Hiking the Dover Coast Path

There is nothing like a good hike to blow away the cobwebs. As we all know, raising your heart rate through exercise does wonders for not only your physical health but mental health too.

After years of running and the subsequent injuries that come along with it, I have found myself drawn to long adventurous walks. Whether it is a short steep climb, clambering over hills and mountains or wondering through vast forests and coastal paths, hiking has become a staple part of my week.

In lockdown I had to find paths close to home that not only allowed me to keep distance from others, but also kept my mind occupied. And as restrictions started to lift, longing for the feeling that I was on holiday, I scoped out more picturesque and challenging routes within an easy drive from home.

As a result, Dover was my adventure away from home. Just over an hours drive, I headed to the National Trust carpark where the route promised scenic views from the get go. On the first occasion I visited after rules were relaxed somewhat the carpark was open, and has been ever since, though other facilities such as toilets and cafe remained closed.

This is a great starting point, especially if you want to avoid a very steep hill start from the port up to the top of the cliffs (which I did the on my second visit a month later).

From here the coastal path is clearly sign posted with “English Coastal Path” waymarkers. Keep the sea to your right, follow these and it is impossible to get lost.



Along the route you will pass the Dover Coastguard station on your left, before following the path round where you will find horses grazing the steep inclines and (when the season is right) vast poppy fields, before reaching the South Foreland Lighthouse.

Having visited twice in recent months, I can guarantee whatever the weather, the views are outstanding. With the glorious white cliffs reflecting on the sea even on a stormy day it is recommended to stop and take in your surroundings.

Follow the path onwards beside the lighthouse, to head inland for a short section. Once here turn right and right again and you will find yourself on the marked Saxon Shore Path.

Here the path starts a steady decline into St Margarets Bay. At this point I followed the path down to the beach on the bay – which a small rocky section between the cliffs – before picking up the path again up a steep zig zagging staircase. You can avoid this by finding your way through the village, but if your legs can take the incline, its worth taking a break to the shore.

Once at the top of the stairs, turn right and follow a further incline through the kissing gates and you will reach a beautiful view point to look back on the cliffs. From here you can see the light house you have passed along the way.

Continue on for a few more minutes and you will reach the Dover Patrol Memorial. The Grade II listed obelisk, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was built in memory of the Dover Patrol of 1914-19 and the lives then lost in the Second World War. The monument stands at the half way point of the path from Dover to Deal, so if you are looking for a long distance walk you could continue on to Deal and return to make the hike a 20 mile round trip or for a one way trip simply hike the Dover to Deal path.

On both occasions visiting the area, this was my turning point. It offers the perfect stop to take a break and have some refreshments, before returning and heading back in reverse.

The route offers a wonderful scenic path, with many inclines that challenge even the seasoned hiker. However, as with all hikes, come prepared for all weathers and eventualities. The path can be rough and rocky, and in wet conditions, rather slippery. A good pair of walking boots or trainers are a must, along with a back pack with drinks and snacks if you plan a long hike, and a weather proof jacket. As I found out, the weather on the coastal path can change in an instant – even on a summers day – so come prepared!



UK Staycation: One Night In Norfolk

2020 has been, by far, the most horrendous year for everyone across the globe and with a wide number of travel restrictions in place many have been left with cancelled holidays. As such there has been a natural growth in the number of staycations within the UK.

Despite spending the majority of my annual leave on international holidays and city breaks, seeking the guaranteed weather and different cultures, I do love a staycation. As with others, by mid summer I had not left the UK since lockdown began in March, I had numerous battles with travel companies due to cancelled trips and was seeking an opportunity to simply get away.

Therefore, I used one of the many credit notes I received from the travel company (who I will not name, not wanting others to experience such shocking customer service), to book a night away.

I wanted a mix of coastal adventure, as my heart always aches for the sea, alongside a little culture of a city. Therefore I booked a night’s break in the centre of Norwich and planned a number of stops over two days to explore the surrounding areas.

So what did we get up to?

Holklham Hall

Located a short drive from the popular Wells-next-the-Sea you will find the 18th century country house in the centre of Holkham. The hall, built by Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, is set within a 25,500 acre estate. Today, it is still a lived-in family home, which is open to the public to enjoy. Surrounding the hall you will discover a mix of parkland, farmland, forestry, wildlife (look our for the deers), walled garden and even a boating lake.Visitors are encouraged to bring along a picnic, follow walking trails and cycling paths for a good family day out.

At the time of visiting, on a sunny July weekend, the estate was hosting “Feast in the Park,” an event boasting a selection of street food and drinks, all from local producers – including the Adnams Brewery from the neighbouring county.

Holkham Nature Reserve and Beach

Just a short walk from Holkam Hall you will find Holkham Nature Reserve and Beach. Covering 3706 hectares from Wells-next-the-Sea to Burham Overy, you will be able to explore the mix of salt and grazing marshes, sand dunes, woodlands and beach. For the avid hikers, the Norfolk Coastal path runs straight through the area. As a great hiker myself, I am planning to come back to experience the path and the views it had to offer. During this break, however, we were simply enjoying the views and coolness of the sea on an extremely hot day.

If visiting the reserve and beach I would recommend two things. Firstly, as always, check the tide times so you can make the most of the day. Secondly, if you don’t enjoy lugging your belongings to the beach park in the reserve car park, rather than Holkham Hall. And, if you really struggle, bring along a trolley to cart everything with you. The walk to the coast line, when the tide is out, can be a long one – especially on a hot day.



Blakeney Point

On a hot day there is nothing better than a nice boat trip to help cool you down and in this area of Norfolk there are plenty opportunities for this, whilst experiencing the wildlife at the same time. Blakeney Point, just a short drive from Holkham, is owned and protected by the National Trust. Here you will find 6.4km of of shingle and sand dunes – which are home to a colony of seals. As the area is protected, the only way to reach the point and see the seals in their natural habitat is by boat.

We booked our trip with one of the many companies that provide an hour long tour, Beans Boats. Available all year round, with times subject to the tide, the tour was a fantastic way to experience the seals up close. The boats are not allowed to land ashore, however, you still receive an amazing view. If you are lucky, you will even get a performing seal who will swim up close to the boat.

Norwich

The medieval city of Norwich has an abundance of culture, from its cobbled streets, Tudor houses and imposing gates. Despite being rich history and unbelievable quaint, it is also famous for a number of things – including Colmans Mustard, which has been its home since 1814. Admiral Lord Nelson was educated here, hence why Norfolk is known as “Nelson’s County.” Delia Smith is the joint majority shareholder of Norwich FC and Hugh Jackman is a huge fan of the club, due to his mother living nearby!

You can easily spend a good day wondering the streets of the charming city. Having visited two years in a row I would recommend the following.

The Cathedral

The heart of any city, and it is no different here. Admission is free and on a usual summer weekend, you would find copious numbers of tourists exploring the grounds and Cloisters. On our visit, in the midst of a pandemic, we enjoyed an unusually tranquil setting.

Elm Hill

Missed on my last visit to the city, this time round I was determined to explore this cobbled lane dating back to the Tudor period. We wondered the picture perfect street early without an influx of cars or pedestrians and on a beautiful sunny morning we were rewarded with an idyllic setting.

Norwich Castle

Though one of the most underwhelming castles I have seen to date, the medieval fortification stands proud in the centre of the city. It was founded by William the Conquerer after the Norman conquest of England as he wanted a fortified place in the centre of Norwich. We did not spend time in the castle itself, as we were pressed for time. However, it is a steeped in history and definitely worth the visit if time is on your side.

