The Lone Wolf: tales of a woman trying to travel ALONE

By Charlotte Discombe

I have always loved travelling: exploring new places, experiencing new cultures and meeting new and wonderful people. For me, travelling on my own heightens my experiences of these new places, cultures and people. That is why I am currently planning a road trip in the USA. It will just be me, on my own, bumping into family and friends along the way. I want space not only to see new things and meet new people, but also have the space to make art. I feel like being alone in a new place with new cultures and people will help me make that art.

However, whenever I plan such lone wolf trips my parents panic:

‘I don’t like you travelling on your own’

‘It’s not safe… Especially at night in a strange country as a woman’

To be fair it is not unusual for parents to be concerned of their child’s welfare and safety. It is human nature and a caring instinct for many parents. But it is that last comment that stabs anger into the back of my head every single time it is mentioned…

…‘As a woman’.

This anger has got me wondering a lot of things…

  1. If my brother decided to go travelling on his own, would they make similar concerns known to him? Now of course they would worry for his safety, but would they announce that these fears concern his sex, ‘as a man’? Their concerns would not even consider his gender, only that he is out on his own in a new place where they cannot protect him.
  2. If I had not previously been sexually assaulted whilst on my own in a new place, would they voice their concerns about me as a woman out at night? They probably would. But maybe their worries would not anger me so or make me feel even more vulnerable as a woman, who has already experienced loss of control and power to a man, living in this world.
  3. This gender bias is not something that is limited to lone wolf travellers exploring the globe. It is not just about being in a new place with new cultures and new people. We must remember that this worry and vulnerability is something many, if not most, women experience when travelling in their own country, town or even their own home.
  4. This needs to change.

Travelling, and even simply living in your own home, should be safe for all – no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation and so on. Everyone has a right to feel free to move, to not have their paths blocked, and to not let societal expectations and roles define whether someone is too vulnerable or weak to choose to travel as a lone wolf. Everyone has the right to explore new places, experience new cultures and meet new people just as YOU and not as your gender.

I worry that the current state of our unstable world will hinder this possibility.

Peak District. Credit: Charlotte Discombe

I know that this is all very idealistic. The world is a far cry from safe for anyone, anywhere at anytime. But we should not see lone wolf travellers as male and therefore inherently strong. Men can be weak and vulnerable too – let them be weak and vulnerable! Furthermore, let those seen as stereotypically vulnerable in society be seen as strong, travelling lone wolves too, even if they are just travelling on their own to their local shops!

Without accepting that women, and those seen as weak, should occupy and travel in space without fearing for their safety then we are letting them be tainted by the so-called vulnerability that society places on genders that aren’t solidly male, masculine or ‘normal’.

I want a time where I do not have to carry a rape safety whistle with me everywhere I go. I want a time where I do not have to pre-plan my route home, where I can wander in new places without constantly checking behind my back. I want a world where travelling on your own as a woman is not seen as a ‘lone travelling wolf, who also happens to be a woman’, but simply just a lone wolf travelling because of their love for places, cultures and people.

I will fight for this. I hope you too will join me in this fight and share your own views on this matter.

The conversation has only just begun…




In need of Shelter: Medika, Zagreb’s independent creative community

By Connor Newson

Its been a little over a month since myself and Jean began hitchhiking from the West of France towards Eastern Europe. By now I have become pretty familiar with some kind of routine, or at least understanding certain objectives that need completing before the day is out. This usually includes finding a place to sleep: a field, a park, somebody’s sofa or van, a cave, practically anywhere that wouldn’t mean being moved on by police at 2am (which has happened twice already) is suitable. Think our standards seem low? Me too, but I find this is the best way to truly experience local life. However today I didn’t expect to stumble upon Medika, a former squat turned creative and cultural centre, which sheltered me if only temporarily from the fast approaching winter.

