Sunday, 25 November 2012

Great Wall of China

In 2008 I spent 5 months working in Beijing, training up a new team of software developers.  Beijing is a fast paced and  constantly changing city which is developing at a speed those of us in the West will find hard to keep up with.  I loved it there and 2008 was a particularly special year as China prepared to host the Olympics.  I arrived in February, just after the Spring Festival and spent the first few weeks making new friends and exploring the city.  There comes a point though, when you want to get out of the city and this is where Beijing Hikers came into the picture.  Beijing Hikers is a walking group for expats and if you're ever in China, I'd recommend them as one of the best ways of getting out of the city and seeing parts of the country you might otherwise have missed.  One weekend in early April, a few of us booked onto one of their walks which took in a part of the Great Wall.  No visit to China is complete without going to see the Wall and as I hadn't been yet, I was looking forward to the walk.
The day before the walk, we received a text message: "Snow on the Great Wall.  Tomorrow's walk may follow a different route, wrap up warm."  A couple of people dropped out at this stage, but Manju and I decided to go along anyway.  We turned up and got on the bus, along with several others including Helen and Dave from my office.  The walk leader was still undecided as to which route we were going to do at this stage.  But as we made our way up there, she got a call from a local guide in one of the villages who had gone out early to check the route and was happy to take us up there.  And I'm so glad they did.  The Great Wall is breathtaking on any day as it snakes out in all directions across the mountains.  But covered in a layer of undisturbed snow with no-one else around, it was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen.
I went on to visit the wall several times while I was in China.  Like the rest of the country, it's full of contrasts. Some parts are perfectly reconstructed tourist traps, some bits are falling apart entirely and others are just a little bit worn and overgrown.  I think that all adds to its charm but this first visit is how I will always remember it.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


For my Mum's 60th birthday, we took a trip to the Cotswolds and stayed at the Lamb Inn in Burford.  Burford is a peaceful little English village where you can pass your time browsing antique shops, possibly stopping at some point for a cream tea to keep you going through the rest of the afternoon.  Not too many cream teas though because the food at the Lamb Inn is amazing and you wouldn't want to spoil your appetite.

We decided to go out for a walk which took us through some of the neighbouring villages and past this lovely little church.  As we walked away from the church we had to cross the field in the front on this picture to get back to Burford.  We'd noticed some cows across the other side of the field and as we walked down the hill the herd of cows noticed us.  They weren't just any cows either, this was an energetic herd of bullocks and now they were charging across the field at an alarming speed and heading straight for us.  Mum, Christine, Sue and Anne turned back and jumped over the wall of the churchyard.  Ian and I were about to do the same when we realised this meant we would be abandoning Dad (who had a hernia at the time and was not able to leg it up a hill and leap over a wall) to the crazy bullocks.  So we formulated plan B and, with some trepidation, made our way over to the edge of the field.  The bullocks caught up with us just as we reached the barbed wire fence. Ian and I managed to climb over while Dad edged his way along the side of the field, surrounded by curious bullocks.  They calmed down a little at this stage and followed us to the gate, keeping a close eye on us until they were certain we had left their field.  The others had managed to skirt their way around from the churchyard along the edge of the field too and soon we were all safely back together.  I ordered steak for my dinner that night.

As you know, these pictures get printed as Christmas cards and I wasn't entirely convinced that a herd of boisterous bullocks sent the right festive message so with a bit of artistic license, I've replaced them with a sunset instead.  It actually looks quite peaceful doesn't it...

Saturday, 10 November 2012


In 2005 I sold my house, put everything I owned in storage and used the equity from the house to take six months out and travel.  I visited lots of places along the way and I'm sure you'll hear a few stories from that year if you keep reading this blog for long enough.  This one is from California.  I stayed with my cousin for a while near LA and during that time, I decided to hire a car and drive the coastal route up to San Francisco.  The first day of the drive was fairly uneventful and I stopped for the night in a little hostel in San Luis Obispo.  In the morning I got chatting to Ann from Toronto who was staying in my room and ended up offering her a lift as far as Monterey.  We set off, stopping briefly in Cambria so she could drop her bag at a friend's house and travel  a bit lighter for a few days.  Cambria was a nice little town with a lovely English Tea Shop where I stopped to pick up a few supplies - I was finding the American approach to tea generally wasn't working for me so it was nice to get some decent stuff.  The drive up the California coast is spectacular and we had plenty of stops along the way (I'd recommend a stop in Pfeiffer Big Sur to anyone travelling the same route) before finally arriving in Monterey.  We arrived quite late in the evening and the next day, Ann decided to continue on her travels.  We didn't stay in touch but we'd had a nice day together so I hope she's doing well wherever she is.

I decided to stay in Monterey and extra night and spent my day walking by the harbour, visiting a few shops and generally having a good look around.  The harbour seals were rather loud and you couldn't miss them.  They spend their days sitting around on the rocks with groups of tourists taking photos of them through the gates.  They were fascinating and I spent a long time that day just sitting by the harbour watching them.

The next day I drove on to San Francisco and I'm sure anyone who's been there will agree, that's a lovely city. I met Yasser there who was visiting from Sydney for a job interview in LA and had decided to take a few days to see San Francisco when he was in the area.  We met up again a couple of months later when I got as far as Australia.  He got the job and is now living in the US and, if his facebook pictures are anything to go by, he appears to be having lots of fun.  Anyway, we went out for a few drinks that night then went our separate ways for the time being.  I only stayed in the city for one night then spent the day in Muir Woods before heading south again to begin my return journey.  

A common question people ask you after travelling is "what was your favourite place?"  It's a hard question to answer as I came home with hundreds of favourite places, all of which I loved for different reasons.  But this place in Montara was, without a doubt, my favourite hostel.  The building in the middle of this picture is where my room was and, it being low season, I ended up having the room to myself.  In the evening I watched the sun set over the ocean.  It was such a peaceful place and I am absolutely certain that if I'd chosen to stop there a couple of nights earlier, I'd probably never have made it as far as San Francisco on that trip.  In the morning, I could lie in bed and look out to sea without even lifting my head.  To this day, I have no idea how I managed to drag myself out of bed and drive back to LA but I had a flight to catch the next day so that's exactly what I did.  I'll go back there one day though.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


I'm sure we can all remember making cards for friends and family as a child.  I know I produced all kinds of weird and wonderful creations as I was growing up.  As I got older I began to develop my own style and started to produce pictures which I could scan and print to use as cards.  I started out by working from pictures I had found in magazines, often of wildlife or landscapes.  These two pictures marked a change as this is the point where I turned my attention to producing art based on my own travels and experiences.  People often ask to hear the story behind the pictures (or at least that's what they tell me) so I thought I'd start this blog to share some of those stories.  

Shuswap Lake is in British Columbia where we took a family holiday back in 2001.  It was a fantastic trip involving the Californian, Canadian and British branches of the family.  Being a somewhat far flung family, we don't manage to get together all that often making this a particularly special holiday.  During the days we spent our time exploring the lake and the surrounding area but it was the evenings that stayed with me.  I remember sitting around a campfire in the front garden of the lake house every evening drinking, chatting and catching up on too many years living in separate continents.

The view across the lake was beautiful, particularly as the moon reflected off its surface.  I'm not an expert photographer so I did the first picture by taking photos during the day standing on the spot where we had the fire.  I used this to recreate the view and then changed this to a night scene when I got home.  The sunset is based on another photo from the same trip, taken from the lake shore.  Both pictures are watercolours.  For those of you who were on this holiday, I hope they'll bring back some happy memories.