I love old maps. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the lure of a seemingly quieter time, an expanse of fields and greenery. I’m fascinated by comparing old and new maps, to see what’s changed, names of roads hinting at old structures and pathways.
Luckily our local second-hand bookshop always has a great pile of maps and local history leaflets and booklets and I can’t go in without a few of them finding their way into my possession – I try not to visit often!
There’s just something about maps – obviously the old book/map smell and feel, but something more, something magical about looking at that record of human existence in a place, of how the land rises and falls and how we ride along with it. Sometimes changing the face of that land, sometimes the land reclaiming those once wild spaces back, footprints fading back to earth. It’s all there, in folded paper, in contour lines, funny symbols and dotted pathways.
I have an old cardboard box where I keep maps and other interesting ephemera. It’s a treat on a rainy afternoon to reach up to the high shelf, grab the box and pick out anything that catches my eye. I have a few favourites – the old material Ordnance Survey map of the Peak District, with the map separated and individually glued into place. A pamphlet on the M62, full of interesting titbits with which to gleefully regale your travelling companions as you whizz along at 70mph, Scammonden Dam blurring past the windows. Waterproof tracking guides to stick in a pocket when venturing for a snowy walk, following the pid-pad of footprints that are usually invisible.
I lose myself in layers of time, tracing fingers over footpaths that fade into fields, hedges that turn into housing estate boundaries. We were given an old map of our area as a housewarming gift, that had a tantalising ‘x’ in biro. Needless to say, an adventure was afoot.
We navigated only by the old map, travelling in a time-bubble of 70 years ago. Watching present-day people driving by, it really felt as if we were time travellers. We were only occasionally surprised by the odd new dual carriageway or dead end that had appeared in the intervening decades. We grumbled at these intruders, turned around, and carried on on the old roads. What would be at the ‘x’?
Eventually we arrived at an inconspicuous corner, populated with a few trees and surrounded by farmland. Would there be riches, buried just below the surface? Archaeological artefacts? Did something important happen here, many years ago? As the car doors clunked shut behind us, we stood in the silence and looked around.
We’d come entirely unprepared, and scuffed around under the trees for a while with our feet, avoiding crisp packets and pop bottles. This area was decidedly unromantic, and we felt very much back in the present day the more we scrabbled around. Suddenly, a glint caught our eyes… could this be it?
Parting the long grass, half concealed in mud, we pulled out a thick, clear glass bottle, possibly an old milk or pop bottle with ‘Laws’ on the side. What a treasure! The map spoke true to us, there was indeed buried treasure at the ‘x’! Full of joy, we headed homewards, again on the old roads, our find safely nestled in the footwell. It is now used as a candle holder, along with other old bottles – I love the look of the melted wax as it builds up over the years. It is as much a treasure now as when we found it.
I’d fully recommend navigating via old maps. I find it takes me away from the present day, back to a time without motorways, which only occasionally pop up to surprise you where you least expect it. It’s even more of a treat when navigating to a point of interest that is now decidedly built up, but still exists in the ‘real world’, as it were. It’s like finding a treasure all over again. And of course, finding an old map with an ‘x’ on it fuels anyone’s imagination, and treasure can be anything you want it to be. Put your own ‘x’s. Find your own treasure! Or, hide some beforehand and take the family.
I find having a box of maps brings immense joy. Similarly-minded people will pop round for a cup of tea and find the same delight leafing through a collection of maps. Annotated maps are even better – our Iceland map is full of campsite reviews, exciting iceberg finds and locations where the showers are free – it brings back great memories to spend a nice half hour or so reliving our road trip round Route 1. Another of my favourite maps is one I got as a present a few years ago – a map of the rude place names in the UK which always leaves me in fits of giggles every time I look at it. I have added a picture below for your viewing pleasure. I think Bell End is my fave! Although Cockstubbles is a close second.
I love this box of interesting things. Spending a few quiet moments leafing through is one of life’s joys, especially as you can then go outside and actually find yourself in the places you’ve just looked at. Planning adventures to interesting looking places and features, finding out what used to be built down the road, or just wandering from map to map following a road. Picking up a pamphlet of local history or something interesting about nature and settling down with a brew and a biscuit. A box of interesting things is a must. What would you put in yours?
