Travel Memoir – Hike in the Cotswolds, Part 3

The trail offered new surprises each day as we traversed its roller-coaster hills.   Sometimes we walked in single file along a narrow path through deep forests that were carpeted with white wood anemone and blue bells.  Other times we hiked in pairs as we passed through fields alive with the breathtaking color of yellow canola flowers or red poppies.  One sweet-smelling field of buttercups spread so invitingly to the horizon, some of us felt the call to lie down in it, ignoring small insects that zigzagged among the blossoms.  We lay on that fragrant bed for a while and watched white clouds gambol like fluffy sheep above us in the azure sky. 

One day we came upon the arched ruins of Haile’s Abbey, built in the 12th century.  The abbey’s once bustling cloisters were burned in 1539 when Henry VIII dissolved England’s Catholic churches and monasteries so he could divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. 

Another day we took a brief break from the trail to spend two hours at the historic Sudeley Castle, where Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII lived out her life.  There we learned the sing-song device that every English school-child knows for remembering what happened to Henry’s six wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.  Katherine was the last survivor of Henry’s fabled involvements and she is buried in an ornate tomb at the 16th century St. Mary’s Church next to the castle.

Occasionally we came across 2,500–year-old hill forts, their circular, grass-covered walls still standing to protect interior spaces now inhabited by sheep.  One of these Iron-age forts surrounded a golf course where players have carefully chipped and putted around the fortifications for 100 years.  The trail led us between the ancient walls and manicured greens where we chatted with friendly golfers who insisted we eat lunch at their golf club, rather than wait to dine in the town of Painswick, which awaited us an hour’s walk away.    

For seven days, we walked under sunny skies until the last hour of the last day, when dark clouds quickly moved in and produced large rain drops.  While we hastily pulled rain pants and waterproof jackets out of our daypacks and struggled to put them on, a bevy of sheep nearby stopped munching on grass to watch us like curious children.

“Great!”  Tom said, squinting up at the spitting clouds.  “This rain justifies the expense and bother of buying and carrying this rain-gear all week.” 

Our long-anticipated walk through the Cotswolds ended a few miles later at the aptly named Folly End Farm in Cold Ashton, about ten miles north of Bath.  There we dried off and enjoyed a cream-tea lunch, feeling both sad that it was over and elated that we had completed the hike without blisters or sprains.   After lunch we called a taxi and rode the last few miles into Bath along the wet and busy A46 highway.   

We spent two nights in Bath at the formal, French inspired Villa Magdala, a welcome step up in grandeur from the small-town pub hotels that had seemed appropriate while we were on the trail.   Some of us made a bee-line for the Thermae Bath Spa, for a warm soak and gentle massage, while the rest of us took a guided walking tour of Bath in the rain.  We visited the ancient Roman baths, lunched next door at the Pump Room and ogled the city’s columned Georgian buildings such as the Royal Crescent, now home to movie stars, authors and royalty.

Our tour ended at the recently restored Bath Abbey, one of England’s most magnificent churches, built during the reign of Elizabeth 1.   On the pavement in front of the Abbey is a stone circle that marks the end (and beginning) of the Cotswold Way.  Like pilgrims of old, we gathered in front of the church and gave thanks for our extraordinary walk through 70 miles of historic English countryside to celebrate our own short history of walking on this earth for 70 years. 

Travel Memoir – Hike in the Cotswolds, Part 2

dsc_0022That afternoon we explored the charming town and photographed its hand-hewn stone houses, some covered with climbing roses and others with thatched roofs perched like well-coifed wigs.  We ate the first of many pub dinners together that evening at the Eight Bells Inn, savoring fish and chips or bangers and mash.  Then we retired early to our private rooms at the 300-year-old Noel Arms Inn to rest up for our eight-day walk to Bath. 

The next morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, kippers and dry toast, we left our bags in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup, strapped on our little daypacks filled with water and rain gear, and headed across the street to the arched 18th century market hall that stands at the beginning of the Cotswold Way.   We posed for a photo there together and then started off down the street in high spirits.

At the edge of town, we found the first wooden trail marker with a distinctive acorn carved on its face.  A small arrow on the post, labeled “Cotswold Way” pointed toward a broad hill.  For the next eight days, we looked for those markers at every juncture where the way crossed a local footpath or road.   While the markers were well placed along the trail, sometimes they were swallowed by tall wild flowers, so we had to refer to the maps Andrew had given us to be sure of our route.

For the first five miles we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep.  We stopped often to take photos of panoramic vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs.  Together, we learned how to scramble over stiles and negotiate “kissing-gates” one at a time to gain access to the trail that wove through walled private fields. 

