Monthly Archives: August 2010

Hiking in the footsteps of St Paul

Last in the summer series of my forthcoming stories.

This week: trekking in Turkey.

The village elder

St Paul Trail sign, Muezzinler

One week earlier and several hundred kilometers north, I had been sipping freshly brewed tea on a shady terrace with Mustafa the muhtar (village elder).

The afternoon call to prayer echoed off the mountains, the local gasman pulled up a dusty truck to join us for a sugar-rush tea and Mustafa’s spiky-haired teenage son was animatedly describing his hopes for an influx of good-looking travellers on the trail signposted from the bottom of his village.

I’ll treasure those simple country pleasures, so rich in terms of experience but absurdly cheap in crude monetary terms. I drained my tea and shook hands with the family.

The smiles were genuine, not forced.

“Gule gule,” I said.

“Gule gule.”

Road sign, Kasimlar

Read more in the November issue of Wanderlust magazine.

Travel with Middle Earth Travel; information from the Turkish Culture & Tourism Office.

More images from my flickr photostream.


Filed under Travel writing

Look north in fashion-conscious Antwerp

More edited highlights from the summer workload as part of an ongoing series.

This week: urban regeneration and pure cocoa in Antwerp.

Tom Le Clef

Heading north

Antwerp may be the world’s fourth largest port but the buzz is all about café culture not containers.

A whole new district of the city, Het Eilandje (Small Island), the docklands to the north of the Old Town, is taking shape around the soon-to-open museum, Museum aan de Stroom (MAS).

To be fair, the urban renaissance is still a bit work in progress, but the slow-progress evolution is even tempting the traditionally reserved Antwerp residents to explore the shabby-chic north.

Tom Le Clef, manager of the Felixpakhuis lounge and restaurant, says: “People said we were crazy to open up here but now the area is really taking shape.”

Cocoa hit

Across town, another major new opening is The Chocolate Line, the new shop from chocolatier to the stars Dominique Persoone.

Next to the lavish displays of chi-chi chocs, the open kitchen lets visitors pick up some of the secrets of a chocolate-crafting master at work. If you’re adventurous, enquire about a pure cocoa hit from the chocolate shooter. Well, it was good enough for Keith Richards …

Dominique Persoone


Travel with Railbookers; information from Tourism Flanders-Brussels.

Read more in the Independent on Sunday on September 12.

Leave a comment

Filed under Tourism, Travel writing

Go on, go on, go on – an ecumenical tour of Aran

More edited highlights from the summer workload as part of an ongoing series.

This week: on the trail of saints, sinners and Father Ted in western Ireland.

Inis Oirr Father Ted tours

The illusive craic

Everyone who goes to the trio of Aran Islands is looking for something.

The saints and pilgrims came in search of early Christian spirituality. Before them, the Celtic fort builders sought to channel ancestral wisdom through limestone-carved monoliths. These days, some 250,000 visitors each year come in search of all-the illusive Irish critic.

I’m searching too: a high-season escape from the crowds, theme pubs and fiddle-de-dee leprechauns of western Ireland.

The Aran Islands, “three stepping stones out of Europe” as described by the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, are thought of as the last bastion of traditional Irish culture. “Ireland to the power of two,” says the historian Tim Robinson.

Craggy Island

Inis Oirr B&B

Of the three remote isles, Inis Oirr was chosen as Craggy Island, the setting for the TV comedy series, Father Ted.

It still hosts some events for the annual Tedfest and ecumenical tours of the TV locations are a year-round attraction.

They stop at the wreck of the SS Plessay, which features in the opening credits. The ship ran aground in March 1960, en route from Limerick to Galway.

Twisted and rusting, her hull gouged open by rock and her mast askew, she radiates the quiet pride of the islanders, who saved her crew from certain death.

Read more in a forthcoming issue of Coast Magazine.

1 Comment

Filed under Travel, Travel writing

On the heritage trail in Leeds

More edited highlights from the summer workload as part of an ongoing series.

This week I’m exploring heritage and urban regeneration in Leeds.

View of Leeds from Leeds City Museum

Designer labels

On a busy Saturday morning in the city’s Victoria Quarter, it is clear how Leeds has since been reborn: cappuccinos are frothed, designer labels displayed and shoppers enticed by the likes of Ted Baker and Vivienne Westwood.

The first Harvey Nichols to open outside London does brisk business. Crucially, the old heritage architecture of Frank Matcham’s flamboyant arcades and the sense of modern-urban style blend seamlessly.

Today, Leeds has recovered its civic pride and it’s not shy to flaunt it.

Dr Kevin Grady, Director of the Leeds Civic Trust, says: “I firmly believe if you stand at the top of Briggate and look down, you get the same sense as standing at the top of Las Ramblas in Barcelona.”

The heart of Leeds

With the tide of regeneration washing through the city, it’s easy to think of Leeds as a very organic city, but one history-rich little alleyway off Briggate remains virtually untouched by modernity.

Whitelocks, licence first granted in 1715

Whitelocks is the oldest pub in Leeds and it is listed on CAMRA’s national inventory as a pub of special merit. John Betjeman described it as “the very heart of Leeds”.

With its stained-glass windows, Art Deco ‘Luncheon Bar’ sign and Yorkshire’s Black Sheep ale on tap, it retains the ambiance of its Victorian heyday and offers an oasis of real ale and home-cooked food.

Long may it remain a little corner of the city that will be forever Leeds.

Read more

Check out the August issue of Heritage magazine for the full story.

Update: for bookings, see the website


Filed under Northern England, Travel writing

Here’s to another 80 years of Wainwright walks

First the apology: Hit the North has been quiet of late. External forces are to blame and thanks for hanging in there.

Normal service will resume from September 1st but, during August, I’m going to bring you some snippets of stories I’ve been working on while juggling numerous deadlines and various other things over the past six weeks or so.

You can read the final cut of these stories this autumn into winter. Follow me on Twitter for the URLs.

Wainwright’s footsteps

Wasdale Head Inn

On a fine day in 1930 a mild-mannered accounts clerk from Blackburn took a bus to Kendal and walked out to Orrest Head above Windermere, Cumbria.

It was a walk that would initiate a life-long affair with the Lake District, spawn a publishing phenomenon and, albeit rather unwittingly, inspire new generations of fell walkers to explore the Lakeland landscape.

I recently went to Wasdale, tucked into the remote southwestern fringe of the Lake District National Park, to mark 80 years since that first fateful walk. I was guided for the day by mountain guide Cathy Colam of Pace the Peaks.

The assignment was to tackle Haystacks, one of the Wainwright’s favourite peaks, from the Wasdale Head Inn and visit Innominate Tarn, just below the summit, where Wainwright himself chose for his ashes to be scattered.

Wainwright famously wrote:

‘For a man trying to get a persistent worry out of his mind, the top of Haystacks is a wonderful cure.’

Was it? Read the autumn issue of walk magazine for the lowdown.

Innominate Tarn, Haystacks

Leave a comment

Filed under Lake District, Travel writing