Sheringham

The traditional seaside town, less than an hour from the centre of Norwich, offers an award winning family beach, shops selling local produce and stunning coastal walks. Here is where we ended our staycation. On arrival, shortly after lunchtime, we found the tiny town packed with enthusiastic beach goers, families and dog walkers. Simply finding a parking space was a challenge and the high street was bursting with pedestrians as the paths simply were not big enough to cope with the volume of tourists.

Though lovely and traditional, I much preferred my visit to the neighbouring Cromer. That said, we spent a short time here, feasting on fish and chips before heading home.

The whistle stop tour along some of the scenic coastal locations and the picturesque city of Norwich was just the ticket after a long period of lockdown.

Not only did it help recharge the batteries, but it gave me plenty of hiking inspiration for the autumn and winter periods. I love the coast all year round, especially during the periods where tourist numbers drop and you have the beach to yourself.



Mental health Benefits of Travelling

It has been some time since I have felt the passion and creativity to write a blog post. As I stepped off the plane after my last adventure, the UK was starting to enter into a period of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst I started the year feeling optimistic and unfazed by the events that were occurring in China, a sense of panic and anxiety caused by the unknown was setting in.

As with most people around the world, I completely understood the severity of the situation and respected that we all had to play our part. Not only to save the health service, but to keep our loved ones, especially those vulnerable, safe. That said, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will understand that travelling and keeping fit have formed a major part of my mental and physical wellbeing. When the government announced the social distancing restrictions and lockdown measures back in March, I felt myself fall into a state of panic. Not only was I worried about the loved ones who relied on me on a regular basis, I also found myself over thinking, concerned about redundancy and my own well being.

Gone were my four spinning classes a week, running club and my ability to wander freely around the world and even our own country. I found myself rapidly heading towards that black hole. The whole situation was unprecedented, no one had any answers and no one could tell us when we could get back to “normal” life.

Since the lockdown began, it has been a consistent battle to keep my head above water. Luckily for me, working in digital marketing, work has thrived and my mind has been kept busy throughout the working week. Aided by the removal of news channels and some social media apps from my phone I have managed to keep somewhat of a level head during working hours.

However, evenings and weekends have been a struggle. With the lack of physical contact with friends and family, and the ability to work out as usual and travel the world, I feel that I have been in a constant fight with myself. Some weeks have been great, with me using the extra time to myself to hike miles and miles. When the restrictions lifted slightly in May, I was excited to extend my hikes to coastal paths within easy reach of home.

On the flip side, there have been weeks where I have found myself refusing to leave the house – feeling too tired mentally at the end of the working day to venture out for a walk, even to this day, and just getting into bed. Thereby, my physical health has been affected too.

The absence of freedom has played an unbelievable impact on all aspects of my health. And, whilst I am incredibly excited about the lift in some FCO restrictions to travel I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts on how travelling can be a great benefit to your mental health.

  1. Travel can lower your stress levels.

Obviously, if travelling is not your thing, then it is not likely to reduce stress levels. However, if like me, you are one of the many in the world that classes yourself as a wanderlust, then travelling the world can allow you to break free from the monotony of day to life. Life can be unbelievably stressful, as we have seen in recent months, and travelling can give you the opportunity to escape. To wake up late, to laze by the pool with a good book or explore a foreign city at your own leisure without having to worry about time!

With lockdown in place and working from home, I have not had that segregation between work and life. In normal circumstances I work from home 4 days a week, however even I struggled with the adjustment as I was simply not allowed to go anywhere else.

When I go on holiday, the minute I step into the airport I feel free and excited. From picking out destinations for my next holiday from the departure board, to the copious amount of wine in the bars – every minute fills me with a sense of adventure and as such the stress levels deplete. I even enjoy the rigmarole of security!

So to not have this luxury……..

2. Travel can lead to a long term mood booster.

As you can imagine, everything relating to travel keeps me in an upbeat mood. The end of any great travel adventure keeps me in a state of adrenaline. And whilst I always enjoy coming home, to discuss the places I have been with friends and family, the first thing I do is plan the next trip. I always have to have something booked to help get through the day to day of life, because having an adventure to look forward to keeps my mood elevated.

3. Travelling gives you a sense of independence.

A little over a year ago I wrote a piece about travelling as a solo woman, and about how travelling alone has given me a sense of independence and freedom. I enjoy travelling with others too – but I have been less reliant in recent years of having someone to go with. Where I used to worry about being alone, foreign language and the fear of not knowing where to go, I now cherish everything. Many people say to me how amazing it is that I can just “take myself off” alone, even if it is a day hiking by the coast in the UK. To me this has become the norm. My partner doesn’t always want to travel like I do, he doesn’t want to go to places I want to go. So what’s the alternative? Wait for someone to go with me? I might be waiting forever if I do that.

4. Travelling is a change of scenery.

Travelling anywhere, UK or overseas, gives us that change of scenery that we all need. I love home just as much as I love to adventure, however slipping away to the unknown, into a hotel with crisp sheets (which you cannot quite replicate at home), to just get a break away from it all – it’s just bliss. We all need a little time out from time to time and travelling enables us to do just that.

Until recently, with lockdown, there was no change in scenery. We have been luckier than some countries with the restrictions that were in place, however when you have the freedom to move further afield taken from you it can be rather disconcerting. I struggled massively with this in the first month of the restrictions. Suddenly, everyone on earth had started running or training for the Duke of Edinburgh. My usual routes were littered with people, who since are no where to be seen. I had to find new routes around home, that were isolated and that gave me that change of scenery I needed. Local ordinance survey maps were purchased so I knew all the local footpaths in my area and hikes were plotted out to kill time at the weekend.

The point is, in lockdown and in regular daily life, we need that change of scenery.



5. Travelling provides education to new cultures and experiences.

Everyone who travels will know how exciting it is to land in a new country, a new city and experience the culture it has to offer. From local cuisines and customs, meeting local people and experiencing monuments you have previously only seen in books or on screen. The education you receive from travelling not only teaches you about the world, but it helps you appreciate what you have. Since travelling became a big part of who I am, I have less and less desire for the material things in life.

Okay, I still enjoy a splurge in the Mulberry sale from time to time, but generally I don’t have a want for “things.” For me, it is all about life experiences, of which travel is the core. Even my niece and nephews opt for a day out as a gift for birthdays and Christmas as they too see that experiences are a fundamental part of life!

With restrictions lifting and we start to form a new normal way of living, I find myself somewhat anxious of what will come. Our travel industry has by far been one of the most, if not the most, affected industries from COVID-19, not just in the UK but in locations far and wide that rely on the tourism industry to survive.

And whilst it has given us an opportunity to slow life down, to take time to read books, do puzzles and be with immediate members of your household, I for one cannot wait to get my mental health back to full capacity. To be free to wander the world, for new experiences and to support the travel industry getting back on its feet.

City Break: Two Days in Seville

Seville, the capital of the Andalucía region in Spain, is famous for flamenco dancing and it’s beautiful Moorish architecture. The sunny city was also the location of my most recent adventure.

Packing my wheelie case I jetted for a mid week break for some winter sunshine in the city that Lonely Planet named the top city to visit back in 2018, and I was not disappointed.

84163323_10163279665675604_5354993305148981248_n

Like previous adventures I booked this trip in the Lastminute.com sale, selecting the Catalonia Giralda Hotel as my base. The small, yet modern hotel, was located just a short ten minute walk from the main tourist area therefore I imagine a lot quieter than most.


Over the course of two days, I managed to pack in a number of the main sites, eat my fair share of Tapas and enjoy a number of Sangrias! When in Rome, as they say!

I had a number of highlights during my visit!

