Sailing in the Cyclades Islands

The first time I saw the Aegean Sea, in 2012, it was from the deck of a Blue Star ferry heading from Pireaus, the port of Athens, to Paros, one of the Cyclades Islands. I had spent many happy hours of my childhood sailing and swimming in rivers and bays on the east coast of the U.S., but I had never seen water that color — pure blue. From that moment, I knew I would someday go sailing in the Greek Islands.

In June 2015, I made my wish come true. I spent a week on the Rafaella, a 40-foot Oceanis sailboat, with my sister and Rafaella’s owner and skipper, Antonis Biskentzis, sailing from Paroikia, the main port of Paros.

Cyclades Islands

Our first stop was the main port on Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands. The Paros-Naxos leg of our journey was the only time we had to contend with rough seas. We had to motor into a strong north wind, with the mainsail set for some stability. Nancy and I both got queasy, but we knew that soon things would calm down and we would get our sea-legs. And indeed, after that afternoon, we felt perfectly comfortable on board.

In Naxos Town, we visited the Venetian Museum and the Folk Art Museum, explored the alleyways and shops, and had dinner in a tavern by the marina. The next morning, Antonis took us to a bakery where we bought bread hot from a wood-fired oven.

From there, we sailed south along the coast of Naxos, and began our real adventures. Antonis offered us several possible itineraries (always subject to the weather, of course). We opted to explore the wild places and tiny ports of the Small Cyclades. We spent our days sailing, swimming, and walking on shore. We ate on board, or at wonderful tavernas that Antonis recommended. The best meal we had — and one of the best Greek meals I have had anywhere — was at the Taverna Venetsanos on Kato Koufonisi, an uninhabited island with the taverna, a little church and a lot of sheep.

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Often, when we stopped for our morning or afternoon swim, we were the only people in sight, anchored in a cove of emerald and turquoise water surrounded by rocky slopes. It was a feast for the senses: the slowly changing play of light and color; the buzz of cicadas in the brush, the clank of goat-bells in the hills, the lapping of water and humming of wind around the boat; the smell of salt sea and wild thyme in bloom.

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We spent our fifth night on board at the port of Irakleia, which has a little harbor, complete with sandy beach. When we arrived, we had a swim, then set off to walk along the coast road to the other village on the island. We ended up exploring the hilltop ruins of a Venetian castle instead. For our final night, after a beautiful sail from Irakleia, we anchored between Antiparos, the small island next to Paros, and Despotiko, an uninhabited island that is the site of an active archeological dig. In the morning, Antonis offered us the chance to visit the main port of Antiparos, a charming town that I had seen several times before. We chose instead to have one final swim from the boat. Even within sight of the “big city” of Paroikia, Antonis was able to take us to a deserted cove where we could enjoy our last hours of meditative solitude.

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For a few days after the trip was over, we still felt the movement of the boat. Even now, when I have long since regained my land legs, I can bring back a sense of deep calm and happiness remembering our week on the Rafaella.

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About the author: Karen G. Krueger practiced law in New York City for 25 years. She now teaches the Alexander Technique, a mind-body method for achieving greater poise and efficiency of movement and dealing with chronic pain and stress.

Here are some tips from Karen for your excursion to the Cyclades Islands:

Hiring a Boat: Many companies offer bare-boat and skippered charters in the Greek islands. Our skipper, whom I highly recommend, has his own small company, Greek Water Yachts, based in Paroikia, Paros (www.greekislandssailing.com). Look for discounts for early booking.

Getting There: Olympic Airlines (now part of Aegean Airlines) has regular flights from Athens to Paros, and Blue Star Ferries, Aegean Speed Lines, Sea Jets and Hellenic Seaways run ferries between Pireaus and Paros.

Our Favorite Taverna: Taverna Venetsanos, Kato Koufonisi: www.koufonisia.gr

Keep in Mind: Life on a small sailboat is like camping in a van: the boat has water and electricity, but in limited supply outside of ports. Your showers will be short. When you use the head (the toilet), you have to pump it out afterwards. And forget about checking your e-mails every five minutes: you may not have wifi or even 4G, and in any case, you shouldn’t be looking at a screen when you are surrounded by such beauty!

Take care in choosing your traveling companions. You will be together in close quarters most of the time. And don’t hesitate to get to know your possible skipper before committing. Make sure you discuss your desires for the trip, how you want to spend your time, and what the skipper has to offer. Are you interested in wild places, solitude and quiet, as we were? Or do you want shopping, night life and beaches with umbrellas, drinks and water sports? It pays to make sure your group and your skipper are all in agreement, or are prepared for compromise.

Also, you should get clear on what your role is on the boat. Antonis was able to handle Rafaella by himself, but we also did some crewing at our own request.

Finally, be realistic in your expectations. Sailing is dependent on weather and wind. The itinerary you hope for may turn out to be impossible. Sometimes, to get where you want to go, you may have to motor or motor-sail. When you do sail, it may be calm, exhilarating or anything in between.

With the right preparation and mindset, you can have the trip of a lifetime.

Photography and story by Karen Krueger

Murals of Brotherly Love

I recently took a trip to Philadelphia. It was a bit of a leap of faith because much of what I know about the city does not really merit taking a trip to see, or see again as the case may be. Yes, I know, it’s the birthplace of America and then later … Sylvester Stallone made a movie which caught the world’s attention, and then he made five more. And sometime in between someone chopped up a steak, covered it with Cheese Whiz and onions, put it in a bun and called it a Philly Cheese Steak. All great stuff, but surely there’s more to Philadelphia than these old stereotypes.

At Bearleader, like a bear to honey, we specialize in sniffing out a destination’s hidden delights and revealing them to our readers. So, confident that Philadelphia had secrets to be revealed, we hit the road to discover its little-known treasures.

Mural: Art for the People

Here is a great thing we found that you have to visit Philadelphia to see. Did you know that aside from being the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia is also known as the “world’s largest outdoor art gallery”? It all started back in 1984 when the then Mayor, Wilson Goode, was trying to find a way to combat graffiti, which was blanketing the city. He proposed an anti-graffiti program as a way to channel the energy of young offenders into more productive endeavors.

Mayor Goode enlisted the help of Tim Spencer and artist Jane Golden to create what came to be known as the Murals Art Program, with a modest goal of enticing kids to participate in organized art projects, and away from producing illegal “graffiti”. Giving young graffiti offenders the option of applying their talents to a designated area with the input of the community as opposed to going to jail was an easy choice for the early participants.

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Many years later, the Mural Arts Program has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Still under the guidance of Jane Golden, the Mural Arts Program is now the largest employer of artists in the country, with around 300 individuals working on projects throughout the year.

Since 1984, about 3,600 murals have been painted and about 2,000 can be found today in and around Philadelphia, with new ones going up all the time. On our tour we swung by to see one being painted, a large mural on a bare, south-facing wall in the Old City district, and had a chat with the trio of painters.

Taking advantage of one of the last warm autumn days before the season’s end, artist and lead painter Jon Laidackaer was high above the ground marking out a tiny section of the enormous wall he and his fellow artists were slowly working their way across.

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Originally from Pittsburgh, Jon moved to Philadelphia ten years ago to participate in the Mural Arts Program. He was also the lead artist on the largest mural produced to date, 85,000 square feet in size and covering a parking garage close to the Philadelphia airport – just for reference, a football field is 57,600 square feet – that’s big!

In many communities the Mural Arts Program murals are treasured and beloved by their residents. This is in large part due to Jane’s early emphasis on engaging with communities to solicit participation in determining the content and, in many cases, actually painting the murals. Community buy-in on projects means that they can easily move forward, having heard and accommodated dissenting voices early in the process.

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With a structure of community communication built into the Mural Arts Program’s working process, a side benefit quickly became apparent to Jane’s team. They were on the city’s front lines as de facto government representatives. So when meeting with communities to offer funding for a neighborhood mural, they often would hear about other local issues of concern to the residents. In fact, even within communities there was sometimes little communication, so bringing people together to discuss a mural also became a forum in which to discuss other issues of local concern. In this way the the Mural Arts Program became both a facilitator of change, and a conduit for communication with city government.

With its great success, the Mural Arts Program’s repertoire of production techniques has developed rapidly to accommodate a more inclusive community-based process. Early murals from the ‘80s were produced with conventional acrylic-based paints on surfaces sometimes not conducive to long-term exposure to the elements.

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Learning from the past, new murals are produced with much more durability via a variety or innovative techniques. First there is the old-school method of painting directly on a wall, but not with pealing and fade-prone acrylic paint. In its place, a permanent masonry-based paint imported from a Germany is the new standard. This is what Jon and his team were using. Jon says that even the sun-drenched south-facing wall they are currently working on could easily last 30 years without much noticeable fading or damage.