Around noon we spotted the Broadway Tower, a five-story turreted structure that sat atop Beacon Hill.   Known as a “folly,” the medieval-looking tower was actually built as a viewing platform in the 18th century.  Two couples from our group decided to climb the tower to overlook the countryside and see historical museum inside.   The other four couples, stomachs grumbling, decided to skip the tower and push on to The Swan pub for lunch in the town of Broadway, which marked the half-way point of our 10-mile walk for that day.  After dining on salads or fish and chips, we carried on for five more miles to the pretty little town of Stanton, where we would spend the night. 

As we settled into our private room in the 17th century stone-block home that once served as Stanton’s post house, my husband’s cell phone rang. 

“We’re lost,” said a man with an American accent.

“Oh dear,” Tom said, recognizing Ron’s voice.  “What do you see around you?”

“There’s a long stone wall with an iron gate and a pasture full of sheep.  Any idea where we are?”

Ron’s plaintive wail became a running gag throughout the trip, as we strolled through countless walled pastures with sheep.  The tower climbers eventually made it to their B & B in Stanton and joined us for a superb dinner at the town’s Mount Inn, which is said to be a favorite dining spot of Paul McCartney and his daughter who lives nearby.  A pony-sized dog lay in the doorway like a rolled up rug, but the bill of fare offered a sophisticated menu of fresh haddock, sirloin steak and locally sourced vegetables.  Best of all, the English ales were cold.  After dinner some of us sat out on the restaurant’s hillside patio with a cold one and watched a sunset that turned the sky the color of amber stout. 

Read more of Kay’s travel memoir about a 70-mile walk through the Cotswolds in her next blog, January 1, 2017.

Write your Travel Story

DSC_0254When we write about our travels, many of us write lists of where we went and what we saw.  With a bit more effort we can write a trip account that recreates our experiences and reveals how we felt about these adventures. 

How to do that?  Tell a story that draws the reader in.  A story has a beginning, middle and end.  It takes the reader along with the writer to explore new places, people and ideas.

Here is the beginning of my story about a 70-mile walk my husband and I took with 10 friends to celebrate our 70th birthdays.  It begins:

        With our 70th birthdays looming, my husband Tom and I marveled that we would soon achieve that august age.  We were born two weeks apart and have marked our birthdays together, often with travels over the years.  To celebrate this big event, we decided to attempt a symbolic hike of 70 miles from inn to inn someplace in the world. 

Hiking is a sport we both enjoy.  We have completed several long distance walks over the years and have established three basic rules:

1. We don’t carry heavy backpacks; instead we arrange to have our bags carried for us from inn to inn — by taxi, mule or boat. 

2. After each day’s hike we enjoy a restaurant meal and a sound night’s sleep in a real bed; no camping. 

3. We walk no more than 8 – 10 miles a day, which allows us to repeat that mileage day after day without over-taxing our abilities.

With those rules in mind, we selected the Cotswold Way in west-central England.  It’s a national trail that actually extends 102 miles, threading through a patchwork quilt of stone-walled pastures and tidy villages.  The ancient pilgrimage route leads hikers from the historic market-town of Chipping Campden in the north to its terminus in the south at the 15th century Bath Abbey.  Along the way hikers pass Iron-Age forts, ancient burial mounds, and medieval ruins that invite exploration.  Villages with honey-hued stone cottages and names like Wotton-under-Edge, Birdlip and Old Sodbury offer family-run inns and pub restaurants at welcome intervals along the trail. 

We discussed our proposed walk with friends in San Diego, and soon five couples, all in their late 60s, decided to join us.  The big 7-0 loomed for all 12 of us.  We agreed that we wanted to complete the 70-mile self-guided walk at our own pace, with time to explore the sights along the way, but we also wanted to have our lodging reserved ahead so we could anticipate a comfortable stopping place each night.  We hired a local outfitter (Andrew Guppy at www.cotswoldwalks.com) to arrange accommodations for us at village inns about 10 miles apart.  He booked taxis to carry our bags each morning and arranged for drivers to pick us up after 10 miles on those days when our pre-booked inn awaited farther down the trail. 

While each couple made separate flight arrangements and travel plans in Europe or the UK before our hike, all 12 of us managed to meet in Chipping Campden on our hotel’s sunny patio restaurant at noon on June 4, as we had agreed.  We toasted our adventure with a glass of champagne at lunch and then…

(Read more of the story about our 70-mile adventure in the English countryside next month, in my September 1 blog).