It doesn’t take long for the 20kg bag on my back to begin taking its toll as I walk towards the city centre. I take refuge in a pub and make a list of other objectives to pass time: “buy new gas canister, find gloves and scarf, buy tomato to cook with, FIND SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP”. After an hour the rain subsides, so I pack up my things. As I do so the barman asks where my hostel is. I explain to him I don’t have one. “Actually I’m looking to pitch my tent, do you know anywhere?”. He tells me this is going to be difficult in a big city, and this I know all too well from sleeping on the streets of Modena in Italy two weeks ago. “You should check out a squat called Medika, they might let you sleep there if you wash some dishes or something for them,” he adds.

With some brief directions to work with I thank the barman and set about completing my task. Daylight quickly fades and I become exposed to the captivating, however wet, atmosphere of Zagreb by night. I navigate through the bustling centre of town, watching as people pile in and out of the packed evening trams on the main square. As I pass by the National Theatre I spot a tiny patch of grass concealed underneath a small bush surrounded by busy roads. “Just enough space to squeeze my one-person tent if all else fails,” I think to myself. I carry on, determined to find this safe haven.

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Finally, as the rain picks up pace once again, I reach a complex of buildings hidden behind tall walls. Every inch is a plastered palimpsest of thought-provoking graffiti. This must be it. I enter through the darkness of a passage until I stand alone in the middle of what resembles a concrete courtyard surrounded by more elaborate street art. The rain continues to fall, and there is little sign of life besides two rooms illuminated by dim flickers of orange. A man then walks out into the shadows from a door, struggling to pull a hood over his head whilst simultaneously lighting a cigarette somewhat unsuccessfully.

“What is this place?” I call, hoping to spark some sort of conversation.

“Well”, he replies in a heavy Balkan accent walking towards me. “It’s everything.” An ambiguous response. He then gestures over to the flickering orange windows, “that’s our library on the ground floor. It has a Free Shop [where people take or leave items of clothes as they need], a small information desk, and occasionally workshops. Above is the gymnasium, and a few bars and a club space are dotted about.” They seem to have everything. I ask to check out the library thinking – or rather hoping – it’ll be warmer inside.

As I enter through a very used looking door I interrupt a group of four people who all turn to me eagerly from a table in the corner.

“Are you here for the workshop?” A guy with blonde hair, Stan, asks.

“Unfortunately not, I wondered if I can just sit in here?” I reply.

He graciously accepts, hearing the rain hammer down more heavily now. I see a sofa in the middles of the room and sit, drying off my sodden clothes by a small log-burner to my right. The embers gently throw a flickering warm glow onto the shelves of books that surround me. Lining the walls are posters of political resistance, anarchistic drawings and paintings, humanist and feminist slogans confessing solidarity in support for equality. Meanwhile a small French pug is gnawing on a bone as big as her little head underneath the Free Shop (which is essentially a coat rack full of clothes and a few bags of scarves and gloves). I quietly coax her over and she complies, bounding onto the seat next to me.

Now I sit content, listening to the relentless downpour on the window panes whilst Stan explains how clay can be purified to make medicines and toothpaste. I feel relieved not to be on the other side of that door, for instead of facing the bitter elements alone on the street I now face the warmth of a log fire with the company of a canine companion. Soon enough the workshop is finished and myself, PhD Chemistry student Stan, Art student Erica, Language student Isa, and my new French friend – who is now curled up on my legs – are sat around the burner, drinking ginger and rosehip tea to nurse our shared cold. I become eager to understand more about Medika and Stan seems more than happy to give me the low-down.

Apparently, the space was formerly an abandoned medicine factory (which explains its name) until about a decade ago when it became occupied illegally by a group of people who wanted to use it for their own desires – otherwise known as a squat. Judged as unwelcoming to begin with, the early days of Medika lacked government and public support which is not unusual when it comes to the opinions of squat communities. But time passed and creativity flourished, the space has since transcended as an independent creative social and cultural centre. With its potential now acknowledged at least in part, Medika has acquired a partial legal contract with the city which means they rely on donations from its own facilities – such as Stan’s workshop – and subsidies from exterior organisations to pay the bills.

Whether this is a genuine understanding of creative subcultures on the council’s behalf, or an effort to utilise Medika as a strategic tool to draw in tourism and subsequent capital is a different matter. Either way it seems to be surviving for now. However Zagreb’s reputation of becoming a Global City is continuously proving more fruitful, so the probability of such cultural communities becoming susceptible to over-commercialisation is undoubtedly high.

