Hello my so long lovelies. It’s been a while, hasn’t it. How are we all doing?Continue reading “Longer days, brighter horizons”
My Top 10 Travel Photos of 2022
If 2020 and 2021 were anything to go by, 2022 was set to be another year of next-to-nothingness when it came to solo travel.
Last year I had managed to dig deep and have a few days out, then two or three nights away, but I was still gripped with nervousness and felt desperately stuck in a rut when I should have been getting back in to my groove.
At the beginning of this year, a friend asked me if I had thought about dating again, my last relationship having broken up at the end of 2019. I explained that no, what I really wanted most this year was to start getting out and about again, to have my life back.
But I knew that, despite help from my friends, ultimately it was down to me, and it was going to take time and effort.
And so it began: my journey back to being who I am.
1. Beach Huts, Fleetwood
After hunkering down through the winter, my first forays began where last year’s left off – with walking. I was still feeling anxious about being around lots of people and hyper-vilgilant about germs so I chose my travel times and routes carefully, planning tripettes based on being outdoors as much as possible. My first walks of the year took me to Hebden Bridge, Lancaster, Morecambe and Blackpool.
You might be surprised to learn that Blackpool is actually one of my favourite places to walk. For this particular route I took the the tram up to Fleetwood before trundling back down the coast.
It was a brilliant blue day which heralded the start of spring.
2. Selfie with a friend
For me this year has certainly been all about putting one foot in front of the other – and I don’t mean just walking.
I’ve rejoined the world and reconnected with my friends: hugs, gatherings, meals out, films, day trips, in-depth conversations, laughter.
On top of starting to rebuilding and strengthen these relationships, I’ve taken time to make some new friends as well. As an introvert, I’ve had to dig quite deep – normally it would be something I’d avoid at any cost. But I’ve been keen to expand my horizons and be less ultra-protective of myself. Put bluntly, if I always do when I’ve always done, I will always get what I’ve always got.
So as well as taking some proper trips, I’ve spent time getting back in to the swing of smaller activities. Days out have very much become the new travel for me – solo and otherwise. In addition to walking, I’ve spent time re-immersing myself in the cultural things I used to enjoy – exhibitions, theatre, talks, the ballet.
Here I am at the Van Gogh immersive experience in Salford with my lovely friend.
3. Corfiot sunset
Around the beginning of May, I had a ‘f*ck it’ moment and booked myself a flight. It was a terrifying prospect but my desire for a proper rest and change of scenery outweighed my anxiety about being stuck in a tin can full of strangers.
I chose carefully, heading to Corfu, an island I have visited several times before and always enjoyed.
I took this photo the first evening I was there. I had thought that I might never get on a plane ever again so to have finally made it to Greece and watch the sun setting over the sea was a very special moment indeed.
4. Corfiot cliffs
Things have moved on a lot this year but in June I was still incredibly cautious so I pretty proud of myself for making it to ACTUAL GREECE.
Once there, it was easy to put the C and P words out of my mind. I sunbathed and swam and ate and drank and even met up with a new friend. I also spent a lot of time walking to various different places dotted along the north west coast of the island.
I couldn’t have had a lovelier week.
5. Beer, at a bar near you
As you might have read in my previous post, one of my new things this year has been supping a post-walk pint. Cheers!
6. Sky over Kirkcaldy
At the beginning of July I had a quick hop to Kirkcaldy, especially for an exhibition, and also took the opportunity to do some walking, despite not having gone prepared. This picture was one of many impressive ones I captured. There are few things more photogenic than the sky in Scotland.
7. Shepherd’s Hut, Haltwhistle
October rolled around and so did my Big Birthday. For several reasons, I wasn’t in the mood for celebrating so instead I chose to disappear off for a few days, deciding to give solo glamping a go. Glamping is something I’ve wanted to try for a while but it generally isn’t geared up for people who travel on their own.
So imagine my joy when I happed upon this tiny self-contained Shepherd’s Hut. Complete with a shower, kitchenette, log burning stove and a double bed with a big snuggly duvet, it was my home for four wonderful days and nights. The perfect place to hide away from the horror of turning half a century old!
