Boots On / 31st January 2020

Long ago I walked quite a lot of the Thames Path - from Lechlade down to Marlow.  I did that as series of day walks finding my back to Oxford each evening.  That was in March 2018, and somehow it's taken me a while to get back to that project and to figure out how to finish the walk.

So this morning, I caught a couple of buses and made my way back to Marlow with the plan of heading down the riverside to Teddington Lock, roughly 60 kilometres to be done over three days with a couple of overnight pub stops thrown in for good measure.

The Thames Path, particularly on this part of the river, is very easy walking.  It's essentially flat and there isn't any navigation to do, and where there are any fiddly bits - usually to accommodate the owners of big houses and/or big boats - there is good waymarking.

So it's really just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating as the locks tick by.

Marlow Wier
Boulters Lock
Bray Lock
Boveney Lock 

And the reward for completing the first 22km - a pint or two of a lovely orangey winter ale (called Mandarin) from the Windsor and Eton Brewery.

A good way to spend a Friday.

Cat Down

One of the perils of adopting older cats is very real possibility that they won't be with you for very long.  So, you tell yourself not to get too attached.

But, weeks turn into months, months turn into years - and suddenly you find you are very attached, and when the years do eventually catch up it's not a comfortable experience.

We adopted Moff and Koop almost three years ago - it was alleged that they were already over 18 years old, so we really didn't expect to have them for very long.

They came as a double act, siblings who'd always been together but actually didn't much like other.   Koop the fiesty one, Moff the more cautious (downright timid at times) - sometimes curled up together, other times finding their own places - or sometimes squabbling over the same place.

We were given instructions to let them enjoy their last few years - I think we've done that.

The years caught up with Moff today - hopefully Koop will stick around with us for a bit longer.


To Do / 24th January 2020

Sometimes you set out to write a Friday blog post - and you find you've just reproduced your 'to do' list.

Track down stray parcel at sorting office ✓

Replace backpack ready for next weekend ✓

Quick trip down the M40 and round the M25 - and back again ✓

Have walk somewhere to get a suitable picture of the day ✓

Pyrford Woods
Perform Shoe Tree

Book holiday for next month ✓

Buy/chop pile of Seville oranges for weekend marmalade making ✓

Oranges & Lemons

Write blog post ✓

I guess that's how some Friday's go.


Footprints. Specifically carbon footprints. And climate change.

Those who have been following this blog - or my twitter postings - for a while know that I’ve got a real weakness for visiting wild/remote/snow-covered places.   I’ve been lucky enough to have been to the south Atlantic/Antarctic on several occasions and to have explored a variety of Arctic locations.  My website name (North South Images) picks up the penguin and polar bear theme too.

I’ve periodically gone through the exercise of figuring out which remote set of northern or southern islands I want to get to next.  My last ‘new’ northern island was Jan Mayen, off the Greenland coast.

Jan Mayen Island
Walrus in Svalbard
Polar Bears along the Northwest Passage

In 2011 I was able to spend a bit of time around South Georgia, and at that time I spotted the South Sandwich Islands as being an interesting remote group to try to add to my southern list.

Gentoo Penguins in the Falkland Islands
King Penguins on South Georgia

The challenge was how to get there - it’s off the regular ‘tourist’ circuit that covers South Georgia, Falklands and the Antarctic peninsula - and there are only very occasional tours that make the effort - and the sea miles - to go there.

I left it with one of the tour companies to let me know if they came across a voyage that featured the South Sandwich Islands.  And finally last week, they got back to me with a voyage that includes the South Sandwich Islands along with South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the Peninsula - it’s a long trip, and it’s eye-wateringly expensive but I can (just about) afford it.  That’s the problem.

While I can afford the trip - can I justify it?  I’ve given lots of talks about the remote places I’ve been to over the years, and I’ve been able to combine the “ohh and ahh” appeal of penguins and polar bears with a narrative about climate change and pollution, and the risks to these once-pristine places - but where’s the tipping point?  Do I do more damage by flying 18000 miles and spending 25 days on boats than I can ever hope to repay by talking earnestly about climate change?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the trip would be fantastic - I’d love to spend more time on the beaches of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, I’d love to get back to the ice of Antarctica.  And I’d love to add the South Sandwich Islands to my travel CV. 

But, the question remains - is this sort of tourism defensible at this point in the 21st Century.

Shetland January 2020

Doesn’t everyone book a trip away just as soon as they get back to their desks after the end of the seemingly endless Winter Holidays?

Trip 1 of 2020, where to do go?   Well, Shetland of course.

There’s been a lot of wind around recently - as I got off the plane, I was already (in my mind at least) fixing roof tiles and searching for missing chunks of fence, so it came as pleasant surprise that there wasn’t anything substantial to do (this time at least - there’s still plenty of winter to go yet).

If I was searching for evidence of storm damage, I didn’t need to go far.  The local beach at Quendale has always been my place to go for a gentle stroll (this is a relative term, in the context of Shetland).  Over the last few weeks huge amounts of sand have been removed transforming the sandy slope down onto beach into a 5 or 6 foot drop - which I guess one might jump down but getting back up would be a bit of a challenge.  My recollection is that the sandy slope was smoothed in 4 or 5 years ago to make it possible to get an airport rescue boat into Quendale Bay if it was needed - not sure how that works at the moment.

Quendale Beach - dune damage
Quendale Beach - no way through

Although I’ve been referring to storms in the past tense - there was still plenty of current evidence of wind and accompanying waves over the last few days.  

I love being on Shetland at any time of year - but I’m particularly enamoured of days when there are big waves along with some sunshine to light up the white water.  In January,  that light when it comes is always low which can light up the landscape.