I begin to question the often negative stigmatisation of squat-like social centres across Europe. Such generalisations only serve to limit the effectiveness of similar creative spaces. Moreover, these communities are usually born from a genuine desire to construct a space that allows the free collective creation and consumption of creativity, which is becoming increasingly important as more and more public spaces become privatised.

As late evening approaches, I again become aware of the outside world and my imminent mission to set up a small tent underneath a small bush on a small patch of grass, surrounded by not-so-small roads. However, on hearing this, Stan instead invites me to crash on his sofa. My need for shelter has been graciously welcomed by a likeminded soul in the confines of a former medicine factory – a perfect turn of events in Zagreb, besides the illness of course. But we have more hot tea for that inconvenience.

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An Englishman’s first taste of Bengal

by Jacob Jarvis

“This is the best biryani you will ever have.” “This is the best chai you will ever have.” “This is the best gravy you will ever have.” In Kolkata, it’s clear that the Bengali’s adore their food.

Normally when people boast about something so much, you feel let down when you have it. But every time I took a first bite of any of the region’s signature dishes, all their high praise was proven right. Each first mouthful gave me that warming, comforting, satisfying feeling that only truly exquisite culinary delights can.

Practically on arrival I was handed a plate of naru, a coconut-based sweet, which is crunchy on the outside and softer in the middle. It crumbles then melts in the mouth slowly, filling it with a succulent sugary sensation, with a unique hint of savoury after taste. After this I was taken for my first chai experience, a creamy drink flavoured with a selection of Eastern spices. If you’ve never had the pleasure of sipping on a cup of this warming concoction, imagine the best hot chocolate you’ve ever had – there’s the consistency. Utterly milky and soothing, it caresses your mouth as you sip away. The taste is something altogether different though, it’s incredibly sweet, without being sickly, with a vast array of undertones within it. Cardamon is the main flavour, which leaves a rich taste in your mouth, leaving you longing for cup after cup.

For my first meal I was taken to famous restaurant Arsalan, where I was to try my first authentic Bengal biryani. Back in England I’d eaten this wholesome rice meal before, but found it usually to be dry and unfulfilling. The dish I put in front of me was altogether more appetising. A unique mix of seasonings meant that every spoonful tasted slightly different, which pushed me to go on shovelling the vast portion into my mouth, as I anxiously awaited the next flavour. Here in Kolkata the portions are mammoth, but the quality of the food gives you no option but to finish it – no matter how full you are.

The next day, at lunch time, my Bengali friend’s grandmother made us the biggest lunch I’ve ever had, with mounds of perfectly steamed rice and a variety of vegetarian and meat items. Alongside this in the home-cooked platter of delights there were prawns as big as my fist, delicately cooked fish, so flavoursome it needed only the slightest pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning, paneer with an almost Italian flavour, as it was mixed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, alongside a selection of curried gravies to pour over my plate.

Each item had its own completely unique taste and texture, though they all seemed to complement each other perfectly. By my third plateful I knew very well I was full, as I said earlier, though, food here doesn’t let you stop eating it that easily.

Kicking away ego at a Bangkok Muay Thai camp

by Jacob Jarvis

Walking in to Sor Vorapin Gym in Bangkok, I was greeted by a shrine of plaques, trophies and medals, all won by its fighters over the years. I’d never trained Muay Thai before but I decided to sign up for a full week, training five hours each day – with people used to training pros.

I think I’m a healthy guy. I run a bit, work out a couple of days a week, try to avoid too much junk food.  But if nothing else my time in Bangkok proved one simple fact to me – I’m not fit at all. Being ‘fit’ and being ‘fighting fit’ truly are two different things. Those involved in Muay Thai professionally will train twice or even three times a day ahead of fights and can have had over 100 fights by their early twenties.

Their careers usually don’t last much longer, due to the toll on their bodies – something I can vaguely sympathise with after just seven days of living their lifestyle. And that was without taking thousands of strikes all over my body from fists, elbows, shins and knees.

