Pembrokeshire

Words & photographs by Rhys Thomas

Growing up in south-west Wales, just east of Pembrokeshire, in ‘the sleepy town of Laugharne’, I was always restless. Playing in the woods may seem idyllic … until it rains and living a stone’s throw from a plethora of beaches might sound like paradise … until the 17-year old you swallows a little too much sea water mid surf.

But after living away from the area for the best part of two years, I started to yearn for salt air and open space – indeed, the fact that I no longer have that pair of shoes sitting in their permanently mud-topped-with-sand state in the utility room made me realise that something was missing. Home was calling. And so, craving the salt and the sea, I booked my ticket and set out on a jaunt along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.  

After an evening catch up with my parents (duty calls), I headed to Amroth, a small water-side village and the south-eastern starting point of the trail. I arrived at 6 a.m. to overcast skies, the pebbled beach only a few shades lighter than the charcoal clouds and olive green sea. Spying one couple taking a morning stroll through the village, I felt emboldened and set off upon confidence-boosting terrain. It didn’t take long for the world to wake around me – within a mile I was meeting walkers from the opposite direction, exchanging ‘good mornings’ and being sniffed around the ankles by their dogs (for the right reasons I hope). 

Eventually I reached Saundersfoot with its bustling harbour and quiet beaches. It was here that the wind picked up, carrying the salt that I love. Continuing through woodland full of wild garlic and pine tree, I took a moment to savour these earthy scents. Turning the corner and reaching sea level, my next destination revealed itself. Tenby’s charm is in its cobbled roads, dainty cafes and community spirit – but it’s Tenby Harbour that I found most beautiful. Quite possibly one of Europe’s best beaches, it is surrounded colourful terraces (one of which has featured on Grand Designs) and boasts a lifeboat station that stretches out into the sea. I chose to pause here, put my camera to good use, and indulge in some breakfast at The Mooring on High Street. 

Tenby felt perfectly secluded and my second day of walking was filled with equally peaceful finds. Having made my way as far as Barafundel Bay, I spied families picnicking on the grass and sand while admiring the time-and-water-worn cliffs. Continuing up into the hills, greenery took over as the path disappeared into the forest, taking in lily ponds and lakes. A few miles on I stumbled upon (and might well have missed if I wasn’t in the know) St Govan’s Chapel. This curious, heartwarming piece of architecture was carved from the cliffs in the 12th century and the view of the sea through its window is absolutely awe-inspiring. The site was deserted when I arrived so I stayed to watch the sun descend, the waves crashing below while gulls socialised above. I can see why people would carve through a cliff to make such a place and thank them, 900 years on, for their efforts. 

Diverting from the coast slightly I came upon St David’s Cathedral, located within the UKs smallest city, which bears the same name. The cathedral honours the patron saint of Wales while the city offers cafes and views aplenty. Nearby is Abereiddy Beach, the penultimate destination on my journey – the final stop being the creative town of Cardigan where I celebrated the end of my hike with a meal at Pizza Tipi. Abereiddy Beach and its ‘blue lagoon’ are hotspots for those with a penchant for extreme sports. Red Bull hosted a cliff diving event recently and the site is always full of hobbyists kayaking, surfing, swimming and cliff diving the hours away. I realised here that this area is frequented by people who have chosen tranquility over city madness. Everyone I encountered was kind, caring and humble, and clearly in love with their little corner of the world. And so they should be. 

I vow to return home again soon …

You can see more of Rhys’ work here.

Loch Lomond

As lovers of literature, escape and Scotland in general we were delighted to come across a new series of literary guides for travellers from I.B.Tauris. When it comes to independent travel, with a dash of history, these books are sure to inspire a spot of creative wanderlust. Below is an extract from Garry MacKenzie‘s guide to Scotland, a delightful read that explores the literary allure of Loch Lomond. We’ve run it with a selection of images from our own Scotland magazine – oh to return to those bonnie braes! 