8. Hadrian’s Wall
The idea behind glamping was to spend my days doing plenty of walking and I had done quite a lot of research beforehand, downloading maps and planning routes. Unfortunately, the weather was very much against me and I only managed three walks in total. It rained pretty much solidly for the whole four days I was away, and despite finally learning to dress for the weather, my waterproof coat, trusty boots, bobble hat, over-sized scarf and warm mittens were no match for the relentless rain and wild winds.
This photo was taken one afternoon when it actually stopped for about an hour. Shortly afterwards it began again so I welched out and went to the pub (of course).
9. The bright lights of London
As well as getting out and about for fun, this year I’ve also travelled for work. Although I’m a virtual worker, I meet with my manager and team on a fairly regular basis, sometimes at our Leeds office, sometimes in London. London is a world away from my life in a small northern market town so it always feels exciting to be in the city. I’m an unashamed tourist whenever I’m there, much to my colleagues’ amusement.
I was heading back to Kings Cross station when these three buildings caught my eye. It was too good a shot to miss.
10. Not all those who wander are lost
Spotted in the middle of nowhere: a tiny trinket hidden away on the back of a fingerpost, it brought to mind a piece I wrote a few years ago. It also made me smile because it reminded me about how much I love exploring new places and the surprises that solo travel brings.
So there they are: my favourite photos of 2022 and the stories behind them.
It’s been a horrible 12 months for so many people in numerous ways and I am more than aware that the world is not a very nice place right now. That said, on a personal level, this year has marked my re-emergence into real life and brought me renewed optimism. It’s been reassuring to learn that I’m the same person I always was and that I enjoy the same things I always did, perhaps a tad more tentatively at times, though with a much greater sense of joy and appreciation.
I know I won’t ever be able to travel as extensively as I once did but I’m grateful for the many memories I have created over the years and hopeful of more solo trips in the future, perhaps not as far, not as long and not as often, but fresh horizons nevertheless.
Happy New Year and Happy New Adventures my lovelies, whatever form they may take
Three ways that Solo Travel shaped my Summer
I met up with a travel buddy recently and we were talking about our adventures during the Summer. He said how depressing he found it returning from being away and asked me if I felt the same.
I replied, actually no, and he gave me a quizzical look.Read more: Three ways that Solo Travel shaped my Summer
I explained that as I hadn’t really travelled solo at all during the past three years, and that going to Greece in June had been my first beach holiday in the best part of a decade, my week-long break to Corfu had felt all-the-more-special. I’d had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable time which had, admittedly, gone far too quickly.
But, I pointed out to him, aside from the holiday itself, heading off away had also shaped my entire Summer.
Getting on a plane on my own for the first time since Spring 2019 gave me a new-found confidence to tackle all kinds of lovely things that I thought I’d never do again, given the C and P words. Since heading out to Corfu, I’ve also been a solotripster to Scotland, Bedfordshire and Northumberland. But apart from those travels, it’s also added some lovely new things to my life which I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
So I’d like to share with the three ways that solo travel has certainly changed my Summer, and perhaps my life, for the better.
1. Body confidence
I’ve never really been one for flaunting my flesh. But, having shed more than three stones in weight during the past 18 months, and deciding to embark on a proper beach holiday, I needed to invest in some new clothes. Not being the richest woman alive, some of the items were new-to-me from Vinted. I also made some not-so-insignificant investments in terms of brand-new swimwear (hello Tahitian tankini!), shorts and vest tops. The deal I made with myself was that if I spent the money, I needed to make sure that I wore the things I’d bought, not just the week I was away, but all-Summer-long too.
Baring arms, legs and wobbly bits in between felt surprisingly good. In Greece I swam and I walked and I showed a surprising amount of skin. And it didn’t matter: it felt, for want of a cliché, liberating.
More surprisingly, I actually didn’t care when I got home, either. I haven’t got my legs out in the UK for more than 30 years. Turns out I’ve been a bit of an idiot: nobody minds if my limbs are blue and riddled with cellulite. And even if they do, then *I* don’t actually give a stuff. The feelings of freedom, and fresh air on my legs, far outweigh any sense of shame I have about my pudgy pins.