At fighting retreats, which are becoming more and more popular with tourists, you’re treated like a seasoned athlete, no different from those who’ve been training their entire lives. Waking up at 6:30am on my first day, I was taken out for a run before the morning session. Easy enough, around 5km, and I ran along calmly and naively thinking, “I’m going to breeze this.”

My initial reality check came soon enough, with what I thought was a simple task – skipping. Hats off to all the girls from my primary school who spent hours every day jumping rope on the playground. Because, apparently, I can’t do it right. This led to me having to stand on a metre-wide tire and bounce for half an hour before I was even allowed to use a rope again. It took four days before I graduated to using one consistently.

Before throwing a punch or swinging a kick, I had to stretch out every muscle imaginable, then slowly build up with shadow boxing. I spent most of a session simply getting into a stance and stepping backwards and forwards. My dreams of diving in headfirst and sparring within a couple of days were crushed. At first I was disappointed, but then I realised the only way I was going to make it through the week was ditching my over confidence and making the simple realisation: this was going to go slowly.

It took me three days until I sparred and then it was completely easy going. Even by my final day I was barely going half the speed of the serious competitors. I wasn’t patronised for this slowness at any point though, every one respected every other person in the gym as an equal. It didn’t stop me being knocked in the head a few times by the lean seasoned hitters I got paired with if I dipped my guard, or taking a few kicks to the gut if my feet were a little too slow. One guy around my age ducked and swerved away from any meagre kick I put in and then would just lean in like a phantom to knock my teeth back. He moved even slower than me but his confidence and physical prowess meant he had no need to try and go quick or hard to get the best of me.

I hope these were purely educational strikes though, there certainly didn’t seem to be any malice. Although fighting is competitive, training and improvement is an individual process – your progress doesn’t matter, as long as you’re working at your technique you’ll get respect.

It was adopting this perspective which truly made the week worthwhile for me. The ancient martial art is renowned for being testing on your body, but, in my opinion, the mental endurance necessary is something that needs to be mentioned more. Once those gloves are on, you’re on your own. No matter what instructions you get, you need to want to do it yourself. There’s no room for arrogance and no place for making short cuts.

Mindfulness is the mental health buzzword of the moment, with endless self-help books, podcasts and apps designed to make us accept this way of thinking. I’ve never bought into it. But if you want to experience living in the moment, just sign up to a Muay Thai session. When a bag, pads, or a person is in front of you, you can’t think about anything else.

As intense as this sounds, it was in its own way incredibly calming. Training cleared my head at the time and made me too exhausted to think afterwards. ‘Relaxing’ is also a key part of the Muay Thai fighting technique – a minute wouldn’t pass where I wouldn’t hear a trainer shouting relax into someone’s face.

I had to allow myself to be a beginner at something, when so often in life I, and I’m sure many others, shy away from anything I’m not familiar with. Then when I made that conscious decision I had to focus on training and nothing else. I’d do my first three hours in the morning, shower, eat and sleep, then repeat that process in the afternoon. It was a strange experience to completely immerse myself in something new and unknown, one which I’d recommend anyone to try from time to time.

Searching for creatures at Khao Yai National Park

by Jacob Jarvis 

Every time our guide heard the slightest noise he’d pick up his binoculars, change direction and hurriedly whisper, “come, come, let’s go”, before making us traipse endlessly through the muddy footpaths of Khao Yai National Park.

Generally, this amounted to nothing except ruined trainers, sore ankles and close encounters with repugnant arachnids. These disgusting spiders thankfully usually hung around eight feet above the ground, making them easy to avoid, but the odd one would dawdle at head height as if it wanted to surreptitiously stroke against your face.

Out of nowhere we came to halt, I was urged to come forward and look to my left, where I was in touching distance of the tail of a sleeping crocodile. Even though it was looking the opposite direction, I still barely felt brave enough to stay that close for any more than ten seconds. Hidden in the undergrowth, I couldn’t help but think how easily it could have creeped up on me if I was alone. It’s armour-like dark green scales were hardly visible as it rested their, presumably digesting a meal, or waiting for a new one to come along. After the whole tour group attempted to defy the sneaky predator’s natural camouflage to get a good photo of it, we were on the move again.