Back in April, we were treated to a few days in Portugal courtesy of family. The first proper holiday abroad since the dreaded C, we were really grateful for the chance to escape for a little while. We hopped on a Ryanair (luckily getting through security with minimal delays or hitches) and a few hours, locator forms and vaccine passports later, we landed in Lisbon. A family member was chauffeur, and we piled into the back of the rental car. As darkness fell, we headed to an Airbnb in Colares, a few minutes from the coast.
There’s something magical about arriving in the dark, in a strange place, in a new country. The living room lights welcomed us in, as did cups of tea and the dumping of carry-on bags into new bedrooms. A pool glinted temptingly from underneath sliding covers – but that could wait for the morning. Yawning with that specific travel fatigue, we headed up the wooden stairs to bed.
I always look forward to that first glimpse of surroundings in the light of the new day when on holiday. We opened the shutters (shutters!) and were greeted by pine trees swaying in the breeze, the April clouds floating by, and the giggle of our younger family members playing around the pool below. Ahhh. Holiday!
Colares is handily located for travel, with regular buses and excitingly-old trams (well, one tram) rumbling to and from Sintra. Exploring the local area, we wandered down to Praia des Maçãs with its huge beach. Being April, it was quiet, with the beach absolutely deserted. The sea breeze was bordering on chilly, and we headed to a nearby beach café for fantastically garlicky cheese toasties and copious coffees.
Having chronic fatigue is slightly annoying for travel and so I slept a lot in the first day or two whilst everyone else did some exploring! Although lying on a deckchair under a pine tree wasn’t bad at all, and somehow way more restorative than back home…! A main aim of the trip was to eat as many Pastel del Natas as humanly possible and to go on a yellow tram. With this in mind, we caught the train from Sintra into Lisbon (cheap, clean, quiet and on time, a very different experience to the UK!) which took about 40 minutes.
Lisbon was a lot hotter than Colares – the sun beat down onto the pavements and we were glad to find a fountain and play in the mist for a while to cool down. With slight hanger setting in, we headed to one of many street cafés for lunch where I had a great lemonade – still, bitter and ice cold. I am still dreaming of it!
Luckily the café also sold pastries, so armed with a box of Pastel del Natas, we headed down to Commerce Square next to the sea, walking through the Arco da Rua Augusta. Watching a huge cruise liner float into the port, we devoured our pastries (excellent!) and headed up the hill in search of a tram. After some debate we luckily managed to catch a busy famous yellow 28 tram. I was a little disappointed with the huge adverts covering the trams which left only a slight hint of yellow on each, but once we were inside, it didn’t really matter! The interior is dark brown wood, with a standing area at the back, and we creaked along up the winding roads with the horn ringing to move people out of the way. It’s cheaper to pre-book tickets, but we just got them on board as we weren’t that organised, paying around €10 each.
There are many different tram routes, some there-and-back and others circular, so it’s worth having a look at a guide beforehand.
Back in Praia des Maçãs the next day, we ventured to a Roman fort – the Sítio Arqueológico do Alto da Vigia, located on the cliff next to the beach. Once the most Western point of the Roman Empire, we wandered around the ropes protecting the small excavation site, imagining life here, from baking summer heat to the wild waves of winter. A few miles down the coast at Praia Grande are dinosaur footprints (Pegadas de Dinossauro) – we didn’t manage to get to see them this time, but I’d love to go back to visit those, too. Looking down the rugged coastline and huge beaches, it seemed easier for me to imagine dinosaurs plodding along, leaving trails of footprints behind. Even though the world looked incredibly different in the time of the dinosaurs (the footprints are apparently on a vertical cliff!), there is something still ancient about the coastline.
In between all the exploring, we bobbled around the Airbnb, swam in the pool and visited some great eateries. Souldough Pizza was a particular highlight, located with a handful of other restaurants, Hops and Drops bar (great beer) veggie & vegan friendly, and with amazing wood-fired pizzas. You can order from any of the restaurants and they bring everything to your table – a great place to while away the hours, and a swing park for kids too. I had a pear, honey and parmesan pizza and it was *chef’s kiss*. We also wandered along to HopSin brewpub in Colares, a small brewery. They do small plates to eat, and we definitely recommend the 10-beer taster! I’m not a huge drinker any more sadly but the beers went down very well amongst those I was with!
It goes without saying that we just had an absolutely lovely family time. Catching up with everyone, having the laughs, the adventures, loud times, quiet times, play times and exploration times was just exactly what we needed – we had an amazing time and are so grateful to our family for the experience. I somehow managed to catch the plague in between England and Portugal, and for the last couple of days I was flat out with a stinking cold (not covid! Isn’t that a familiar phrase now whenever we are ill. ‘It’s not covid!’) and spent a day asleep feeling very sorry for myself whilst everyone else did some more exploring! I managed to wander the garden and loved all the exotic plants and flowers in bloom, even though it was only April. The bird of paradise plants and the huge cacti were my favourite.
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head home. Half of us had to return early as our flights were changed, and we left the rest of our party for another couple of nights. They managed to explore the castles of Sintra some more, catching a bus in between.
Dosed up on paracetamol and armed with an extra loo roll to blow my nose with, I still enjoyed our flight home – although security both at Lisbon and back in the UK was rammed and it took ages to get through. The route home was clear and calm and I loved watching the land and sea pass by far below. We even spotted a few other planes in the sky. After passing out asleep on the sofa when we got home, I felt a lot better the next day, typical!
I’d love to go back to Portugal – everyone was friendly and I feel we’d need a few weeks to even get started on all the places to explore. Even Lisbon itself would need a whole separate holiday! In April there are a few hot days, but near the coast I definitely didn’t bring enough jumpers – although getting them in a Ryanair cabin bag might prove a problem…
To finish off, here are a few more photos from our trip: the pear pizza, the infamous Pastel del Nata with the Arco da Rua Augusta in the background, and an obligatory plane window photo! Have you ever been to Portugal, or would you like to go? Where would you recommend?
Staying in a leaking tent in a downpour is pretty miserable, I admit. As much as I like to be ‘one with the elements’, when the elements start dripping through the roof onto your socks then it’s time to make a move. So, embracing the downpour, we scuttled into the car and headed for one of our favourite beaches on Anglesey.
There’s a small layby for parking which has become a lot busier over the years. Even in this weather there were a few other cars already parked. Down the track, past a bush covered in knots of tent moth caterpillars, we spotted the few other hardy souls wandering through the downpour in the distance. Not just us that likes a bracing walk! As the sodden sand mingled with the surf, we tracked footprints along the shoreline, rain dripping from our noses.
Porth Nobla is along the coast from Rhosneigr, just before (or after, depending which way you’re coming!) the better known Cable Bay. Down a small track, there is a nice sandy beach, plenty of rockpools, and a path around the headland to the Neolithic burial chamber Barclodiad y Gawres. The burial chamber is amazing, although the entrance is barred off. Peering into the gloom you can make out artworks, and there is usually an lovely array of gifts left just through the bars too.
This time, the rain was driving and we stayed on the beach. Clambering over rocks, pointing out anemones and winkles, wandering up shingle to find dragons eggs (definitely not just a pebble). I was more than happy to find some exciting coloured seaweed. I’m sure one day I’ll learn to identify it! An oystercatcher flapped at us as we stumbled near its nesting site, and we wandered back down to the sand, not wanting to disturb it. I’ve been coming to this beach for my entire life. Seeing how it changed between each visit is always interesting, tinged with a little nostalgia as I remember family holidays as a small child, a teen, a young adult. Now I’m approaching middle age, walking the shoreline with Mr. GF. Anchoring a bit of myself with each footstep, hearing the echoes of years past.
I’ve always wanted to stay in Tyn Towyn, the little white cottage at the top of Porth Nobla beach, but never have! Every time I wander past I think I’d love to stay there. Winter would be fantastic, rain lashing at the windows and no mobile signal. Right up my street! It looks great in any season, and I imagine early morning swims in the summer and books and blankets in winter. We have wild camped on this beach previously, lying on sand above the high tide line with the milky way hanging in the dark above and waves breaking along miles of coastline. Good times, and way less rainy. 5am camp coffee with the rising sun, bacon butties and sand in sleeping bags.
Back to the present and by the time we got back to the car, we were the only ones left in the lay by. We peeled our wet coats off, dripping onto the car seats. As the windows steamed up we were looking forward to hot chips from Rhosneigr on the way back. We planned paracord washing lines to dry our clothes once the rain had passed and headed down the road, leaving the wild waves behind.
I have a penchant for interesting things in old tins. There’s something fascinating about the possibilities that could be contained within, the individuality, the tetris-like placement of items. The myriad of options. Any number of small things could find their home in that familiar, pocket-sized container.
In a recent issue of Ernest Journal, writer Tanya Shadrick shared her ‘concentrates of place‘, beautiful memories nestled in old tobacco tins. As a fan of making treasure to remind me of places, reading about her tins enthralled me. The possibilities an old cigarette tin has are endless and always intriguing.
I’m happy to have my own old tin, snuffled from eBay, a gold Nosegay tobacco tin in which I keep my tiny emergency kit for when I am wandering about on the moors. Said kit has slightly expanded out of the tin, but joyously, a teeny little IKEA bag does the job of carrying the expanded items just fine.
I am by no means a long distance walker, but enjoy an morning or afternoon’s plod accompanied by my thoughts, ideally in driving rain, damp drizzle or gusting wind, when most other people are sensibly indoors and the only people you meet are people just as enthusiastic and daft as you, raindrops dripping from their noses, exchanging eye rolls and grins and that unspoken wildness just below the surface.
Up on the moors, there are dips and holes and bogs and a myriad of places to fall into, off and through. With this in mind, I put together a little kit, just in case on day one of these hazards creeps up on me and catches me unawares. These days I never get so far as to be miles from civilisation, but having a little backup just in case puts me at ease. Plus, I get to put things in a tin, which is always the real reason for doing anything.
This is my current mini emergency kit all packed up:
The mini IKEA bag gives me an immense amount of joy, honestly. The perfect size to pop in your adventure rucksack.
In addition to my two containers, I also take two clips that came with my walking poles – they just look useful in case I need to hang any soggy socks off a nearby branch. There’s a tin of Vaseline – in addition to helping chapped anything, it can also be spread onto cotton rounds to help them burn slower if you need to start a fire. And of course, no walk is complete without Kendal Mint Cake (a quick mint-flavoured rabbit hole has led me to discover no less than 4 mint cake brands, although the packaging of Romney’s is tip top. They also do tins! Huzzah).
The ‘thing in the bag’ is a knitted mat (I spun the wool, terribly, then used my knitting skills – also terrible – to make this rectangle. The good thing about both those things is that the wool is very thick and the knitting is very tight. Happily, this makes a comfy, warm sitting pad!) Popped in a carrier bag, it is a smug way to sit on rocks/grass/damp ground and not get a numb bum.
Unpacked, my mini kit looks like this:
In addition to the items I talked about, my mini emergency kit has a couple of first aid bits – gauze bandage, cleansing wipe, paracetamol. The moors are damp and mossy, sphagnum moss makes a great poultice. The aforementioned cotton pads for if ever I needed to start a fire (absolutely banned on the moors, for good reason) and a small fire steel. Practically, I have some paracord and a Swiss Card containing a small knife, tweezers, pen, screwdriver, bottle opener and file. I used to have one with a magnifying glass and scissors, but stupidly forgot and left it in my hand luggage on the way to Iceland one year. You can guess the rest.
Lastly, I take a bit of paper with emergency details on – who I am, who to contact, car reg & description, any meds/health conditions. In summer, I’d add Factor 50 (ginger) and insect repellent if I’m about around dusk.
Of course, I always take a bottle of water, usually a quick lunch or snack and some fruit/nuts. I charge my phone before I go and if I’m going to be a while I take a battery pack and lead. App-wise, I have What3Words (also useful for marking interesting places) and a first aid app, and use the free version of OutdoorActive as my map and route tracker – it works on GPS too if there’s no reception.
For me, this is an easy way to make sure I have something useful on me if I encounter a calamity on a boggy adventure, and means I can help myself a little whilst I wait to be rescued. It also satisfies my ‘things in old tins’ penchant.
