Knight-Errant

Having not posted in a long time, I feel that I should clarify my reasons for such silence. Spending time between home and university, a schedule that always seems to be brimming over with engagements that saturate though my education dictates with an iron fist. As such, in between I have been researching the history of my local area.

*YAWN* …A history lesson Eve? How droll.

Yes. Yes it is. And I love it. I should really begin with setting the scene. My father and I have always been interested in the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion and other such pieces of arcane history. Not that we entertain silly notions of far fetched conspiracy theories, just that we enjoy indulging ourselves in research of that time period. With the recondity of the era comes a certain addiction to unfolding the rest of the story.

Danbury Church

Danbury Church

And so, whilst on my little historical pilgrimage, I inadvertently stumbled all the way back home. I wasn’t drunk on the fumes of vanillin textbook pages; no. I had found my way back to Danbury from all the way eastwards in the holy land. I have lived in my little hill top village in Essex for over ten years (not to be confused with Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire – *has first year flashbacks of barbarian societies lectures and Cunliffe monologues* though it did used to be a neolithic site) and am very proud of our quaint English hamlet with our duck pond, bowls club, and single tearoom. A large chunk of local history rests in between the pews of our church. Growing up, though, I dropped my religion and visits to church became few and far between, eventually culminating in a walk through the graveyard to pick raspberries at our allotment every now and again.

Which is why all history of the area was swept under the rug, back into some small alcove of my mind, and along with it the information of a pickled knight (yes, PICKLED: in mushroom catchup to be precise) that yielded results of the St. Clere family residing in this area, already well known for it’s Templar activities. In particular interest to me was a book by Andrew Collins, which was out of print. I couldn’t find a copy of this flimsy pamphlet on-line for anything less than an extortionate price. After receiving a call from a local library to inform me they had found two crusty dog-eared copies at the back of a shelf, and encountered a refusal of sale or even borrowing by the library clerk; I inadvertently bumped into a lady and fell into conversation. By sheer luck and happen-stance she turned out to be a Templar seeker, same as I.

A Danbury Knight wooden effigy largely unnoticed by parishioners on a daily basis

A Danbury Knight wooden effigy largely unnoticed by parishioners on a daily basis

Having swapped numbers I was delighted to meet with her, upon which occasion she allowed me to borrow a signed copy of the book with notes from the author, as he was a ‘great friend’. Hopefully soon I will be able to converse with him concerning secrets of Danbury Church where said mysterious Knights were buried; and learn more about this amazing and little known village, quietly sitting on top of a hill, surveying the rest of Essex (and sometimes Kent on a clear day). Secretive and silent, now docile and a tad taciturn; Danbury is the perfect blip of bygone times that has eluded many a 20th century scholar so far, but I am hoping that Danbury Church’s previously impenetrable walls of stone impart some information previously veiled to other voyeuristic pilgrims.

Knights Templar land as it looks today - Cressing Temple Barns famous for storing barley and wheat to finance Templar crusades in the holy land

Knights Templar land as it looks today – Cressing Temple Barns famous for storing barley and wheat to finance Templar crusades in the holy land

From this I have learned how important it is to really understand the history of the place you live in. Walking around Danbury now, it has a different feel in the air, suddenly the ground I’m walking on when on the Village Green fizzes with excitable energy now that I know it’s secrets. It’s true then, that knowledge is power; and I’m loving every minute. I highly recommend it. Whether history is occult or not makes no difference if you appreciate it properly.

The Car In Front

On Saturday 27th December, after a restful christmas up north, it was finally time for my family and I to make our way home. Unfortunately, tragedy struck and we were stuck in our car for almost six hours on the A1. Here is my experience written from the car.

It’s almost as if I had forgotten that motorway traffic existed. Being at uni and not driving means that my mind has never given much regard to the state of our roads during our winter festivities. That is, until I get stuck in a car on the A1 for six hours.

Which is where I’m writing this blog post from; the back of my parents car. It’s dark, it’s boring, and I dearly want to snuggle in my bed instead of being here.

To pass the time there is the laptop, which provides little comfort due to the lack of internet, or the iPod, which is firmly in my ears to block out the dire sound of Radio 2. (I see my parents have not yet taken heed of my previous blog post.)

I have noted that during this duration in what I can only describe as ‘car-hell’, that it is easy to drift away into another world. The world of ‘The Car In Front’. First, it begins with noting the make and model of the car. Easy. The state of it provides some insight into the rest of the drivers’ life. From there, it’s imagination. And so it begins, drawing an entirely fictional timeline of the person in the car in front. This goes on for five minutes, until you are snapped out of your gloriously lethargic reverie by some snippet of bored conversation, or a beep from another car just as pissed off as you but happens to think they have a bigger penis than everybody else, and so displays this to the plethora of cars around him as a beep.

