You will have seen from my last post that I was in a quandary about whether or not to renew my rambling for another 12 months, given that solo travel was non-existent in 2020 and pitiful at best this year. In the end, I decided that I would keep solong.blog, although I’m not really sure how or why I arrived at that conclusion.
In the days before the C-word, it was somewhat of a tradition of mine that, at the end of the year, I shared my favourite travel photos. You can check out the bygone times of 2016, 2017 and 2018 if you’re interested.
Solo travel during 2019 was a no-no due to personal reasons and then, as well all know, 2020 was a write-off. Thankfully, this year I did manage to venture a little further afield all by my little old self during the months where the daylight hours were longer and the weather fairer. The trips I took were shorter in duration, and much closer to home. However, despite trepidation at times, these little adventurettes brought a certain amount of normality in to my life.
The researching, the planning, the booking, the packing, the locking up the house and setting off. The excitement! No matter that I was only taking a train an hour or two away. Away was enough.
I walked this year. I needed to. I’ve been on something called a Weight Loss Journey (which is what they call a plain old diet these days). There has been no magic way to lose three stones of disgusting blubber other than eating sensibly and moving more. Moving a LOT more. I’ve always enjoyed walking as part of my travels but this year I decided to make some changes and based my trips or days out around walking, walking and more walking.
The photos I’ve taken when tootling about on my tod won’t win any awards. In fact, they are a long way off the best I’ve ever taken but, for me, the important thing is about what they stand for – and the stories behind them. I’ve just been doing the best I can – and I am sure that you can relate to that.
So here they are. My Top 10 travel photos of 2021.
Photo 1 – The Crimple Valley Viaduct, Harrogate
The first few weeks of 2021 at Longland were not without incident.
I decided to leave my job and pursue a career change.
While it doesn’t sound *that* bonkers now, at the beginning of the year the employment market wasn’t quite so buoyant. People were clinging on to whatever financial security they could and not taking any kind of leap. I had other ideas. If not now, when?
I used my time without a wage working tirelessly to find a role where I could be myself and put my creative talents to use. I’m not ashamed to admit that I submitted 54 detailed applications and I had 16 interviews before I finally got the job I wanted and deserved.
Most of the interviews were done remotely, but a handful I attended in person and one of those was in Harrogate. I didn’t get the job – but I did get an afternoon out of the house, I met some lovely people and I also got the opportunity to take this photograph of the beautiful Crimple Valley Viaduct.
Photos 2 and 3 – London
In June I finally started the perfect job, working as part of a small team for an employer which allows me to be be myself and values me as a person. I’m a virtual worker with occasional trips to the office in London. I went to meet my colleagues for the first time at the end of July. It felt so exciting just to be getting a train to London – the furthest I’d been in what seemed like forever!
After 18 months of barely venturing outside my small hometown, London seemed like everything was rushing towards me at a thousand miles an hour. Ironically, by contrast, my colleagues said how quiet the city felt.
This is Leadenhall Market, around the corner from my office. Dating back to the 14th century, it originally sold meat and poultry. Today’s building was erected in 1881 and it is home to boutique retailers, restaurants and bars. I was fortunate to photograph it when there was hardly anyone around.
I can’t claim to be a brilliant photographer – but I’m actually pretty pleased with this one!
A day of meetings, a team dinner and an overnight stay and I was up and at ‘em to return to Leeds the following morning.
An oh-my-god-o’clock start was rewarded with seeing the early morning sun light up St Pancras Station.
Photo 4 – Blackpool beach
At the beginning of July, I was given a ‘Global Holiday’ – a day off to thank me for my hard work – which was jolly nice of my new employer, seeing as I had only been there a month at that point! Rather than squander it, I decided that I would try to take a day trip out somewhere; I whittled down the options and booked myself a train ticket to Blackpool. A random choice perhaps for a middle-aged world traveller but there was method in my madness!
I took a few photos that day but this is possibly my favourite because it sums up what I enjoyed most about my day out. So much wide open space on the beach – and hardly anyone in sight. Not necessarily what you’d expect from the so-called Las Vegas of the North.