Another technique utilizes a substrate of durable parachute cloth so murals can be produced off site on a horizontal surface and later installed at the designated location. This is great because, as you might imagine, having volunteer artists working high up on scaffolds may not be the best idea. Painting on the ground, everyone can get involved and it can happen year round – another important benefit.

The parachute-cloth technique led to other possibilities. One, the Mural Arts Program program goes into prisons and engages inmates in mural projects. When the murals are later installed around the city they form a point of contact between the incarcerated and their families: a tangible memento of a loved one, inaccessible by any other means.

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Which brings me to one of the Mural Arts Program’s most recent projects. The location chosen for this artwork is the Friends Center, headquarters of the Quaker Society in Philadelphia. The Quaker Society has a particular interest in prison reform. Famed artist Shepard Fairey, of Obama-poster fame, was commissioned to do the work. To contextualize his work in the vein of the Quakers’ ethos, Shepard produced a work called “The stamp of incarceration” showing a young woman, Amira Mohamed, who, after being incarcerated for seven years, is now part of a rehabilitation program, and studying to become an architect.

Formally incarcerated individuals often have limited visibility within society so Shepard’s artwork places Amira in the context of a stamp, a representation reserved for those of high achievement in our society. Celebrating individuals like Amira in this format gives voice to their great achievement in turning their lives around, adding weight to the Quakers’ emphasis on restorative justice.

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I sometimes think about the 1929 WPA Federal Art Project, which hired hundreds of artists and resulted in over 120,000 paintings, murals and sculptures over its 14 year span. Some of the 20th century’s greatest artists came out of the program and the public benefited greatly from their creative vision. Why, I wonder, couldn’t something like this be done today? Well, in Philadelphia the Murals Art Program is, and to tremendous positive effect. In Jane Golden’s words “Art ignites change”.

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To get more information about the work of the Mural Arts program or to make a donation, go to; www.muralarts.org

We recommend you take one of the Mural Arts Program’s tours when you visit Philadelphia. The educators are very knowledgeable and what you pay goes right back into funding more Mural Arts Program Program. Tours run from Aril to late November. www.muralarts.org/tour

In case you want to check out the murals on your own there are a couple of different routes to consider. Check out these walks you can do all year round. www.muralarts.org/mural-mile-walking-tour

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Ripping the Eisbach

If you are planning a visit to the upcoming Octoberfest in Munich you might be surprised to see the occasional surfboard-toting person on a bike or streetcar or just walking down the street. It happened to me and after doing a few double takes I found myself standing next to a woman on a tram with surfboard in tow. “Are you surfing somewhere around here?” “Ya, of course” she replied with bewilderment at my ignorance. To me it was not obvious at all. Munich, being hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, does not naturally shout out “surf capital”.

I guess one needs to fully understand the Bavarian spirit of innovation and propensity to enjoy the outdoors at all costs in order to comprehend how a small river in the heart of Munich would become the river surfing capital of the world. Intrigued and wanting to find out more, I asked around and was able to find a few of the people who pioneered this sport. Now in their late 40s many of them are still surfing, now with kids in tow.

The Unlikely Story of How River Surfing Started in Munich

The story goes like this: One day years ago where Prinzregentenstraße passes over the Eisbach River it occurred to someone that it might be a good idea to throw a beer table into the river, tie it to the bridge and climb on board. Sounds ridiculous right? And dangerous. But there is no dissuading a Münchner with a plan, no matter how ludicrous.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

As it turned out the beer table was great fun and worked okay as a flotation device. Soon beer tables gave way to surfboards with riders holding the rope. Then one day the rope momentarily went slack. The rider suddenly realized they were actually surfing and voila “river surfing” was born.

Without easy access to commercial surfboards, people started making their own and a local industry was born. Today that industry generates over 500 boards a year, and there’s a thriving business in racks to carry the boards around.

The Eisbach is a small man-made river which runs only about a mile long. It flows underground until bursting out on the north side of Prinzregentenstraße at the edge of Munich’s English Garden. The convergence of the high velocity water and a sudden rise in the river bed creates the wave. The bridge offers a unique vantage point for observers and for this reason it can be quite crowded, as people can gather at all hours of the day.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Even though the first beer tables were thrown in the river early in the 1970s the activity was officially forbidden by the city until 2010, but the city turned a blind eye as the sport continued on. The sport is now legally maintained by a group of surfers, helped by the fact that a few of those early surfers became lawyers and kept the case moving through the bureaucracy.

Along with official sanction came the opportunity for improvements, and the wave today is much improved over its earlier natural state. Submerged planks attached to the bridge by ropes, allow waves to be tuned – taller or flattened as desired.

As opposed to ocean surfing, a river wave is stationary. Instead of “catching” a moving wave, you stand facing upstream and jump onto the face of the wave. You have the feeling of traveling fast over water while not actually moving, but it is not for the faint of heart. Imagine 20,000 tons of water per second shooting towards you with a temperature, even in summer, never rising above 60 degrees. Frightening.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

The next day I met up with Andreas, one of the locals who owns a surf and snowboard store not far from the wave. Over a hot coffee he fills me in on the river scene before taking his turn on the wave.

I was fascinated by the orderly behavior of the surfers. They form lines on both sides of the river taking turns on the wave. Andreas says they call it the zip line. Each surfer waits their turn, board in hand. And then when the time comes, with a swift jump while dropping the board in at the same time, they land on the wave and they’re off. The experienced surfers make it look so easy gliding from side to side of the river. To the observer it is mesmerizing and appears quite impossible.

Some surfers are more experienced than others but don’t be fooled, you have to be very accomplished to stand up on this wave. And, as Andreas tells me, some of the locals don’t take well to beginners wasting time on “their” wave. It’s strange bedfellows seeing an orderly German mindset applied to a freewheeling sport like surfing.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Sports that occur more naturally in Munich are snowboarding and windsurfing and many of the surfers, like Andreas, also are devotees of these sports. But for those who work in Munich, the Eisbach offers a convenient way keep active year round. Lunch time is especially busy with local professionals taking lunch on the wave.

This probably explains the incredible number of local surfers. The scene has about 1,000 active surfers and 10,000 that have tried it at least once. On average 100 surfers show up each day all year long. That was what surprised me most. On a Sunday afternoon lines on each side of the river will get quite long. When good surfers ride the wave too long those in the line will bang on their boards giving the sign to move on. Andreas tells me there are a lot of unspoken rules and signs like that that you need to learn in order to make it into that circle of 1,000.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

But there is a way in for those of us just starting out. There is a smaller second wave further down the river that is slower and easier learn on. Once you get the hang of the slow wave you can try your hand up river with the pros.

Fraeulein Grueneis

After hanging out at the bridge for some time I was getting chilly so I headed over to the nearby restaurant / café, Fraeulein Grueneis, to chat with owners Sandra and Henning Duerr. Henning was born and raised in Munich and an early observer of the scene. One of his young staff, Margo, just shy of 17, surfs daily after school and helps in the kitchen at Fraeulein Grueneis to make extra money. Both have very different viewpoints on the Eisbach scene.

Henning thinks that in the past the scene was quite aggressive and standoffish to outsiders. He surmises that it might be because it was illegal for so long and took on a territorial character. These days it’s much more multigenerational and inclusive. That’s Margo’s experience, who, by the way, arrived at work on a bike, board in hand, a balancing act in itself. She tells me she’s surfing on Eisbach year round as her high school is conveniently close by.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Having had our fill of Fraeulein Grueneis coffee and cake we made our way back out of the English Gardens and back over the bridge. A kid of about 10 years is tearing up the wave and then he is followed by someone 60+ who was no slouch himself. The line was old and young, men and women, all types and sizes. From strange beginnings, it has become a very inclusive and totally unique sport.

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For the best vantage point to watch the surfing check out the map below.

Feeling peckish stop by the nearby Fraeulein Grueneis. It’s a great place for a meal, a snack or a drink. For More information, go to; www.fraeulein-grueneis.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Nelson’s Last Walk

J.M. Barrie, famed dreamer and creator of Peter Pan, once said, “Make your feet your friend”. As we zoomed along in-between the lush summer hedgerows of western Britain in our Fiat Mini rental, I thought about Barrie’s wise words. We were on the way to walk in one of those magic English places where leisure and history have come to co-exist in perfect harmony: the Stackpole Estate in Wales.

The Estate, owned and maintained by the National Trust, is situated within the Pembrokeshire National Park located between the villages of Stackpole and Bosherton in Pembrokeshire. Stackpole is both a listed “designed landscape” and an important nature reserve, with the famous Bosherton Lakes or “Lily Ponds” at its centre.

