When I flashed the man my ticket and declared I wanted to see the casemates at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør on Monday I hadn’t actually any idea what that meant. I was just making sure I got my money’s worth, I’m that kind of traveller. What on earth is a casemate? It turns out the term originally referred to a vaulted chamber in a fortress, which in reality now means a dark, scary, underground bit in a draughty, old castle. And in winter that means this solo traveller, all alone, scrabbling around in very dingy candlelight in the bowels of Hamlet’s famous Danish fortress.
Forty-five km north of Copenhagen, Helsingør is overwhelmed by the magnificent edifice of Kronberg (immortalised as Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Once home to the Kings of Denmark from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, it has been home for a much shorter time to a striking concrete representation of Holger the Dane, a heroic, mythical figure who first appeared in medieval French literature as one of Charlemagne’s great warriors. According to legend, when the Danish kingdom is threatened by a foreign enemy, the stone figure will come to life and rise up to defend his country.
He is certainly an impressive sight, resting with his sword and shield, ready to be called into action. As I tentatively tiptoed past him I hoped he wouldn’t see this frightened little English lady as a threat to his kingdom and that he might see his way to waking up and holding my hand if I encountered something more otherworldly on my travels around his shadowy home.
I took this in Plockton in the North West Highlands of Scotland in October whilst I was up visiting an old uni buddy. It’s a bit random and very grainy, but the little fella was incredibly jittery when I moved so I had to take a quick snap with my Blackberry whilst not actually looking at the screen in order to make sure I didn’t move too much and cause him to scarper. I don’t know why I automatically say he, as apparently male and female robins, unlike many bird species, actually look identical. He was though, regardless of his real gender, seemingly as happy as I was ensconced by the water’s edge in the beer garden of the Plockton Hotel, enjoying the unseasonal warmth of the late autumn sunshine.
Day five of my Moroccan trip in 2014 involved a ten-hour minibus ride from Fes to the Erg Chebbi sand dunes at Merzouga. The journey was notable for the ever-changing scenery as we crossed the Atlas and approached the Sahara, a stone’s throw from the Algerian border. The landscape, at first dotted with olive trees, gave way to something more barren, a rocky foreground backed eventually by snow-capped mountains. We came upon the dunes a little after sunset, later in the day than planned, and would have to wait until day six to see them properly.
In these early moments of 2015, as I sit here watching the yearly battle of excessive testosterone that is World’s Strongest Man (always a guilty pleasure at this time of the year), I find myself pondering where the coming twelve months will take me. One thing is certain, very shortly I will move to the seaside, not the seaside in the photo above – that’s Essaouira, Morocco – but the great British seaside, all shingly beaches and windy promenades. I’m not sure what makes me to want to live by the sea, I am, after all, absurdly terrified of sharks and other sea-based creatures, particularly those with multiple tentacles. That doesn’t stop me swimming in it obviously, as the fear also provides a lovely dose of endorphins, just marginally defeating the paranoia about being eaten. So aside from that one certainty, in 2015 I will have to steer my own destiny. I will travel more – be that in the UK or abroad; seek out some new running, swimming and triathlon challenges; take more and hopefully better photos; improve my work–life balance so that I can post more regularly; and generally find more interesting ways to enjoy this life.
As today’s British weather bestowed upon us such an abysmal, bone-chilling winter drizzle and failed to brighten from the dusky half-light of early morning, I thought I would counteract the ensuing melancholy by posting a sunny picture. This one was taken not far from Merzouga in south-eastern Morocco way back in February. Admittedly, it looks far hotter than it actually was in the Sahara at that time of year, but, not far from the Algerian border, traipsing around the near-deserted Erg Chebbi dunes, feet sinking delightfully into the sand, with the bountiful blue sky contrasting fiercely against the earthy red tones of the undulating landscape, there was an appealing delusion of warmth. This is the image I will focus on this December as I battle through the crowds of London: the drunken Christmas party revellers, the jaded winter commuters and the wild-eyed seasonal shoppers, all seemingly set on making each day a little bit more difficult for me than it should be. I will not become riled, I will not curse their complete ignorance of their surroundings, instead I will remember the calm that existed amidst the dunes and try to rise above the melee.
In the North West Highlands of Scotland you will find one of my favourite places, possibly in the entire world. Plockton is an exceptionally picturesque village (population 378), situated on the shores of Loch Carron. Sheltered by the Isle of Skye and skirted by the North Atlantic Current, it has a lovely climate in which cabbage palm trees flourish, providing it with a strangely tropical quirkiness.
I first visited as a child, more than 20 years ago, and this autumn, whilst in Scotland visiting one of my absolutely favourite people, I decided to make a side visit to see how it had changed. The most obvious difference was the lack of Highland cattle. Back in the early 1990s, my overwhelming memory was of the large, horned, shaggy ginger beasts wandering freely and slightly alarmingly through the village. Sadly, for visitors at least, the cattle have now been banished, by the aid of a cattle grid, punished for bumping folk’s cars and trampling their veggie patches. Regardless, the village that once inspired me as Lochdubh, the fictional backdrop for the TV programme Hamish Macbeth, is still incredibly charming and offered the perfect brief sojourn from my holiday in the Highlands.