Filled with new motivation we continued with more purpose and soon enough we heard a sound I can only liken to a malfunctioning car alarm. A far off echoing whoop made us all stop, we told to wait and the head of our troupe ran off to see if the unknown animals were near. This unnatural wail turned out to be a pack of gibbons, causing chaos amongst the trees. They were too far away for us to reach without getting lost, but their sound honestly put me off anyway. Stupidly I’d bought along bananas in my bag as a snack, and I didn’t like the idea of these mischievous apes coming and tearing them out.

We spotted a few small lizards and tiny, thankfully not venomous, snakes on the way back to the transport, but nothing as scary or impressive as the croc. The main attraction for Khao Yai National Park is its herds of elephants which live in the grounds. Nobody I’d spoken to had been spotted them though, so I wasn’t expecting our ‘elephant hunt’, minus the killing, to be a success. The car sidled through the park and we saw nothing but the grey monkeys so common in South East Asia, a couple of small deer, and endlessly vegetation.

Pulling around a bend as the day was drawing in, we saw three cars parked up, and our driver banged on the side of the car and told us to stay inside. I though the large grey creatures would be easy to spot, but honestly it was more difficult to see than the crocodile. Obviously scared of the attention it was getting, our first elephant of the day munched its way through plants on the hillside, clearly hoping if it acted as normally as possible, we might go away. Unfortunately for the begrudging and bemused celebrity, little did he know that his shyness made him endlessly more endearing, as we peered out at this huge animal, somewhat succeeding to blend in between spindling trees and bushes. After the millionth holiday snap had been taken of it I was starting to pity the lone wanderer, and was glad when the car started moving again so it could be left alone.

Content with spotting just one of these dozy grey blobs on the landscape, it was an added surprise that as the light was about to go and bats were gliding over our heads, in the distance we spotted a whole family of them. This time it was clear taking photos was pointless, they were so far away. For me this was the best way to see them, completely comfortable, unaware of us, just living as they would.

The temporary magnificence of Durga Puja in Kolkata

by Jacob Jarvis

During my first couple of days in Kolkata, everybody looked at me dumbfounded when I said: “no, I’m not staying for Durga Puja.” Their faces would bounce into expressions of abject disbelief, scrunch up with confusion, or even contort into practical disgust. After enough of these reactions, I decided to stay for the festivities.

Puja is a Hindu celebration of the religion’s mother goddess, the ten-armed and three-eyed Durga. It lasts for ten days in total, where families gather together to ‘eat, drink and be merry’, much like how those of us in the West do at Christmas. Bengal is particularly famous for getting into the spirit so, being the capital, Kolkata goes into practical meltdown for the main days of the celebration. Anyone who can take off all ten days does, to make sure they’re free to fully immerse themselves in Puja, and often the Ganges as well.

As people made their last minute preparations, the streets became an absolute blur of traffic, while markets and shops absolutely swarmed with shoppers. If you’re from Britain, imagine the Next sale, but it’s like that everywhere. Police man every street crossing, actually using rope to herd shoppers behind like cattle, before lifting it when they’re allowed to pass. The noise of car horns is incessant, and it amazed me I didn’t see a single crash whilst I was there.

The crowds, however, are much more inviting than you might imagine. With the sparkling lights and the smell of street food and chai intoxicating everyone’s nostrils, it’s hard not to be swept up into high spirits. The Hindu religion is one which teaches compassion and at its core is the belief in treating people well. Everywhere I went I felt welcomed.

All over the city, every area has its own Pandal, a temporarily constructed temple of sorts, each vibrantly and distinctly decorated, all seemingly in competition with one another to be the best. These host statues of the idols, with the goddess Durga taking prime position in the centre. These incredible structures take months to plan, design, and build, then are open for just four days, before being deconstructed. In each the artwork is distinct, with each year a new theme being used by each, unlike the old nativity scenes and beat up trees dragged out annually in Britain.

