Friday thought #84 WW1 battlegrounds – Flanders and the Somme

A slight variation on my usual posts, but nevertheless, a place that I have recently visited and something which I would like to share.

Whether or not history is something that interests you, I believe that there are certain things which should never be forgotten and we should always be reminded of, no matter how long ago they happened or how distant those memories start to become. The World Wars are two such things, and on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, 2016 became the year I finally got the chance to visit some of the WW1 battlegrounds in Northern France, something which I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

I won’t go into too much detail, as everyone’s experience and interest is different, and I don’t think photographs will ever do justice to the places themselves, but I will share some of them all the same and hope that you can get a feel for these incredible sites. If you ever get the chance to visit, please do, it is an experience like no other.

The countrysides of Northern France and Belgium are quite literally full of history. You need only drive 5 minutes before coming across a memorial, a graveyard or simply a vast expanse where bloody battles were fought. The Battle of the Somme lasted for just over 4 months and with over 1 million men killed or wounded, it is known as one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

We visited as many of these sites as we could in 2 days and only wished we had been able to stay another week. The memories of the soldiers who gave their lives have been beautifully preserved and the War Graves Commission have done an incredible job in ensuring that the name of every single soldier who died is carefully engraved and remembered, even those who were never found.

The standout place for us, and the place that will stay in my memory forever are the preserved trenches in the Beaumont Hamel memorial park. The site has been preserved by the Canadian Government to commemorate all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, and must be seen to be believed. The original trenches are still there, complete with the remains of the barbed wire fences where the soldiers went over the top. Visitors pass the British front line and walk across no-mans-land to reach the trenches where the German front line stood exactly 100 years ago. Perhaps for some this means nothing, or perhaps as part of a noisy guided tour group in August, some of the atmosphere is lost, but on a freezing new year’s eve we found ourselves to be the only visitors walking through this eerie landscape, and looking across no-mans-land in the perfect silence brought tears to our eyes imagining what had happened here.

60,000 men died on the first day of the Somme, some just teenagers. I hope that people will always visit the Somme, as what happened here should never be forgotten.

Thiepval Memorial, where the names of over 72,000 soldiers are engraved, soldiers with no known grave who were never found
The Menin Gate memorial in Ypres, France. This impressive structure holds the names of over 60,000 men who fought in the First World War, and every night come rain or shine, the Last Post is played here as a tribute to those who died.
Vimy Ridge, a Canadian national memorial with over 11,000 names carved on it
Lochnagar Crater – the mine hole created by the blast which signalled the start of the battle of the Somme
Looking out through the mist at the cemetery behind the Thiepval memorial
One of the many beautiful cemeteries which dominate the landscape
The reconstructed trenches at Vimy Ridge, exactly where the original trenches lay


The Tyne Cot Cemetery, no words can describe this…
Hundreds and hundreds of tributes to soldiers who gave their lives, some engraved with names, some simply dedicated to ‘A Soldier of the Great War’
The British front line at Beaumont Hamel, complete with the long rusted remains of the barbed wire fences
The German front line, a terrifyingly short distance from the allied lines

Friday thought #83 Early season skiing – making the most of what little snow we have!

So I hear that North America is getting a huge amount of snow at the minute, however sadly this is not the case here in Europe. Winter teased us back in November and as ever the snow canons were blasting 24 hours a day, a few meagre pistes were opened and skiers hit the slopes in their droves. But since then we have had literally no precipitation, just bright blue skies, sunshine and well below freezing temperatures. So I can’t complain, this weather is gorgeous, and we have been determined to make the most of what we’ve got.

Those in charge of the ski areas have done a superb job of getting resorts open, and the cold temperatures have helped the manufactured snow stick brilliantly, so with zero off-piste or back-country touring potential, why not make the most of the magnificent sunshine and the spectacular ‘half Autumn half Winter’ scenery and hit the pistes?!

Very respectable coverage considering we’ve had no snow!
Not a bad lunchtime view...
Not a bad lunchtime view…
A 14km track leading from Austria across the border to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
A 14km track leading from Austria to Switzerland. I love popping over the border for lunch!
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there's something really fun about skiing along next to grass...
Yeah lower down the snow really does run out! Although there’s something really fun about skiing along next to grass…
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
When you get tired of the pistes, why not have a go on the airbag?
Ah lovely...
Ah lovely…

Friday thought #82 Ski time!

Yes it’s here, I clung on to autumn for as long as I could, but I have finally given in and embraced winter! Although at this time of year the nights are closing in, the temperature plummets, and the sun retreats into hibernation, the wonderful thing about a place like Innsbruck is that with winter comes SNOW! Last weekend we dusted off the skis and had a fun blast round the busy pistes followed by a superb (and considerably quieter!) ski tour.

A great star to the winter and exciting to be back on the skis. Watch this space…

Stunning views above the clouds
Stunning views above the clouds
The snow was surprisingly good!
Peaceful touring
Peaceful touring
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see
Atmospheric snowy peaks as far as the eye can see

Friday thought #81 Who said November was miserable?

Me! Traditionally I have always associated November with grim, rainy, grey weather (growing up in England didn’t help!) The sun has gone into hibernation, the rain arrives, it’s cold. But this November in the alps has proved me wrong. With a few exceptions (!) we have had perfect cold, crisp sunny days, and the beautiful autumn leaves have really held their colour. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed still being able to run on the forest trails around Innsbruck, and couldn’t resist taking my camera out this week to capture nature at its best.

The snow is creeping closer, and skiing is not far away, but for now I want to hold on to autumn for as long as possible.