2. Walking and drinking
Since deciding to embark on a ‘weight loss journey’, which is what they call a plain old diet these days, walking has become my new thing and I’d hoped to head out to Greece in late May or early June in order to be able to spend the vast majority of my time boot-tootling. But I wasn’t able to get away from work when I wanted, so I ended up heading off during the third week of June. This meant that day-long hikes were much more challenging than I had anticipated. North West Corfu is mountainous so the walks I did of 12-or-so miles felt much more arduous, given the incline and the heat.
My mum was a keen walker and I always remember her saying that she loved a pint of shandy after a day up-and-down-dale. So beer, which is something I haven’t drunk in a long time, somehow became my reward after a long, hot day in my hiking boots. Started in Greece, it has become something of a ritual. Having a post-walk pint is now something I love. It’s a special moment, a time to slurp and celebrate the miles under my belt, while soothing my aching limbs and the blisters on the bottom of my feet. I sit and smile and relax and feel good.
But post-walk drinking wasn’t just about booze. In Scotland in July, I went to an exhibition at the lovely Kirkcaldy Galleries and sipped seemingly endless gallons of Earl Grey, poured from a lovely enamel teapot. I decided there and then that I would acquire one just like it on my return home. So I did. And every time I use it, it reminds me of my wonderful time that weekend.
3. Actually living life again
I think the biggest thing about this Summer was the fact that getting on a plane signalled my Return to Real Life. Shortly before the P word began, I was in a place where I needed to rejoin reality but, unfortunately, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever travel to another country again. But, despite being a mask-wearing-worrier on the flight, I somehow made it to Greece and from there I didn’t really need to fret about the C word quite so much, since it was easy to be outdoors in the fresh air.
It was absolutely what I needed.
In more ways than one.
Aside from the solo pursuits I love, this Summer I’ve been out for dinner, I’ve been to the pub, I’ve been on organised tours and walks, I’ve been to exhibitions, I’ve been to shops, I’ve been to the cinema, I’ve been to the theatre.
I’ve hosted a party. I’ve hugged my friends.
I’ve done all the things that make me feel like me.
And so back to my travel buddy. Do I feel sad that my holiday is over? Of course. Actual Greece was fantastic. Booking a flight to Corfu was super-scary at the time. But it was absolutely the very best thing I could have done.
If I hadn’t have gone in the first place then I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence to embrace the wonderful Summer I’ve had.
A Summer for which I feel incredibly grateful and blessed.
Well, that’s all – I hope you’re all keeping well, my lovelies. We know that things continue to be incredibly difficult in many ways but, while I’m not oblivious, that isn’t what my blog is about.
My five-year anniversary of solong.blog is coming up soon and, while twelve months ago I wondered whether to renew, this year I will definitely be reclaiming my domain, for I feel that I have many more stories to share with you during the remainder of 2022 and into next year.
Take care and travel happily my lovelies
Shit sandals in Scotland
If you’ve never taken the train up the east coast of the UK then you’ve never really travelled.
That’s just my opinion, of course.Read more: Shit sandals in Scotland
North of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it’s the most delightful journey. The track wends its way through Northumberland, cutting through the countryside and hugging the coastline, affording stunning views of the North Sea. Above Edinburgh, the line crosses the Firth of Forth via one of its iconic bridges. The journey may not have the romance of the Orient Express, nor the Trans-Siberian Railway, but the views from the train are very special indeed.
That said, it’s not a cheap journey to make and trying to find a cut-price fare can be tricky. On this occasion I managed to buy a single from Leeds to Stonehaven for the bargain price of £34.60.
Important note: I wasn’t going to Stonehaven.
That was another five stops and an hour and a half bit further north. But it was the cheapest ticket I could find. Don’t ask me why. That’s the anomaly of British rail travel. Anyway – there’s a budget travel tip for you – check out the prices of all the stations ahead of the one you’re alighting at.
Hopping off at Kirkcaldy (to where the same ticket would have cost me almost double the price – I kid you not), I stretch my legs. It has been a long but super-lovely journey.