3 Recent Travel Memoirs Take You on Inner Journeys

IMG_8118Travel Memoir has become a popular genre, savored by armchair travelers who may never leave home and devoured by those who want to follow in the footsteps where globe-trotting authors have led. The best of these memoirs take readers along for an emotional, spiritual and intellectual ride, as the authors connect with people around the world and learn about their own beliefs and perspectives in the process.

Over the last few years, readers have traipsed through the Sierras with Cheryl Strayed in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; experienced absorbing affairs around the world with Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love; and explored the Australian Outback with Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, just to name a few.

Dozens more travel memoirs have been published during the last 18 months, written by authors who recount their physical journeys and also capture the passion and thrill of their experiences. If you enjoy reading travel memoirs that chronicle authors’ outer and inner journeys, try these three books, all published in 2015.

  1. On a Mission: An 800-mile Walk to Discover California’s El Camino Real, by Maggie Espinosa. In what the author describes as “the journey of a lifetime,” Espinosa walks between each of California’s 21 Spanish Colonial missions, discovering the spiritual and historical landscapes that continue to influence California today.
  2. Around the World in 50 years: My Adventure to Every Country on Earth, by Albert Podell. This inspiring book tells the story of Podell’s visits to each of the world’s countries as he survives wars, robberies, earthquakes, wild animal attacks and hilarious encounters with his own species.
  3. Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe, by Andrew Dickson. Traveling to countries on four continents, Dickson found surprising places where Shakespeare’s plays tap into the psyches of citizens from diverse cultures. From Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell on Robben Island in South Africa to modern Shanghai, China, Dickson encountered people and events that showcased the continuing relevance of the Bard’s words.

Write about People you Meet

DSC_0003People you meet while traveling make your experiences memorable. A conversation with a Frenchman at a Paris café or a Maasai dancer in Kenya will be the event you remember most from a trip. That conversation is the memory you will find yourself repeating to others when you return home.
So when you write about your travels, add those special person-to-person encounters to your account of what you saw and did. Take the time to make the people you met come alive again as you tell your story. Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Describe people physically
    What did the person you met look like? – Tall? Dark hair? Middle-aged? Wrinkles? Smile? Write down what your remember about the person’s demeanor and dress. How did the person move or talk? Rather than give a descriptive list of physical characteristics, describe the person in the context of telling the story.
  • Recreate the dialogue
    It’s OK to recreate a conversation even though you don’t remember the exact words, as long as you stick to the essence and intent of the words spoken. Write a dialogue of your conversation as you remember it, using quotation marks, going back and forth between the two of you.
  • Show how the interaction made you feel
    What did you learn about yourself from talking with this person? Did you feel a kinship even though you came from different backgrounds? Were there humorous misunderstandings due to language and cultural differences? Did you share a laugh?
    Here is an example from my travel memoir, of meeting a woman who became my friend, on my first trip to Easter Island:

A large woman made her way toward me through the crowd, her wavy black hair and pink- flowered, Tahitian-styled parieu flowing behind her. She had apparently spotted me as the foreign student who was to stay at her pension, with my blonde hair, UCLA tee shirt and blue jeans.

Ola, tu eras Kay? Habla Espanol?” The woman, (Lucia), wanted to know if I was Kay and if I spoke Spanish.

Si. Poquito,” I stammered, trying to recall the phrases I needed from my college Spanish I class.

Donde esta su equipaque?

Where is my luggage? I looked over at the bags lined up on the concrete floor of the small thatch-roofed airport. Mine wasn’t there, yet I had personally placed my tagged bag on the luggage conveyer belt in Tahiti.

Seeing the distress on my face, Lucia marched me over to Juan, the airport’s baggage handler, who happened to be her cousin. She pointed at the huge jet sitting alone on the runway and told Juan that I needed to check the baggage in the hold of the plane to make sure mine wasn’t still there. The plane was to leave for Santiago, Chile in less than an hour.

No, no,” Juan said, his eyes wide and hands gesturing in the air. “No es posible.

Si, si,” Lucia brushed past him and signaled me to come with her. I followed her pink dress across the runway to the tall metal stair-step ladder that still leaned against the open door of the baggage compartment in the bowels of the big plane.

Ariba,” she said to me, pointing the way up the stairs.

I knew that the next plane from Tahiti wouldn’t arrive for one more week and I thought about going without my clothes and toiletries for that long on an isolated island with a few tourist shops. I looked at Lucia, her legs planted wide and arms pointing up to the plane. Her certainty gave me courage. I took a deep breath and bounded up the stairs, two at a time, aware that Juan was on my heels, protesting in a frantic voice…

Kay Sanger is the author of several travel guidebooks and most recently, Easter Island: The Essential Guide, published by The Easter Island Foundation. Find it on Amazon or at www.islandheritage.org

Write a Travel Memoir with the Techniques of a Novelist

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For 25 years I wrote freelance travel articles for newspapers and magazines, as well as six guidebooks. Most of these writings told readers where to stay, how to negotiate the cities and what to see and do. However, I learned over the years that the best accounts of travel are written using techniques that novelists use to engage readers.

