Rainbow in the Lakes

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In the middle of May, I went to the Lake District (again).  It has now been three and a half years since our first trip in February of 2014, but now I have learned a new appreciation for the Lakes, and yes this Island on which I live.

The shapes and the colours of the Lake District change so quickly with little notice or expectation that every hill pass and curve in the trail evokes a curiosity that needs to be quenched.  What’s it like on top of that peak?  What’s down that gulley?  Where does that trail go?  With hours of nothing to do besides walk, there is the freedom to follow a sheep’s path or scramble up a cragg.

The area around Keswick and in the neighbouring valleys were blanketed with bluebells, newborn lambs, and lots of rainbow rocks.  After laying down three of my rainbow markers, with the help of some good friends, a real rainbow appeared right in front of us!  It was if we had performed the sacred ceremony of the rainbow and evoked its powers!

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🌈Steph

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Winter Retreat 2016

 

 

Back in September I had this premonition that I would want to be alone for a few days as soon as school let out for the winter break.  I made a reservation at a retreat center and timed it perfectly so I could leave directly from school on December 16th, get on a train, and head straight to the countryside for a weekend of alone time.

The retreat center is called Witherdens Hall and is located about 20 minutes from Canterbury near a small village called Wingham.  I started out the day with a reflexology appointment, that I was able to have right at the retreat center!  (Staying in pajamas until noon anyone?) I’ve never had a reflexology appointment, but it was so amazing and one of the most relaxing experiences ever.  After that, I spent the sunny day walking from village to village, bird watching, and avoiding the shots from the pheasant hunters.  I wrote and read a ton and did about four hours of yoga over the course of the weekend.  I made my own meals in the fully equipped kitchen and completely unplugged.

I have to admit, it was a bit scary.  I think we all think to ourselves that having all of that time alone would be nice, but it is quite tempting with the first ping of loneliness to turn on the TV, text someone, or check Facebook.  What’s really amazing is if you don’t answer that loneliness right away, great creativity can emerge.

I highly recommend a winter retreat for everyone.  You can even do it from your own home (which is what I usually do). You can read a suggestion for a winter retreat, as well as retreats for other seasons in Sara Avant Stover’s The Way of the Happy Woman.  I personally used some of the suggestions, but tried not to set a schedule and just go with the flow.

Beacon of Light

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As we crossed over the muddy field on the Brecon Beacon trail in Wales, the sun began to warm our hands and dry out our clothes.  My face became hot and my cheeks became puffy, which often happens to me while I’m hiking and it turns from cold to warm.  One of the students shouts, “Look, there’s a rainbow!”  I turn to my right and see this amazing rainbow.  Of course in the picture it’s not as bright and vibrant.  This rainbow stayed with us for about a mile and we climbed the hill. When we turned around to look back at it, we could see the end of the rainbow, where it almost met the ground.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this moment in the modern age, is that no one wanted to take a picture.  I’m standing with 12 teenagers on a mountain, and no one suggests getting a picture, we all just look at it and begin to talk about leprechauns, belief in the supernatural, cultural differences around spirituality, and physics of light.

This was not the only moment on my four day backpacking adventure that gave me hope for the future of humanity.  I hear over and over again, “Kids today ______.”  (Spend too much time on technology, don’t know how to enjoy the outdoors, prefer virtual conversations versus real ones.)  And on and on and on.  But as adults, it is our responsibility to provide them with the opportunities to explore nature, unplug, put them in situations where they must talk face to face, teach them empathy and social skills.  Because guess what?  When we give them that opportunity they take it!  Not only do they take it, they love it.

Here are some more photos from our trip on the Brecon Beacon Trail

🌈 Steph

Red: Rosehips

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Rosehips are in bloom all over the UK right now.  Last week, on a backpacking trip to Wales, I ordered a Ploughman’s and on the platter there were rosehips in the salad.  At the time, I didn’t know what the sweet and tart little morsels were.  Yesterday, Andrew and I went on a bird watching trip to Rye Meads and I saw these growing.  I have since identified them as the same berries on my Ploughman’s and therefore as rosehips.  I could be completely wrong, and if I am, please let me know.

I know rosehips are used in naturopathy as a mood stabilizer and in my moisturizer as a smoothing oil.  Here’s to multi-use plants.

