Caribbean challenge

And, as always, stay smiling and live life to the full…

P1 COVER LD4 lowIt’s been a horrific time in the Caribbean. Hurricanes Irma and Maria have battered the region, leaving thousands homeless.

Producing the latest issue of ZiNG (the inflight magazine of Caribbean airline LIAT) at this time was tricky – and, of course, completely unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But we had to assess how we dealt with disaster – which hit right at the end of our production schedule. A few articles had to be tweaked, and the forward features plan rewritten, to make sure upcoming issues of the magazine can be as much help as possible to communities trying to rebuild.

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Rail writings

Trains are a little bit like time machines. There’s just something about them that seems able to whisk us back to a bygone age when travel was new, exciting and overspilling with possibilities and romance…

519Trlhp8+LI love a good train trip. India, the USA, Switzerland, Clapham Junction… So a little earlier this year, I was thrilled at the publication of my second book, A History of the World in 500 Railway Journeys.

The rail rides compiled here tell the stories of our planet, from trips through ancient canyons to pootles along lines built by prisoners during the Second World War. Fascinating to research and, hopefully, an enjoyable read!

King of news

We will crush many myths. Not only the one about the horned helmets…

MonarchNewsPassport, Monarch Airlines’ inflight magazine, was given a new look recently. And the publisher asked me if I’d put together the new-look news section.

It was good to forage around the Monarch route network, looking for fun, topical and relevant stories, working out what would suit the client AND make a good read. It was a bit finger-in-the-air for the first issue, but having been asked to do the same for the following one, I was able to be a bit more creative and devise some regular formats, which I’ll hopefully get the chance to develop over time.

And who doesn’t love a story about Vikings?

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…

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!

I’ll tell you exactly where to go…

We’d so nearly booked to come in early June. I’d thought: that’ll be nice, surely? Start of summer, decent weather before the crowds descend, no? Well, not quite. As we sat sipping grappa on a high, sunny terrace, with a view of the spiky Dolomites spearing a cloudless blue sky, I was glad we’d waited until the start of July. By now, unlike in early June, the salubrious mountain huts and handy cablecars were all open for business; the high passes were mostly free of snow; the activities were all available; the wildflowers were rampant. Yet it still wasn’t busy. We raised our little glasses again. Saluti! A local toast to perfect timing.

61lrk9by56l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Travel? It’s all in the timing. That’s the theory behind Where To Go When, the book I’ve just written (with Paul Bloomfield) for Lonely Planet.

Broken down into 12 chapters – one for each month – there are ideas for all types and all budgets, suggesting the best places for sun, snow, festivals, wildlife spectacles, off-season bargains, in-season delicacies and all sorts of other things that may entice you to visit a certain place at a certain time. Lots of fun to write – though the flow charts were quite the challenge…

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.