Bestselling authors write about more than what characters saw or did. They find a story in the activities that encourages the reader to stay on the page to see what happens next. Novelists use techniques such as painting scenes and creating tension to make the story real and exciting for a reader. You can do this too, as you write a memoir about your travels, by taking yourself back to that time on your trip when you were filled with anticipation and uncertainty.

In my next few blogs I will explore several ways to write about your experiences using good story telling techniques. Two of those techniques follow.

 

  1. Tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end. Your readers will keep reading if you write a story with scenes that have action and an arc of discovery that reaches a satisfying conclusion. Here is an example of a story I wrote about hiking 70 miles on the Cotswold Way in England with 12 friends. It began like this:

In Chipping Campden on that first morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, kippers and dry toast, we left our suitcases in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup and strapped on small daypacks filled with water and snacks. We posed for a photo together beneath a sign marking the start of the Cotswold Way and then we headed off down the cobble-stone street in high spirits. The sun warmed us from a clear blue sky above while a cool breeze encouraged us to keep on our jackets.

At the edge of town, we found the first trail marker, a wooden post with a distinctive acorn carved on its face. A small arrow on the post pointed toward a broad hill. We could see the path inching up through green fields and disappearing into a forest of tall trees. All we had to do was put one foot in front of the other and head up that trail.

For the first five miles, we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep. We stopped often to take photos of the sweeping vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs. The beginning of our 70-mile walk seemed so calm. We couldn’t imagine what awaited us farther along the trail as the weather turned and we got lost.

  1. Use the novel writer’s technique of adding tension and suspense. Make it an interesting read, with a cast of characters, including yourself, that are placed in a tenuous situation, as we often are when traveling. The following example is from a story I wrote about being caught in Hurricane Iwa when I went to Hawaii with my young children in 1982.

I was waiting with our kids at the Western Airlines ticket counter at LAX on a gray day in November, 1982, when I heard the news.

“Did you hear that a hurricane is supposed to hit Oahu this afternoon?” asked a tall, earnest man in line in front of me.

No, I hadn’t heard anything about it, and neither had the other would-be passengers around us.

“What’s a hurricane?” asked my six-year-old son, Ted.

“Well, it’s a storm with a lot of wind,” I replied, trying to sound breezy myself.

When we reached the counter, I asked the ticket agent if she had heard about the hurricane.

“They haven’t given us any information about it,” she replied. “So I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. The flight’s still scheduled to leave at 2 p.m.”

Once aboard the plane, the Polynesian music and stewardesses dressed in mumus lulled us into believing that we were heading for a pleasant vacation in paradise. We settled back to enjoy the trip.

With about 90 minutes left in the flight, the pilot announced we should return to our seats and put on our seatbelts for the remainder of the trip. He predicted we were going to experience a “bit of turbulence.” He never mentioned the “H” word as the plane began to shimmy and bounce…

 

The next time you write about your travel experiences, try these suggestions and have fun with it. In my next blog (April 1), I will provide more suggestions to make your travel memoirs sizzle.

How a Trip Journal Can Help You Write a Travel Memoir

IMG_8351Many of us keep a journal when we travel. At the end of each day, we try to jot down where we went and what we saw, recording names of the places we visited and new information we learned. We tend to write about what impressed us most, but we don’t often say why.

Back home when we want to write about the trip in more depth, we turn to our journals and often are disappointed. Our notes are sketchy. Memories have faded.

How can you write about what you felt when you saw the Taj Mahal for the first time if you neglected to record your original, raw emotions? How can you describe the interior of the Palace of Versailles and its effect on you if you didn’t take detailed notes?

To improve your travel memoirs in the future, think about taking more time to record your experiences in your trip diary when they are fresh. Here are three suggestions to think about as you write your notes each day:

1. Write detailed descriptions of the places that really impressed you. Even if you only write in phrases, capture the specific characteristics as you remember them including the sights, smells and sounds.

For a castle in Portugal, I jotted down such items as: “stone brick façade inlaid with green, pink and yellow tiles; deep bell chimes each hour; mosaic ceilings made of stones, shells and tiles; second-story cobblestone porch with view to the sea and smells from the sea carried by breeze; six-foot-long bathtub in fully tiled bathroom.” These details later helped me describe the incredible castle and the eccentric king who built it, making the story of my travels there more compelling.