A Walk in Stackpole

This land began its occupation by the Stackpoles during the Norman Age (1188) when one of the fortresses the Normans used to establish their rule over England was constructed here. Over the years the estate has passed through three families, the de Stackpoles, the Vernons and the Stanleys, before being finally purchased by the Stanleys’ stewards, The Lorts family, in the 17th century, while the Stanleys were away fighting the civil war.

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Today’s Stackpole is the result of the works of Sir John Campbell. When he inherited the estate in 1777 he began landscaping on a grand scale. In a painting of 1758 you see a meadow of grazing cows in the valley below the house. Campbell flooded the meadow to create a vast lake over which he constructed eight carefully placed arched bridges. This formed the focal point for his constructed-picturesque landscape.

He then surrounded the lake with “a thousand” trees. Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who founded the famous Kew Gardens in London, recorded sending many exotic plants to Stackpole. This insured that the original plantings would be of the highest caliber and very much in line with the fashion of the day for impressing guests with things collected from all parts of the globe.

In a photograph taken around 1850 you can see the house overlooking the lake with its series of bridges extending into the distance. The trees are a little shorter, but this view is quite similar to what you can see today.

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Sadly, today you can enjoy only the landscape and nature in the estate, as the architecture fell into disrepair to the point that it was demolished in 1963. However, you can still enjoy Sir John Campbell’s walled garden and buy some of the produce gown there during the summer months. There is also a lovely Cafe on the grounds where you can sit and imagine what the estate might have felt like in its heyday.

To add to your imaginings, here is a racy anecdote. Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma Hamilton and Emma’s lover, Lord Nelson, all visited Stackpole in 1805, just before Nelson left for the Battle of Trafalgar. After I came upon this story I researched further only to find out that Sir William, Emma and Lord Nelson lived openly together, which provided much fodder for gossip magazines of the day.

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We parked the car and set off on our walk. The trail is well marked so you don’t need a map. Signs at the trail head clearly outline a variety routes to the beach of varying distances.

You first walk downhill through a heavily treed area (this must be where many of those “thousand” trees ended up) until you come upon the first bridge.

The bridge is only wide enough for one so we were lucky that it was near the end of the day with hardly anyone around. We lingered in the middle of the lake to look for otters, and to watch the birds and dragon flies. On cue, an otter poked up its head to welcome us.

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What’s great about this walk is that within a short distance you cover so many different terrains. There are cool wooded valleys, romantic lily ponds and magnificent coast lines interspersed with the occasional sandy beach. The path leads you on a loop which eventually leads you back to the narrow bridge and up to where you parked.

The terrain is moderate and the path not so long – you can easily navigate it in sneakers. A sun hat would not go amiss, especially when you get out to the coast where there is no shade except on the beach near the rocky cliffs.

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There is something about walking that invites the mind to wander, and in a location so steeped in history, this is a walk that is full of surprises, both current and from the distant past. Follow the trail that may have been Nelson’s last country walk before entering the annals of British history at the battle of Trafalgar.

Highly recommend.

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Details

For more information about visiting the Stackpole Estate, go to; www.nationaltrust.org

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Tally Ho!

A reader recently asked me, “How do you find stories for Bearleader?” I replied that usually we do lots of research, keep our ears open, ask people we know that are in-the-know and then do more research. But sometimes a story just drops in your lap. That’s how this story showed up, literally on our doorstep.

When the windows of our London flat are open, I occasionally hear the short ring of a bicycle bell somewhere nearby. This is not especially unusual as lots of bicycles ride along our road. But it seemed to me curious that riders would so consistently ring their bells when passing our house and I felt compelled to investigate further.

… I met Jack Harris, owner of Tally Ho bike tours, and booked an excursion for the Bearleader.

Stepping out of our front gate I caught a glimpse of a line of beautiful black bikes, zipping by, a gentleman in tweed leading the group and coaxing the group on with the ring of his bell. The bikes had the words “Tally Ho” painted on their frames.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

For those not up to speed on their English country terminology, “Tally Ho” is a term used to confirm a fox sighting during the hunt, and in more contemporary situations, something you say when pointing out or spotting a target. A little further down the road sat a sign painted with a fox riding a bicycle. Tally Ho! I exclaimed (not really). Putting two and two together I headed over to the sign where I met Jack Harris, owner of Tally Ho bike tours, and booked an excursion for the Bearleader.

Historian Tom Weir was our tour guide. A young, enthusiastic student of history, Tom’s area of interest is sports.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

The meeting place for Tally Ho bike tours is the Walrus Pub at the corner of Lower Marsh and Westminster bridge road. As the departure time approached, a small but diverse group began to assemble, a family from Australia, a young Spanish student and me.

Tom gave us the option to choose from amongst their fleet of shiny black Pashley bikes, outfitted with Tally Ho baskets to stow our belongings. Pashley bikes are a story in themselves. The company was founded by William “Rath” Pashley in 1926 to manufacture hand-built bikes in Stratford-upon-Avon. England used to have the most bike manufacturers in the world but most have gone out of business or moved their production to factories overseas. Never bowing to pressure to use cheaper overseas labor, Pashley bikes have remained made in England since the company’s founding. Riding these historic, smooth running, fine English bikes makes the tour all the more authentic.

Once we are all settled on our chosen bikes, Tom gives us a quick rundown on safety and with a ring of his bell we are off.

Cycling in Central London is a breeze. The terrain is generally flat with no hills of note to climb. And since our group was small, we easily zipped along London’s back roads under Tom’s ever watchful eye.

We stopped in front of the Tate Modern, parked our bikes and gathered around Tom to hear about the history of the building, formerly a London power plant, with St Paul’s on the opposite side of the Thames.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

Wedging ourselves in-between the street performers lining the walkway on the Thames, we found a safe spot between Yoda from Star Wars and Power Ranger’s Bumblebee. As Tom gave us the rundown on the area, I noticed Yoda gesturing wildly at one of our group. I guess we were encroaching on his area and Yoda was not pleased. Moving a little closer I was able to overhear Yoda hilariously telling our Spanish exchange student in a thick South-London accent to move along. Luckily our student’s English was not so good, so being somewhat oblivious to what Yoda was saying, he was not offended.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

We moved on over the Millennium Bridge through the City of London, crisscrossing the maze of the streets which constitute the oldest part of the city. Passing by the newer buildings of London’s famous Square Mile, we stopped off at the Lloyds of London headquarters and the Gherkin building, by famous London architects Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, respectively. At the edge of the Square Mile we merged with one of London’s bright blue Cycle Super highways for the short trip to the East London Docklands.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

Next we arrived at the Cable Street Mural which commemorates an iconic moment in London’s history, “The Battle of Cable Street”. Tom explained to us that on the night of October 4th, 1936, the people of this East London neighborhood rallied to Cable Street and forced back the march of Fascist, Walter Mosely and his group, the Blackshirts, all the while shouting, “They shall not pass”. In the aftermath of Mosely’s defeat by the residents of East London, the Public Order Act 1936 was passed, requiring police consent for all political marches and forbidding the wearing of political uniforms in public.

We then wound our way through the canals of the docklands, eventually arriving at one of the oldest pubs in London, the Prospect of Whitby. Dating back to 1520, the pub still has the original 400-year-old floor.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

If the tide is low when you arrive be sure to have a look at the hangman’s noose on the Thames side of the pub. The execution of pirates by hanging, starting in the 15th century, was performed at a place called Execution Dock. While the exact location of Execution Dock has been lost, one of the places where it was thought to have been is here at the back of the Prospect of Whitby. Convicted pirates were hung on a short rope and left in place to be washed by three tides. The worst were then tarred and hung in an iron cage for all to see.

Arguably the most famous pirate executed here was Captain Kidd, inspiration for the book Treasure Island. Captain Kidd was so notorious that he was displayed on the Thames riverbank for more than 20 years as a warning to other would-be pirates.

Refreshed and rested we continued our journey towards Tower Bridge. Riding across this famous bridge is a real thrill, much better than sharing the crowded walkway.

No.46 | Tally Ho Bike Tours, London

On the home stretch now, we slowly wound our way back along the back streets of the Southbank towards Westminster Bridge Road. It was just getting dark and on cue, London lit up for our tour’s finale.

You can choose online from several tours that Tally Ho bike tours offers, or book a private tour that can be customized to your interests.

If it’s your first time in London, I would suggest the London Landmark Tour. It is the most popular of Tally Ho bike tours’, and much more interesting to stop and stand in front of each of London’s iconic buildings and sights and learn their history, than just zooming by on a double decker bus.

Details

For further information about booking a tour with Tally Ho bike tours, go to; www.tallyhocycletours.com

Tally Ho bike tours operates year round. We took the tour in December. During the summer months, it is high season so it is a good idea to book in advance.