🌈 Steph

 

Dartmoor: A Ghost Story

I’ve heard of Dartmoor as the setting for the Hound of the Baskervilles.  I was pretty excited to go there.  Even as we were driving in I was having a pretty good feeling.  But this is the story of why I won’t be going back by choice any time soon.

As we approached some of the towns in Dartmoor, it became clear that this was not just a cutesy touristy area of natural beauty.  The first landmark we come upon was a huge, imposing prison looking out over the moor.  This place is dark.  It’s actually still a high security prison that has a reputation for being inescapable.  But in fact, there was an escape:  The Mad Axeman.  This man was never recaptured.  Great.

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Next, we pulled up to our B & B, a really, really old farmhouse.  The first thing the host said to us was, “Welcome.”  The second thing she said to us was, “You better lock your car doors.”  It was the moment in those horror movies when you get your first warning, but don’t think much of it.

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The B & B

Then we walked around for a little while, went to a 600 year old pub, had a nice dinner.  It was June 21st, so really close to the longest day of the year and it was pretty nice out.  So around 10 o’clock, there wasn’t really anything else to do so Andrew and I decided to go on a walk.  We headed down the lane to this other little farm and we saw a sweet little foal and goo-goo-gaga-ed at it for a while.  It seemed sudden, but the darkness crept upon us. I was overcome with thoughts of What was that?  What was that?!  It could be the Mad Axeman. I could tell Andrew was creeped out as well.  We began to walk faster back toward the farmhouse.  Then one of us, I’m not sure which one, says “I’m actually really scared of who we might meet on this road.”  We’ve been warned to lock our car about three seconds after arrival, and this is a town of like 20 people, so you know that our host has inside knowledge of people that go around stealing from cars, perhaps even one of her relatives, and we feel an urgent need to get inside.

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Tom Cobley, one of the stories of Dartmoor

A few hours later, we were trying to sleep, and I kept hearing someone in the bathtub sploshing around.  Now lets backup.  We have a shared bathroom at this place and when we arrived, the host said that there is this guy “Chris” who is going to be staying here with us, but he won’t bother us.  So again, this is weird.  I hear the sploshing and Andrew says, “Maybe it’s Chris.”  I fall back asleep and wake up a few hours later and I can hear the sploshing again.  All I can think of is that I can’t go to the bathroom because Chris is still in the bathtub.  In the morning I go into the bathroom and I look in the bathtub to look for evidence of water droplets.  Nothing.

Something strange was afoot there.  When we drove away I had one of those overwhelming senses of relief, just like I get every time a plane lands.

I’m not going back to Dartmoor unless I can guarantee an encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch, but I fully support anyone who loves this unique part of the world.

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Sherlock and Watson in the Hound of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor

Love, Steph

p.s.  Update:  The Mad Axeman was murdered by these guys.

p.p.s.  The people of the unmentioned town we stayed in were actually lovely and helpful.  This was my own experience of Dartmoor as seen in 24 hours.  Although experiencing a rise in wealth, Dartmoor has been a rural area of economic hardship, its main economy being tourism and agriculture.  Nobody we ran into there was scary, but like in many very isolated communities that thrive on tourism, there was a general insider vs. outsider vibe that comes with the territory.

White mountain

DSC00771We recently journeyed to a sleepy little ski town known to few outside of France.  While this time of year often leaves us desperately searching for warmth on a tropical island, instead we decided to embrace winter and all it has to offer.

A bus (following a 3.5 hour train ride) was our only option.  It is in lieu of the former train line that carried people to the little mountain towns.  It is a harrowing hour and 45 minute ride that steadily climbs up cliff sides and winds around mountain passes.  As you drive higher and higher, the snow gradually piles up while the temperature reader on the bus marquee gradually counts down from 6 degrees celsius.  When you finally reach the summit, you are met with sweeping views of this volcanic region which includes craters and rocky crags.  By the time we pulled into the town, the bus said it was one degree celsius outside and it was bright and sunny.