And so you continue to glare out of the front window, or the side window, or the back window if you’re a dog or just hiding from the law, bored out of your mind, wishing you could be catching up on that bumper crop of Xmas shows on your dear telly-box.

It’s lonely, stifling and a bit nippy, which is made worse slightly by the fact that I didn’t order a decaf Costa when we stopped. My cabin fever doesn’t stop there, though. By sheer happenstance it appears that my family has cabin fever too. Who’d have thought it? It well may be that they’re just as disinterested in me as I am in them. In short, we all look out the window so we don’t have to bloody talk to one another, for it’s very difficult to play I-Spy in the darkness of the motorway.

It is very easy to state that falling asleep would cure this long and tumultuous experience, but truthfully it is my belief that anyone who has the capability to fall asleep in the back of a car is either a wizard, or an alien. Nope. An in-flight snooze is not on the cards. And so I sit, bum aching, the remnants of Costa on my lips, and resume my little narrative for the car in front.

I think i’ll kill him off in series two.

19 Things I Want To Do At 19

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Everyone has a bucket list, and I’m proud to say that I have achieved many things on mine already. I caught the travel bug big time. Some things on my list are big life events, some are small details, but they’re all equally important to me. Because you won’t want to read all 150, here are the top 19 things I want to do before I die:

1. Hot Air Ballooning. Preferably over the Grand Canyon, as the sun sets. What bliss.

2. Sail down the Amazon River. The Amazon is one of the most exquisite, diverse ecosystems on the planet and we all need to see how important it is. It’s my lifelong dream to see it.

3. Go storm chasing. I want to see what makes Thor so ANGRY:

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4. Master the Scorpion yoga pose. This is a very difficult thing for people like me who have absolutely no co-ordination whatsoever. It takes patience, discipline, and a very bendy spine. Inner peace in the most contorted of ways.

5. Overcome my fear of spiders. This one can wait for now, but overcoming a fear is a big step in one’s life, however small the fear may be. In 2011, I jumped out of a plane to get over my fear of heights. It hasn’t returned but it did involve some tears. A MUST. I want to be able to deal with that pesky little arachnid in the bath without squealing.

6. Teach myself to use chopsticks. This one I have almost mastered, but immersing one’s self in other cultures is so easy if you do it via the medium of food. It brings people together. Roll on the Dim Sum!

 7. Watch a meteor shower. This one would be so much easier if the weather in Britain was better. But it’s not, and events like meteor showers are such simple, sweet moments that I just have to see one.

peoplemeteorshower-NASA

8. Dance with my dad at my wedding. This one doesn’t involve travel, or doing things for one’s self, but finding enough love in your heart to make sure someone else makes good choices. A memory that every girl should have. (If I ever get married!)

9. Spend new years on Copa Cabana Beach. Because there’s nothing better than kissing a stranger at midnight in the surf, whilst getting completely boggled off of pina coladas. Or maybe that’s just the student in me.

10. Jailbreak from university. Having fun is one thing, doing it with your friends is another. I love challenges, and I want to see how far I can go.

11. The Pyramids at Giza. The foundation to any good bucket list. I’m in love with Egypt, and I want to explore all of it. 

12. Climb some more mountains. Every time I say I hate it. Every time I prove myself wrong. The feeling of being on top of the world is indescribably monumental.

Meeting the best people on top of the world...

Meeting the best people on top of the world…

 

13. Float in the Dead Sea. Famous for being so salty that it creates immense buoyancy. Just me, the sea and the sky.

14. Throw tomatoes at La Tomantina. Another popular one, and rightly so.

15. Drive a tractor. Probably not all it’s cracked up to be, but I’ll be the judge of that.

16. Help out a furry friend. Everyone has that one animal that they want to help out. As a student, I’m not in a good enough position financially to be able to make a difference to any poor creatures that are endangered, but hopefully that will change!

17. Play Pooh Sticks on Pooh Bridge. Okay, a little lie… I have done this. But nothing is better than a walk in the Hundred Acre Wood!

18. Bungee Jumping. I want to experience the same adrenaline rush as Sky diving, but this time on my own terms!*

Bungee jumping

19. Make an impression. None of these experiences mean anything unless you have awesome people that you love with you, and meet great friends along the way. It’s all about the people.

 

*a tandem skydive means the instructor rolls you both out. Once you’re in the plane, you have no choice but to jump!

What’s on your bucket list? Comment below!

Tangerine Dream

It’s a strange mind-set that encourages those of a meandering nature to travel. You have to be prepared for anything. Morocco really tested my abilities in every way; physically, mentally, socially. It’s not just being thrown in at the deep end with some brand new people, (most of whom were older than me) but also journeying to some quite terrifying places on one’s own. Of course, the Jemaa El Fna of Marrakesh is hardly the most terrifying place on the planet, but the hum of human activity was so different to that of back home that I felt the need to double-take at every little thing. Guides and friends constantly telling me to be ‘street-wise’ and ‘keep one’s eyes open’ certainly left me with a permanent sense of impending doom; Even when halfway up a mountain.