This combination of modern art work and worship is something I’ve never witnessed before, and, at least on this scale, seems distinctly unique to Kolkata. Whether a devote Hindu, a die-hard agnostic, or whatever else, the temporary masterpieces which are created are unbelievably impressive to see. The knowledge that they are purely temporary makes them all the more special too. Unlike anything placed in a gallery or reprinted to be put on the walls of millions of people across the globe, you know only a select number of people can see these. The dedication of the artists to something which is ultimately fleeting and ephemeral makes you feel truly lucky to see it.


At night, groups of all ages go ‘Pandal hopping’ until the early hours of the morning, and you’ll find people at the largest ones 24-hours-a-day. Ceremonial drums are played intermittently, timed to welcome the gods each morning and to thank them each evening. This sound of steel percussion encapsulates the fever of Puja, and players are even inclined to jump into the crowds to whip up a frenzy of dancing from the revellers. I spent from 6:00pm to 6:00am hopping around on the first night, and saw but a tiny selection of what was on offer. Then over the coming days I visited many more but still couldn’t even make a dent in the total number.

For any fan of partying, the intoxicating vibe of being surrounded by people, and general good times, Durga Puja is a must visit spectacle at least once in a life time. Added to this, any lover of art and culture will also relish the sights around the city. The lights, the paintings and the sculptures are all mesmerising in their own ways.

Now I’ve been once, I’m sure I will again. I can see why the locals practically insisted I stayed, as I’d insist that anyone who heads to India while Durga Puja is happening goes to Kolkata. Because if you miss a Puja, there’ll never be another one quite like it again.

A surprisingly spiritual trip to Tanah Lot

by Jacob Jarvis

Tentatively creeping my hand forward, I am coerced by my friends to stroke a supposedly lucky holy sake in a dimly lit cave at Tanah Lot, one of Indonesia’s most intriguing cliff side temples.

The reptile appears unfazed, as does its guardian, who oversees the countless visitors who visit each day. I’m in no way religious, but the sense of calm, perhaps more aptly described as relief, which flows over me once I’ve brushed across the creature’s scales is immense. Though it may be somewhat of a placebo, caused by a sudden rush then drop of adrenaline, but it feels profoundly spiritual. The snake’s keeper smiles at me, and I feel welcomed by him, regardless of any spiritual differences.

After this I walk over to a holy spring, I’m ushered forward, alongside clearly religious locals, and treated just the same despite blatantly looking like a western traveller. Though I feel somewhat voyeuristic, nobody acts like I am.

No words are spoken but I’m urged to wash my face with the water, then I stand still to have my hair brushed out of my eyes, and I’m blessed with grains of rice stuck to my forehead and a flower placed in my hair.

In these instances, I see the appeal of organised religion and collective spirituality. I feel at ease, grateful to be accepted during these rituals. The two fleeting moments both give me a sense of seclusion in which to think, while simultaneously they feel like bonding experiences with those around me.

Leaving the small unsuspecting caves behind me, I scramble across the rocks of the shoreline to watch the sunset. Waves crash beneath me and the sound lulls me further into a state of relaxation. Around me couples embrace each other in the golden glow, while parents lift their children into prime positions to see the temples majestic silhouette, backlit by the delicate glow of the receding sunlight. Everyone seems in awe, religious spectators and curious tourists alike, as they sit to be serenaded by the sea and to be entertained by the glorious skyline.

Though I never expected it, and it took me a while to realise it, I’ve been pulled into an informal and indistinct act of collective worship. No preacher, no songs or sermons, just a collection of people, joined together by acts of kindness, a curious piece of architecture, and the delicate aesthetics of nature.

Faiths often divide us, as do our many associations and credences. At Tanah Lot, without warning or ceremony, I saw how with openness and curiosity, they can bring people together. If each of us could see that more often, I’m sure we’d be much better off.

Honest ramblings on the Republic of Ireland

by Lois Linkens 

When you cross the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic, it’s surprisingly clear that you are in a separate country. Road signs look different, each paired with its own Gaelic translation, just to remind you that you are in fact in Ireland, despite the fact that nobody speaks Gaelic anymore. The accents are stronger, the houses are fancier and a trip to Ireland is not complete without mistakenly using your Great British pounds instead of the Euro.

