw the board over when things aren’t going the way they like. (I’ve seen my sister do it. Definitely a thing.) 

The next morning was cloudy. I eyed the tumbling impending rain clouds suspiciously as I rushed to finish my breakfast before it came down again. I managed to bring everything over to the shed where there was a sort of veranda. I stretched the tent out over the ground and sipped my coffee while weak shards of sun stroked the damp nylon into submission.

Once I figured everything would not rot away if rolled up, I packed and left the stuff ready for the appointed pick up. I managed to walk the delightful garden dell path to the harbour five times that day. Once, when the friendly bank ladies thought George wouldn’t go out in this weather and I imagined I’d better take a look at this enclosed bay, Creux Harbour, to see how small and cute it really was, and how the water smashed up through the stairway.

While waiting for the Non Pareil to arrive I strolled around the picturesque Creux Harbour

I strode back up to find a phone which just ate my money and refused to connect with anyone. Luckily I ran into Rosie rather than have to face the Information Officers again. She put in a call to George for me and we were in business. Back down the windy path I went. On the way past, I couldn’t help myself, I popped into the smart corporate looking real estate company office. The smartly-attired business woman at the desk agreed there were a lot of closed shops on the main road and, yes, it was a shame.

I mentioned I came from Australia and there was an interesting phenomenon, started in Newcastle a few years back, called ‘Renew‘. The idea was that local officials would make empty, run-down shops or premises available to artists and small desktop computer type start-up businesses for peppercorn rents in order to bring life back into blighted areas. There was quite a lot available on the internet about it, I pressed on, Renew had been a great success. She agreed wholeheartedly, making no move to search her computer. She pretended to take a note in her diary and promised faithfully the Chamber of Commerce would be discussing it at the very next meeting.

I marched back down again and found the eighty-year old George and his son, Morgan, waiting in a jolly little boat, the Non Pareil. They took us from hightide Creux harbour, round the island with the most caves in the channel (Sark, remember?) and back to a low tide harbour. Here could be a clue for a renewable energy source – tidal power must surely be an option on Sark. Watch Morgan move the Non Pareil quick smart out of there!

George had met Mervyn Peake. He reported he was a very nice man. And George’d been in the tv series, Mr Pye, too. In fact nearly everyone on Sark had been involved!

Low tide at Creux Harbour reveals how those harbour walls might have been built!

When we went past the castle, George spoke unenthusiastically about the lack of community spirit of the Barclay boys.

George and his son Morgan take the tourists around Sark in all the weathers

These modern pirates, the Baron Boys – Barclaydum and Barclaydee – came in helicopters, spread fake news that makes German propaganda look like nursery rhymes and when they didn’t like the way their game of Monopoly was heading, they threw the board over so no one could finish the game. They made several families, true descendants of that first Seigneur, the friend of Elizabeth I, walk the financial plank. They bought up houses, hotels and disgraced the local Doctor Kindness himself.

The sad thing is that this isn’t a draft of the fourth (or fifth) Gormenghast book. This is life on Sark today. Unless the Royals, who happen against all reason, to be good buddies with the Barclay Media Barons – those very same Media Barons relishing once-private information about royals, celebrities and other saucy scandals – unless Prince Charles – whose architect pal built the pseudo castle on BB island with, I kid you not, real canons balanced on ramparts artlessly covered in Spanish stone, unless the Crown can come to Sark’s rescue somehow, it’s difficult to see how this stalemate will end. The Pirate Twins themselves are now old men kept alive by the wonders of modern medicine. What of their heirs? What will become of Sark in the long run?

If the parliament or the Lord (Seigneur) could somehow regain control of the tenements belonging to the main island, I wondered if it might be possible to let the Barclay Barons have Brecqhou Island on a long-term lease? Surely they did not sell the land freehold? If the community could retrieve the hotels and shops on the mainland, they could get their own economy functioning once more.

Sark’s situation put me in mind of another David and Goliath story, that of Cuba. There was a thrown monopoly board if ever there was one. In my humble opinion Sark urgently needs to bring in permaculture experts, as they did there (Power of Community: How Cuba survived peak oil) particularly those knowledgeable about burning rubbish and making renewable energy. The stench of foul smoke overhanging the harbour is awful. Sark clearly has wind potential, and the tidal variation is powerful. Sark could surely become self-sufficient in energy one day.