For most, growing up with sun, sea, and sand was the norm; however something my parents tried to steer clear of. For my older brother and I, holidays were a chance to tour Europe and beyond bit by bit, learning more about culture, art, and history until, after two sweltering weeks in the baking sun, we eventually trudged back to school more fatigued (and sunburned) than before we had left.

In this way, I have become savvy to the holiday planning scheme where every detail is mapped out before you leave, particularly in cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona, which have been done to death (in a good way, obviously). I’m hugely grateful to my parents for encouraging a ‘need to know’ mind-set which has left me incapable of packing off my entire wardrobe onto an Easyjet flight and sitting on some beach with the new Martina Cole novel; but when halfway up Jebel El Toubkal, the highest mountain in Northern Africa second only to Kilimanjaro, I did find myself longing for a piña colada in some ridiculously overpriced resort.

Morocco is a totally different world, however, and even though I have visited a multitude of other muslim states, this one really stands out. The environment can completely change if you happen to doze off in the minibus for twenty minutes. Within the space of two days, we had ventured from arable farmland, to the soaring peaks of the Atlas Mountains, to desert, and back again. Personally, I found the picturesque steppes filled with Berber tends rearing horses and goats the prettiest. These resplendent milieus coupled with the rich, lively throng of market stalls overflowing with ripe fruits and spices that envelope you, as if to lift to up to the sky, and small alcoves brimming with every and any trinket imaginable are so remarkably different to the conservative culture of the peoples themselves, though. This could be due to a lack of a presence of alcohol for most of the trip, but I really did feel a sense of foreboding in some places, despite the view. Obviously this trepidation was offset by the beautiful markets and cerulean streets of Chefchaouen, but it’s still there somewhere.

Luckily, the World Cup was on while we were there, so some evenings we could sit back and watch the footie without too many offers of marriage, henna tattoos or children shoving bracelets in our faces.

It’s very clear that backpacking is a necessary and vastly different experience that all students should to some degree attempt; however if you can’t handle a month without Instagram or Twitter, don’t go. 

But my technology/make-up/western hiatus was short-lived when everyone else brought along their iPhones. At one point the chorus of ‘Ah Shit’ was so loud when we found out that one hostel didn’t have WiFi that it turned a few of the locals’ heads. Typical.

This was a stunning contrast to Toubkal, however, where I felt I had really cast myself into the abyss. At the risk of sounding VERY middle class, I am intensely indebted to my parents for kitting me out for this trip. Although most of it was plain sailing, Toubkal was one of the most difficult things I have ever attempted in my life. And I did struggle. We completed it in two days, however the thirty-six kilometre trek in 40°C heat really took it’s toll on the group. Essentially, we climbed the equivalent to half of Everest with virtually no training. Luckily, we had some fantastic sherpas and the Aussie lads in our group setting the pace, so getting to the summit was a must.

The only problems were altitude sickness and temperature, which at both points induced tears from many people, including myself. Swollen hands and vicious headaches became so painful that the last three kilometre vertical climb to the summit in 4am darkness with -10°C winds was like walking through absolute hell. Some people swore that it was tougher than the entire Inca Trail in South America. My henna looked so out of place on top of a snow covered mountain in the middle of Africa. I still can hardly believe I got to (translate: was dragged up to) the top. Luckily in this day and age I have the pics to prove it.

Even though the mountain was a feat I shall not be repeating for a while, waterfall jumping was diverting and entertaining, though the diet of tajine and unidentifiable meat took it’s toll on the whole group in the form of a stomach bug which reared it’s ugly head for a few days in the second week. In all honesty, at one point, whilst retching over a toilet bowl in the middle of a Berber village, I did beg for my mum. Being ill in a foreign country with very scarce medical help is terrifying, but obviously my limited French speaking capabilities and the existence of a well-stocked medical kit of Dioralyte and Immodium was the equivalent to finding the holy grail in the bottom of my sixty-five litre rucksack.

Aside from that little… umm… hiccup; the heat of the Maghreb was strangely tolerable down on the ground. Though any indication of a tan has yet to reveal itself, the break from Exeter storms and Essex drizzle was a welcome delight. With virtually no other plans for summer bar those involving alcohol (and a job), I tried to make the most of it, despite my (previously) dodgy stomach. Luckily, en-route to many towns and touristy areas, the menu became much more friendly to western tums. Though it’s fantastically delicious, I don’t think I can face another ‘omelette berber’ for a while.