If it is raining, and it is often raining in London, the show goes on. Rain ponchos will be provided.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Somerset Ice

When thinking about classic European destinations guaranteed to deliver maximum yuletide joy for the lead-up to Christmas, cities like Vienna, Nuremberg, Munich and Salzburg immediately come to mind. And for good reason, because most of the traditions, symbols and characteristics that we now associate with Christmas were born in the Germanic countries, with some traditions, like Christmas trees, originating way back in the Middle Ages.

But Christmas was too good an idea to keep bottled up in the German Empire forever, and it eventually found its way out of mainland Europe and across the channel in the luggage of Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel (Prince Albert) on his betrothal to Queen Victoria. Yes, almost everything you now know as “Christmas” really comes by way of the English. Maybe that is why my favorite Christmas is an English one. So, for your classic Christmas extravaganza, stock up on Christmas crackers, don your paper crown, pop a threepence in the plumb pudding, and book your ticket to London.

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There’s a bevy of activities available in London during the holiday season with various festive markets popping up around town. But one thing you should definitely plan on is a visit to the Somerset house ice skating rink. This year Somerset house collaborated with famous purveyor of the best seasonal goods, Fortnum & Mason, who turned the halls of Somerset house into their own Christmas market, of sorts.

Situated on the Strand next to Waterloo Bridge, overlooking the River Thames, the Somerset House foundations date back as far as the 16th century. It was once home to Queen-in-waiting Elizabeth the First, daughter of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn, during the reign of Queen Mary the First.

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After that the palace saw its fair share of renovations and additions due to the many different “lodgers” that followed. After the English Civil War, Parliament attempted to sell the property but nobody wanted to buy it. So it was taken off the market and put to various governmental uses. Legend has it Lord Nelson worked in the building for a while when it was partially occupied by the Admiralty. And as testament to the legend, the meeting room that Nelson might have visited has for a long time been called the “Nelson Room”.

In the late 20th century it was decided that Somerset House will be a centre for the Visual arts, and now houses several exhibition spaces and a few restaurants, all focused on the central courtyard, used for various events and activities, like ice skating.

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The ice rink appears at the beginning of November and remains until early January. Booking is available for hourly slots, with skate rental included in the price of admission.

Every hour, admission is limited to 220 ice skaters so it never gets crowded on the ice. Plenty of room for you to show off your twirls and glide around the rink backwards. Each hour the ice is cleaned and smoothed for another round of holiday skaters.

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The afternoon we visited there was a good mix of skating skills on display, from total beginners to advanced skaters. And for the little tykes, something to lean on is provided to steady the glide, in the form of small polar bears and penguins. They are very popular but remember, they’re only for kids! You adults will have to find someone or something else to lean on.

As dusk set in, the lights came up giving the courtyard a wonderfully festive glow, capped off by the “SKATE” sign on top of the building. Opposite is an enormous Christmas tree with tables underneath where you can sit and enjoy warm drinks and treats from Tom’s Skate Lounge situated on the east side of the rink. Or if you are not in the mood for refreshments, it’s a great place to just sit and watch the people glide by.

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After an hour of skating, time to head indoors to investigate the Fortnum & Mason Christmas Arcade installed in the West wing of the building. F&M has outfitted each room with classic English Christmas treats. Truffles, Christmas puddings, special Christmas teas and an array of great gifts for family and friends. The F&M Lounge just next to the Lord Nelson Staircase is particularly good for a cozy drink.

I mentioned Christmas Crackers earlier. These are one of my favorite English holiday traditions. You can pick them up in one of the F&M concessions. They were invented in 1840 by Tom Smith. Originally he sold his bonbons in a twist of paper with love messages inside, later adding the “crackle” to represent crackling logs in the fire place. Finally, Mr Smith let go of the candies and replaced them with little trinkets, including the now iconic paper crown and a selection of really bad jokes. It sounds absurd but you can really get a party going with a few paper crowns and some bad jokes.

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The English are famous for their dry subtle wit. My personal theory is that the reason for this is because they all grew up on these bad Christmas cracker jokes. Practice makes perfect. As an aside, did you know that the British royal family has special Christmas crackers made for them each year? I wonder who writes those jokes.

Merry Christmas everyone

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


For more information about ice skating at Somerset House, go to; www.somersethouse.org.uk


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to Somerset House in London? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

57°
showers
80% humidity
wind: 22mph SSW
H 61 • L 47
47°
Fri
43°
Sat
46°
Sun
48°
Mon
45°
Tue
Weather from Yahoo!

Heigh Ho, Heigh Hoh

The farthest reaches of a place always have a wild quality. Explorers seem to seek out places that, once reached, naturally mark the end of a journey. It’s as if explorers have trouble setting their own limits so natural barriers form a convenient stopping point. This trip is to one of these places.

Put your finger on the point most West and North on a United States map and it will be covering the Hoh River valley: the runoff basin for a series of glaciers formed on Washington’s Mount Olympus. This is where the Hoh River runs out to the Pacific Ocean and where a variety of routes, from day walks to advanced treks start for the long climb all the way up onto the glaciers.

Before this trip I had not developed a mental map of anything west of the Seattle area. It was just a strip of land between the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. So on a recent visit to Seattle we decided to push farther west, as far as the land would allow.

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The first day we made it as far as Forks, the quasi-fictional town of vampires from the Twilight novels. The unique relationship of land and ocean makes Forks the wettest place in the continental US, a fitting setting for vampires and werewolves to live concealed in the perpetual grey mist.

The next morning it was just a 20 min drive through the early morning fog to the Hoh River trailhead. We happened to have picked a holiday for our hike so we were not sure if that would mean empty trails or crowds. It was the former, not even a park ranger in sight.

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We started out on one of the shorter walks from the trailhead to warm up. A sign warned that we might come across elk and to be careful, they may be in a bad mood. I didn’t give it much thought thinking elk were something akin to the deer that roam through back yards around the Puget Sound. A herd of cranky deer did not seem very daunting.

The word enchanted sounds cliché but it is what instantly comes to mind. The forest here is untouched and rarely do you come across a landscape which has grown layer upon layer for millennia.

Everything seemed out of scale. We are accustomed to trees growing out of suburban yards and reaching twice as high as a house, at most. This terrain is all encompassing and taller than seems “natural”, and the effect overwhelming. Left, right, front, back, up, down, all is fuzzy green and alive.

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Standing awestruck, trying to take it all in, we’re startled by a large furry body lunging precariously from behind, bounding effortlessly through the undergrowth. Then another, and another. Awe quickly turned fear as we realized we were now right in middle of a stampeding herd of those a forewarned temperamental elk.

We froze, the elk froze and we had a perfectly silent moment, each of us wondering what to do next. A few minutes later the elk decided we were ok, and quickly disappeared. By the way, an elk is MUCH larger than a deer.

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After that magical introduction we continued onto one of the longer routes and spent the day wandering through this enchanted forest at one of the most remote edges of North America.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.

Details


You will find lots of good information about this and other Washington State hikes at the Washington Trail Association site. WTA is a fantastic volunteer organization that maintains Washington’s wild trails. Please make a donation; www.wta.org


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a visit to the Hoh River? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.

Kayaking the River Thames

In the Chelsea borough of London, you can embark on a river kayaking adventure, swapping natural vistas for historic cityscapes, white-water rapids for surging river tides. This is as interesting a water adventure as any—urban or wild.

When I first heard about river kayaking trips on the Thames, I thought, “Great, that would be a perfect way to get a different perspective on Central London”. Once under way, the Thames and its rich history became intensely vivid, and the importance of the river in the development of London came into full focus.

The Thames has always been central to the history of London. In the Neolithic age, humans were living along the river Thames. The British Museum houses a decorated bowl found in the river at Hedsor, Buckinghamshire, dating back to the end of this period (3300-2700 B.C.) When the Romans under Emperor Claudius occupied England, the Thames became of major economic and strategic importance, with Londonium being its trading center. In 1066, when William the conqueror won control of the Thames Valley, it set the stage for him to invade the rest of England. William built the Tower of London, the same building where tourists still throng to see the crown jewels. And in 1215 when barons forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, it was on an island in the Thames at Runnymede. I could go on and on, but you get the idea of the importance of the Thames in the history of London.

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“What about the water, is it safe?” you may be asking. That was my thought after we set off. The history of the cleanliness of the Thames is a checkered one, so although my concerns were unfounded, the Thames bad reputation was well earned.

Population growth in London greatly increased the amount of waste entering the river. That waste came from both human and industrial sources. According to historian Peter Ackroyd, “. . . a public lavatory on London Bridge showered its contents directly onto the river below, and latrines were built over all the tributaries that issued into the Thames.”