Is it possible the Barclay Twins, their heirs and the Royals could join the community to build such a forward-looking and clean energy exemplar for the British protected Channel Islands?

My dream? Where I was picked up by the wind? Have I been asleep all this time? 

Searching for Arthur Ransome; Coniston Copper Mine YHA, Lake District

Remember Swallows and Amazons? Tales of adventures and holiday intrigue by Arthur Ransome? Remember climbing Kanchenjunga, mining for gold and avoiding pirates? Remember protecting birds and sleuthing? So do I, fondly. So, this year I went sleuthing. I travelled to the Lake District in Northern England to climb Kanchenjunga in search of Arthur Ransome; journalist, novelist, sailor, spy.

Coniston Coppermine YHA with the Old Man Coniston (Kanchenjunga) up to the left and mining workings in front

 

That’s right. You read correctly. Spy.

Ransome was a British spy (codename C.76) during the Russian revolution of one hundred years ago. He also wrote the biography of Oscar Wilde which precipitated Lord Alfred Douglas to launch into a scandalous trial. In Russia, Ransome liked to play chess — with Lenin — and married Trotsky‘s secretary, Evgenia.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Arthur Ransome’s heart lay in North England, in the Lake District. As the train pulled in to Windermere Station I felt the same excitement and anticipation stirred up before meeting an old friend. This was where I’d spent my childhood – albeit while reading. There was no homing pigeon to let go but I felt I was coming home. I was determined to see the lake. Hefting my pack, I walked down the hill. And kept walking. After too much walking I was hungry for lunch and annoyed they called the town the same name as the lake when the town is actually called Bowness. The lake is far from the town.

The sun came out as I reached the water. The farms and forests made green-hued patchwork around the glinting lake. Struggled to find suitable food, bought fixings and, as fat swans too lazy to even stand watched me balefully, strolled on board a cruise of Windermere.

Lady Windermere’s umbrella with fat swan

The lake itself was just as I remembered – from the books and the screen version (only the first, haven’t seen the most recent) – Swallows and Amazons for EVER! The captain sat on his comfortable stool and sighed as chatty Chinese folk cheerfully ignored his interesting details about the length and depth of the lake.

People enjoyed the sunshine, both around the water and on it; lots of different sailboats and cruisers. There was a houseboat. I did not see a plank. It was lovely; the water’s edge, the forests and the remarkably few buildings. The place was incredibly preserved. Scattered buildings fitted into the theme with one or two modern outcrops that implied influential friends. The Lake District, a living National Park, features farms, tourism and some industry but there you go, it might have developed like Surfers Paradise if someone hadn’t protected it to some degree (surfing on Windermere is unlikely).

Gathered myself together. Found my bus. I could only get as far as Ambleside where I had to wait for an hour for the next bus for Coniston. Found supplies and then dropped into a pub for grog (ginger ale) and hot chips. Thank goodness I did because, after an excellent bus trip (the driver a Henna Dame, recently widowed and newly full-time on those curly stonewalled roads), I needed that fuel for the refreshing walk up to my hostel. My pack was heavy but the views were incredible. Note to drivers: Henna Dame supposed car hire firms kept big cars so punters would have to bring them back scratched. You will pay extra for any damage, of course.

The land was stunning and relatively untouched. I couldn’t believe how green and wonderful the forests were and then coming around a corner, I saw Coniston; a sliver of wonder, a slip of lovely, a slide of thought, a glimmer lake in place.

First glimpses of Coniston Water on the way to the Coppermines

I called in to Holly Howe YHA by mistake and, redirected, marched on up the hill, on the way to Dixon’s farm. Sheep yelled to each other. The Copper Mine YHA was nestled into the hills curving around behind it. With a well-stocked kitchen and dining area, it had a comfortable living room and a terrific view down the valley. The staff were relaxed and friendly, used to dealing with walkers, school groups and naturalists of all ages and stripes.