Sevilla Cathedral & La Giralda

Sevilla Cathedral is the third largest church in the world, the worlds largest Gothic church and has been registered as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1987. The impressive building occupies the site of a mosque that was built in the late 12th century. Normally, I don’t pay to enter cathedrals as I find that, other than the stained class, the outside is much more impressive to look at.

84727557_10163279661755604_1508694042534215680_n

That said, I wanted to not only climb the 34 ramps to the top of La Giralda, it’s bell tower, but I also was very interested in the roof top tour you can book to admire the structure and sloping roofs from the best vantage point.

85049214_559202311342556_1559929562106691584_n

For only €16 you can complete all three – exploring the inner cathedral and bell tour, followed by a booked time slot for an hour and a half on the roofs with a knowledgeable guide. By far the best views of the city!

84739222_10163279664500604_7799079612130000896_n

Real Alcázar

The Alcázar of Seville is the royal palace within the city. The UNESCO listed palace is still in use by the Spanish Royal family today. A standard ticket at €11 provides you general entry to the palace, but paying a little extra will grant you access to the chambers and state rooms on the upper floors.

84965691_10163279665025604_7395666648415338496_n

The most famously photographed features of the palace has to be the Patio de las Doncellas (the Patio of the Maidens) and Patio del Yeso (the Patio of Plaster).

86176362_10163279662990604_4041026143443222528_n

The majority of the palace complex is built in a Mudejar style, which was often used for non-Islamic Moorish buildings.

It is recommended to spend a good couple of hours here, wondering the courtyards and gardens, admiring the stunningly carved ceilings and colourful tilings throughout.

84821701_10163279664535604_1357930807724867584_n

If visiting during peak seasons it is advised to prebook your tickets to avoid lengthy queues in the blistering heat. Luckily, being both off peak and relatively cool compared to the summer months – my wait was just ten minutes.

Plaza de Espana 

The southern area of the city is dominated by the leafy Parque Maria Luisa, where you will find the extravaganza that is Plaza de Espana. No trip to Seville would be complete without visiting this magnificent monument built for the Ibero-American Exposition around 100 years ago.

84549229_10163279663390604_6817168093043752960_n

The impressive plaza is created in a semi-circle, with a canal and curved palace. Here you can take a stroll around the plaza, admiring the architecture that is dominated with colourful tile work throughout, hire a boat to row along the canal or take in the street performers that offer entertainment in the form of music and flamenco dancing.

85062346_790637558082704_1949553537612513280_n

Despite the beauty and atmosphere of this attraction, the locals state it has two issues. Firstly – there is no shade, which can be a problem in the fierce heat. Secondly – there is no bar to enjoy a drink. Therefore they prefer Plaza de America just a short distance, which offers both these missing elements.

84704258_10163279665305604_994089284673732608_n

Metropol Parasol

Las Setas del Encarnación (incarnations mushroom) is located in the old quarter of Seville. The wooden structure is one of the newest additions to the city completed in 2011 and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

84762256_10163279664225604_5709005323096817664_n

Here you can pay €5, to explore the upper levels for a unique view over the city. Although I visited at lunch time, it is said that the views around sunset are particularly spectacular.


Santa Cruz & Triana

The Santa Cruz & Triana districts of the city were wonderful to explore at a leisurely pace.

84478061_10163279662110604_6267162805980364800_n

Dominated by narrow cobbled streets, colourful buildings and orange trees both areas were vibrant and energetic.

84739219_10163279661550604_4866559921916739584_n

I enjoyed a number of hours between visiting the main attractions just wondering down random streets, window shopping and taking in pit stops at Tapas bars.

The two days in Seville was a wonder, a great escape from the dreary wintery English weather. Had more time been available I would have liked to venture further outside the main city centre to see what else this beautiful region had to offer.

Top Things to do in Istanbul

Six years ago today I was jetting off to Istanbul, for a trip that promised rich history and culture.

The city, formally known as Byzantium and Constantinople, lies across two continents. One part of Istanbul lies in Europe, with the other in Asia – separated by the Bosphorus straight. The 31km waterway not only connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, but it also acts as boundary between the two continents.

1545709_10153847100545604_1160843482_n

During my two night stay, I spent my time on the European side, which had a number of iconic attractions to explore.

The Blue Mosque

A trip to Istanbul would not be complete without taking time to appreciate the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“The Blue Mosque”). Built between 1609-1616 it remains a functioning mosque to this day, attracting large numbers of visitors every year. There are two stories that surround it’s name, with the most common is that it’s interior is covered with Blue İznik tiles. The other story is based on ancient sailers, who sailed by the mosque on the Marmara Sea, saw the blue colours of the sea reflected in the mosque.

1797549_10153847118495604_1645320713_n

When visiting it is important to bare in mind the dress code; men must wear long trousers and women need to cover their hair, arms and legs from the knees up.

84213652_796768900834733_1162498989619150848_n

Hagia Sophia Museum

Before becoming the museum it is today, Hagia Sophia was formerly part of the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. Constructed in 537 it was the World’s largest building and an engineering marvel of it’s time.

84961379_636072087138100_5921400952056709120_n

With the interior composed with 30 million gold tiles and a wide flat domed roof, it is a building that is not only iconic, but simply stunning. It is a sight in Istanbul that cannot be missed.

1551650_10153847116710604_2071644182_n

Topkapi Palace 

Once home to Ottoman Sultans between the 15th and 16th centuries, this grand palace is a popular attraction within the city. The grounds within the palace walls include myraid buildings, courtyards and royal chambers – all finished with Iznik tile work and rather opulent architecture.

84752773_180511629717715_7011484319164137472_n

In visiting the palace you will learn the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. And, if you have a little extra time, perhaps book a guided tour, which will allow you to skip the long entry lines and give you a more comprehensive experience of the palace.

1898113_10153847097265604_1023424428_n

Grand Bazaar 

The Grand Bazaar is the world’s biggest and oldest covered markets. Covering 30,700 square meters with over 60 streets and alleys, it is a place where you can pick up a great bargain, but it is important to know what is worth purchasing and be prepared to haggle!

1551534_10153847109265604_1930627791_n

Whilst visiting we saw numerous shops offering jewellery, antiques, carpets, leather goods and spices. Even if you are not intending to make a purchase, a visit to the Grand Bazaar is recommended.

Basilica Cistern

Located just a short distance from Hagia Sophia you will find the Basilica Cistern – the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that are found below the streets of Istanbul. For just €10 you can visit the Underground Palace and experience this vast cistern. Measuring approximately 452ft by 212ft and holding 80,000 cubic metres of water, the ceiling of this impressive structure is supported by 336 marble columns.

1656032_10153847102915604_96601999_n

Sultanahmet Square

In the heart of the Old City you will find Sultanahmet Square. It is here where you will not only enjoy picture perfect views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but you can also find a number of historical sites, cafes and shops within easy reach too. Allow plenty of time to take in the atmosphere and, if the weather allows, simply take an alfresco lunch whilst enjoying the sights.

Cruise the Bosphorus

The city has a great deal to offer tourist by both land and sea. If time allows, taking a short (and reasonably priced) trip along the Bosphorus is a great way to get a different view of Istanbul.

84628903_175351207211572_2126941111481008128_n

When we visited, in the height of winter, the bitter cold did not hinder our experience. We sailed along the shore taking in the views of the palaces, luxurious hotels, fortresses and even expensive homes of the wealthy inhabitants.

Galata Tower

Located in the Galata quarter of Istanbul the medieval structure was used as a watch tower to defend the city. Today you can head to the top of this 220 feet tower to appreciate a panoramic view of the Blue Mosque and surrounding buildings.

1661773_10153847114100604_878970454_n

It is recommended to try visiting at both day and night to enjoy the city from both perspectives.