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Between 1832 and 1865, four serious cholera outbreaks killed tens of thousands of people in London. In 1858, the Thames pollution problem reached such epic proportions that Parliament, located beside the Thames, had to be abandoned. The event was sufficiently dire to receive a name: the “Great Stink”. Some historians have attributed Prince Albert’s death in 1861 to typhoid spread in the river’s dirty waters flowing beside Windsor Castle.
Following the “Great Stink”, a concerted effort to contain the city’s sewage began with the construction of massive sewers on the north and south river embankments under the supervision of engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

Today the river is rated as the cleanest inner-city river in Europe, and the return of bird life, including herons and cormorants, to the river banks is a sign that water quality has vastly improved. So you can rest assured that river kayaking today is perfectly safe.

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The river kayaking London crew operates out of the Cremorne Riverside Centre, a well-equipped facility just off the Chelsea Embankment.

When I first heard about river kayaking trips on the Thames, I thought, “Great, that would be a perfect way to get a different perspective on Central London”

On the day of our outing, I set out on my old Armstrong 3-speed for the Cremorne Riverside Centre. Going by bike is usually the quickest means of transport for such short trips, however, on this morning, my chain broke and I had to push the bike the last kilometer. The chain was probably original so in retrospect it was not surprising that it failed.

Harry, the owner and our river guide, greeted me with a bracing dose of his Irish humor: “What pile of shit are you riding?” And he proceeded to produce the obscure tool required to fix the chain. In no time he had my bike fixed and had me fully outfitted for the day’s activities. All in time to launch with the outgoing tide.

Thames River Kayaking in London | Bearleader No.23

We got a quick run down from Harry on how to navigate via kayak and what our journey would entail. We then hoisted our kayaks and made our way down to the river to push off. Once everyone was on the water, we began paddling towards Westminster.

Heading up the South side of the river, paddling at a steady tempo, Harry and his two instructors wrangled us like a gaggle of geese. Along the way, he pointed out interesting facts and snapped photos as souvenirs to document everyone’s experience.

Near the halfway point as we approached Westminster Bridge, we could feel the tide starting to turn, which required paddling with more effort. Tourists on the Westminster Bridge shouted and waved to give us encouragement. Just beyond the bridge, you get the best view ever of the Millennium Wheel. Sitting in your kayak directly underneath, it towers dramatically above you. On the north side of the river, you see Parliament House and Big Ben.

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At this point, with the turning tide, we became part of the considerable traffic on the river and took in some of London’s iconic sights. We were soon being carried along by the river, relaxed and taking in the sights. First, was a glide along the full length of the Parliament. This is as close as you will probably ever get to this historic building. Then, bridge by bridge, we floated back to Chelsea.

Pulling the kayaks out of the water and carrying them back up to where we started, everybody was excitedly chatting. You could not miss the reality that we all had a wonderful time. We changed out of our gear and celebrated with drinks and chips.

This is a totally unique way to see the historic parts of London—river kayaking on the Thames.

Details

For information and booking; www.kayakinglondon.com

A few things to keep in mind for your kayak trip;

– Best to come with a friend, Kayaking London’s fleet is mostly double Kayaks.
– Bring a second set of clothing to change into and a towel. In case you are in London on holiday and don’t have those things at your disposal let the team know when you book. They do have extra jackets available for you to use.
– Apply sun screen. The reflection on the water can be intense.
– River kayaking sessions run year round. If you are made of sturdy stuff, there are usually outings scheduled on Guy Fawkes day and around Christmas, where you sing carols along the way.
– River kayaking is safe and capsizing is very rare. Follow your group leader’s instructions and all will be fine.
– Very important, the session are timed to coincide with the tides. You absolutely have to be on time. They group cannot wait or they will miss the tide.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Taking Flight in Doddington

Since childhood I have been fascinated by falconeering. In particular, I remember being drawn in by early representations of falconeering in an art book at home, and whiling away the hours thinking about adventures that could be had with a flying companion. The idea of forging a bond with a bird of prey, a wild animal, still intrigues me.

Falconeering at Doddington Place Gardens | Bearleader No.19

Evidence suggests that the art of Falconeering may have begun in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. The man responsible for bringing the practice to Europe was the Roman Emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194-1250). He reportedly would have come in contact with Arabic falconeering through his connections with Tunisia’s Hafsid rulers. And upon obtaining a copy of an 8th century treatise on falconeering, he had it translated into Latin, and this resulted in the first manual for falconeering in Europe.

Historically, falconeering was not only a practical means of hunting prey too quick to capture by other means, but a popular sport. The ownership of certain kinds of birds was an important status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe. Strict rules dictated what kind of bird you could own according to your station in life.

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Birds of prey had such importance that they occupied a special place at the table during nightly feasts. With the rise of firearms in the 18th and 19th centuries, falconeering gradually faded from wide use. Only recently has the public become interested again in the practice, due in large part to the success of the Harry Potter novels.

Evidence suggests that the art of Falconeering may have begun in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. The man responsible for bringing the practice to Europe was the Roman Emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen

Although it’s an ancient practice, falconeering has changed little over time. The key equipment required is virtually identical to what would have been familiar back in the 8th century; the hood that keeps the birds calm, the glove and the bell leather jesses. Only a modern radio transmitter has been added to the kit of tools for the modern falconer to help chase down errant birds.

Falconeering at Doddington Place Gardens | Bearleader No.19

Modern falconeering is mostly on view to the public in sideshows for tourists at old castles. This usually involves bad actors in cheap Halloween store costumes, trying to get you into the spirit of medieval life; not interesting in the least.

So I began a search for a place where an amateur could truly participate in the sport. I was thrilled to come across The Hawking Centre in Doddington Place Gardens, Kent.

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The gardens alone at Doddington Place are wonderful. If you come with your family and not everybody is into falconeering, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the garden. The immense clipped yew hedges are worth a look. Left to grow unchecked during World War II, then owner John Oldfield decided he liked them better in their over-grown state, and now they are famous for their naturalist expression. They remind me of giant ground-dwelling clouds.

For this trip we took the train from Central London, leaving from Victoria station. We brought our bikes along for the four-mile ride from Teynham station to Doddington Place Gardens.

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Arriving on time, we joined in with the group; all from different walks of life but with our falconeering interest in common. It was a gorgeous sunny Spring morning when proprietor and head falconer Leigh Holmes arrived to give us a quick run down on what he had planned for our day. Leigh introduced us to his team; Laura, Katie, young apprentice Lewes and Jo his wife, who runs the wonderful tearoom.

Leigh started working with birds as a teenager and has never looked back. His dream to bring falconeering to a wider public really shows in his enthusiasm for the sport. His young son Edward joined in on the activities periodically, in between romps in the garden. He is already an accomplished falconer, following in dad’s footsteps.

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First Laura brought out Maggie the vulture and divided us into two groups. We took turns wearing the baited glove to attract Maggie’s attention. Whoever was wearing the glove in the opposite group, Maggie flew to. Back and forth from group to group, landing on whoever had the glove with some food. It was a bit like tennis; back and forth, back and forth. We each had a turn.

Vultures are not really trained for falconry, but seeing a full-grown vulture up close was a real treat. It was interesting to learn that vulture’s feet are rather weak, but they have very strong necks, the opposite of a bird of prey. Since they live off animals that are already dead they don’t need to hunt so they have evolved different strengths to suite.

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Then a quick tour through where the birds are housed. The care and maintenance of the birds is a lot of work, the most important aspect of which is their weight control. The birds need to be the right weight in order to want to fly and look for food. If a bird is too skinny it will not be able to fly. If it weighs too much it will not be interested in flying. So in order to get the right balance, each bird is weighed regularly to decide which ones are ready to fly each day. Also, each variety of bird has a different optimal weight. The constant care required to keep these birds healthy and performing well is what makes for such a close bond between bird and owner. It takes a special kind of personality to commit to caring for these beautiful, valuable and high-maintenance creatures.

In talking to the handlers, they all developed a passion for their birds quite young. And all said the same thing about their first encounter with falconry, they knew in an instant that they wanted to work with birds of prey. It was love at first sight.

Falconeering at Doddington Place Gardens | Bearleader No.19

Next Laura took us on a walk around the wonderful Doddington gardens with one of the falcons. Again, we walked in two groups with the falcon flying between the groups, each time searching out the one wearing the baited glove.

Falconeering at Doddington Place Gardens | Bearleader No.19

I have to admit that I found the experience quite enthralling. The first time the falcon flew towards me and landed on my hand I had a split second thought, “oh boy, what have I gotten myself into now?” but then I remembered that Leigh said not show fear because they can sense it and will challenge you. So I relaxed and went with it … bird safely in hand.

Arriving back at the tearoom Jo and her helpers had prepared a lovely lunch for us with sandwiches, tea and cakes. All homemade and delicious.