My hotel is a few minutes’ walk from the station. When I arrive, Reception is closed and there is a sign telling me to report to the bar. I manage to keep my cool but queuing among a thirsty wedding party six deep at the bar to check in and get my room key isn’t the best start.
My room is small but clearly recently refurbished and spotlessly clean. However, very disappointingly, the window does not open and there is no form of ventilation. Given the C-word, this makes me feel a little nervous. Almost as bad, any hint of movement in the corridor outside and the door to my room – precisely two feet from where my head will rest on my pillow – rattles like the train I’ve just taken north.
Oh well, I tell myself, it’s only one night.
I unpack my rucksack then head out for a wander. As I leave the hotel, the bride is arriving by horse and carriage for her wedding. She looks beautiful. I smile at her and inwardly wish her well.
Kirkcaldy is situated on the East Fife Coastal Path so my loose plan had been to walk one way on the Saturday afternoon and then the other way the following morning. I head to the waterfront and decide to go south.
The promenade is pleasant, if rather unremarkable. But I am happy to be by the sea and the Scottish sky which looks unlike any other sky I have ever seen. No editing, no filter.
Eventually I reach Seafield Beach.
I take off my sandals, which are starting to hurt slightly, to walk by the sea. Then I sit for a while and and take it all in: the sound of the waves, and the air on my face, and my toes burying into the sand. It feels calming. The coast is where I am happiest these days.
I want to walk further but it’s time to head back to the hotel to get changed for dinner. Besides, my feet are hurting quite a bit.
I amble back along the waterfront and loop back through the town centre which is bigger than I had imagined, but, like the promenade, a tiny bit underwhelming.
Showered, frock on, a welcome change of shoes, and clutch bag at the ready, it’s time for dinner. I’m starving!
I’d booked the table ahead and, unable to find anywhere in town which offered something approaching ‘classic fayre’, had plumped for an Italian restaurant, La Gondola, on the waterfront.
Solo dining is often a minefield. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been seated by the bins or the bathrooms, facing a wall. Or worse still, ignored completely because it’s been assumed I’ve been waiting for someone. That’s why I sometimes book ahead, particularly if it’s a special occasion or a Saturday night. I always make a point of saying, “I’ll be dining alone, so a table by the window and a warm welcome would be appreciated”.
On this occasion, I had forgotten to put in my request. But I shouldn’t have worried for I actually got both without even having to ask!
Well, I say window. There weren’t really any windows. So they give me a bird’s-eye view of ice cream instead.
After ordering a drink and studying the menu, the waiter arrives to take my order. He asks if I’ve seen the specials board but I explain that I don’t eat meat. I order a baked pasta dish and a salad. He replies that although the baked pasta dish on the menu contains peppers, there is another version available with spinach. I’m glad he steers me in the direction of something green and that gets my thumbs up.
I feel jolly comfortable in the restaurant. It’s only 7:30pm but the atmosphere is buzzing. A table of 12 across from me are already downing copious amounts of Birra Moretti and Prosecco, and the couples to my right are getting stuck into spaghetti and steak. Everyone is happy. I am too.
My dinner arrives. The pasta is delicious, though, truth be told, a little on the small side. I could eat it twice over. I’m a greedy girl.
I take my time and eke it out as much as I can. But eventually it is all gone and I feel sad. So when I’m asked if I would like dessert or coffee, I enquire about the possibility of some of the ice cream that I’ve spent the last hour-and-a-bit lusting after. Can I have it in a cone to take with me?
Alas, the best they can do is put it in a box. No spoon.
I genuinely can’t grumble as everything else has been spot on. I pay my bill, leave a generous tip, and head a few doors down to a garishly-decorated dessert shop called Chocstop.
Cone in hand, I walk across to the waterfront and eat it while staring out at the sea.
It’s still early but I’m tired and ready to put my feet up so I wander back to the hotel, deciding to order a nightcap to take up to my room. The wedding party is apparently having dinner so the bar is empty.
Upstairs, I go head-to-head with my nemesis, the rattling door. I take the bath mat from over the shower cubicle and post it between the door and its fame, then double-wrap it around the clanging soft-closer cover. Amazingly, it works a treat. I am nothing if not resourceful.
Feet up, drink in hand, sleepy smile on my face. It’s been a brilliant day.
