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…

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Best Loved West

As the wave hits, I spin and splutter. Fingers of freezing water sneak beneath my rubber armour. Blinking through the white-frothed blue, I see an even bigger swell bearing down, about to deliver another salty slap. Here it comes… Boooooooooooooooooof!

double-jump-768x467I love the West Country. I feel privileged to live in it. And would count walking around the edge of it (via the South West Coast Path) one of the best things I have ever done.

I also thoroughly enjoyed leaping off it, when I went coasteering along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. So it was a delight to write about this wet-n-wild experience for the latest Best Loved Hotel and Travel Guide. If my words inspire one more person to don a wetsuit and fling themselves (safely) amid the wild waves and ancient rocks, it will be a job well done!

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.

Top spots for Skyscanner

I was wanting to get in touch with you on the possibility of a writing commission, as I just read your lovely article on Tobago and then got distracted reading more of your work and looking at photos on your Twitter – I empathise with your cat-related computer incidents…

Lovely to get an email out of the blue, saying nice things about your words (and cats), and offering a batch of interesting work from a new client. Such was the case here: travel search site Skyscanner got in touch, and I ended up writing a series of web pieces for them, ranging in theme from St Lucia to Bristol. But not cats. Yet.