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After a good break we gathered in the gardens and Laura took us on a walk around the whole estate with one of the falcons named Jojo. As we walked through grazing sheep and lambs, and past the occasional horse, the falcon would fly ahead and perch in a tree. Then on seeing one of us with the baited gloved, she would swoop down onto the glove to feed. This falcon had quite a mischievous personality. She would often swoop down, flying so low as to just clip one of us with her wings on her way to the glove. Testing us all, I presume, to see whom the weak ones were.

Next we made our way back for the big finale, Margo the eagle. We headed out to the large meadow and Margo took off. First we thought she might head off for a long high glide on the stiff breeze. But instead she flew to the middle of the field, stood there with wings spread, just letting the wind blow through her feathers.

Falconeering at Doddington Place Gardens | Bearleader No.19

She is only seven month old and when she lands on your hand you can see that she is a bit like a puppy, not very certain of her skills yet and rather playful. She weighs 11 pounds so you need to summon all your strength to hold her until she takes off again to take food from another of your fellow participants across the field.

That was really the highlight of the day, and the perfect ending to a wonderful excursion to Doddington Place Gardens.

Back on our bikes, we rode to Teynham station, for the short trip back to London.

Details

The Hawking Center is in operation from the 30th of March through the 30th of September. But check the website for the latest information and for directions to Doddington Gardens; www.thehawkingcentre.co.uk

For a more in depth experience you may be interested in the five day course.

For more information about Doddington Place gardens, check out; www.doddingtonplacegardens.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Tracing the Secret Tyburn River

Upon moving to London a few years back, I stacked up on local literature about what to do and where to go around town. Being in a city so rich in history, it seems you could never run out of places to go and stories to explore. One of my favorites is a book by Andrew Duncan entitled “Secret London”. I contacted Andrew to see if we could meet and talk about his perspective on this old, old city, and to help me track down one of London’s lost waterways, the Tyburn River.

Andrew is part of an informal group of history buffs and walking aficionados that meet regularly to explore the city. An Oxford-educated historian, Andrew lives in Barnes, near the Thames, itself adjacent to three significant points of interest: Hammersmith, the home of William Morris; Fulham, the ancient Palace of the Bishops; and right by the offices of noted English Architect Richard Rogers, part of the group of post-war architects whose work came to be known for their Hi-Tech style. See, you can’t take a step in London without landing on multiple stories.

Although it’s a closed group, Andrew was kind enough to invite me along on one of their excursions.

Secret London is a handy guide to help you “scratch the surface” as you walk around the city. It highlights things like the peculiar system of land ownership which has, in large part, formed the urban structure, or the gentlemen’s club culture you see in films and read about in literature – such as in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days – this club culture is still very much a part of modern London. And it contains a multitude of other odd and amazing stories that will make your wanderings that much more interesting.

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Even places you may think you are familiar with might surprise you. I find that mapping out a fixed itinerary based on a theme forces you to move through the city along a path you would not normally follow. And by doing this you encounter new things. So, inspired by Andrew’s Secret London, I followed his Tyburn River Walk.

Now, what’s interesting about this walk is that it winds through parts of Central London that everyone knows. And, like most people, I’ve been to these places many times. But by rigidly following this Tyburn River route you end up on unfamiliar streets for most of the walk.

The walk tracing the Tyburn River is about 5.5 km (3.5 miles) and takes about 2.5 hours. There are lots of stops along the way and things to gawk at, so the pace is very relaxed. I walked it twice, once on a Sunday, which was very quiet with some shops closed. And again during the week, which was more crowded, but with a lot of shopping to a take advantage of along the way.

If possible time your start 3 hours before low tide so you can see the Tyburn outlet at the Thames. At high tide it is completely under water.

So, get your book out, and let’s get going …

Since Secret London covers the history in depth, I will just be giving an overview of the route, and pointing out some of the high points from my walk.

The Tyburn (boundary) River, descends Haverstock Hill near Hampstead in North West London. It then makes its way south through Swiss Cottage and is believed to cross the Regents Canal, entering Regents Park and going under Baker Street near the Baker Street Tube station, where you will start your walk.

From Baker Street Station, head down through Marylebone and over Oxford Street, formerly known as Tyborn Road.

Grays Antiques Market claims that the Tyburn River runs through its basement. And they have stocked their little piece of the Tyburn with a nice collection of Koi.

Stop for a game of ping pong in Paddington Street Garden and then, if it’s Sunday, stop for snacks and drinks in the farmers market just outside the park.

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On Marylebone Lane, just before you get to a fork in the road and the river divides, visit the fabulous VV. Rouleaux Trimming place.

London's Secret Tyburn River Walk | Bearleader No.17

Continue across Wigmore Street. On the south side of the street you will walk by Work Shop Coffee. They take coffee seriously here and it is worth a stop. The pastries and sandwiches are also fresh and yummy.

London's Secret Tyburn River Walk | Bearleader No.17

From Oxford Street walk through Mayfair, then through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace and the Queens Gallery.

Stop in at Shepherds, specializing in binding and book restoration. They always have a good selection of great antique books on offer.

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Grays Antiques Market claims that the Tyburn River runs through its basement. And they have stocked their little piece of the Tyburn with a nice collection of Koi. This is the only time you may actually see the river on the walk so it’s worth stopping in to say you saw it.

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Head over to Victoria Station, down through Pimlico, finally ending at Tyburn House on the Thames.

London's Secret Tyburn River Walk | Bearleader No.17

Don’t forget to walk over the bridge to the opposite side of the Thames so you can see the outlet of the Tyburn. And that is the end of the trip. Big thanks to Andrew for giving us a fascinating trip into the past, walking throughout modern London.

Details

Secret London is available at www.amazon.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Walking Wales in the Path of Henry Tudor

You may have noticed, Bearleader likes a good hike. There is nothing like a day of fresh air, stunning scenery, a good story, and some simple fare. You can get by with any two of these and have a perfectly enjoyable day. Can you have it all? It’s not easy, but you can find it. This story is about walking Wales in one of those places that has it all. A walking holiday, if you will.

In the west of Wales lies the Dale Peninsula, a small piece of land ostensibly surrounded by water except for a small neck of low-lying land where the town of Dale sits. The peninsula is mostly farmland bordered by steep cliffs. The cliffs are distinctive in their own right. The geology of the area is such that tectonic plates have pushed and bent the geology into unbelievable knots of rock. And seeing the tension revealed in the earth makes evident the changing ever-moving relationship between land and sea.

A peninsular so uniquely and prominently jutting out into the sea is sure to have strategic significance. And the various installations, constructions and ruins scattered around the perimeter are testament to the importance of this tiny piece of land over the years. Light houses, communication towers, battlements and key historical sites can all be found along this fascinating pathway.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

We started our walking Wales trek from the National Trust car park at Kete. You can also start in Dale but Kete puts you closer to Henry’s Landing so you don’t have to wait so long to come across this part of the hike. From Kete we made our way west towards the edge of the peninsular. The hike is mostly around the perimeter of the peninsular so you are usually walking on the edge of cliffs with the sea to your right. With few exceptions the hike proceeds over gently rolling hills and is easily manageable for all fitness levels.

Walking around Frenchman’s Bay towards St. Anns lighthouse we passed several old lighthouses and some battlements. Once beyond St. Anns Head, we continued on towards Mill Bay the historic highlight of the walk.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

Descending into a small gully down some wooden steps, we arrived at Henry’s Landing, a protected rocky inlet. In 1485 Henry Tudor landed here along with 2,000 French mercenaries funded by the King of France. From here Henry began his own walking Wales excursion which finally resulted in the Tudors taking the crown.

Surely the geography has changed somewhat in the intervening years. But evidence of geology much older than 1485 is visible in the cliffs that tower above the small beach so the place today is not without similarity.

Standing on the small patch of sand amongst the rocks, you realize how cramped it must have been for 2,000 people with their gear to disembark and make their way up to the cliffs above. At low tide we could stride across the gully in a few paces. It was clearly a good choice of landing spots and it would have been hard for Henry’s enemies in nearby Dale Castle to detect his arrival.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

Following in Henry’s footsteps, we traversed our way out of the gully. From here, Henry overtook Dale Castle and made his way towards Bosworth to do battle with King Richard whom he defeated. We followed Henry’s path as far as Dale castle. Continuing along the cliffs, and soon caught sight of three transit towers in the distance. They resemble surreal sculptures. The path runs right under them so that was our next target.

In 1485 Henry Tudor landed here along with 2,000 French mercenaries funded by the King of France. From here Henry began his own walking Wales excursion which finally resulted in the Tudors taking the crown.

Looking around you find nothing but breathtaking views. Rarely even another hiker interrupts your view. A great thing about the Dale peninsular is that it’s never that crowded, so you will mostly be on your own. During our day walking Wales we only came across five other people.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

Following the path we passed through fields of grazing cows, not the least bit interested in us. Only giving us the slightest notice as they focused intently on the bright green grass they were munching on. Don’t forget to close the gates behind you as you pass from field to field.

