Walking with the crowds

There was a lot of mud. There were bodies in bright outfits all shuffling together. And it was certainly noisy – the wind hollered and buffeted like heavy metal at full volume. But there ended the likeness to a traditional British festival. Up on the top of Mynydd Troed in February, I’d joined ramblers rather than ravers for this outdoors celebration, the Crickhowell Walking Festival. No camping. Better food. And a chance to discover whether countryside hiking – often undertaken to escape the crowds – is actually best done with other people.

crickhowell-walking-festival2-largeA walking festival, in Wales, in winter? A supremely soggy but super commission!

Walking festivals seem to be cropping up all over the place these days, and – as someone who usually prefers to walk alone – I was keen to find out what the fuss was about. So I pitched a piece on Crickhowell Walking Festival to the Telegraph, which involved heading to south Wales on a damp weekend to get out into the hills with a load of other people.

The result? Rain, of course. As well as excellent food and company, and the sort of scenery that’s a joy to behold  – and leaves you vowing to return on a weekend with better weather.

Accompanying the main first person piece was a round-up of other great walking festivals across the UK this year. Time to start planning…

Stone me!

Sitting atop a 180-year-old stallion, just off Britain’s ancient Ridgeway, I watched a man meditating inside an extraterrestrial doodle. From my vantage, by the rump of a huge chalk figure – Hackpen Hill’s White Horse – I saw the man stroll amid a crop circle of alien (or prankster?) flattened wheat before pausing in the centre to commune, I presumed, with Martians or Mother Nature. This is the sort of thing that happens when you go walking in Wiltshire, a county whose maps are scrawled with more gothic font than you can wave a dowsing rod at.

IMG_4593It’s funny. Sometimes you can spend an age coming up with exotic feature ideas about far-flung lands in an attempt to secure that editor’s commission. Then sometimes you just happen to go on a lovely little local walk, for fun, and subsequently manage to sell multiple pieces without even thinking about it.

When the boyfriend and I set off on the Great Stones Way (which runs from ‘exotic’ Swindon to Salisbury), it was for his belated birthday present. But I thought I’d take my notebook, just in case…

As so often happens when you’re not supposed to be travelling for work, the trip turned out to be a great story. When we got home, I pinged out a few emails and managed to place pieces with the Telegraph (extracted above), Wanderlust, Wild-Bounds.com and English Heritage. The perfect scenario.

So the moral of this tale? Obviously I need to pitch more stories on Swindon!

On an Italian high

There was nothing between me and the deep blue sky. A blue to make Farrow & Ball weep into their paint pots and surrender to the superiority of nature. Mountains reared all around: the dramatic immediacy of the Italian Dolomites, the frosted Austrian Alps in the distance. Meadows beamed with wildflowers and a metal cross marking the 2,157m summit of the Pralongià Plateau raised its arms to the heavens. I felt like doing the same.

SkyrunningThis may just be the most cushty commission I have ever had. “Sarah,” said the nice people at The Evening Standard, “would you like to stay at a glorious hotel in the even more glorious Italian Dolomites to run amid flower-filled fields and snow-peaks, and eat your own weight in Michelin-starred food?” Don’t mind if I do!

What a treat it was to spend a week in the Alta Badia valley, having adventures and scoffing copiously, all in the name of earning a living. Feeling grateful indeed.

Everything Easter

Raindrops on daffodils, whiskers on bunnies; bright copper-foiled chocolate and warm woollen mittens being ceremoniously shoved back in the drawer… these are a few of the many reasons to look forward to the Easter holidays…

ROSEBUD & MUM1Always nice to do a big, meaty round-up for the Telegraph. Especially one that involves bigging up the great British outdoors – from new lion encounters to kayaking over enormous aqueducts to strolling with llamas.

Tobago: just wizard

It was as if the Northern Lights had scooted down from the Arctic and dived right into the Caribbean, only this was a display I could command. Standing on my board, waving my paddle-wand and sending sorcerous shazams across the water, I felt like Gandalf.

Brilliant bioluminescence (Alamy)
Brilliant bioluminescence (Alamy)

I’ve done a far bit of travel. Tried a fair few different things. When it comes to trying unusual experiences, I’ve been pretty spoiled. So when you do something that manages to totally take even your bar-raised-quite-high breath away, it’s an utter delight, as I discovered when trying out stand-up paddleboarding with bioluminescence for the Independent. Wet magic.

Bigging up Bath

Turn your back on Bath Abbey’s fancy façade, heading past the Roman Baths to veer left on to bustling Stall Street. Hang a right on Upper Borough Walls to see a remaining smidgen of Bath’s medieval fortifications, before heading northwards to comely Queen Square, its obelisk and boules court freshly restored in 2014.

Ah, lovely to get a commission to write about my home town. Writing a 48 Hours in Bath piece for the Independent meant being able to cram in some of my personal favourite places alongside the more touristy must-sees. More Bath commissions please!

Time travelling

What the 13th century wayfaring folk of Wiltshire would make of this, heaven only knows. As I swayed, slightly seasickly, in Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, staring into a 3D fantasy that responded to every swivel of my head, I wasn’t sure what I made of it. Was this the future of hotel entertainment? Was it what future travellers would demand? Was I about to fall over?

futurehotels4_460_3179883aAn interesting commission, this. A call from the Telegraph: how do you fancy a day-trip to Newport? The glamour! But, actually, lots of fun. I was off to Best Western’s annual hoteliers’ conference, to try out the gadgets in its ‘Inspiration Hotel’ display – its vision of the hotels of the future. I played with Li-Fi (the next big thing, apparently), Mi-Fi (umm…), 3D headsets (ridiculous!), language-translation wristbands (handy) and, er, a coffee machine that could remember if I took milk and sugar. My favourite? The smart table that enabled me to design my perfect burger!