Jules Verne, the famed French author of Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, loved Scotland and even claimed Scottish ancestry. He set three of his lesser-known novels in the country. The earliest of these is a fictionalised account of his own travels in Scotland in 1859, a work that lay forgotten for well over a century before being rediscovered and published in France in 1989. In 1992, Janice Valls-Russell’s English translation, titled Backwards to Britain, was released. Verne’s impressions of Scotland are narrated by a character named Jacques Lavaret, who travels with a friend from Edinburgh to Glasgow and then on to the Trossachs, visiting landmarks such as Arthur’s Seat, Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. Jacques, like Verne, is passionately excited about being in Scotland, to the extent that he even waxes lyrical about a steam-operated sausage machine in a Glasgow butcher’s window: ‘“What a people,” Jacques exclaimed. “What genius to apply steam to charcuterie! No wonder the British are the masters of the world!”’ Upon reaching Loch Lomond, the two travellers sail from Balloch, on the southern shore, and Jacques can’t help being reminded of ‘his favourite novels’, including Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, and anyone seeking similarities between Verne’s writing and that of Scott will and them in this description of the loch:

The first, overwhelming impression of Loch Lomond is of countless delightful islands of every shape and size imaginable. The Prince Albert weaved its way between them, skirting their rugged outlines and revealing a myriad different countrysides: here a fertile plain, there a solitary glen, elsewhere a forbidding ravine bristling with age-old rocks. Ancient legends clung to every shore, and the history of this land is written in these gigantic characters of islands and mountains.

The large area of Loch Lomond, and its position on the Highland Boundary Fault, mean that it feels less like a single body of water than like a series of interconnected lochs with changing characteristics. At its southern end it’s broad and surrounded by fields and parkland. As Verne points out, there are numerous islands, some of which are inhabited and many of which can be visited on boat trips. The south of Loch Lomond is busy with yachts and jet skis; on a sunny day the villages and pubs on its shores are filled with Glaswegians escaping the city.

The northern half of the loch is very different. About a third of the way up it narrows, and slopes rise on either side for almost 1,000 metres to form the mountains of Ben Lomond and Ben Vorlich. Lochside fields give way to wooded crags and banks of ferns. There are fewer pleasure boats on the water. On the eastern bank the road ends altogether at the hamlet of Rowardennan and only a rough footpath continues northwards to another settlement, Inversnaid. In Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, the rough country to the east of Loch Lomond is the territory of the eponymous outlaw, a real historical figure whom Scott describes as a Robin Hood character, a ‘kind and gentle robber’. Rob Roy MacGregor lived in the early eighteenth century and was both a cattle drover and, latterly, a cattle thief who earned a living by rustling. He’s the presiding spirit, but not really the hero, of Scott’s novel. Instead much of the action follows Frank Osbaldistone, a young Englishman caught up in intrigue involving Jacobites.

Such was the popularity of Scott’s Highland romance that countless tourists sought out its landscapes for themselves. ‘We ought to traverse the district novel in hand,’ says one Victorian guidebook of ‘Rob Roy’s country’, searching for locations such as ‘the precise spot where Francis Osbaldistone for a moment pressed the flushed cheek of Diana Vernon’. In the summer of 1817, the year before the novel was published, Scott came here himself, visiting ‘Rob Roy’s Cave’, not far from Inversnaid. The cave is one of countless landmarks in the area associated with Rob, an indication of his reputation as a folk hero. It’s allegedly one of his hideouts, though there might be little truth in this – it’s really just a cleft in a pile of boulders, and for visitors today the solitude of the location is more rewarding than the cave itself. Scott himself may have been disappointed by the cave, as he didn’t even mention it in his novel. For those seeking the real Rob Roy, a good place to start is Balquhidder, a quiet village an hour’s drive north of Aberfoyle, at the eastern end of Loch Voil. Rob Roy farmed at Balquhidder and his grave lies in the village church.

For hikers on the West Highland Way, the 100-mile footpath from Glasgow to Fort William, Inversnaid is something of an oasis, the only natural stopping point on the lochside on the rough path north from Rowardennan, and the site of a hotel and a cosy bunkhouse. In 1881 a young Jesuit priest based in Glasgow, Gerard Manley Hopkins, stopped briefly at Inversnaid. Hopkins found life in the big city oppressive and came north with a yearning for wilderness. His poem ‘Inversnaid’, with his distinctive rhythmical stresses, is a brilliant evocation of the sounds, colours and movements of the waterfall at the edge of this hamlet where Arklet Water cascades into Loch Lomond:

This darksome burn, horseback brown,

His rollrock highroad roaring down,

In coop and in comb the eece of his foam

Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

[. . .]

What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wilderness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wilderness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Today a bridge crosses in front of the waterfall, affording spectacular views. Inversnaid itself is difficult to reach – visitors must either walk here from Rowardennan, navigate a long and twisting road from Aberfoyle or take a ferry from Tarbet on the western shore. As a proto-environmentalist Hopkins would be pleased that Inversnaid now lies within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which was established in 2002.