1601398_10153847114440604_472949823_n

Traditional Hamam

After experiencing a Hamam during a previous trip to Turkey, this was on the top of my list of things to do during my stay. Luckily our hotel provided this service so a “Traditional Style” Hamam was booked in. This is the one to book if you want the real Turkish bath experience. During the session, which takes place in an impressive marbled room, the attendant washed, massaged and scrubbed, including my hair, before a final soapy wash followed by a cold rinse. It was by far on of the most relaxing and luxurious experiences I have had whilst on holiday, resulting in a restful sleep (before the call to prayer at 6am).

Although you can easily fit in the main sights within a weekend, if you too are time restricted then the “hop on, hop off” bus services are worth considering.

My short trip to the culture filled city meant that I did not manage to see everything Istanbul had to offer, so I have no doubt I will incorporate it into another trip in the distant future.

 

Hiking in the Scottish Highlands

One of the greatest joys of travel is not just seeing the world, but the people you meet along the way.

During my trip hiking the Atlas Mountains I met some amazing people, of all ages and backgrounds. Some I knew I would not likely see again, others I would keep in touch with via social media and then there were a few who were potential to be life long friends.

A small group of like minded ladies, with a love for all things outdoors, with similar life values branched away, to form a perfect adventure holiday group. The location for our break away – the Scottish Highlands.

When most people were spending their mid January weekends feeling blue and hibernating with Netflix on the sofa – we ventured to the freezing temperatures and stunning scenery of Glencoe.

82580575_10163179197250604_8379027401136406528_n

Flying into Edinburgh on a cheap Easy Jet flight, we met with one of the group members who lives in the area, before venturing to our luxury cabin two hours away. Arriving at sundown meant that we could not appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Therefore the evening was spent enjoying the warmth of our cabin, eating a hearty meal to fuel for the next day and catching up since our last adventure.


Pap of Glencoe

The first day of our trip saw us take to the Pap of Glencoe – modest in height compared to the neighbouring mountains. However the walk boasted to be short but steep and rough hill walk, with a “sensational view.” After combating the Atlas Mountains, the 742 metre height paled in comparison. Though this did not make the journey any easier.

The first stages of the trek saw us follow the main road from the village of Glencoe, up a gentle hill path and across the hillside – before meeting a rather challenging stream of water cascading down from the mountain top. Hardy, water resistant boots are a must to cross the terrain which, in the height of winter, is not just wet but rocky and boggy too.

82758383_10163179194700604_1297902278916702208_n

From here we started a steady climb up stonier terrain that was testing to the seasoned walker, due to recent wintery showers in the region. To add to the challenging conditions, we experienced a sudden turn in weather. The bright blue skies shifted, turning a moody grey, the bitterly cold wind picked up and we were succumbed to a heavy snow shower. Waterproofs and extra layers were quickly donned to ensure we were protected against any conditions that would expect further up the mountain.

83636108_10163179194955604_3122041538830401536_n

At 430 metres the path starts to curve left, up further rocky and boggy terrains, which at this point was covered in a fresh layer of snow. It is here you can really start to appreciate the views.

We followed this path for a short period before the dome of the Pap could be seen ahead. From here the challenge really started to become apparent, as in the distance we could see other walkers on the ascent, clearly scrambling to get to the summit.

82398109_10163179195330604_622140027303886848_n

Not only did the path not seem clear, but it was apparent that this was something we needed to take seriously. With the cold, wintery conditions one wrong step could be fatal so concentration was paramount.

We made our steady scramble to the top, taking care to ensure we were following the steps of the person in front, following the tracks of climbers before us and stopping regularly to keep together. Despite climbing numerous mountains before this one, the Pap is the one that terrified me the most.

Slowly we made our way to the summit and the views were just as promised – sensational. The snow storm, that had passed over just an hour or so before, had cleared offering picture perfect scenery.

82715564_10163179195595604_6466732717701595136_n

The only issue? The dramatic temperature drop. The wind had picked up and whilst we had been protected climbing to the top, the summit provided no such protection. Exposed to the elements, we spent no longer than a couple of minutes taking in the view. The idea of a lunch picnic was out of the question.

We had to start our descent quickly to prevent us feeling the chill. Slowly we reversed our steps, at times using our back sides to aid our journey. Our lunch was spent munching on pre-made sandwiches (and left over lasagne for some) perched on the the rocks whilst other walkers passed us by.

It was, hands down, the best lunch view I have experienced to date.

83159059_10163179195590604_6964903294305042432_n

Conscious of time and daylight hours, we didn’t linger and continued our downward climb. The snow fall quickly melting in the blazing sunshine made the descent just as difficult as the upward climb. Snow melt, turning the rocky paths into rivers and bogs. Thank heavens we were all prepared with sturdy boots and walking poles.

Soon enough we were back down to the start, in the village warming ourselves up with hot chocolate and coffee at the Glencoe Cafe.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge

Our second day called for something of a more gentle terrain. Despite not being able to attempt Ben Nevis due to precarious weather conditions we headed to the vicinity to explore Nevis Gorge.

82701573_10163179196215604_2618307815642497024_n

Boasted as one of the best short walks in Scotland our route promised dramatic and beautiful views of the gorge that leads to the stunning Steal Falls.

Though not as challenging as the previous days climb, the paths were still rocky and rough, therefore great care was needed.

The path through the gorge, maintained by the John Muir trust, was one of the most tranquil walks I have experienced to date. Starting early meant that we had the paths and gorge all to ourselves all the way to the waterfall.

83386701_10163179196345604_7851750161880449024_n

We followed the path, where it opened out to grassy meadows, surrounded by the mountains and the Steal Falls directly ahead.

The waterfall is the third largest in Scotland, reaching 105 metres down the rock face. However, to get to Steall Falls itself and to see it close up, you will need to embrace the adventurer within you. The only way to get close to the rock face is to cross the wire bridge over the river.

82788186_10163179196565604_3261455962510196736_n

Personally, I was unable to find the courage to cross what I could only describe as an accident waiting to happen. In my mind I was assessing all the things that could go wrong and came to the conclusion that I could not take the risk.

That said, I encouraged members of our group who found their daring side. With baited breath we watched as they made easy work of the wire bridge and cheered when they successfully reached the other side without incident.

83137583_10163179196975604_310592724673757184_n

Once returned safely, though not back across the wire bridge, we paused by the river banks for our lunch before making our way back to the start. Perfectly timed, as an influx of visitors had started to make their way up the path and through the gorge. We had successfully enjoyed uninterrupted views – something we would not have received had it been the height of summer.

83308251_10163179196170604_6204348595743752192_n

Glenfinnan Viaduct

After the adventures to get back from the waterfall, there was an array of soaked boots so further walking would require replacing footwear.

Therefore, after a short break for hot drinks in Fort William, we decided to head over to Glenfinnan to visit the infamous “Harry Potter Bridge.”

82429577_10163179197195604_3570233195918000128_n

The railway viaduct overlooks both the Glenfinnan monument and the waters of Loch Shiel. Despite being mid January there were a number of tourist exploring the area, with the avid Harry Potter fans following the 15 minute trail up close to the bridge.

After the weekend hiking, we simply took on the short climb to the view point admiring the bridge from afar. Sadly we did not time it to see the steam trains passing by, but were pleased to fit in this attraction none the less.

With satisfied, yet tired legs we spent the evening relaxing again in the cabin before our return flight the following afternoon.

Time really does fly when you are having fun and the weekend had been just that!

Our small group had spent four active, yet relaxed days laughing and enjoying each others company – further cementing the fact that our adventures together had just begun!



Becoming a Savvy Traveller

Over the last 18 months I have had numerous friends and family asking if I have suddenly won the lottery or asking what “I do” that enables me to travel so much.

