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Kay Sanger

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. 

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 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 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.

Give the Gift of Family Stories


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:,, or 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…)

Connect with Family History

photoHow are you coming with your book about your family? I started in January with the goal of writing a book about my parents and grandparents in one year. I busily researched each one and wrote time-lines of the important events in their lives (see my blog 6-15-15). I visited the places where some of them lived; Minnesota, Indiana and Sweden (see blog 9-1-15).

Now I want to write about their lives, to make them real – more than just names and old photos. I want to help my grown children and grandchildren relate to the lives lived by their ancestors. Where to start?

  1. The first step is to make a list of the stories I remember or that I have learned from my research about each of my parents, my four grandparents and some of my great-grandparents. My sister has researched our family tree and has extended it back several centuries. Her 15-year project is an incredibly valuable addition to our knowledge and appreciation of the family. So now the names and the dates are confirmed, but the accomplishments and experiences of most of these ancestors have been lost in time. I know that if I don’t write about the lives of the family members I do know about, their life stories will be lost too. I am starting with a list of what I know.
  2. Next, I plan to write as much as I can about each of the story topics in my list. My stories may be short – just a few paragraphs, or several pages. I will add photos to the stories when possible and if not, I will find illustrations on the internet. For example, I found a drawing of a horse and buggy from the 1880s to illustrate a story about how my maternal grandparents from different European countries met at a train station in North Dakota (my grandfather offered a ride to a young woman who stepped off a train and later became my grandmother). A photo of a telegraph machine will accompany a story of my paternal grandfather’s successful career as a railroad telegrapher back when telegraphy was cutting-edge technology. These stories will be the core of my book. They will give flesh to some of the many names on my family tree.
  3. In addition, I will plan some activities to help my children and grandchildren connect with their ancestors, and then I will write about those. Janet Hovorka has created a delightful website to help grandparents with the clever title: “Zap the Grandma Gap” She suggests that if we have a greater awareness of the traits that helped our ancestors navigate life successfully, we will be inspired and empowered to use the traits that have been handed down to us. In other words, knowing you come from a long line of good cooks or good writers or good athletes can give you confidence to succeed at those things yourself.

Hovorka presents a variety of ways to connect grandchildren with the family’s past. One of her many ideas that I have used with my granddaughters involved introducing them to my mother and grandmother through their possessions that I now have, such as their dishes. My grandchildren will inherit them someday, so I decided to use them to build memories with me now. When the “Grandgirls” visited us last summer, I planned a tea party with those Depressions-ware blue plates and we talked about how my grandfather bought them as a surprise for my mother at a time in history when they and other people had little money. I wrote this story for my book and illustrated it with a photo of the girls using their great-grandmother’s dishes.

A Sense of Place

DSC06861-1Last month my husband and I took a driving trip through the Midwest in search of my family history. Before we left, we had researched genealogy records to find the names of towns and churches where the census records say my relatives lived. We had obtained birth, baptism, marriage and death records to help pinpoint their exact locations.

Easter Island: The Essential Guide

easter islandFor this blog I’ve decided to take a break from my 2015 theme of writing about our families, so that I can tell you about a new book I’ve written: Easter Island: The Essential Guide.

Most people have heard of this fabled island, with its gigantic stone statues (moai), palm-lined beaches and intriguing archaeological sites. Yet there is much misunderstanding about the island and its people. Who made the moai? How did they do it? Who lives on the island now? What can I see and do if I go there?