Nevertheless, the countryside is breathtakingly beautiful. I took a trip to County Kerry, which is situated in the South West of Ireland. There were twelve of us on the trip, so we stayed in a big country house which had everything you might need – except enough towels for everyone and a working toaster – but it did overlook miles (sorry, kilometres) of fields, mountains and farmland. I quickly became accustomed to the friendly wake up call from the cows in the neighbouring field.

The closest town was Killarney, which has always been a popular tourist destination as the start of the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive of 179 kilometres along the coast. However, since December 2015, it has become particularly well frequented with Star Wars fans, as the final scene in the new film, The Force Awakens, was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, which can be seen clearly from the Ring of Kerry.

Killarney is also home to a magnificent National Park, which was the first ever created in Ireland. Here visitors can get a boat trip across the Lakes of Killarney, stopping off at a small island called Innisfallen, where there are ruins of a monastery from the early Middle Ages.

There are also jaunting carts, or horse-driven carts, which take visitors on a tour of the park. Our driver had a particularly strong accent and spoke incredibly fast. Myself and my very English mother and sister had a little trouble understanding what he was saying at times. His response to this was: ‘if I’m talking to fast, listen quicker.’ He also commented that he was ‘looking for a wife,’ and ‘any man’s wife will do.’ Delightful.

However, the tour was very interesting and gave us the opportunity to see some brilliant views, although we probably could have seen these same views on foot if only we weren’t so lazy.

The National Park is also home to the Torc Waterfall, which you can reach by climbing an almost unnecessarily steep flight of steps. Needless to say, I was glad to reach the top, but was the view worth the sweaty red face, painful cramp and aching limbs? That’s for you to decide.

There are also some very beautiful beaches in County Kerry. Inch Beach (I know, who thinks of these names?) was my personal favourite. Swimming in the sea is truly magical, as you are surrounded by the mountains, dotted with cottages. It’s so far from the city, from the noise of the traffic that it’s quite surreal to swim there. Honestly, it’s reassuring to know that these places still exist, and not everywhere has been overtaken by housing developments or motorways.

Another stunning beach was Rossbeigh, which would definitely be a great beach for families with children, as the sand dunes are perfect for sliding down on a body board (you know, if you’re into that.)

All in all, Ireland is truly beautiful. If you know where you’re going, it’s totally worth a visit. If you don’t know where you’re going, go anyway.

The soothing charisma of Gili Air

by Jacob Jarvis

A carpet of white sand awaited me as the boat from Amed sailed into the harbour at Gili Air, my choice of the three famed Gili islands which neighbour Bali and Lombok.

Whilst descending the ship’s steps the feeling of life slowing down was almost palpable. On this tiny paradise, for the holidaymakers at least, stress, panic and pressure simply don’t exist.

Even the ticket sellers or bar promoters waiting for passengers to embark don’t seem to be bothered about pestering them. A local asked if I needed a place to stay, and when I explained I’d already reserved a bed he directed me to my hostel, assuring me it was great, and wished me a pleasant stay.

Meandering down the street it was strange to see how much everyone here seems to embrace the stereotypical hippy island life. Guitars are plucked unskilfully but enthusiastically, with friends and strangers joining in song. Couples and families paddle, while lone travellers work on their yoga moves. Linen clothes are on sale at every corner, and it seems impossible there are any left with the amount of them people are wearing.

I spent my first night walking around Air’s main strip before watching the sunset over the hills of its neighbour Lombok across the sea. As soon as it began to descend, the white light dimmed and turned to gold, followed by shades of orange and red, which embraced the silhouettes our nearest star sunk behind.

I woke up for my first full day on the island to the unique sound of Geckos in the trees around me, as I rocked in my bed, which hung on ropes from the ceiling, somewhat like a hammock. For someone who likes to grab the day by the scruff of the neck, it was hard to switch my mindset to island living. I decided to read for a while then headed down to the pool, where I took a leisurely swim before drinking a coffee.

Strolling round it felt like everyone was in limbo, as if the outside world was wholly irrelevant here. The internet runs as fast as dialup and the power cuts out intermittently all day. None of it seems to matter though.