Evening view from YHA Coppermines

My shared room was labelled Old Man of Coniston. In the morning I got up, ate a hearty breakfast and sat on the front door step to tie my boots. The house martins flew across my vision, getting closer and closer, curving around the front of the building. Worried they were trying to get to their nest, I backed away and one did disappear into the eaves. The others continued to buzz me. We squatted in the sun while the young YHA host spread his map on the ground and pointed the Old Man out to me. It’s obvious after you’ve been up there.

On the way up the Old Man

As I climbed I recognised the lie of the land from Ransome’s drawings. I expected to see those little figures in shorts clambering up the slopes beside me. (I’m sure I saw a man in a squashy hat out of the corner of my eye. He ducked into one of the old workings.) The weather came and went. I felt shivery even in June especially through my sweaty shirt.

Old Mine Workings Old Man Coniston

There were friendly folk murmuring over their picnics, people walking their dogs and plenty of grass for the sheep to gnaw. A small dappled brown bird came along the path with me, a white patch on her rump showing as she flashed away to the side or flounced up ahead. She didn’t seem distressed or leading me anywhere, just hopping along. Like me.

The rocks were bursting through the green grass and there was plenty of bracken growing. But higher up, around the old workings, slate lay piled artistically. There must have been good reason; water, or those enormous cables needing housings or perhaps some kind of machine required flat areas. The closed copper and slate mines left more than their scars on the hills; their rusty remnants now crazy sculptures in the landscape.

The cairn at the top of the Old Man and a view down to Coniston Waters

It was thrilling to think that I climbed, walked and stood just where Ransome might have been. Perhaps once he sat right there and ate pemmican (corned beef) sandwiches. That might have been the very spot where he contemplated the S. A. & D.’s next adventure or the place where he found his ‘Homing Rock’ of inspiration.

Ransome’s Homing Rock and the cairn as he would have seen it

The Lake District inspired many writers. Potter, Wordsworth and Ruskin are honey for bee tourists, but for me, the only attraction was Arthur Ransome. He was the man who taught me to respect nature. He taught me about birds and taking responsibility for the care of the environment. I wondered about other walkers as I climbed Old Man Coniston. Were they for Ransome? I chatted to a father-son duo, both fans of Pigeon Post. (Later I bought a copy for the hostel when I discovered neither of the hosts had read it. You can read it when you visit.)

It was quiet on the Old Man as I sat in the sun. A small chirpy bird from below flew straight up very high, hovered a bit, and then dropped down again, chirruping and whirring as it sank. Looked like fun. Following a current? Far too small and chirpy for a bird of prey but then it might have sighted a tasty insect. But wait, this small, whistly, feathered thing did it again! It flew up as high as me, chirping all the while and then floated down. It was playing a game! Go up as high as possible and then drop down; wheeeeeee …

The chirpy bird turned out to be a meadow pippet, their mating flights called parachuting. It was the same bird – speckly brown – I saw flitting and flirting on the path. I know because I asked a fellow back at the hostel. He wore a tee shirt with a big black bird on it that said ‘Get Rooked’.

Fellow traveller on Old Man Coniston

The wind blew too cool for sitting still. I ran out of food. I thought I’d better go back down again. It would take a couple of hours. I noticed a fault line directly behind the big mining operation. Didn’t suppose there’s many earthquakes here but it looked strange in this setting. Not quite in the lie of the land. Which was jagged and unpredictable enough already.

Because I longed to see Ransome’s desk and red slippers at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry, I spent the next day on the buses. I had to go via Grassmere where I leaped from the bus and into the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage. I felt huge and bulbous as we tourists stooped our bulky way through those cramped rooms imagining the smoke and coughing and poetry readings. How did Dorothy manage in long skirts?

Looking down on Dove Cottage, Grassmere

I queued to buy Grasmere Gingerbread and a wonderful cross between biscuit and cake it was. I wish I’d known how good because I would have bought another packet. Several. Kendal mint cake, another local essential, was good enough for the likes of Sherpa Tenzing and Sir Edmund Hilary. I worried it would be like toffee but it’s more like a kind of delicious icing sugar fudge – not hard on the teeth at all.