Bar the diet, and sometimes the heat, travel certainly did take my mind of the stress and strain of everyday life. As a ‘worrier’, very few holidays actually achieve this; however sitting barefoot on a camel in the middle of the Sahara Desert on results day was strangely liberating. In short, I didn’t really give a sh*t. 

As it was my second camel trek, I did derive some joy from watching others try to hang on as our camels lethargically traversed the coral sand in the evening sun. As one of the most beautiful places in the world, the tangerine dream that is the Sahara was somewhat lost due to the fact that the rest of the country was bloody orange as well. Strangely enough though, by the time we arrived in the middle of nowhere, there was a distinct absence of conversation as all twenty seven of us took in that milky peach desert which progressed to amber, and eventually crimson as the sun sank smoothly behind the dunes. Admittedly, snippets of ‘Arabian Nights’ from Aladdin could be heard in between gusts of wind, and indeed took hold in my head for most of the trip, which included Marrakesh. As the old city itself does not have any buildings higher than two stories, you can see quite a way, so long as the tajine pots and lanterns don’t distract you. In reality, Marrakesh is a humdrum of old and new, with much of the eleventh century wall supporting kiosks plastered with Coke and Evian logos.

So despite most of our tour of Morocco looking like a scene straight out of a Disney movie, the parts of the trip that peaked my interest the most were far from anything like that, in that we visited Ait Ben Haddou, which among many other things plays host to a multitude of film and TV sets including Gladiator and Game of Thrones; as well as climb amongst the stones ravaged by time in the ancient Roman city of Volubilis. Looking out across the expansive valley that Volubilis overlooks, nomming on my camel burger,(yes, CAMEL MEAT) I realised that I was definitely on the right course at university. I never realised that travelling so far from home could teach me so much about life back in the UK. Of course, a part of me will always want to live out in a tent in the foothills, but my life is in England, but coming back home, I no longer feel overwhelmed or swept along by the rip-tide of British mainstream education, even if that is in hindsight.

Thankfully, we did end up in the most picturesque town of them all. Essaouira, the Moroccan version of a Grecian fishing port, was so idyllic that I rather regretted leaving it. The beach stretched out until the horizon and the market stalls were so chilled out compared to the buzz and urgency of Marrakesh. Our longing for the beach somewhat intensified when we discovered that our flight home was delayed by fifteen hours due to air traffic controller strikes in France. (Queue snide remark about the French) Being stuck in an airport/random hotel for an extra day as a student who has limited budget really does suck. Though a dip in the pool was gratifying, once we actually got onto a plane at half past midnight, the announcement that we had to wait another hour and forty minutes was enough to send all two-hundred of us into late night shells of despair. The student in me, however, was happy to know that at least the hot chocolate was free.

Though my little adventure did not end the way any of us planned, our group do continue to go adventuring. I believe Snowdon is next on the cards; though I believe taking the train up counts as cheating…

 

 

Hiatus

Normally for students, going on holiday is a short affair, unless you did a ‘gap yar’. It’s a time to relax with friends or family, drink in a hot country where no one knows your name and ‘what happens in Ibiza, stays in Ibiza.’ Normally, its short lived and we all come back with burnt shoulders wondering where the time went. So to embark on a trip significantly longer and somewhat different to package holidays is a long process of mental adjustment into the ‘holiday phase’. This usually means going without most technology for a week or two, but I now face a whole month of backpacking and the western-y, girly part of me is dreading a hiatus of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogging, YouTube etc etc. The truth is that I’m going to miss it far too much. I’m used to growing up and going on holiday where I rarely get to relax on a beach, in fact the parents would get us out to any monument/castle/church/ museum they could think of.

And for that, I’m thankful. But now I feel I can’t visit anywhere without the world knowing about it online. It’s not even important, but why does it feel so good? I should stop whinging and enjoy the sun but the cliché is that our generation’s social media presence is actually a large part of our lives that, even though our parents haven’t quite adapted to it yet, we have. I’m not dreading climbing a mountain and being active; quite the opposite, I adore adventure. But university has taught me that life would be a lonely affair without being able to connect with my friends on Facebook. The truth is, I’m going to miss them, seeing what they do every day and showing them I love that they’re having a good time via the ‘like’ button. We should stop feeling guilty if we miss a few things that happen while we’re away, right? Well, I don’t wanna be left behind. (Lucky for me, the presence of some amazing people made my holiday send off party an awesome affair, so the guilt hasn’t quite settled in yet).

I guess the whole point of this post is to say to the world that despite my radio silence, I’m still here. Of course, having fun on holiday is totally possible without tweeting ridiculous hashtags, but I’ve realised how much wifi means to me, and I don’t want to be without my funny cat videos for a month, especially when I’ve trained myself to post on Facebook every time something amazing happens. But I guess you’re all going to have to wait to see the pictures of the view from the top of the mountain, even if patience isn’t my forte.