I rented a bike and set off to do a loop of the coast. Shops and restaurants blended into an amalgamation of thatched wood roofs. Tanned touts half-heartedly offer shroom shakes and weed, or massages and food at the more upmarket places.

The crystal clear waves and the perfect pale sands put many more populated and famous destinations to shame, and each beach is as beautiful as the last. What struck me most though was how quickly I was back to my starting point, having circled the island in just over an hour.

Despite being so small, Gili Air has an incredible charisma, like the most boisterous member of a group of friends, whose personality brushes off on everyone within it. Even if you want to leave you’re at the whim of the Gili mindset. Boats to Lombok don’t run to a timetable they just set off ‘when needed’, as the sign says.

Though I’m usually filled with urgency, this almost hypnotic state of relaxation has truly entranced me. And, as I write this, staring out at the starlit waves ahead of me, I can’t imagine going back to the pace of the outside world.

Northern Ireland Travel Diary: Heritage sites and a mountain climb

by Lois Linkens 

Northern Ireland will always have a special place in my heart. I’ve visited more times than I can remember on annual family visits and it really does feel like home.

But it’s only since my last visit that I have begun to see more than the places I visit every year, and discover Northern Ireland all over again.

On an average family holiday, we would go to Belfast, the capital city on the Eastern coast. But in an exciting new turn of events, this year we drove right across the country to Enniskillen, which is in the South West of NI.

Enniskillen is part of County Fermenagh, which shares a border with Southern Ireland. So for me it felt pretty strange to be that far from familiarity.

I’ll tell you now, no Linkens family trip is complete without a few visits to National Trust properties. Blame my mum, not me. On our first day, we visited a property called Crom. Here, you could hire out a boat (maximum five people but we got away with six plus a dog, rebellious), and take it down Upper Lough Erne to a town called Belturbet, which sits right on the border of Northern and Southern Ireland. We all got very excited that we had manage to sneak into Southern Ireland without a passport.

After Crom we visited Castle Coole, where there is an 18th-century mansion and a park, and then Florence Court, which has an 18th-century house and an estate. Both properties were fairly similar but very beautiful and had easy woodland walks for families which aren’t too challenging for those who just want a short ramble.

A highlight of our trip was our visit to the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. In groups, you can take a guided tour, and find out some information about the history of the caves and the geography behind the various rock formations. It is a very popular tourist spot, and the highlight for me was seeing what they called their ‘City of Atlantis.’ Here, the stalactites on the ceiling are reflected in the water surrounding the walkway, which is so still it looks as though there are also stalagmites coming up from the ground – and it does seem to resemble an underwater city.

We spent a week back in Belfast at the end of our time in Ireland, which I was much looking forward to until I was told that we were going to be climbing a mountain. Not just any mountain, but the tallest peak in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard. It is 850 metres above sea level (that’s about a tenth of the height of Everest). Now, I could have refused to go. My sister did, and that was fine. Nobody asked me to go. But a stupid voice inside my head kept saying, “imagine how cool it’ll be to say you’ve climbed a mountain”. Screw you, determination.

mountain ireland.jpg

So I did it. But I won’t lie to you. Climbing that mountain was possibly one of the hardest and worst things I’ve ever done. Yes, I cried, okay? You don’t have to keep going on about it.

The first third of the climb is completely fine, completely manageable. You follow a lovely forest path, passing streams on your way. When you come out of the trees, there is a rocky path up to the second third, or possibly your second-worst nightmare. That part is tricky. That’s where I had my first breakdown. It’s a steep climb up to the Mourne Wall, which was built in the 20th century and runs down the sides of the mountain. But it’s the final third that is truly horrific. You follow the Mourne Wall up to the peak, that is if you don’t die in the process.

But honestly, the view was worth it. From the top of the mountain, the whole of Northern Ireland is laid out before you. You can stand on a pile of stones and declare yourself the highest person in Northern Ireland, if you want to. Would I do it again? Most definitely not. But will I be telling each and every person I meet that I have climbed the tallest mountain in Northern Ireland? Of course I will.