Local vegan treats

From Grassmere I negotiated grumpy bus drivers and got myself to Kendal. I rushed into the museum ten minutes before closing. The Arthur Ransome room was depleted because some of the exhibits, and yes, those red Turkish slippers, were showing in a special exhibition at Coniston Waters.

Ransome’s chess board

Chess comment

But I was able to see bits and pieces; his chess board, a portrait by Dora Altounyan and some cartoons plus his very small desk. Sketches for Secret Water and Pigeon Post were framed on the wall.

Portrait of Ransome and two of his sketches

On my last day at Coniston Water I was not able to find a sailing school or someone to take me out in a boat, apart from the tourist launch. Seeing I’d already cruised Lake Windemere, I found a large empty rubbish bag near the camping ground and, together with other rubbish, collected some dog owners’ bags of pets’ productions left along the path. Perhaps they think they’ll pick them up on the way back? Note to dog owners: you CAN take it with you.

Even though Coniston was considered the quiet lake and it wasn’t school holidays, there were plenty of people around. Once I’d marched for a bit to shake them off, I found some peace and quiet. Apart from the canoeing school and the little launch there was a kayak powering along with a man singing happily in what sounded like Hindi. Fellow walkers murmured behind me. Baby canoeists cackled and halloooed like lost ducks. Real baby ducks puffed and fluffed behind their proud mother who seemed to travel backwards. Oak leaves shook and danced in the sunlight. I wished I could have been sailing. That’s probably where Ransome would have been.

The Ruskin Museum turned out to be more about Coniston than the titular hero. Work implements, especially those of mining and lace were front, and a room devoted to The Bluebird project, Donald Campbell and his fatal attempt at the speed record, centre.

Not sure why it was named Ruskin lace? I’d always been suspicious of Ruskin because he was mean to his wife although apparently that’s contentious. Apart from his wife, with whom he did not have sex, he also enjoyed romance with a Spanish lady and with another girl of ten years old. His apologists think there was nothing whatsoever wrong with him and he was just high minded and moral. He certainly liked nature, painted nicely and gave inspiring lectures.

Right in the middle of all this was ‘Mavis’, a sailing dingy renamed ‘Amazon’. She was the first boat Ransome sailed with the Altounyan children.

The Amazon herself in the Ruskin Museum

Banners on stands featuring quotes from Swallowdale and Winter’s Holiday told me I was in the right place. I made my way up the stairs and into the small room featuring the special exhibit, ‘Arthur Ransome, Adventures in Russia’. It felt like the tip of an iceberg without much rhyme or reason. For a start, the red slippers that started off the whole shebang, the gift from the Altounyan children, which caused him to pen Swallows and Amazons, were hidden under a shelf without a label. The accompanying notes were illuminating, although in the time I was there, reading avidly, several other visitors wandered in and out and didn’t even open their folders.

exhibition posters from the Ruskin Museum

His ‘Homing Rock’, the piece of Old Man Coniston he always carried – wrote with it on his desk – was there was bigger than I’d imagined and had a hole in the middle to keep it tied to him or his luggage somehow. Various intriguing documents were displayed, such as his passports, both in Russian and in English. There was some doubt about his affiliation when he returned to England but more serious concern when they thought his new wife Eugenia was smuggling diamonds.

Ransome happened to be staying across the road from the Winter Palace in 1917. I was taken aback by comments that suggested him naive or innocent. Ransome was deeply involved with the leadership of the Bolsheviks and I can’t believe he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. He understood strategy extremely well. He predicted the revolution and passed that information to his masters at MI5 and MI6. When it was suggested that Britain should somehow intervene he said Russian people should be left to get on with their lives. (He might have lived to rue that day!) As more information is released more books are written about him.

Some of the many items about Ransome available in the museum bookshop

Ransome understood codes, he knew when to pry and when to lurk and he taught thousands of children how to do it too. They may have turned into spies, birdwatchers or sailors, campers, scientists or journalists, but Ransome knew what he was about. He was about climbing Old Man Coniston. Looking out at the misty sky and watching a chirpy bird chirruping as far and as high as he could go and then parachuting impressively down again. Living your life as high and far as you can and letting the wind fill your sails.

I touched Coniston Waters

What’s your favourite Ransome book?