2. Write about how you felt when you were there. What were your emotions? Later, when you are home and writing your memoir, you can tap into those emotions and perhaps see more clearly how they may have changed and inspired you. Travel is about more than just where you went and what you did. There is an inner, parallel journey going on too, and that is the most valuable aspect of travel.

I recently walked the last 70 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with six friends, all of us around 70 years old. Along the trail I spent some time meditating about how the trail was a metaphor of life, with its ups and downs, never revealing what lies on the other side of the hill.

As I walked, I felt the wonder of traversing the same worn path where thousands have passed since the 11th century. I thought about the last years of my life and how I want to approach them with courage and grace. The swinging of the huge incense burner at the Santiago de Compostella cathedral at the end of the walk made me gasp and choke back tears as I realized the symbolism of the smoke carrying my aspirations to the heavens.

3. Write about the people you met who influenced or impressed you. What did you discuss? What did you learn? After you return home, you may see these personal encounters as the most enriching events of your trip.

During my walk on the Camino, I met people who told me about their lives. One woman talked about the two children in Ethiopia she was sponsoring by sending money for clothing, school and food. A man from Guatemala described the orphanage he ran there. A Swedish woman shared how she worked to save the elephants at a reserve in Botswana. After a while, their stories ran together in my mind. I’m happy I wrote down the details soon after our encounters.

The next time you travel, take along that trip journal and write in it each night, but take more time to think about the details, emotions and insights that can turn your jottings into a meaningful memoir of your travels.

Give the Gift of Family Stories

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In my first blog this year (January 1, 2015), I made a commitment to create an illustrated book about my parents and grandparents that I would give to my children and other family members for Christmas. In my blogs throughout this year, I have shared ideas for creating this family memoir. Some of you have written to tell me you are creating books of your own following these ideas.

My blogs this year have suggested ways to interview living relatives, write authentic family stories, conduct genealogical research, identify important memorabilia, sort through old photos and write captions.

Now it’s time to create a book filled with these items to give to family members for the holidays. In my last blog (Nov. 1), I suggested a layout for the book. It starts with a genealogical family tree that shows your relationship to the relatives you feature in your book. Then I proposed gathering the following items for each family member’s chapter: a timeline of important life events, stories you have recalled and written about that person, followed by certificates, awards and photos (with captions) from various stages of the person’s life.

Following are a few ideas for printing your book:

  • Create multiple, identical scrapbooks with photos and typed or handwritten text. You will need to make copies of all the pictures and text pages so you can create these books. Purchase good quality scrapbook albums with acid-free plastic sleeves to protect the photos and copied text pages.
  • Create one book and have it copied at a shop like Kinkos or Staples. You will need to lay-out the pages of the book and design a cover. Have the copy shop print your cover image on thick paper stock and copy the book’s text and photos on fine-grained paper. Have them bind the book with a spiral binding.
  • Create a hard-cover book using an online book-builder program. Find free downloadable software for a book from one of the many companies that offer these programs, such as: www.MyPublisher.com, www.blurb.com, www.shutterfly.com or www.costcophotocenter.com. All of these programs offer four-color printing, a creative choice of layouts and a variety of book sizes, with professional (perfect) binding and several hard-cover options. The software is easy to use. Try to complete your online book as soon as possible to avoid the Christmas rush. If you do it soon enough, you should receive the books by mail approximately one week after you submit the finished design.
  • Prepare your book with a computer layout and design program such as Microsoft’s Publisher or Apple’s Pages. Then, either print the designed pages of the book and put them in a three-ring notebook or copy the book onto a disk that family members can read on an iPad or other tablet computer. You can share the book easily using email or through social media, such as Facebook. This may appeal most to the younger generations, as the creators of the comic, Crankshaft, have noted.

I hope you are motivated as I am to finally complete a family history memoir. Remember, you are the only person who can pass along this information and if you don’t, it may be lost to future generations. Don’t put your incomplete manuscript pages on the shelf where they may not be discovered or valued. Create a finished book now that will be a treasure for generations to enjoy. This could be the most important and remembered present you give to your family.

Organize your Family Book

FullSizeRender (6)It’s nearly the end of my year-long project of writing about my family. For my faithful followers on this journey, I hope you have made progress toward completing a book about your family too. Next month I will suggest some ideas for printing and completing your book to give to family members for the holidays.

For now, it’s time to look at what we have written and collected, to make sure we have gathered all the pieces that will make this book a family heirloom.

I have selected ten people to write (more…)