Thankfully, the wedding party is surprisingly quiet and I am absolutely knackered so, all in all, I manage a reasonable sleep, despite there being no air in the room.
I’m up and at ‘em on Sunday morning. My very reasonable room rate includes breakfast so after a lovely hot shower and chucking on some clothes, I tootle downstairs to the dining room. Juice, fruit, tea, one toast, one egg, one tomato and sliced mushrooms later (the cooked items all made to order), I am replete and ready for my day.
The plan for my morning is to walk north up the coast.
I am super-fucking angry with myself and my judgement. Thinking that I wasn’t going to be here long enough to warrant bringing them with me, I have left my trusty hiking boots at home, instead opting for what I thought were comfy sandals. They turn out to be not-very-comfy-and-in-fact-rather-shit sandals. I limped nine miles in them yesterday and now have a nasty blister on the bottom of my foot. I’ve patched it up with a Compeed plaster as best I can and I’m just going to have to get on with it.
Heading out of Kirkcaldy towards Dysart, the walk is delightful with a wonderfully-varied terrain – road, beach, coastline, woodland, park, harbour, village.
Without exception, every single person I meet along the way says good morning to me. It’s a simple thing which makes me feel such joy. I recall with fondness my time in Aberdeen when, en route to Balmedie, other solo women said said hello to me. They won’t remember it. But I always will because it struck me as so unusual and heart-warming.
I can see all the way up the coast and I want to carry on walking forever, but really this is only an amble to fill my morning before heading off to the real reason I’m in Kirkcaldy.
I’d booked the ticket nine months previously. But I’ve wanted to make this dream a reality for an awfully long time. I don’t have bucket list, but if I did, what I was about to do next would definitely have been on it.
I make my way to Kirkcaldy Galleries.
I’m a little early for my booked slot so I decide to stop by the café and have some tea.
Full of pasta, ice cream and egg on toast, I am very good indeed and skip an array of delicious-looking cakes, opting for a modest pot of Earl Grey.
It arrives in a cute enamel teapot, to be drunk out of a mis-matched cup and saucer.
It a delicious drink of tea that seems to go on forever – cup after cup of golden goodness.
I decide that when I get home I will find a teapot just like it so that I can recreate this happy memory whenever I like.
And so to the main event: an exhibition of Jack Vettriano paintings.
You might not have heard of him but you’ll almost certainly have seen one of his creations. A self-taught painter who has become a king of poster art, his work comes in for much criticism. I can’t claim to know anything at all about art but I personally love his work.
So I am incredibly excited, after all these years, to finally be able to see his paintings in the flesh, as it were.
The exhibition is laid out over three rooms.
It includes some of his early works, painted as Jack Hoggan; copies of others’ pieces while he was learning.
And, of course, there are also plenty of his better-known paintings.
Because the exhibition is ticketed, numbers are capped which makes for a very pleasant experience. I am able to take my time and get really close to the paintings to see the tiny details, even though I need my mahoosive magnifying specs to help me.
I’m not sure whether it’s allowed but I surreptitiously I take a photograph of one of the ones I like best. I didn’t think he’d mind.
I love the intimacy of the exhibition and the revel in the fact that I’m finally seeing his paintings face-to-face after being a fan for more than 20 years,
I reach the end of the display then double-back to view again some of my favourites before visiting the surprisingly-disappointing gift shop to buy a couple of mementoes.
A wander through the gallery’s memorial gardens precedes a hobble back to the hotel to collect my rucksack. Then, with 40 minutes to spare before my train, I decide to explore the nearby Beveridge Park. It’s beautifully laid out and I am disappointed to be out of time and feet so I can’t explore it as far as I’d like. But I still managed to loop around the lake and see some of the gardens.
On board the train, the scenic trip back to Yorkshire goes by in a flash.
During the journey, I take some time to reflect on the previous 24 hours. It was a hefty way to go for such a short visit but, just like the old days which I thought were long gone, I’d had an absolute blast.
My solo travel time is beginning once again and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Stepping off the train at my local station, I limp home. I’ve walked 22 miles this weekend in those stupid fucking sandals.
Will I ever learn?!