Every single time my response is the same – I am a savvy traveller, I have no dependants and I have learnt to optimise every possible opportunity to fit in a break wherever I can.

As I become more comfortable travelling solo, I am constantly looking for the best deal and ways that I can fund my adventures.

In this post I wanted to share my tips to becoming a savvy traveller, so you too, can make the most of now!

Cashback

In the digital world we live in, we are spending a huge amount of our disposable income on purchases online. If you did not know already, you can be rewarded for your spending through cashback sites such as Quidco. Whether you are looking for car insurance, buying a new wardrobe or even a break away, it is likely that the company your are purchasing from offers a cashback rate. Cash in on this! Pennies soon in to pounds, especially if you are a shopaholic.

Collect Avios

Similarly to cashback, you can earn Avios points with the likes of British Airways by shopping online. I alternate between shopping through Quidco and the Avios platform depending on the best rates that are available to gain air miles.

If you shop at Tesco’s you can arrange for your Clubcard points from both your weekly shop and petrol to be converted into Avios points, which you will then be able to use for a reward flight.

My trip to Munich in September was paid for with my the points I had collected over the last twelve months.

img_4012

Advance Planning!

The most simple, yet obvious tactic can work in your favour is advanced planning. I often get laughed at for booking a trip up to ten months in advance, however I am always the last one laughing. It usually means a deal could be had. For example, my upcoming trip to Santorini this May was booked in the British Airways sale back in July, committing to a low deposit to secure the dates I wanted, for half the price than it would be normally.

Cheeky Weekend

In 2019 I discovered a deal aggregator called Cheeky Weekend. The site is perfect for those who are always looking for a weekend break that doesn’t involve using annual leave.

Simply select the airports you like to fly from and the perfect times, and Cheeky Weekend provides you with great flight deals to suit you.

My time is usually limited so always have the setting to fly on a Friday night from Stansted, returning on Sunday evening. Therefore, my annual leave is saved for longer trips and I am fully utilising the weekend. My recent flight to Bratislava was booked through Cheeky Weekend for just £50.

img_4882

You can either choose to become a member for the year, giving you full access to flights months in advance or refer friends to do the same.

Loyalty Discounts

When you book with a company you like and have good experiences with, you are more likely to become a repeat customer if a loyalty discount is provided.

It is worth getting in touch to find out if this is something they offer.

Some, like Exodus, offer this automatically. After booking my first adventure to Morocco with the company I was offered a 5% discount on my next trip. Whilst this does not seem like much of an offer, the more you book the bigger the loyalty discount you receive.

4c6f01f9-36a4-4f01-8a8c-145ea4d3d904

Plus, if you pick a break that they have on offer this can easily save a great deal off the original price.

Sales!

Always look out for the sales. As mentioned previously I booked a great trip in the British Airways sale, and it is not the first time I have done so. My trips to San Diego, New York, Boston and Malta were all booked for a bargain price in the sale.

27752260_10160128264040604_1477005733381973731_n

Lastminute.com have great sales and allow you to split the payments for your holiday, spreading the cost and budgeting for your getaway. My Christmas break to Italy was booked in their Summer sale.

Easy Jet and Ryanair, are perfect for quick trips to Europe and often provide massive seat sales. You can easily pick up a return flight for £20 if you are flexible with dates. Both my trips to Bordeaux and Toulouse cost £19.99 return, allowing that extra cash to spent on a hotel of a higher rating.

24067931_10159786477260604_4557141444647817218_n

Plus – book through Cashback sites and Avios and you will get a percentage of your spend back to reinvest into your next break! Win, Win!

Mid Week Breaks

Although weekends are great to avoid using up precious annual leave, it is also worth keeping an eye on mid week breaks too.

Nine times out of ten, flying out on a Monday and returning on a Wednesday (or something similar) can dramatically reduce the cost of your trip. However, keep in mind any school holiday dates that could inflate the prices.




So there you have it. No lottery win. No secret job that is funding my adventures. Just a wanderlust with a strive to see the world and finding savvy ways to do so.

What are your savvy travelling tips?

City break to Bologna, Parma and Modena

For the second year running I have worked in a role whereby the company has a “shut down” between Christmas and New Year. With very little focus on business during this period, I personally think it is a great idea.

It gives employees time off to spend with family, eat and drink far much more than is necessary or for the wanderlusts in the world – it gives us some time to get away from it all.

Despite what many think, jetting off between the two is not as pricy as you would expect – especially if you plan well in advance. I took full advantage of the Lastminute.com summer sale booking a cheeky two night break to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In particular, Bologna.

80567287_10163068176880604_2218627217162764288_n

Soon after securing my trip I was straight on to planning to find out which other Italian towns and cities were within easy each.

Italy is by far my favourite country in the world – most likely due to my heritage – so I like to maximise my time when I am there. The best way to do so – by train. Unlike the costly service in the UK, Italy has a fantastic network of affordable, reliable and comfortable trains. Some are even “double decker” offering wonderful views of the countryside. Therefore you can easily find yourself from one city to the next.

So where did I venture on this trip?

Bologna

Bologna, the capital and largest city within the region, is renowned for it’s culinary tradition. Though most famous for the “Bolognese Sauce,” or Ragu, the city is a foodie’s dream, with meats, cheese, pasta and wine available from numerous deli’s. Even in the depths of winter, at just 4 degrees, the narrow streets are jam packed full of food lovers.

80695150_10163068178725604_6613146452015185920_n

The centre of this scenic city is Piazza Maggiore. In the heart of the city centre, here you can admire the architecture of Pallazo d’Accursio, the Basilica de San Petronio, the Palazzo del Podesta and the Palazzo Comunale.

 

To the north west of the square you will find Piazza del Nettuno and the famous fountain of Neptune. During my visit it was hard to miss next to the most impressive Christmas tree I have seen to date.

81825153_10163068178840604_852486111300157440_n

Bologna is famous for it’s leaning towers, the most iconic of these stand next to each other and are named after two important Italian families – Asinelli and Garisenda. Asinelli, standing 97.2 meters tall was used as a prison and a strong hold. The smaller of the two towers, Garisenda, reaches just 48 metres, however it does have a noticeable tilt and overhang of 3.2 metres.

80697750_10163068177155604_5732530770237456384_n.jpg

If a view is what you are after, you can climb the towers for an uninterrupted view over the city and landscape beyond.

San Petronio stands as the 10th largest church in the world by volume, dominating the centre of Piazza Maggiore.

81394176_10163068176895604_2223668520925790208_n

The church has a Gothic design and despite being constructed between 1388 and 1479, it has never been finished. You will notice the front facade has coloured marble stone on the lower half, yet the top is bare and comprised of brown brickwork.

Wander down some of the quiet back streets of the city and you will stumble across La Piccola Venezia. Bologna once had a number of canals running through the city, today you can still see one of these.

80683665_10163068178490604_2033643022968684544_n

Dubbed “little Venice” you will find a queue of eager tourists waiting their turn to take a picture through the tiny square window on the wall. Directly opposite is also a clear, open view. Though at times it is known to dry up completely, so perhaps one thing to avoid in the warm summer months.

Parma

One of the largest cities within the region is Parma. The city, most famous for its cheese and prosciutto, is within easy reach of Bologna – just an hour on the train.

On arrival, it was notably less bustling than the regions capital. Most shops, restaurants and cafes being closed with it being a Sunday and in the midst of the Christmas holidays.

82037378_10163068177500604_5349390382872395776_n

That said, wandering the narrow cobbled streets of the city and taking in the stunning architecture at my own pace was rather tranquil.