Despite the beauty with which we were surrounded, we worried we had a made a mistake.  We didn’t really understand what was going on in this town and we went into three or four restaurants only to be turned away for some unknown reason.  Not, “would you like to wait for a table?” but instead, “No we’re full.”  But everything (or nothing) happens for a reason and we ended up at a charming little pizzeria where we were seated next to the only other English speaking couple in town.  “How did you know about this place?!” asked a cool, ski-bum-esque couple from Nottingham.  When we explained we were only here because Andrew is playing at the Jazz Festival, they seemed a bit relieved.  They went on to explain that they have come  to this area for the past three years because it is cheap and largely unknown.  “The first time we came here, I saw a guy skiing down the mountain in all denim with a cigarette in his ear.” Yes, typical France.

We basically went cross country skiing, hiking, and walking to three beautiful waterfalls, all pictured in the following photos.  The blistering cold, the shimmery frost, and the sometimes powdery snow left us worshipping the White Witch.  Bring on the Winter!

 

 

 

 

Rainbow roundup: 2015

 

2015 has had a a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns.  Here’s where I travelled, in order, from January to December and how I rated the trips on a scale of 1-10.

Bruges, Belgium: semi disastrous, overly touristy, freezing cold, mediocre food = 2/10, not recommended

Orlando, FL: bad conference, terrifyingly un-eco-friendly, was uplifted by seeing an old friend and the sunshine = 4/10, not recommended

Tring, England (Champneys Health Spa with 70% off Vitality Health Insurance):  English country estate, super discount, healthy food, massages, sauna, brokedown trains, expensive taxi, lukewarm hot tub = 6/10, recommended only if you can get the discount

Edinburgh, Scotland:  Seeing old friends, eating great food, hidden gin bar, camp songs, gardens, Goldsworthy, and great art = 9/10, highly recommended

Bornholm, Denmark:  Good friends, food halls, island life, biking for transport, sea, white sand, new moon rituals, cabin with fireplace, hiking, ancient forest = 10/10, must see!

Seven Sisters, Rye and driving East Sussex: nice hike, beautiful views, warm weather, friendly people = 9/10, must see for second-time visitors to England and/or for nature enthusiasts

Jackson, Wyoming:  I wouldn’t recommend flying to Jackson from London for three nights, but I would recommend this trip, which is one of the most beautiful places in America.  Also, I got to see my best friend get married = 10/10

Aldeburgh, England: birdwatching, cosy cottage, long walks, friendly people = 10/10, Suffolk is the place to go to get out of London! We loved it so much we went twice = 10/10

Staycation, Muswell Hill, London:  For those of you who don’t know, we moved!  Finally, after dealing with a flat that had a dysfunctional toilet, a nosey landlord, loud upstairs neighbors, and a neighborhood with literally nothing to do, we have moved to the sweet, fairytale land of Muswell Hill.  Situated on tip of a high hill, near Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill is a little refuge out of London.  We love it so much that we cancelled our Thanksgiving to Paris just so we could revel in the glory that is our new flat and ‘hood.  Finally, after 2.5 years, we feel like we have come home!

What’s next for 2016?

Mont Dore, France in February. Will there be snow?!

Scottish Highlands in March.  Will there be rain?!

We’re thinking of a little trip to Italy or perhaps Malta again for the summer, but then again, we’re being pulled back to Denmark.  Any ideas?!  So many places to go!

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

The North Yorkshire Moors

Last weekend, I organized a retreat for my student leaders to the North Yorkshire Moors.  The photos that you see are taken by a student (a true sign that we need a good camera).  Purple heather, lone trees, dense forests, a lake, getting lost for 14 miles, shooting stars, solo walks, night hikes, and endless blackberries were highlights for us.  I would definitely return to this unique and special landscape.

Holm Sweet Holm

Well done, Scandanavia…Again!  All of our best travel experiences have been to Scandanavia and this is the best one yet!  The island of Bornholm is a small island in the Baltic sea, about 1.5 hours by ferry from Sweden and Germany.  So it’s really in the middle there.  There’s something so special about these island communities that are not easily accessed (think Vancouver Island).  Just far enough to have its own identity and just large enough to have a culture and flourishing community, Bornholm is full of wonderful people, sweeping vistas, white sandy beaches, dense forests, and plenty of smoked meats and fish to go around.  What’s even better is that it’s probably not on your list of places to go, which means a more affordable and non-touristy vacation for us.  In fact, when we were waiting out a rainstorm at a hot dog kiosk this guy said, “Are you American?!  I think we had Americans here before…How did you even find this place?” Yes, it was awesome.