 

There are less than 30 copies of the Lodestars Anthology Scotland magazine remaining and you can grab your copy here.

To get your hands on one of these brilliant guides from I.B. Tauris click here, the code Lodestars30 will also get you 30 percent off. Brilliance. 

Foragers of the Ballinskelligs

Photo essay by Johan van der Merwe & Tanya Houghton

‘Foragers of the Ballinskelligs’ is the first collaboration between London-based photographer Tanya Houghton and food stylist Johan van der Merwe. Having bonded over a shared passion for wild landscapes and the bounty they offer, the duo set out to produce a body of work that focuses on foraging along the Kerry coastline in Ireland.

Ballinskelligs (originally Baile en Sceilg, which translates to ‘place or village on the craggy rock’) has a wilderness-rich landscape, an amalgamation of coastline, mountains and huge areas of undisturbed bog land and forest. In awe of the landscape’s history and inspired by the diets of early settlers, van der Merwe and Houghton combined their knowledge and set out to forage for and catalogue some of the area’s edible flora and fauna, which includes shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters) and a wide range of highly nutritious seaweed.

Van der Merwe creates his recipes for the project using only the ingredients found foraging, while drawing on his rich culinary background. These dishes are one of the focal points of Houghton’s images, sitting alongside photographs of the landscape in which they were found. The resulting body of work is the first chapter in a continuing series by the duo to catalogue a year’s worth of seasonal foraging in this wild Irish landscape.

You can view more of Tanya’s work here and catch Johan’s food styling here.

Borough Market

Photo essay by Sébastien Dubois-Didcock

Tucked beneath the Thames Link Bridge in central London lies one of the most intriguing food markets I have ever had the chance to visit. This place, caught between the modern world and what I imagine a medieval London would have once looked like (although much, much cleaner) has, in many ways, captured everything I love about food. It is a culinary oasis in the heart of the city that continually draws me back. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about Borough Market.

I was first introduced to Borough Market by a friend who took me there to cure our jet lag with some good eats. Walking the small, winding paths that guided us from stall to stall, I was overcome by the variety of beautiful smelling food on offer. Pork sandwiches, vegetable curries, pad thais, Spanish paellas, freshly baked breads and, of course, mountains of warm pastries. There was something to make your mouth water at every turn.

Now, most people who have been to Borough understand that making a decision about what to eat isn’t always an easy task. And they’re not exaggerating. I could literally spend a week there and not have the same food twice; that was my experience on this most recent visit to London.

Waking up early to battle the morning commute to London Bridge was a necessary evil, given what awaited me at Borough. Wandering around as the merchants set up for the midday rush revealed why this market feels so different to the many I’ve encountered on my travels. Mixed in with the sounds of whistling coffee machines and the smells of aromatic spices was a deep appreciation of and respect for food and tradition. There isn’t a rush to set up stalls. Instead there is a sense of thoughtfulness and purpose. It was these instances, during my mornings at Borough, that made me recognise how much this London market values the food it offers and how this in turn helps to create the energy and atmosphere that makes it unique. 

Come lunchtime, the market’s energy changes from quiet reverence to organised chaos. As I made my way through the crowd of people pondering what to enjoy, freshly cooked delicacies enticed me from one stall to the next. This game of culinary tiki-taka quickly overwhelmed my senses, before I realised that I too could not decide what I wanted to eat.

When you get a chance to sit back and take in the Borough Market atmosphere you’ll be taken with the buzz, friendliness and foodie adoration. There is something about this place that makes people slow down and enjoy the time they spend eating; something that isn’t very common in a large metropolis. Most importantly, it is in places like this that one can witness the true power of food – where issues are set aside and a sense of community is created through a collective need. That is where Borough Market has found its strength, by bringing people together through food and a passion for doing it right.

Lofoten

Words and photographs by Lise Ulrich

Driving around the archipelago of Lofoten in the Norwegian county of Nordland on a midsummer’s day is at once as wondrous and soul soothing an experience as it is near exhausting for the shutter-happy landscape photographer.

Jam-packed with jagged mountaintops, majestic fiords, quaint fishing villages and coloured wooden houses, Lofoten deserves every bit of the hype it’s generating as one of Norway’s most spectacular points of interest – and in a country known for its overall natural splendour, that is saying quite a lot.