Located in the Piazza del Duomo you will find probably the most iconic buildings of the city. Sitting a stones throw away from each other is Parma Cathedral and Baptistery of Parma.

80955817_10163068177675604_4315899136944635904_n

The cathedral is said to be one of the finest examples of Romanesque cathedrals in Italy. The front features a number of ornate arches, whilst the inside you will find a plethora of decoration.

The Baptistery of Parma, sitting next door to the, dwarfs in size in comparison to the cathedral but stands taller than the central point on the roof of the cathedral. The octagonal baptistery towers over the surrounding buildings and features stunning artwork and arches on the outside.

The interior is equally as stunning, with marbled statues and each of the eight walls containing frescos that were painted in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Higher wall sections contain statues of important Italians and on the ceiling you will find painting split into sections that details different religious figures.

81180612_10163068177320604_2131945701863587840_n

Head to the Piazza Garibaldi and you will find the charming square with an abundance of shops, restaurants and cafes to relax in. Here you will note the Palazzo del Governatore spanning the width of the square. The historic building, constructed in the1200’s served as a major government building for hundreds of years.

The square, like most the city when visiting, was rather quiet with many workers preparing for what I can assume would be their New Year celebrations.

And, just like the city of Bologna, Parma had a number of fascinating deli’s selling a variety of cheese, wine and meats.

Modena

Situated half way between Bologna and Parma, this quaint city is rich in culture, history and most famous for Balsamic Vinegar, opera and Italian sports cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Pagani were historically manufactured here.

Located in the Piazza Grande you will find the Romanesque style Modena Cathedral, one of the highlights of the city. As with most cathedrals, it is free to enter, so it is worth stepping inside to appreciate the brick work and artwork above the main alter, which is laced with gold and depicts the Passion of Christ.

80387268_10163068177910604_2739800122480132096_n

Next to the cathedral stands the Torre Ghirlandina, acting as its bell tower. Standing at 86.12 metres, the tower is the tallest structure with in the city and is now an icon of Modena. If you feel up to it climb the tower for a birds eye view of the city and surrounding area.

Piazza Grande, situated next to the cathedral and tower, is rather charming. The cobbled stone, surrounding coloured buildings with arches and ornate clock brings an ancient feel to the area. Though teaming Sunday market stalls, selling trinket and antiques, there was still a sense of peacefulness about the square.

Palazzo Ducale, situated at the end of Piazza Roma is one of the most recognisable buildings within Modena. Constructed in the 1400’s, the palace was originally the residence of Este Dukes of Modena. Today the palace holds part of the Italian Military Academy. Military ceremonies and performances are also held here.

79783206_10163068177875604_3108316043123097600_n.jpg

No visit to Modena is complete without a visit to Museum Enzo Ferrari – especially when the family name on your maternal side is Ferrari!

81454865_10163068178105604_725287193085476864_n

Enzo Ferrari was born and bred in Modena. With parts of the museum house in his original home, it celebrates his life and the business he built. Here, you can get up close to a number of these impressive vehicles (NO TOUCHING), a dream for an car enthusiast.

80714190_10163068178265604_6263643101756129280_n

When attempting to pack in three cities in just as many days, you find the time whizzing past. Soon enough it was time to pick up an array of culinary treats and souvenirs, gorge on some pistachio gelato (because no trip to Italy is complete without this, no matter the temperature), before heading back to Blighty.

80550697_10163068178460604_1695425077236989952_n

For any food lover the whole region, including these picturesque cities, is an absolute must. My only regret was not taking the biggest meat fiend in my life along with me. With so much more that could be explored, I have no doubt I will incorporate these destinations to another Italian adventure in the near future.

 

Weekend Break: Malta & Gozo

As the clocks went back and the UK was set for months of gloomy weather and downpours – I attempted a final sunshine break. Booking a long weekend to the sunny islands of Malta and Gozo.

If you only have a few days, a long weekend is just enough time to take in the sights and, if planned well, you could even sneak in a little island hop to Gozo.

Here’s what we managed to fit in.

Valetta

No trip to Malta would be complete without a trip to the capital of Valetta – the fortress city. The best way to see the historical city is by foot. Take time to wander the alleyways, sloping streets and stairways of the UNESCO Wold Heritage site.

img_5366

Wherever your interests lie, be sure to include the city’s iconic monument, St John’s Cathedral and the Lower Barrakka Garden for a lovely view over the harbour.

img_5367

Mdina

The “Silent City” of Mdina was a must do on our list. With its ancient walls and mix of medieval and baroque architecture it is clear to see why it was one of the many filming locations for Game of Thrones.

img_5412

Not only was a visit to this charming city like a step back in time, it was tranquil (virtually free of any traffic), offered fantastic views over the Island (on a clear day) and is somewhat of an Instagram paradise.

img_5398

Our only gripe was that in early November we were greeted at the city gates with a heavy downpour and no shelter!

Dwejra

Dwejra with its dramatic and, at times, tempestuous coast is an attraction like no other. Despite the Azure Window collapsing in 2017, the coastal attraction is worth a visit.

img_5487

Here you can explore the bay and rock foundations, take a boat trip (if in season) through the caves or simply watch the waves form and crash along the coastline.

img_5460

Taking in the spectacular view is a great way to spend an hour of your time.

Ta’Pinu

In the valley between the villages of Gharb and Ghammar you will find The Sanctuary of Ta’Pinu. The shrine of Ta’Pinu is ancient, despite the origin being unknown the first records of the chapel date back to 1534.

img_5503

Unless you are extremely religious you would would only stop for a brief period at this Roman Catholic monument. Most tour operators will pause for a short time to allow visitors enough time to take pictures of the impressive shrine.

Xlendi Bay

This picturesque bay is a popular spot for swimming, snorkelling and diving. The small, sandy beach with shallow waters is perfect for all ages and adventure for those who enjoy snorkelling in deeper waters.

img_5526

Though bright, warm and sunny during our visit, the sea was a little too aggressive for my liking. Instead we opted for a climb up the coastal stair case to take in the views, before opting for lunch at one of the quaint restaurants.

img_5519

The Stone Crab was the perfect spot to test the local cuisine – crab ravioli for him and a tasty vegetarian version for me.

Marsalforn Bay

It is said, that in the summer Marsalforn is one of the most popular resorts on the Island. As such it is brimming with families from both Islands who spend their summer near the coast, as well as eager tourists taking advantage of the diving and snorkelling opportunities around the bay.

img_5556

From here there are a number of good boat trips on offer around Gozo and over to Comino and the legendary Blue Lagoon.

img_5541

Despite packing a number of areas into our itinerary over the weekend, there was so much more left unexplored. Owing to stormy weather, typical for the time of year, many of the surrounding fishing villages were flooded, trips over to Comino and the Blue Lagoon simply did not run and unexpected downpours made it difficult for us add in the famous Popeye Village.

img_5375

With so much more to see, I imagine a return trip to the Islands will be on the cards in the near distant future. Though I enjoyed my time over the weekend, without an influx of tourists, I may actually have to brave the crowds during peak season to make the most of what the Islands have to offer.



 

 

City Break: Two Days in Bratislava

When you have no annual leave remaining, but the Wanderlust inside you is itching to get away, you have to utilise every moment to fit in a cheeky getaway.

When I first discovered Cheeky Weekend I was in my element. Without having to trawl numerous sites to find a great deal this offers the perfect solution. Pop your requirements in – in my case my local airport (Stansted) and my preferred flight times (Friday PM, Returning Sunday PM), along with the maximum budget for your flight, then Cheeky Weekend will provide you with recommended flights suited to your requirements.

No searching, just a simple way to find the cheap deals for upcoming weekends.