Soon we were back in civilization walking through the alleys of Dale. You might want to take a break at the Dale Boat House or Griffin Inn. They serve lovely pub fare with locally sourced fish. We had a very fresh fish pie that really hit the spot.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

In Dale the trail got a little hazy. Maybe we enjoyed that meal a bit too much, but be on the lookout. Walk along the water past the parking lot and take a left into the residential area. Down the road you will see Dale Castle. Past the castle, walk through a meadow and you will soon be back at the sea.

The trail goes left up a short hill and then through a few more farms. This side of the peninsula we saw mostly horses. Like the cows, not at all interested or bothered by our presence. I did try to pet one since they looked so friendly. Not a good idea. Looks can be deceiving as it turns out.

Walking Wales at Henrys Landing | Bearleader No.14

A little further along, turn left to the car park and you are back where you started!

Our walking Wales excursion was moderately difficult mostly because it was quite a long walk. Good footwear makes it much easier. And like anywhere in the UK, being prepared for some rain is always a good idea. The weather has a funny way of changing when you least expect it. On this hike, we started in the rain and by the time we finished, it was all blue sky and sunshine.

The hike is only 7.5 miles and has total elevation change of 300 ft. All the paths are very well maintained and there are only a few short segments on paved roads in Dale.

This Walking Wales excursion can ge done year round. Even so, in the spring, summer and fall it is most beautiful. So take our advice and spend some of your holidays in wales walking. You will be glad you did

Details

The Griffin Inn at Dale: Hours vary seasonally so check out their website for opening times when you visit.

www.griffininndale.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

From Sky to Shining Sea

With a few idle days on the beach under my belt, it was refreshing to be on a tight schedule again. The first bus for the Samaria Gorge leaves before dawn and I was the first passenger to arrive at the central bus depot in Chania to start the journey. Just me, some staff and a friendly stray dog that sleepily stumbled from place to place as she was gently prodded by a sweeper preparing the station for the day’s coming crowds.

I have visited Crete several times and completing the Samaria Gorge hike has always been on my list to things to do. This time though the Samaria Gorge, it was September. Why is that important? Well, September is off-season and the Samaria Gorge is such a fantastic trip that in high season it can sometimes feel like a 16 kilometer queue. Doing it slightly off season means you have some room to breathe in this, one of the world’s great natural landscapes.

The hike offers a range of varied experiences all rolled into one. There’s nature: etched over time by a small river between the White Mountains and Mt. Volakias, the Samaria Gorge is a national park formed in 1962 in part to create protected habitat for the local species of mountain goat, the kiri-kiri. There’s history: the gorge has been occupied since ancient Greek times. You can visit the remnants of an ancient temple on which is built the more recent church of St. Nikolas. And the area was so inaccessible in the past that it occasionally was used as a retreat and hiding place for those defending Crete from invaders. And there’s exercise: the walk is exhilarating and a pretty good challenge, as is swimming in the Libyan Sea.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

The bus quietly winds through country roads, along mountain passes and through herds of goats, reaching the settlement of Omalos in about an hour. The sun breaks the horizon just after we arrive and I am ready to start the day’s descent.

Descent is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this hike. Starting at an elevation of 1,250 meters, over the course of 16 kilometers, you eventually end up at sea level. At the trail head you pay a small fee for entrance into the park. Down the trail the valley vista opens up as you traverse the steep switchbacks and stairs. It’s a glorious sight. For the first hour and a half you walk through mountainous terrain, the early morning sunlight filtering through the dense trees.

In the beginning, experienced hikers will be moving through at a fast clip in order to make the mid-day ferry from the town of Agia Roumelli to the bus in the town of Chora Sfakion. I was in no rush though, so I could take my time and absorb the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding mountains. After the initial morning rush, the trail was quite empty.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

A little ways on, I began to see odd little stacks of rocks along the trail. Just simple stacks of three to seven stones balanced one on top of the other. They looked decidedly man made. Around each corner, the constructions became more prolific and elaborate until a few hundred meters on they started to overtake the landscape. Who was the “artist” that took time to painstakingly make these earth works with such tender care? I have no clue but the mystery of it makes it all the more intriguing.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

Further on, I arrived at the settlement of Samaria where a lot of those speed hikers that passed me earlier were on lunch break. There is a first aid station here and it’s a good place to hang out with your fellow hikers and some local goats. A note of warning, wasps are numerous and tenacious here. Stay calm and move away slowly once they find you … and they will find you. One savvy hiker I met brought a pipe to smoke to keep the wasps at bay. After battling them in vain throughout my lunch, I realized he had the right idea.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

Before embarking on my Samaria Gorge treck, several people told me, to my disbelief, that some tourists walk the gorge in flip-flops. This seemed absurd to me and I put it down to urban legend. But as I had lunch I noticed a young woman strolling into the settlement in flip-flops. Kitted out with good boots and already with some aches and pains, I couldn’t believe it. Over the next few kilometers, we crossed paths several times and she asked me to take her photograph. Like some sort of magical mountain pixie, she navigated the trail as easily as one of the goats. There is some lesson there about keeping your mind open and not putting limits on yourself. However, unless you are an experienced flip-flop hiker, I would not suggest trying it out for the first time on this particular hike.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

Leaving the the Samaria settlement, I soon came across the most famous part of the Samaria Gorge. It’s the point where the path narrows to just a few meters. The enormous height of the gorge at this point is both breathtaking and treacherous. Signs kindly instruct you to “walk fast” as a way of lowering the risk of injury from falling rocks.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

By this time it is around 1:00 pm, the sun is directly overhead and shade is hard to come by: good idea to bring a sun hat for this part. Here, the trail consists mostly of the river bed. The big boulders, small path, searing sun and a downhill trajectory make for a tricky walk.

This time though the Samaria Gorge, it was September. Why is that important? Well, September is off-season … in high season it can sometimes feel like a 16 kilometer queue.

Up until this point the trail has been mostly deserted but now I am encountering a lot more hikers coming in the other direction. These hikers seemed less prepared than those I started out with at the top. Come to find out that some tour groups take the boat to Agia Roumell but only walk up to the big attraction where the path narrows. I can only imagine that this might not be much fun in mid-summer.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

At the end of the Samaria Gorge trail, there is the customary snack and postcard shop. But wait, I’m still not there yet. I need to get to Agia Roumelli to catch the ferry. It’s a short three-kilometer walk through the outskirts of the town. Or for a small charge you can hop on a van. My feet said, “take the van”.

Samaria Gorge, Crete | Bearleader No.11

The ferry to the town of Chora Sfakion leaves late in the day. So after locating and buying my ticket, I head to the real treat of the whole journey. The Libyan Sea is a shade of blue I had not experienced. Photos can only suggest the intense color of the water. Add to this a jet black beach, a strong wind, and an absolutely wild surf. It was like jumping into river rapids. I figured out that if I walked up the beach a hundred meters or so, and jumped in, within a few minutes I would be back where I started. The combination of exhaustion, intense sun, a billowing gale and plunging into this deep blue sea was unforgettable.

The ferry docked as large waves pounded the shore, showering all within proximity. Quite the dramatic scene to observe. Someone at the back of the ferry was waving vigorously signaling that it was time to board. En masse we passengers suddenly realized that in order to get on the ferry we would need to go through this test of water. Huddled together and wincing at the prospect of being doused, we dashed for the boat, encountering a few waves along the way. “Chaos” is not too strong of a word to describe this scene.

Upon arriving at Chora Sfakion there is one last bit of chaos when all the ferry passengers climb a few steps to meet the waiting busses. In the confusion it seems like this can not possibly work out … but it does.

Details

Here are a few tips to make your Samaria Gorge experience a successful one.

– The walk is mostly down hill over rocky terrain. Walking in these conditions puts enormous pressures on your joints so be prepared. If you are relatively fit you will be fine.

– Wear good walking shoes.

– Bring plenty of water and enough food to fuel you for 16 kilometers. There are plenty of places to refill your water bottle with natural spring water, but no food available until you reach Agia Roumelli at the end of the gorge.

– This is one of the safer and better organized hiking experiences you will find. There are plenty of people around and Rangers on donkeys posted along the trail to rescue you in case of injury.

– Bring a bathing suit, a towel and flip-flops for the big plunge at the beach in Agia Roumelli.

– Pack a disposable rain poncho in case of rough seas on the ferry.

– There are a few places along the way where tickets are required; 1) the round-trip bus ticket that takes you to Omalos and picks you up in Chora Sfakion to take you home, 2) the entrance ticket to the Samaria Gorge, 3) the three-kilometer bus to the ferry (optional), and 4) the ferry ticket to Chora Sfakion to connect back to the bus home.