In June, Lofoten bursts with every nuance of green, patches of yellow, white and blue flowers sprinkled in the fields. But watch out for those low-hanging clouds; volatile weather changes are common on the archipelago and a mild summer breeze can turn into a menacing gale in minutes, dramatically transforming the waters and colours of the fiords to the sounds of eagle cries above.

Despite being located a whopping 1,364 kilometres north of capital Oslo and well above the Arctic Circle (most visitors fly in from the city of Bodø), Lofoten’s largest town Svolvær, with a population of about 4,200, is bustling, with many young families and creatives moving to the area. Once you have experienced the archipelago for yourself, you will seriously consider joining them.

Taking to the waters of Trollfjorden is a must on Lofoten. Surrounded by steep mountainsides and rocky cliffs, the fiord is an ideal place for spotting eagles as well as absorbing some local history: A vicious battle was fought here in 1890 when the first industrial, steam-driven fishing ships and teams of traditional open-boat fishermen rowed over access to the fiord. One guess as to who came out victorious.

Although a tiny fishing village with only 500 residents, Henningsvær boasts an internationally renowned modern art museum, Kaviar Factory, as well as a surprisingly hip bohemian vibe thanks to a steady influx of rock climbers and surfers alike.

Explore Lofoten like the old settlers did: On horseback. Back in the day, seafaring Vikings actually imported the sturdy Icelandic horses from Lofoten to Iceland. Hovhestegard.no

In the village of Vikten, visitors can sample local glassware at Glasshytta Vikten.

The minute village of Nusfjord, population 37, is one of the oldest fishing villages in Norway, with houses dating back to the early 1800s.

Eating in Ortygia

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley.

I’ve come back to Ortygia to eat. It’s been a year since I first visited this the historical centre of Syracuse, arguably the prettiest city in all of Sicily. Back then I was here for the history, stomping around the impressive Duomo, replete with its mishmash of Greek and Baroque styles, and the ubiquitous archeological sites whose ruins tell the story of the Italian city’s lengthy and chequered past.

This time, however, I am here to imbibe – and imbibe I did: mind, body and soul. I visit the daily food market and bite into a tomato as if it were an apple, the juice running down my chin. I watch in awe as the purveyor of sea urchins makes like work of his product, cutting open each spiny creature with a pair of rusty scissors to reveal the delicacy within. Freshly caught squid and octopus squirm and glisten. Salted fish, spiced olives and oranges as bright as the centre of the sun draw my attention in equal measure.

I walk along the ancient walls spooning gelati into my mouth. I sip a negroni as the sun sets over the water. I pester a chef to teach me how to make the perfect spaghetti ai vongole. His secret: crushed garlic, fresh clams and cherry tomatoes (when they’re season) flash fried in a pan with olive oil his wife’s family make and some salt water from the pasta pot. Try as I might and despite its simplicity, this perfect dish is something I’ll struggle to recreate at home. Looks like I’ll have to come back.

If you’d like to read more of our Italian adventures, you can order our Italy Issue here.

 

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Spring sunshine in Faro

Words and photographs by Kate McAuley

Given its underwhelming popularity, it would be easy for Faro, the capital of Portugal’s Algarve, to have an inferiority complex, but it continues to hold its own. At the airport, as the hoards to tourists head west, lured by the region’s epic beaches and resort towns, I breathe a sigh of relief and take a short taxi ride into the sleepy port town that is to be my home for the next three days. 

I’d been to Faro before, so when it popped up as a relatively cheap destination for a few days of spring sunshine following a fairly dismal London winter, I didn’t hesitate. With memories of clams cooked in butter, white wine and garlic, and endless blue skies, I knew it would be the perfect salve. 

With its broken cobbled streets, ubiquitous graffiti and decaying buildings, it’s hard to call Faro pretty. The town has the rundown feeling of a place forgotten, but there are pockets of beauty if you take the time to look. On the pedestrianised streets by the marina, I eat freshly baked pasteis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts) while inside Faro’s ancient walls, I walk past the fruiting orange trees by the cathedral to drink a glass of vinho verde as the sun sets over the water. I eat the aforementioned clams at every meal they’re offered – invariably prawns, octopus and chorizo (barbecued at the table over a mini spit) join them. 

Before heading home, I take a short ferry ride to Baretta Island. Also known as Ilha Deserta, this small parcel of sand has a single restaurant, a few fishing huts and nothing much else – unless you count the seagulls and other birdlife I encountered on the 2km boarded walk I took before heading back to the mainland. 

And here lies the reason I returned to Faro – sun, sand and peaceful moments. An unusual find in this part of the world.