White Water - West Voe of Sumburgh
Golden Hour - Scat Ness
Breaking Waves - Scat Ness
Wind Blown - south end of the Ness of Burgi

One of the other things that can feature in Shetland are fabulous sunrises and sunsets - the clear horizons open up the option of seeing the sun rise out of (or descend) into the sea.  And at this time of year the sunrises happen at the remarkably civilised time of just before 09:00 - in the summer the sunrises really are far too early!

Sumburgh Head - just before sunrise
Sumburgh Head - just after sunrise

Trip 2 of 2020 is just a couple of weeks away - and it’s not to Shetland…

Back up North / 17th January 2020

It seems like ages since I faced up to the 03:30 alarm clock on a Friday.  As always, it's a struggle to get started at that time (it's a deeply unnatural time to get up) and even the cats look at me as if I've taken leave of my senses.

On the plus side, there's not much competition for seats on the early bus to Heathrow, the queues to get breakfast are short and there's a fighting chance that the Heathrow runway delays won't have started yet.  And the real bonus - there's a decent chance of being on Shetland before 11:00.

And so it was.  The connection went smoothly at Aberdeen and my little rental car was waiting for me at the airport, and by midday I had my boots on and was at Sumburgh Head taking pictures of the waves rolling into the West Voe of Sumburgh. And there was, for a while at least, some sunshine too.

The last couple of stays on Shetland have been characterised by the (near) absence of wind - but there is no shortage of wind at the moment.  The plane was shoogling entertainingly on the final approach, as a driver you need to remember how to park the car (for info - facing into wind so that the doors get blown shut rather than blown off - as the sign in the car reminds you "Damage will affect your excess") and as a pedestrian you need to make sure your hat doesn't blow away.

Waves rolling into West Voe of Sumburgh
Crashing In

And since no day at the south end of Shetland is complete without a visit to Scat Ness, that was my next stop.  I've enthused about Scat Ness on more blog posts than is sensible but as a place to watch and photograph waves there's nowhere I'd rather be, particularly when the seas are rolling in from the southwest with the wind following the waves in.

Blowing up a Storm - on Scat Ness
Incoming - Scat Ness
An hour watching the waves might not cure all life's ill - but it certainly takes you mind off them, at least for a while.  Highly recommended.

WaterSide / 10th January 2020

Having just spent a couple of days on a "Transitioning into Retirement" course - it seemed like a good idea to put some of the ideas/resolutions into practice, so (i) spending time outside, Check; (ii) getting more exercise, Check; (iii) taking more pictures, Check.  Just like a normal Friday.

Actually this retirement malarkey seems pretty easy - at least when the sun is shining and I don't have any aches and pains.

The initial plan was to walk via one of the scenic waterside routes into the central of Oxford - then spend time in a coffee shop reflecting on the pre-retirement course and to give a bit of thought to some of the longer distance walking projects I have in mind for the year.

From the Marston Cycle Track
Cherwell at Parson's Pleasure
Cherwell at Parson's Pleasure 
Cherwell at Parson's Pleasure

However, as I sat contemplating when to actually get on with one of the longer distance walks (specifically the Thames Path that I did some of a couple of years ago) I realised that I should stop sitting and get on with some walking.  So, I set off to the Head of the River in Oxford, and meandered my way past the college boathouses and towards Iffley Lock (stopping only briefly for lunch at the Iris Farmhouse!)

Head of the River, Oxford
Oxford College Boathouses
Iffley Lock
Outside the Isis Farmhouse
Iffley Lock
Not a particularly long walk, but lovely to be along the waterside in the sunshine, and it was also with first day this year that I've walked more than 20 km in a day.

I've set myself a target of 2000 miles for the year (yes, I know my units of measurement are inconsistent, but a target of 3219 km doesn't really work - 4000 is too much, and 3000 doesn't seem like enough of an increase on last year) which means averaging 5.5 miles or 8.8 km each day.

And by the end of day 10 of 2020, I'd clocked up 53 miles, I clearly need a few more 20km (or 12 mile) days to boost the average.

12 Days Wild

I would have, probably, got out for a walk each day during the Christmas / New Year holiday - but having the Wildlife Trusts encouragement to join in with 12 Days Wild, certainly didn't hurt.

And favourite picture - got to be #6 - 30th December, In the 'Tree Cathedral'.

Day 1 - 25th December - Garden Feeders
Day 2 - 26th December - Christ Church Meadows
Day 3 - 27th December - Basingstoke Canal
Day 4 - 28th December - Chinnor Hill
Day 5 - 29th December - C S Lewis Reserve
Day 6 - 30th December - Shotover County Park
Day 7 - 31st December - Bury Knowle Park
Day 8 - 1st January - Lye Valley 
Day 9 - 2nd January - 'Wild' London
Day 10 - 3rd January - Sydlings Copse
Day 11 - 4th January - River Cherwell
Day 12 - 5th January - Rock Edge

Sydlings Copse / 3rd January 2020

Friday Blog Number 10

Once you get into a new pattern, it starts to feel like the normal routine.  But I wasn't quite sure if this was 'typical' Friday or a 'typical' winter holiday day.

In any event, it's going come as a bit of a shock to the system having to return to my desk next Monday.

The morning started (not very early) with a slow wander around the very peaceful Sydlings Copse - after facing the crowds in London the quiet of the woodland was a definite relief.

When the weather in winter is calm and still, I always get the impression that the trees are just waiting for the next year to get started.

This year it's very noticeable that there are lots of buds and even hints of blossom around - getting temperatures in the mid-teens at the turn of the year is just wrong.  I don't think I've had to clear ice from the windscreen on any day yet - and while there has been some wild weather, I'm pretty sure that it's not really qualified as wild winter weather - I guess there's still time for snow to put in an appearance in Oxford,  but I've not see much suggestion that (in this sense at least) Winter is Coming.