Finally, if you prefer a more guided hike, I highly recommend you contact the company Natour Lab. they are an experienced team specializing in local hikes. They also hold cooking classes on how to cook naturally using traditional Cretan methods. Definitely worth checking out.

www.natour-lab.gr

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea

I got the chance to visit St. Ives, Cornwall, at the end of September. It seemed a bit late in the season for a beach-town visit but sometimes you have to say “why not?”… What I found was blue skies, quiet streets, wide open beaches, and tables readily available at the best restaurants.

On Sunday night I boarded the Night Riviera train at Paddington Station. I booked a sleeping compartment imagining I was in a Miss Marple story. I arrived early the next morning rested, and fortunately, no one had come to a mysterious end during the night.

After dropping off my bags at Trevose Guest House with owners Angela and Oli Noverraz, I headed across town to the St Ives Surf School on Porthemore Beach. Learning to Surf was really my main objective on this trip, but I must admit I have never engaged much with bodies of salt water. I was born in a land-locked country. I appreciate the beauty of the sea but more from an aesthetic point of view, well above sea level.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in. The instructor for my class, Simon, also happened to be on hand when I arrived, and he and Katy expressed such certainty that all would be okay and that I would be riding waves by the end of the lesson, that I had no choice but to believe them.

My fellow students were a diverse bunch: different ages, men and women, and all different fitness levels. And everyone seemed as excited as me about the prospect of riding a wave for the first time.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Simon first gave us a safety rundown, taught us what the flags on the beach meant and, most important, showed us the hand signal to indicate that you’re in trouble – arm straight up with fist clenched, in case you are wondering. Then, he taught us some physics about how to distribute your weight on the board to avoid a nose dive, shared the two techniques for standing up, and we were off to the surf.

I had decided it was high time to tackle this fear. Katy at the St Ives Surf School checked the tides to see when the next class would be, and booked me in.

Simon shouted encouragement and tips from waist-deep water as we struggled to keep board, wave, and body all going in the same direction. Two hours later, completely exhausted, we all had a few decently ridden waves under our belts. I have to say the experience was absolutely exhilarating. I am hooked, as were the others.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

After drying off and getting back into some warm clothes we were off to the Portemore Beach Cafe, next to the St Ives Surf School, for a good cup of tea. What a great feeling.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

I settled into my comfortable bed at the Trevose Guest House early that night. I was completely knackered. Apparently there are some muscles you use in surfing that are not generally used. I really was sore.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Next day, after enjoying Oli’s fantastic breakfast, he and Angela invited me along for a tour of the studio of the late artist, Sandra Blow. Each Thursday her studio is opened to the public (by appointment and for a small fee to keep the estate maintained) by trustees Jon Grimble and his partner Artist Denny Long. Everything is just as she left it. Various materials and art supplies lie in place, her abstract paintings adorn the walls, and her eccentric wardrobe still hangs on a coat rack in the studio.

Like many artists Sandra Blow moved to St. Ives for the amazing light. Jon, her long-time friend, talked vividly about the beginnings of her art career in Chelsea, and her creative process. I found that part the most interesting. A fabulous morning.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

For lunch I met up with Australian Chef Michael Smith, owner of Porthminster Beach Cafe. I had read about him and have his cook book, so I was eager to meet him.

The restaurant is on the second floor of a white Art Deco building lovingly restored to house the restaurant. I’m told that in summer the place is buzzing. Now, everyone seems to be enjoying a bit of a breather from the crowds. Michael uses only fresh local ingredients so seafood figures prominently on the menu. I had the Monkfish Curry, one of his signature dishes, and ate the Sticky Braised Pork Cheeks with wasabi puree, peanuts and prawns. A modern take on surf and turf.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

The temperature was pleasantly cool. Sometimes warm when the wind was calm and a bit chilly when the wind picked up. Most people were still out in flip-flops and shorts. I’m always cold so I stood out a bit, dressed in my winter garb. The locals have an interesting theory about the temperature this time of year. The air temperature declines at a much faster rate than the sea and it is around this time that they equal out. So the theory goes that it actually feels less cold than in the summer because you feel the same in or out of the water. I was skeptical, but after my firsthand experience, it did kind of work that way.

No.4 | Morning Surf—Afternoon Tea at St Ives Surf School

Over my three-day stay I would constantly run into people I had met: My fellow students and I would exchange sore muscle stories, I got the thumbs up from the real surfers that have seen me floundering about in the surf, and even some of the shop owners I frequented got to know my name. St. Ives has a quiet charm in the off season with a lovely mix of people.

On the train ride out of town the track winds around the edge of the bay until it heads back inland. With the sun setting the light was, as usual, magnificent. It is easy to see why, for many years, artists and surfers alike have been drawn to make St. Ives their home.

Details

To arrive via the Night Riviera Sleeper train:
Depart from Paddington and change trains in the morning at St Erth. From there it is a short trip to St. Ives which is at the end of the line.

For the best guest house accommodation in St. Ives: www.trevosehouse.co.uk

For breakfast, lunch or tea on Porthmeor Beach:
www.porthmeor-beach.co.uk

For breakfast, lunch or dinner on Porthminster Beach:
www.porthminstercafe.co.uk

To arrange a private visit to the Sandra Blow Estate:
Call Jon Grimble 011 44 (0)1736 756 006. Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Tours can usually be arranged each Thursday.

For surfing lessons:
www.stivessurfschool.co.uk
Telephone: 011 44 (0)1736 793 938 Cell: 011 44 (0)7527 477 492 Note: Drop the “(0)” if dialing internationally. Email: info@stivessurfschool.co.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Walking with Seven Sisters

This one-day getaway from London to Seven Sisters Park in East Sussex is one of my favorites. If I need a day out of the city, this is the quickest route to breathtaking natural landscapes and fresh air. It’s easy to get to, and you don’t need a car. Just hop on a train and you will be on an East Sussex walk in little over an hour. You will return refreshed.

The name “Seven Sisters” refers to seven hills by the sea that have been incrementally eroded revealing massive white chalk cliffs. They fall between Cuckmere River and Birling Gap a valley that ends at the seaside. Access to the area is provided by South Downs National Park on the East and the National Trust on the West, and the trail that runs through it is known as South Downs Way.

The name Seven Sisters refers to seven hills by the sea that have been incrementally eroded revealing massive white chalk cliffs

The cliffs are often used in movies as a substitute for their more famous “sisters” the white cliffs of Dover. Development has infringed on the Dover cliffs and over time they have become less white. In contrast Seven Sisters are pristine, so if you are after an authentic, chalky-white, outdoors experience, this is a great choice.

No.3 | Walking with Seven Sisters in East Sussex

If you are just visiting London, this is a great day trip, a popular tourist destination. On most weekends, you will see an interesting mix of people; young, old, many families and tourists, all there to marvel at the breathtaking views. Strangely, the park is featured prominently in many Asian guide books and classified as a major London landmark. But if you ask someone in London about the Seven Sisters, most people will not have heard of it, thus, a good proportion of people walking the park are from Japan and Korea. So much so that the information provided in the visitors center is available exclusively in English and Japanese.

No.3 | Walking with Seven Sisters in East Sussex

I personally like to start on the west side and walk east, stopping at the beach before heading up the first hill. At low tide a strange landscape is revealed of white rocks covered partially in lush green seaweed. The sea continues to erode the chalk, releasing the stones that were trapped here millions of years ago. The “beach” is made of these stones smoothed over time by the waves. They are hard to walk on, but it is good exercise.

As you ascend the steep hills, don’t forget to turn around and take in the breathtaking 360-degree view of the valley below, with the sea and the cliffs in the distance.

No.3 | Walking with Seven Sisters in East Sussex

I recommend bringing a picnic lunch. There are many lovely spots along the way with unbeatable views that will make for a memorable meal.

At each end of the walk, you will find convenient resting places. On the east side is the Birling Cafe, and on the west, next to the County Park Visitors Center, is a lovely tea room. For the ambitious walker South Downs Way continues beyond Birling Gap to the town of Eastbourne. If you take that in, it will about double the length of your walk.

No.3 | Walking with Seven Sisters in East Sussex

If you are anything like me, heading home by train or car at the end of the day, you will feel refreshed and ready for a new week.

Details

To travel via train: Southern Railway trains leave from London Victoria. You will change at station Lewes for the Seaford (Sussex) train. Seaford (Sussex) is the last stop on the line. Don’t forget to buy a day pass for the bus along with your train ticket. Ask for “PLUSBUS” when buying your train ticket.

When you arrive in Seaford, cross the street in front of the station and turn left, walking beyond the last shop on the right to the bus stop. Take the No.12 bus to the Exceat Park Centre stop. Walk through the Visitors Center to the park entrance.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger