Well, what did you think of 2021? It’s been a mixed bag with a slight improvement on the previous year (it’s all relative) although, generally and personally, not in the top ten.
But as I scroll through my photo archives and clippings’ folder for the past year, transferring key dates to the new year’s diary adding anything new (who am I kidding), I’m surprised at how much I’ve managed to cram in. Despite the restrictions we’ve all been experiencing in the past almost-two-years, as a freelance writer reliant on travel opportunities, I’ve managed to keep busy exploring my little corner of Britain, making new discoveries and sharing them with you. December [ dih-sem-ber ]. Proper Noun: a time to reflect.
In the spirit of freelancers everywhere I’m being entirely honest when I say it hasn’t been easy this year. This is a tough admission. Travel writers’ reputations are largely based on the perception of a busy life spent travelling the world fearlessly, even during a pandemic-era.
And this year, opportunities to work with the industry and actually travel have been even fewer than last year. In the UK, everyone has naturally focused on the apparent surge in ‘staycation’ bookings, and foreign travel has remained nigh on impossible. Travel is not viable unless you have the resources to pay all your travel expenses, testing and quarantine costs, and still make a living as a freelancer. So there are some tough decisions to be made for 2022 and in light of the third wave, or is it the fourth, of virus (I’ve stopped counting) the world is now experiencing.
To cheer myself (and hopefully, you too) here’s a round-up of the highlights in 2021. Spoiler: There are no photos of me standing on the edge of snowy landscapes, swimming in clear blue mountain lakes or sipping cocktails lake-side at Como. Instead, I have walked for miles, hugged trees, visited exhibitions when safe to do so, and happily carried out one or two in-person reviews of hotels, workshops and other closer-to-home events by invitation. I’m thankful for all of these in helping feed an insatiable need for art and culture, good food and new experiences.
Exploring Britain in 2021
A first hotel review in many months at The Crown and Garter in rural Inkpen, Berkshire where they make their own additive-free butter, bread and tomato ketchup and cook with: lamb from a nearby farmer; honey from a local beekeeper; and herbs from the pub owner’s garden. I asked Romilla Arber, Honesty Group founder, about how she got started in the food industry and what have been the highs and lows of running an ethical business, coming up in the new year.
A trip into London by train to review an exhibition and on to Claridge’s Hotel for the launch of Cooking With Heroes marking 100 years of The Royal British Legion. Photos clockwise from top left: the writer, the artist and the blogger @monaseyebeauty; the new cookbook; drawing of Joan Collins by David Downton; the Claridge’s ‘gallery’; pipe cleaner artwork by Damian Hirst on display in the hotel lobby.
Lunch at The Spread Eagle Hotel in Sussex market town of Midhurst, was another first after months of lockdown. It was so good to get out into the world once more, even for a few hours. Photos clockwise from top left: a blue Porsche outside the hotel; flower tubs in the grounds; the dining room; the chance to get out of the sweats into a posh frock; one of Midhurst’s many medieval timbered houses.
This year has once again been a time for regular walks in the countryside, away from the madding crowds. The medieval city of Winchester is surrounded by stunning landscapes just minutes from the centre. The historic Hospital of St John is founded in the tradition of ‘hospitality’ and the Master’s Garden is open to the public.
A trip to Cowdray for a guided tour of the atmospheric ruins set within the vast estate. The only remaining part of the original house is the Kitchen Tower, incredibly still used for art classes. Henry VIII and Elizabeth I visited Cowdray, and sadly in 1793 the house suffered massive fire damage.
I’ve especially sought out outdoor activities this year. Foraging for wild herbs and fungi was so enjoyable with another visit to Cowdray Park for a glorious morning walking the estate with a professional forager, revealing an array of wild herbs, mushrooms and other edible plants. Read more Wild Food: Foraging on Cowdray Estate
An exhibition of photographic works by Paul Joyce , filmmaker and photographer featured well-known 20th century faces from the world of stage & screen, art and literature. Photos, left top to bottom; black and white photography of well-known faces from Jane Fonda to Quentin Tarantino; on the right the writer inspired by Joyce’s work (ahem). Read about some of my favourites with more photos…
Photos clockwise from top left: the outside of the barn that is the Honesty Cookery School; inside the barn; the view from the back doors; the class sharing lunch; freshly baked foccacia and tomatoes; the view at the rear! at the kitchen island with Italian tutor @mariellabliss.
A class at the Honesty Cookery School learning how to Bring The Amalfi Coast To Your Table using authentic regional produce was a day well spent. The school’s barn doors open onto wide open Berkshire countryside so it felt safe to mix with other people, and enjoy the lunch we made together, naturally, over a glass of wine.
Originating from Japan the practice of forest bathing is also known as “Shinrin-yoku”, and focuses on connecting particularly with trees. I spent a morning in the woodlands at St Anne’s Hill in Sussex with Helena Skooga, forest bathing guide. Read the full story… Discover The Benefits of Forest Bathing.
The Wallace Museum is one of my favourite places to spend quiet time. One of the top exhibitions this year was Frans Hals: The Male Portrait. Beautifully curated and a joy to experience Hals’ attractive, stylish male friends up close and personal, so to speak. I also enjoyed one (actually it was two!) of the best cups of coffee in the courtyard cafe. It was one of those moments where it felt like daily life was, if not returning to normal at least to be savoured once more.
I joined The Ancestral Nomad to make the most of the annual Heritage Open Days, a two-week event held UK-wide. One of the places we explored was The Gatehouse in Winchester city centre. It must qualify as one of the smallest museums in the world with a tiny floor space and a rooftop terrace with a view down the high street. Treasures include a painted ceiling depicting people in medieval costume and two wooden panels of a magnificent frieze depicating putti. More on our days out here.
That’s a quick round-up of some of the best bits of 2021. Thank you to everyone for all the lovely events, previews and other fun opportunities for stories. Please keep the invitations coming! I’m excited about new possibilities and experiences in 2022. If you are interested in working with me please drop me a note on the Contact page for a chat, and a copy of the Hashtagtravelling.uk media pack. Check some of the testimonials from previous work available on the about page.
Last but not certainly not least thank you to all Hashtagtravelling.uk followers, for everyone’s Likes and positive comments on social media. Follow and tag to link up on Twitter and Instagram @hashtagtravelin.
I wish you a healthy, peaceful and joyous Festive Season. See you in the New Year!