Therefore, when looking at squeezing in another cheap weekend away, I quickly found a flight for the dates I required.

Soon enough I was jetting off to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.

img_4888

Two days is ample time to explore this compact, yet charming city. So what exactly did we fit in within the two days?

Bratislava Castle

No visit to Bratislava would be complete without a visit to its Castle. Towering the old town on a hill this monument dominates the city. Here you you can wonder the castle grounds and gardens, take a guided tour and simply enjoy the views of the city below and across the Danube to the UFO Tower.

img_4961

UFO Tower

A visit to the UFO Tower is a must. Here, for a small entrance fee, you can head to the top of the observation deck for a panoramic view of the old town, including Bratislava Castle high on the hill. Head back down a floor and you can enjoy a spot of lunch (if budget allows) or simply a glass of local wine, enjoying the view from the bar.

img_5102

 

St Martin’s Cathedral

The largest and one of the most known churches in Bratislava is famous for being the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. Enjoy the stunning view high looking down to the Cathedral from the grounds of Bratislava Castle.

img_4974-1

Slavin

This impressive and peaceful monument stands proud above the old town and city of Bratislava. The burial ground of thousands of fallen Soviet Army soldiers of World War Two is the largest war memorial in Europe, reaching 52 metres, dominating the skyline of the city.

img_5059

Old Town Hall

Climb the narrow stairs to the 45 metre tower for a small entry fee and you will be rewarded with the roof top views overlooking red roof tops of the Old Town, with Bratislava Castle, St Martin’s Gate and the UFO Tower in the distance.

img_5083

St Martin’s Gate

For further views over looking the Old Town you can venture to St Martin’s Gate – the only preserved gate of the city fortification system that dates back to the 14th century.

img_4878

Blue Church

Just five minutes from the Old Town Square you will find the enchanting St Elizabeth’s Church (The Blue Church). The Art Nouveau, 20th century building is known for its remarkable blue colour and Disney like features. One could imagine a fairy tale wedding taking place, and as such is an unsurprisingly popular location for weddings.

img_5011

Cumil (“Man at Work”)

The life size bronze sculpture can be found in cross roads within Bratislava Old Town. The “peeping Tom” sewer worker statue is said to be lucky and make your wishes come true if you rub his head.

img_4885

With a population of just 430,000 the city is filled with charm and one that you can easily sneak a short weekend break to.

img_4882

Between attractions take time to wonder the cobbled streets of the Old Town, stroll along the River Danube and if time allows hop on a train to neighbouring cities of Vienna and Budapest.

img_5061

This delightful city is definitely one to add to your travel bucket list and fits perfectly into a short break or if you are extending a European trip.




 

 

 

 

Mount Toubkal: Moroccan Adventure

As I learn to love solo travelling more and more, I have discovered that no destination is off limits. If it is on the bucket list, I will find a way to get there.

That said, as a solo travelling woman, I have to be sensible and cautious. Normally, when travelling alone I will keep myself to myself and blend into the crowd – so don’t stand out as a tourist. This is easy to accomplish when travelling to other European countries. But when travelling further afield Westerners cannot help but stand out like a sore thumb.

So when I was researching Morocco as my next adventure I stumbled across Exodus, who specialise in group adventure holidays. As luck would have it, the same week I received an newsletter from parkrun offering £100 off my first adventure – fate was calling! Without further hesitation I booked the Mt Toubkal Long Weekend – five days climbing the highest point in North Africa. The guided group would allow me to combine my love for travel and adventure, without the stress of navigating a foreign city and being hassled by locals.

So, despite being a little apprehensive about what I would expect from group travel, I jetted off for my Moroccan adventure.

Day One

On arrival in Marrakech, I was met by our group transfer, which gave me the first opportunity to speak to a number of people in the group. Prior to the trip I was concerned about the group dynamic and being the only solo traveller. This concern was quickly put to rest, the group were a great mix of couples and other like minded, solo travellers of all ages.

4c6f01f9-36a4-4f01-8a8c-145ea4d3d904

We were quickly transferred to our accommodation for the first evening, Hotel Gomassine, to meet other members of the group and our local guide, who would be with us throughout the entire trip. Hicham, quickly put everyone at ease, explaining the itinerary for the upcoming days and what to expect, as well as answering any questions we may have.

With a busy few days ahead, after a light dinner, the group retired for an early night.

Day Two

Our adventure on day two started with a transfer by coach to the village of Imlil, the start of the trail path through to the summit.

From here we we followed the path, higher and higher on rocky terrain for about an hour, reaching the our lunch spot – allowing us to rest and acclimatise. After a tasty, fresh lunch of omelette, pasta and salad we were well fuelled to take on the winding mule tracks to base camp.

img_4238

Though the climb was tough on both the legs and the lungs, the five hour hike offered breathtaking views as we passed through the valley of Ait Mizan.

It was on this section of the hike where the group started separating – as we climbed higher the altitude started to take affect. Some stormed ahead with the end goal of basecamp in sight. Some, like me, took time to take in the view, stopping at regular intervals to allow my body to adjust and to ensure I didn’t push myself before the summit climb. Others, took a little longer.

45ea10b1-cdd6-41d4-8003-0617005ddbae

Soon enough basecamp was in eyesight and we ended out day with a filling meal before and bed in time for an early start.

Day Three – SUMMIT DAY

The problem with adventures away from home is the lack of sleep you have the night before the start. At home, you would be comfortable in your surroundings, in your comfy bed and with all the amenities to start your day.

When staying at basecamp, with shared dorms of around 25 people, sleep is not possible. Not only do the nerves set in, but you are fully aware of every move the other 24 bodies make throughout the night.

Starting your day at 3am, with less than two hours sleep (if that), is not the best way to begin a summit climb.

Luckily, the darkness numbed not only the pain but blinded the group as to what we faced.

img_4269

The first few hours were a steady climb, following the three guides that we had for the summit. Head torches on, the group ploughed on ignoring the lack of sleep, energy and trying to work together to keep up the morale.

I have climbed a number of mountains in my time, however nothing could prepare me for the extremities of Mount Toubkal. Be it from lack of sleep or the altitude playing part, within hours I was feeling the effect – legs wobbling, head throbbing and with good few emotional breakdowns (though not just me) – I had to take regular breaks. With Hicham taking my backpack and consistently reminding me to take on water I did not believe in myself to get to the summit. I was ready to give up, believing it to be an impossible task. It was relentless. As the sun started to rise and I saw what was left to climb it just didn’t seem feasible.

img_4304

I was not allowed to give up. Hicham saw in my eyes something I could not see – determination. Despite my mind mind telling me that I should give up, he believed I had it in me to reach the summit. So we carried on, with the group split in two – the faster group steaming ahead and those struggling or taking it slightly easier moving at a slower pace.

As the final climb and the summit came into sight, cheers could be heard from the group members who had reached the top. And soon enough we were there. On top of the world, taking in the magnificent views. Crying with joy.

bc86189a-25bc-49ea-b8c0-fdd24d55055d

However, what goes up must come down.

Throughout the journey I did not stop to think about the downward stretch, assuming it will be a breeze.

Sadly this was not the case, as coming down was just (if not twice) as hard as the climb. Heading back to basecamp we were warned, take it easy. Within minutes it was clear to see why, as I soon found myself falling flat on my butt onto a rock. The scree all the way down saw numerous members of the group trip and fall – with legs flying out in front, landing like rag dolls. Thank heavens for back packs softening the fall!

e86651b7-32f1-45c7-bdca-4002e3c02a90

As we continued the descent the extent of the task we faced at 3am became apparent. We had, in the dark with no sleep, climbed over boulders so large it was unimaginable. It was at this point that you realised why the summit begins in the dark hours. As, had I seen what we were to face, I would have chickened out.