Photo 5 – Humber Bridge, somewhere between Hull and Hessle
If you follow my blog closely enough, you’ll know that I don’t have a Travel Bucket List but, of course, there are places that I would like to see and experience before I head off on my final solo trip to the sky. One of the experiences I’d always wanted to have was walk across the Humber Bridge. I have a thing about bridges you see.
Good grief, though – it was a walk and a half! I hiked from home to my local station and then from Hull Paragon station, through the city centre to pick up a section of the Trans-Pennine Trail to Hessle. Of course, then there was walking across the bridge itself. And back again.
Eventually, I limped back to my hotel, having covered 20 miles and losing two toenails in the process.
It was totally worth it though!
Photo 6 – Retracing my father’s footsteps, Halifax
My low-key adventuring continued apace in September when I once again braved the train and this time headed to nearby Halifax.
I wandered through the town centre, overall pretty unimpressed, before heading out to an area called Savile Park, which is where my father grew up. I walked along the street he lived on as a child, looking at each and every house, for I don’t know which number he lived in. This made me feel sad. My father died a long time ago and there is a lot about him I don’t know.
From Savile Park I picked up the Hebble Brook to the east of the town, following it round before picking up the Calder and Hebble Navigation to Sowerby Bridge. Waterways have been a particular draw for people this year so I was glad that it was quiet and I could relax and enjoy it in my own time.
Photos 7, 8, 9 and 10 – Northumberland & Tyneside
My longest and most exciting trip of the year was at the beginning of October when I spent a couple of days walking from the bottom end of Northumberland down the coast to Sunderland.
I had deliberately not spent any large amount of time away during the summer months because I wanted to avoid the crowds flocking to UK destinations. I didn’t want to be surrounded by hoards of people, and I also felt that it was unfair to those living in such locations for me to be descending on their places of residence. But also, as a solo traveller, trying to find reasonably priced accommodation in the UK is nigh-on impossible at the best of times, never mind in the chaos that was the so-called Great Staycation.
My original plan for the beginning of October had been to spend a few days in Bristol – taking a coach, catching a concert that my favourite band was playing and then exploring the city and some of the surrounding area. As it happened, I bottled it. The thought of spending six hours in a tin can with dozens of unmasked strangers and a Saturday night sweating it out in a notorious club was just too daunting. My biggest fear was catching the C-word at the start of the trip and being taken ill while I was away, unable to get back home. And, apart from all that, it didn’t add up financially.
So I headed north instead with the intention of spending as much time as I could outdoors. Once again, I let the train take the strain, arriving at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne just before lunchtime. It’s a part of the world where I spent a great deal of time during my late teens and early 20s – but I haven’t been back since then.
It holds a lot of happy memories for me so I was excited to be returning; this view from the train alone was enough to make me reminisce.
When I arrived, I had time to have a wander around the city centre before taking a bus out to the coast, yet it seemed so unfamiliar. But then, bit by bit, memories, buried for more than 25 years, started to resurface. Fenwick’s window – how fantastic it was at Christmas, the street where there was a scruffy cafe with plastic table cloths where I used to drink tea and smoke endless cigarettes, the pub that had the reputation for being the roughest in town. Its name may have changed but I suspect that it’s likely to be the same on a Saturday evening.
At last, I hopped on the bus and was, unsuspectingly, met with more memories. To my left, the wide open space of grass by the tower blocks where I used to walk back to my mate’s student digs late on Saturday afternoons just as it was starting to get dark, the B&B we stayed in when we celebrated my brother’s 21st birthday with a Bigg Night Out.
Hopping off again at Blyth, I started walking south, stopping at various points of interest along the way.
Now, this isn’t the most technically brilliant photo, I know, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in an interesting thing to tell you.
This is a Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp and it is one of a handful to be found in the area, as well as other parts of the UK, such as Sheffield and Winchester. Joseph Webb invented it and, without going in to too many technical details, it vented gas from a sewer and burnt it to power the lamp.
So not only did it light the streets, but, as an added bonus, it meant that the buildup of gases in the sewer were released, avoiding the danger of explosions.
