Busy Times!

Well, what a lot has happened since I last posted around three weeks ago!  Exams came and went, the viva voce came and went, and results also came and went.  I’m pleased to say that I got a 2.i, so that was an enormous relief.  I opted to wait for the results to be posted publicly on the Senate House boards, rather than check online which was a bit scary, but definitely worth it I think!

It’s currently May Week here, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to two May Balls (Robinson and Jesus).  A great time was had at both, and if I get round to it, I’ll do a write up of each (maybe).

Apart from that, I’ve been relaxing a lot, eating lots of good food (the highlight being some fried wild mushrooms that JW collected), along with the usual post-Cambridge exam Pimm’s and croquet combination. Oh, and visiting the pub, a lot.

Anyway, today’s the Sedgwick Club “May Ball”, so that ought to be a lot of fun.

Looking ahead to next week, known as “Grad Week” (as it’s the week where everyone except the graduands leave Cambridge), I’m off to Wales for a Part III holiday from Sunday to Tuesday.  Then my graduation takes place on Saturday week which is quite a sad moment really, as it means I’ll be finally leaving this amazing place, and will no longer be in statu pupillari.

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Travel Concept #1 – The Islands of Western Scotland

Right, so this blog has a lot of travel stuff on it, and I’m back in that procrastinatorial mindset.  The result is that I’ve created a new category of posts – ooooo, exciting!  Basically I’ll just write down ideas I have for journeys I’d like to do at some point.  So, what’s the first one I hear you ask?  Well, read on and find out.

I’ve long had a love of islands.  I’m not sure why, but they always fascinate me.  Their close relationship to the sea, and the communities that live on them.  I guess it’s not a particular surprise, given that I’ve lived on an (admittedly fairly large) island my whole life, and the UK is by definition, and island nation.  A few years ago, Martin Clunes did a series of three documentaries about the smaller islands around the UK (watch them on YouTube here, they are excellent).

Anyway, I’ve been told that the islands off the west coast of Scotland are beautiful (and I’ve visited Skye and Arran already.  They were simply stunning, so it’s safe to assume that the others are equally great, and it’d be marvellous to go back to those two islands anyway). But all the best trips need a purpose.  Fortunately, whilst in the depths of procrastination, it struck me.  What’s Scotland famous for? Whisky.  Obviously.  So, why not merge a trip to the Scottish islands with a tour of all their respective distilleries?  A quick search online later, and I had the complete list of distilleries.  13 in total, spread over six islands (Arran, Islay, Jura, Lewis/Harris, Mull, and Skye).  A few minutes after that, and the route was planned, with the ferries all worked out.

A trip to Harris and Lewis would give me the chance to visit the Callanish Standing Stones, which is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time.  They’re essentially similar to Stonehenge, but far less touristy and in a much more picturesque location!  The geology of this part of the world is amazing too.  I had a trip to Arran in Part IA, Skye in Part II, and have also studied Mull extensively in Part IB. Lewis is home to the oldest rocks in the UK – the Lewisian Gneiss (at a whopping 2.7 billion years old).  A sample of the Lewisian Gneiss also happens to be my favourite one in my rock collection (admittedly I collected it from Skye, but the rock type is the same)!

Now all I need are nine days free and a car with a decent sized boot!

So, without further ado, here’s the concept:

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge)

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge) – ferry prices include two people and a car

A Cheeky Ramble

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, and after graduation seemed like the perfect time to start ticking off fun travel things.  I mentioned it to AW, and he seemed very keen, so we’ll be going together.  What is it I hear you ask?  Well, it’s a walk to the most remote pub on the island of Great Britain.  Called the Old Forge, it is situated on the remote Knoydart Peninsula in the highlands (just opposite the Isle of Skye).  It’ll take three days to walk there from the nearest town (Glenfinnan), camping for two nights along the way (one wild camping in a tent, the other, if it’s not full, in a bothy). You’ll definitely recognise Glenfinnan, or rather, its railway viaduct. It’s this bridge from the Harry Potter film series, and is where scenes like this were filmed.  As me and AW will be getting the train to the start of the walk, we’ll get to travel over it, which will be great!

One of the benefits of walking in the Scottish Highlands in the summer is the long days.  Owing to its high latitude, in the summer, sunrise is around 04:30, with sunset taking place well past 22:00, so there’s a lot of time for walking!  The maps are faultless in the UK, courtesy of the Ordnance Survey, founded in 1791 to make detailed maps of the whole country.  The remoteness of the Highlands means that you’re almost always alone in beautiful mountains.  The only downside is that it usually rains, and there is a rather significant population of midges, ticks, and other delightful insects that enjoy eating you.

Once me and AW make it to the town of Inverie, and have enjoyed a celebratory pint and pub supper, the next morning, we’ll have to head back.  We won’t be walking out though, but instead getting a boat across the sea loch to Mallaig, before getting the train back to the Home Counties.

All that remains now is to finalise the details and book everything up!

(If you’re interested in the route we’re planning to follow, the route described on this excellent blog here is what we’ll be aiming to emulate).

PS:  The geology is pretty interesting around here too, so that’s an added bonus!

The Final Field Trip

Last week marked the end of my final field trip with my university.  Like all field trips, it was as usual, enormous fun, with a lot of hard work thrown in.  Typically, we were working between 09:00-18:00 every day, with a one hour talk at 19:30, but in true student fashion, we partied at night too.

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We were staying in a small town called Carboneras about an hour or two south of Murcia, to the east of Almería, right on the coast of the Mediterranean.  The weather all week was in the mid 20s and sunny, which was a huge change to the normal conditions in Britain! Unfortunately my very pale complexion took a bit of a beating from the sun, but I tried to cover myself completely everyday, so only the side of my face and my hands got burned.  Yes that’s right, you can have sunburned hands…

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Anyway, the geology was great, and there was a huge variety, with everything from metamorphic petrology (which was my favourite), to palæontology.

Oooo!  Pretty!  Metamorphic petrology in action.  This is a crystal of kyanite.

Oooo! Pretty! Metamorphic petrology in action. This is a crystal of kyanite.

On the met pet front, in addition to the kyanite we found (see photo above), on the last day, we went to visit an unusual volcano.  Due to some peculiarities about its formation, it erupted a large number of garnet crystals, which were now just lying around on the inside of the crater.  (I’m a massive garnet fan, especially as my master’s research project was all about garnet).

Garnets just lying around

Garnets just lying around

Something cool that was pointed out to us was that a lot of the third Indiana Jones film was filmed around where we were, such as this beach scene to name but one.

On the final night, our lecturers took us out to a local restaurant for a traditional paella.  It was amazing!!  Pretty much every type of seafood you could possibly imagine was thrown in, along with various meats like chicken/rabbit/etc.

Paella!

Paella!

Overall, it was a lovely way to finish my university geological field career.  It’s been pretty good for field trips (this was the ninth one), and they’ll be sorely missed after I graduate.

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Special Edition: My Top 6 Travel Destinations

Not had a Special Edition for a while (or any posts for that matter).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit various places in my time, and obviously, I really want to keep adding to the list (my travel bucket list is the current place to see where I’d most like to go next).  However, which places have been my favourite so far?  Time for a Buzzfeed style list I reckon.

So the top 6 (originally 5, but I felt like putting one more in) are in no particular order:

6. Vermont, United States

The beautiful state of Vermont is in the top corner of the USA, in a region known as New England.  The scenery is absolutely stunning, with mountains, forests, lakes and all sorts of wildlife (including bears).  I’ve been lucky enough to visit a couple of times, as my family has some good friends who live there (one of whom has graduated from university and is now living in China.  You can read her excellent blog about it all here).  There’s no shortage of outdoorsy things to do, such as kayaking, or snow sports in the winter.  Not only is it the place for maple syrup, but also it’s the home of Ben and Jerry (of ice cream fame).

5. Little Langdale, Cumbria, United Kingdom

Ah the eternally delightful Lake District.  Home of Beatrix Potter, and the rainiest part of England (the  town of Buttermere – which was sunny when I visited, much to my surprise).  Full of stunning mountains, small villages, and of course lakes, the Lake District is not to be missed.  However, in my opinion, the hamlet of Little Langdale (it’s so small that the term “village” is a bit optimistic) is beautiful.  Not only does it have the famous Slater Bridge (a photo I took in 2008), as well as views of Wetherlam, Little Langdale Tarn, and abandoned quarries, it is also home to a most excellent pub (The Three Shires Inn).

4. Andorra La Vella, Andorra

Andorra is a tiny landlocked country in the heart of the Pyrénées. Consisting of only a couple of small valleys, it’s not especially well known.  However, it’s a hub for financial services, and is very wealthy. Skiing is hugely popular in the winter, whilst in the summer, the spectacular scenery will enchant you.  The food has a strong Catalan influence (which also happens to be the official language).  If you’re ever in the area, it is a country that is definitely worth visiting.

3. Château De Peyrepertuse, Duilhac-Sous-Peyrepertuse, Languedoc Rousillon, France

This ancient castle, built by the Cathars a while back (it was first mentioned in 806), towers over the surrounding countryside in the foothills of the Pyrénées.  An absolutely amazing place, and not one for those of you who are scared of heights (it is perched half a mile (800m) above the adjacent village, and surrounded by almost vertical cliff faces).

2. Hong Kong SAR, China

Hong Kong is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, and British until 1997, giving rise to curious differences with the Chinese Mainland (such as driving on the left and red post boxes).  They say New York never sleeps, but Hong Kong is a level above that.  At all hours of the day and night, the bright lights and masses of people going about their daily lives make this city hugely exciting.  Gazing over the skyline from the peak of Hong Kong island towards Kowloon after sunset is an incredible sight.

1. Easter Island, Chile

Let’s be honest, this post couldn’t have omitted Easter Island.  I don’t really need to say especially much about it, just click here to see my series of blog posts I wrote during my visit to this magical place.

Special Edition: Easter Island – The Summary (or The Boring One About Logistics)

Summary of the posts:

1 – Arriving on Easter Island

Sites visited: Hanga Roa

2 – Exploring the South West

Sites visited: Ana Kai Tangata, Rano Kao, Orongo, Vai Atare, Vinapu

3 – A Tour of the North and East

Sites visited: Anakena, Papa Vaka, Tongariki, Rano Raraku, Huri A Urenga

4 – The West Coast and Interior

Sites visited: Tahai, Hanga Kio’e, Ana Te Pora, Ana Kakenga, Puna Pau, Akivi, Ana Te Pahu

5 – A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside

Sites visited: Hanga Roa Museum, Poike, Vai A Heva

Having detailed my activities for each day on this marvellous island, I feel that it’d be appropriate to summarise the more tedious side of things (like logistics), in case anyone reading this fancies planning a holiday there (which you definitely definitely need to do)! (In case you were wondering why there’s no post for Day 6, it’s because it consisted of me waking up, packing, and going to the airport, which isn’t really that exciting)!

First of all, flights.  These are available from Lan Chile from Santiago Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez” (SCL) to Easter Island Airport “Aeropuerto Internacional Mataveri” (IPC).  Price is about £500-£600 ish (and you get loads of air miles from BA too).

Accommodation is pretty handy.  I stayed at Residencial Vaianny, and got a private double room with private bathroom for about £20/night.

The hostel put me in touch with Christophe the excellent tour guide. I’ve already linked to his website, but for the sake of completeness, the link is here.  A private tour will cost between around £30 and £45, (half day and full day respectively per person).  However, when a car costs about £30 to hire for the whole day (excluding petrol), a tour guide is infinitely more economical (as not only is all the transport included, but the knowledge of the sites is too).  If you do book a tour with Christophe and have places that you’d especially like to see, then that’s no problem (it’s a private tour, you can see what you like)!

The guide book I got while I was there, but books in Chile are expensive.  Buy it from Amazon before you go, it’s cheaper.  If you aren’t doing a tour, then it’s well worth getting, as personally I found it more informative than the official leaflets.  Also, it tells you about various places before, so you can decide which ones you’d like to visit (handy for when organising tours).

There is a lot of choice of places to eat, but food is expensive when compared to the mainland (or much more similar to London prices). A main course will probably set you back about £10 (so buying cheap food from the supermarket helps save money – I lived off a 500g bag of crisps for two days, not healthy, but very good value!).

Finally, you have to pay for an entry ticket to the Easter Island National Park to visit Orongo or Rano Raraku.  This can be done upon arrival at the airport.  A ticket (for non-Chilean nationals) costs about £40.

Anyway, sadly this posts concludes my series about my holiday to Easter Island, but if you have any further questions, feel free to ask me through the Suggestions Box page.

 

Special Edition: A Delightful Stroll in the Countryside (Day 5)

The final full day dawned, which was a shame.  There were still lots of sites I wanted to visit, but I’d run out of time.  On the upside, it gives me the perfect excuse to return some day!

Anyway, HC and I decided to spend the morning visiting the museum, and shopping for souvenirs, as that was a rather important thing neither of us had done.  The first point was the museum, which was fascinating.  It had several very interesting artifacts on display, including weapons and stoneworking tools, but those that were most interesting were the (copies) of rongorongo tablets, and an original moai eye.  People have spent their whole careers studying rongorongo, but the salient facts are that it is an undeciphered script, found only on 26 tablets (which were found on the island).  Nobody knows what it means.

An original moai eye

An original moai eye

We went to the artisanal market, and I ended up buying a small model moai.  I couldn’t not really, and I knew that if I didn’t, I’d definitely regret it!  For those of you who will inevitably wonder if I named him, the answer is yes.  I christened him Tim.

After the shopping, and a brief lunch, Christophe appeared once more, and drove us both (as HC accepted my offer of joining me on another trip) to the North Eastern end of the island, the Poike peninsula.  It is inaccessible to vehicles, and so you have to walk (or ride) to explore the area.  As a result, it’s seldom visited.

There are various archæological sites on the peninsula, some of which are completely unique.  One on the itinerary today was one such unique one. It is called Vai A Heva, and is a statue that has a large mouth in which to collect water, carved into the side of the mountain.

Vai A Heva

Vai A Heva

A little farther up the mountain was a very tiny cave (you essentially had to curl into a ball to get inside), but inside the cave was another petroglyph of Make Make.

Make Make petroglyph

Make Make petroglyph

We continued walking, and reached the summit.  At this point, we were very lucky with the weather, and the sun came out, to give the most amazing view.  Looking west, you could see most of the island, and from one coast to the other.  It was awe inspiring.

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

What a great view! (Click to enlarge)

With the view having been seen, it was time to head down the mountain, and return to the hostel.  It was an excellent finale to an excellent holiday.