Soon enough, we were back at basecamp, all broken, bruised but slightly elated.

Day Three – Continued Descent

The journey did not stop there.

After a short stop for lunch, where it felt that we would never be able to walk again, we had a further hike. Back down the mule paths to our Gite for the night in Arroumd. Some, too broken from the hike to the summit, continued the descent upon our mules. Though this seemed like the best option down, with sheer drops, twists and turns, there was no chance I would be one of them.

88769f80-d1d4-44db-af8b-ab01655c328d

 

Despite the dead legs and seizing muscles I ploughed on with the rest of the group, storming ahead, desperate to take off my boots and have a long shower and SLEEP.

The hike down was long, but the end goal was rewarding. When we finally arrived at out Gite I was ready to kiss the ground.

After a nutritious dinner of Soup and Tagine, I was ready to head to bed early. Though not the most peaceful sleep, it was miles better than the night before.




Day Four – Final Trek & Marrakech.

Waking up refreshed, albeit with Bambi legs, we continued on foot for a short 45 minute walk to Imlil to pick up our return transfer to Marrakech.

4ebd5e80-9e44-4b38-95e7-4114dbc0ebc8

Time for a spot of lunch and refreshing shower before our walking tour of the city, including the Souks, dinner and drinks overlooking the Medina.

The group had a great evening celebrating our success climbing Mount Toubkal, perhaps a little too great, before our return flight home the following day.

5d83d4f7-3b5d-407b-9417-91f23cc0ad1c

Day Five – Marrakech & Home

With the majority of the group flying home on morning flights to London, there were just a few of us remaining in the city.

As I knew I was unlikely to return anytime soon, I wanted to spend the day visiting a few sights that were not included in the walking tour the previous evening.

First port of call was Jardin Majorelle. The two and half acre botanical garden garden offers a tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. The gardens were famously owned by Yves Saint-Laurent between 1980 and 2008, and his ashes were scattered here after he died in 2008.

img_4392

The second sight on my to do list was Bahia Palace. The late 19th century palace was intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Meaning “brilliance” the stunning building captures a mix of Islamic and Moroccan styles – evident in the colourful tiles and 2-acre garden with rooms that open into courtyards.

img_4430

It was advised to arrive at the palace early, leave it too late and bus loads of tourists arrive. Being an early riser meant that I was at the palace long before the swarm of tourists – peacefully wondering from room to room and throughout the courtyards, simply enjoying the tranquil space.

img_4438

Tired, elated and joyed to have spent the weekend with some amazing people, it was soon time to head home.

Mount Toubkal, standing 4167m above sea level, was one crazy adventure, fast becoming the toughest challenge to date. Exceeding my Hadrians Wall trek and even the London Marathon, and by far the most rewarding.

How many people can say they conquered the highest peak in North Africa?

Reaching the summit and standing on what felt like the top of the world is something I will never forget.

 

City Break: 24 Hours in Munich

Famous for it’s annual Ockoberfest, beautiful architecture and the BMW headquarters, the Bavarian capital of Munich is the third largest city in Germany – offering an abundance of culture.

When I was researching my whistle stop trip to Munich (24 hours to be precise) many of the itineraries and guides advised that you cannot fit everything from this gem of a city in one day. A good three to four days was advisable.

However, with no annual leave days remaining I had to find a way to fit in the trip in one weekend. Finding a cheap, early Saturday morning flight, I did not hesitate and I soon found a few itineraries that would suit my time frame. 

Many travel guides suggest that if you only have one day to spend in Munich, then centre your activity around the Old Town.

After touching down at Munich International Airport this is exactly where I headed. The great thing about a 24 trip to any city is that you carry very little luggage and don’t have to worry about wasting time checking in to a hotel. So with just a tiny back pack I jumped on the S-Bahn and was in the city centre within 35 minutes.

My adventure started in Marienplatz, the central square of Munich Old Town. Many tour guides advise to begin here, and on arrival it is clear to see why.

75247464_1613232702146069_550488578258370560_n.jpg

The architecture within the square is iconic of the Bavarian region – you will immediately find yourself outside the Gothic New Town hall, home of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Time your arrival right, and you will be able to observe the Glockenspiel “Coopers Dance.” According to myth, in 1517 (the year of the Plague in Munich), coopers were said to have danced through the streets to bring “fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.”

My next port of call was a stones throw away from the New Town Hall. St Peters Church, towers above the square, and if you feel up to the 56 metre climb to the top, offers a fantastic view of the red tiled rooftops of Munich. On a clear day, you can expect to see over 62 miles into the distance (which is all the way to the Alps).

74680707_424516158247932_7008257102212759552_n.jpg

From here I spotted some impressive looking buildings that were not in my original plan – so I quickly carried out some research before heading that way.

72970418_521765961981400_8947184091871051776_n.jpg

Walking down the elegant Maximilianstraße, one of the four royal avenues in Munich, you will be hard pressed to miss the high end shops and the roar of super cars. Head all the way east, over the River Isar and you will find the Maximilianeum. The Home of the Bavarian State Parliament stands regally at the end of this impressive avenue.

72760531_1167361143457090_2261208643921772544_n.jpg

From here I wandered along the riverside gardens, northwards, taking in the park statue and fountain, the Friedensengel – a golden angel monument symbolising peace – before heading west, past the Bavarian National Museum towards the Englischer Garten.

The Englischer Garten is the large public park in Munich, stretching from the city centre to the north eastern city limits.

72478574_850850558643871_684140611820847104_n.jpg

The gardens are well known for its river surfing (drawing large crowds of spectators) and naked sunbathing. However, it also offers some great views down to central Munich from the Greek temple upon the 49 foot hill.




On a glorious summers day, or a equally beautiful mid September afternoon (as I experienced), you can take advantage of the wide open space for a spot of sunbathing or paddle in the shallow river – just like I did – whilst taking a break from the city centre.

After a short rest in the tranquil park I moved on wards, towards the landmark Siegestor – the triumphal arch that features a bronze sculpture of Bavaria and four lions.

72951993_446990812591062_4738306842633961472_n.jpg

From here I continued my walking tour southwards – along Ludwigstraße, another of the city’s royal avenues – with my sights on The Residenz.

The Residenz, built in 1385, is the largest city palace in Germany and the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria.

72766671_2476566179095133_3423070814444978176_n.jpg

Today it is an open to the public to view it’s architecture, room decorations and royal collections. With such limited time and, with the weather being so glorious outside, I did not venture inside. Instead I wondered the outer buildings and admired the view from another one of the city’s parks – Hofgarten.

A short walk away, I found another landmark that I spotted from the viewing deck at St Peter’s Church – Theatine Church.

74802281_380154199529374_6533435204780949504_n.jpg

This striking building, with yellow facade is a church built from 1663 to 1690. With its Mediterranean appearance it has become a well known symbol of the city and inside offers a peaceful break from the bustling city.

With time flying away, I made my way back to Marienplatz for an early dinner – enjoying the surroundings once more before heading to my hotel close to the airport for my morning flight home.

70562783_522751858267200_4083085456797859840_n.jpg

My time in Munich seemed very short, but jam packed – finding my way round the Old Town and surrounding areas by foot.

After a disappointing visit to Berlin at the end of 2018, I was rather sceptical as to how I would feel returning to another German city. I needn’t have worried, as Munich surpassed my expectations. The Bavarian capital, is a bustling city with a plethora of charm and culture to suit every type of traveller.

My only regret – limiting myself to 24 hours.

With so much more to explore in Bavaria, and the promise to take the other half next time round, I will be returning to Munich and it is surrounding areas in the near future