They’re crudely known as Fart Lamps which I personally don’t like. It seems a shame to make fun of something which was an amazing feat of engineering and science, and clearly ahead of its time.
And on I walked. And walked. And walked. Until I arrived at, and spent the night in, North Shields.
The second day I hiked to Sunderland, taking the seven-minute ferry crossing from North to South Shields and then following the coastal route south, stopping off at various places along the way, most notably Marsden Beach and Marsden Rock.
Again, this was somewhere I had visited more than a quarter of a century ago and haven’t returned to since.
The plan had been to eat lunch at the Marsden Inn, as I had done all those years ago, but recent reviews were not so favourable and I also don’t like the fact that the lift from the clifftop to the beach is ONLY available for customers and not open to everyone. The metal steps down the cliffside are very steep and not particularly navigable for anyone with children or elderly relatives or even someone who is just a bit out of shape or unawares. It seems a bit tight in my opinion and I am sure that the inn could find some way around this if it so wanted.
Anyway, I boycotted the inn, braved the steps and made it to the beach.
Even visiting as a naïve kid in my 20s, I remember it leaving a particular impression on me, making me feel something that I now would describe as ‘spiritual’. What’s more interesting is that, despite everything that I’ve been through since then, the years of happiness and sadness, the inevitable maturity and finding my way in life, it brought the exact same feeling rushing back all over again.
I spent a lot of time sitting and breathing and thinking and not thinking, just being. Looking at the rock and wondering and thinking some more. I’m not explaining myself very well because I don’t know how to explain it. All I know is that it felt very comforting and calming to be back there after all that time.
It was quiet on the beach (presumably something to do with the fact that half of the visitors to this part of the world are unable to manage the steps). The sun was warm and there was a gentle breeze. I took off my hiking books and then, in a moment of spontaneity, I also took off my top. I sat on a rock in my bra and cargo pants.
And then it dawned on me.
That was what I had been missing.
That was what I hadn’t felt in an incredibly long time.
The feeling of empowerment and freedom that travel brings. The sense of being somewhere that isn’t home that makes you to a throw caution to the wind and leads you to do something that you wouldn’t do in your own hometown – or even your own garden.
I loved the feeling of the air on my skin. I decided that I needed to feel more of it in the future.
Bare skin and bravery over, you’ll be pleased to know that I put my top back on before taking a selfie.
Shortly after that I huffed and puffed my solo-travelling self back up the metal steps and continued on my way, finally arriving at Sunderland in a big, fat heap.
Then I walked some more the following day before taking a coach back to Leeds.
And that was that. Travel over for another year.
I’ve absolutely loved the small pockets of hope that even an adventure in a neighbouring town has brought to me this year. That said, I do feel that my solo travel aspirations have been irreversibly changed. Even when the world finally gets better, I don’t have the same amount of time and money to devote to my travels that I once did. I’m older now. I’ve lost some of my bravado in some ways. And yet, in others, it remains. I genuinely don’t feel as though I will ever travel as extensively as I did. Which, I suppose, is why I am grateful for all the fantastic experiences I’ve had during the past ten or eleven years.
That said, adventure is still in my blood. I won’t be flying off to the Far East next year, or possibly ever again, but I do have an outline plan of a trip I’d like to take next year.
I loved the feeling of setting off walking with my things on my back. The freedom felt fantastic, dizzying and drug-like. I suppose that’s what being cooped up indoors for the best part of two years does to you. So I’ve made a start on planning something for the summer months in 2022. I’ve booked one night in a hotel already, with a ticket for an event the following day, and from there I’m going to plan to head north on foot. I’d love to have the opportunity to turn this in to a week, perhaps even two. But it may not be possible. I’ll see.
Well, that’s quite enough for this post, and, in fact, this year. Thank you so much for tuning in, and for all your messages of support during 2021. It perhaps wasn’t the year we had hoped for, travelling or otherwise, but somehow we soldier on.
Hopefully we’ll all have new stories to tell soon – solo travel or otherwise.
Happy New Year – and much so long love to you