Bornholm in rainbow order:

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Red bikes.  We rented bikes for the entire week and spent every day biking for hours and hours.  We pedaled through rolling hills overlooking the sea, through old growth forests with hidden deer, along the coast, past windmills and round churches, and through quaint towns.  Even though we were barely able to walk every night, there was something really satisfying about knowing we had spent the whole day getting around without a car.  Plus, coasting down those hills at sunset was breath taking!

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Orange fire.  We rented a small cabin in the forest at Balka Beach from an AirB&B host.  Each morning I was the first to wake up and I would go out on the porch and sit in the sun with my tea journaling.  White/pied wagtails and a willow warbler visited me every morning.  Don’t be deceived by the pictures though:  it was cold!  At night we had roaring fires, so hot we needed to open the windows!  Andrew and Scott played chess by the fire and it was super Hygge.

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Yellow rocks.  One of the days we went to Svaneke, a little harbor town with beautiful coastline that you can walk along.  After a nice meal at the Rogeri, we climbed on the rocks, basked in the sun, and dreamed of opening a commune on this island!

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Green hillsides.  The whole island of Bornholm was lush and green, providing rolling green hillsides.  When you’re on a bike, it seems like everything is uphill, but with the surrounding scenery, it was magical!  The best day on bikes was this day (pictured here).  We rode for hours through an ancient forest to the center of the island where there is a farmhouse.  There is a restaurant where you can order, you guessed it, smoked meats.  While we were eating, the owner came out to talk to us and explained his process of meat smoking.  What an amazing place, you can read about it here.

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Blue sea.  This was not at all what I was expecting.  I thought the Baltic Sea  would look grey and foreboding.  However, it looks clear, blue, and tropical.  The beaches have white sand.  In fact, if you have an hour glass, chances are the sand inside of it comes from Bornholm.  It’s so soft and clean.  We biked to Dueodde beach (we just went with “dude” beach) and found a sand dune to lie in to protect us from the wind.

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Purple skies.  One of the coolest places to watch birds was along the bike path leading into town from our cabin.  There were always at least three cormorants drying their wings on the rocks offshore.  We always happened to be biking by near twilight when the sky was purply and the water was calm, reflecting the light.  I know, it doesn’t look purple in this picture.

In case you’re not convinced yet, click on the gallery below to see more pictures of our amazing trip.  Note:  if the photos seem better quality to you this time it’s because there were all taken by Scott Hardingham.  Andrew and I need to get a better camera!

What the Suffolk?

Now that we have our car, we can go on road trips!  Last Friday we decided to seek out Dedham Vale, also known as Constable Country, where painter John Constable grew up.  He was well known for painting this idyllic country side.  To brush up for this trip, I made sure to update myself on the most famous Constables, and because we live in London, I went to see them in person:

I have to say walking the 2.5 mile path through fields and across the River Stour was inspirational!  I felt like Constable and I would be friends in a different life.  He was a guy who wanted to live in the country and paint his homeland but had to move to London to learn to paint and to be taken seriously.  We had a few adventures on this walk.  The main was getting shut out by cows in our path, forcing us to make our 2.5 mile trip into a 4 miles trip:

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The second adventure was Andrew siting on a freshly made bale of hay:

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We thought, “Why stop there?”  So we took our car and explored Suffolk further.  Our first stop was “The House in the Clouds”, pictured above, which led us to the cute town of Aldeburgh for lunch:

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After a stop there, we got a call from a friend who told us, “You are in the best place in the world.”  Quite a statement, but we were pumped to continue exploring.  We set our sites on the town of Snape:

What an amazing place for an artistic compound.  It is basically and old malt mill that has been converted into artistic spaces, a music venue, sculpture garden and retail shops.  Again, we were surprised at how non-tacky these little Suffolk towns were.

After Snape, we were in the mood for a castle and a coastline, so we headed to Orford where we saw Orford Castle, a little quay, and bought some smoked mackerel:

Getting out of London is a new concept for us, and we love it!  In such a small amount of time, you are in such a different kind of place. We can’t wait to do more trips like this before the summer is over! Suffolk, who knew?