Do you have a mini emergency kit (or large emergency kit) you take with you on walks, no matter how long they are? Of course, longer adventures require different essentials. I’m interested to know what you class as essential for your adventures. Also if you love keeping things in tins, or is it just me…
Wandering along the shoreline is one of my favourite pastimes. I was born at the edge of the Peak District, as far away from the crashing waves of the shoreline as possible in the UK. I’m not sure if that explains the feeling that pulls me to the sea, to the edge of this island, where the legends and tales are saltier, the winds a little wilder. My husband hails from the long coasts of Norfolk and regales me with tales of boats, bridges, coastal erosion and longshore drift. He talks of waves and tourists and the sea as a constant. It is another world to me, a child of peaks and plains. When we visit, we park up, eating chips in the car, watching the blink of ships miles out to sea in the inky blackness.
Now we live in Yorkshire, with wild moorland, rocks, peat and those liminal spaces, but again, far away from the coast. The occasions I get to travel to the beach are special, and I roll up my trousers and wander amongst the froth of breaking waves until my toes are numb and raw pink from the cold.
On the beach, I look for treasure. Sparkly sea glass, shiny shells, even a coin or two after a storm. Maybe even real treasure – eye to the ground, eyes open to the possibility of a doubloon or two sparkling under a pile of drying seaweed. Who knows?!
Anything can be treasure, though, on a beach. I love the different seaweeds, although am no naturalist and can never remember the names. The big horsetails, with their sturdy roots and giant fronds. Long, string-like pieces that whip back and forth in sea breeze. Familiar bladderwrack, interspersed with nameless chunks of yellow or lime green, slime, plastic, rope, and the occasional dead crab. The unmistakable tang of low tide.
Last visit I spent time spotting the most vibrant pink seaweeds, contrasting starkly with the dull brown lying along the tideline. Pink seaweed! Another piece, and another! I collected them in my hands, slimy and wet, and laid them out on a nearby rock. For me, that day, pink seaweed was the best treasure I could find.
My husband picked up an old pulley, washed up by strong winds and huge waves. Orange brown rust bloomed all over, tiny shells and stones sunk into the metal. We wondered where it came from – a ship, a small boat, part of a cargo? Was it broken and thrown into the sea somewhere miles from land? Was it lost by a local fisherman bringing in the catch? The pulley stained our hands orange and made rusty mess everywhere, but we still brought it home, to wonder over.
The coastline is wild in a different way. Finds can be from anywhere in the world transported by the currents. Shells and animals from deep below the waves, places humans haven’t yet discovered. A beach is a place of meeting, of the known and unknown, earth, water, air. A place of treasure, always.
The winds blow the sea into crashing, foaming waves. Rain drives pin pricks into faces, clothes soaked through, feet in the sea-froth and alive, alive, soul singing in this tempest. One foot in front of the other along the shoreline, wild smiles as wide as the horizon. The rain falls harder, smashing into crowns on the wave tops, thundering from rock and headland, in our ears and eyes and souls.
Later, I comb the tideline, for after the storm is the best time for seekers. I collect plastic rope and crisp packets, chocolate wrappers from far away, shards of who-knows-what now broken down into coloured, sea-bleached pieces. But alongside the plastic, I also collect treasure.
First is driftwood, a small piece, lighter than air, dry and salty and filled with holes. A mermaid’s purse – two, in fact, one small and brown, the hole in the casing showing where new life began a journey into the sea. The other is huge, black, glistening and intact – I lie it gently in the shallows and let the waves take it away.
Oily seabird feathers lie scattered and I pick a small one, white with a streak of brown, to remember the wind that still ruffles the tops of the waves and ties my damp hair into salty knots. As the tide slowly recedes I comb the shining pebbled sand for sea glass. First one piece, translucent and glittering. Then another, and another, as my eyes tune into the spaces between shell and stone. Soon my palm is full and I grasp tightly to the pieces, feeling them scrape against each other as I secrete them safely in my pocket.
Finally, seaweed to bind. A long piece that reminds me of a shoelace – I hold it to the air and it whips back and forth in the sea breeze.
Days later, at home, I lay my finds out and begin the sea totem. A small piece imbued with wind and sea and wildness. Carefully, I wrap old rope and seaweed around the driftwood, attaching feather, egg case, sea glass. Elements of a place, of time, become one. Next time I visit I will release it, undo it, return each piece to the place where it belongs, but for now it stays with me, bringing that wild place home.