Friday thought #80 Beautiful Autumn

Despite Autumn faithfully and predictably arriving every year at the same time, it still never ceases to surprise me how beautiful it is, possibly because each year it seems to sneak up and blow you away with its seemingly impossible colours. The summer months are always wonderful, and living in a place which has the 4 distinct seasons makes the transition from hot, carefree summer days to dark, short winter days so much more bearable by easing us in to it slowly.  Now I must admit a winter with snow and skiing is a great deal more tempting than a rainy, grey one, but it’s still always a challenge to let go of the summer regardless of what’s around the corner!

Every year I cherish the Autumn and make sure I stop to appreciate just how unique and stunning it is, even on a grey day…!










Friday thought #79 Via Ferrata Lake Garda

In Italian ‘via ferrata’ simply means ‘iron way’, and that is exactly what it is; a series of metal cables, staples and ladders enabling people to climb and traverse otherwise impenetrable rock faces. Via ferrata was created in the Italian Dolomites during the First World War as a means to move the soldiers through the mountain environment, but it wasn’t until many many years later that it became a popular sport. There are now hundreds of routes across Europe, and although they are not for the faint-hearted or those who suffer from vertigo (!) they do make climbing much more accessible for aspiring adventurers with little experience or skill.

During a recent trip to Lake Garda in Italy, we headed for the Sentiero Contrabbandieri, an old smugglers’ route high above the shores of the lake. It turned out to be more of an adventurous, and rather terrifying walk with a few sections of cable, rather than a classic via ferrata, but it was brilliant fun, and with stunning views to top it off.





Friday thought #78 An alternative summer break – sea kayaking in Sardinia

It has been another fantastic summer of adventures, discovery, exploration and visiting new places. A few years back we sea kayaked in Croatia and loved it so much that we just had to do it again. This time Sardinia was the chosen destination; the La Maddalena archipelago off the NE coast to be specific. We had never been before and only heard wonderful things about it. Suffice it to say that it fully lived up to all of our expectations; a real adventure, an incredible place and most importantly, quality time away from work, phones, internet and other people! These days it is so hard to switch off from everyday life and I cannot recommend sea kayaking enough as a complete break from it all.

Of course no trip is without its unexpected events… Wild waves one day left us stranded on an uninhabited island and we ended up having to use our paddles to flag down a passing yacht to hitch a ride back to the mainland…! All part of the adventure, and thank you to the French crew on ‘Le Fleur de Sel’ if you ever read this!

Seven days of paddling, snorkelling, wild camping, sunset watching and generally just being on holiday, it doesn’t take much imagination to plan an interesting alternative to the average summer break.






Friday thought #77 Cows with attitude!

You will often come across animals when out and about in the mountains; mostly cows, goats, sheep, or the occasional marmot. They are always nice to see, I like sharing my mountains with animals, but in general I wouldn’t normally describe any of them as having a great deal of character, and I’ve certainly never seen one pose for the camera! However on a recent mountaineering trip we came across most definitely the coolest, most characterful cow I have ever seen, almost a cow with attitude!

She was in the middle of the hiking trail, and stood her ground as we approached, then as soon as the camera was on her, she tilted her chin upwards, looked nonchalantly in to the distance and struck a pose, no two ways about it. Judge for yourself, she was just marvellous!

What a poser!
What a poser!

Friday thought #76 English grammar rant…!

I love languages, they are endlessly interesting, and I am always comparing and questioning different aspects of language. In particular I love the English language. This probably has a lot to do with it being my first language, and also the fact that I spend a lot of my time teaching English to foreign students… ! But even so, I think it’s a fascinating language; so complex, so expressive, and much of it with seemingly no rules at all!

Teaching advanced English has been a very interesting experience for me as it has really made me stop and ponder questions that as a native speaker I would never even consider. It also makes you realise just how many mistakes we make as native speakers, mistakes which have, over the course of time, become acceptable. With the enormous rise in popularity of blogs, I find myself seeing more and more mistakes, and not just typos – we are all guilty of occasionally typing too quickly and not having time to proofread – but serious grammatical errors that are clearly not thought of as incorrect by the writer. Why is it now ok to say “there’s lots of people?” Spoken slang is one thing, but I can’t tolerate poorly written English. Another of my favourites is “I should of gone home earlier”. We all went to school and learnt how to read, write and speak. No wonder so many foreign speakers find English so difficult to learn.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 17.30.21

And don’t even get me started on apostrophes. Why do so many people think if a word ends in ’s’, it must need an apostrophe?

“Sofa’s for sale”

“Fresh drink’s available”

“Live sport’s shown here”


The list is literally never-ending; outside bars, restaurants, even at universities. True story, I once saw this sign at a British university:

“Student’s Union”

Just for the one student then?

Apostrophes have very simple rules, we all learnt them at school, yet it seems most people have completely forgotten them by the time they reach adulthood.

I would never claim to always use flawless spoken or written grammar, far from it, but I think laziness, far too much time spent typing on phones, and the rise of slang is starting to destroy our language. And what a beautiful language it is, I hate the thought of it slipping away. If grammar is not your strong point, no problem, but just ask someone to check it before you publish it!

Then there are occasionally grammar points which present themselves and become the subject of debate, such as the following safety precaution commonly found on the back of headrests on aeroplanes. Is one right and one wrong, or are they both acceptable? And if they’re both ok, why?!


It’s a wonderful language, but it could be made a whole lot easier if there was just one word for something, rather than 10, and if each word just meant one thing, not 10…!

Friday thought #75 Penguins!

A recent visit to Edinburgh zoo reinforced my opinion that penguins are one of the funniest, cutest, yet oddest animals on earth! The zoo has a fantastic water complex for a huge number of penguins, which cannot fail to make you smile simply by moving, or even just by lying down! The way they walk seems so desperately inefficient, and their ‘relaxed’ position couldn’t look more uncomfortable. Yet when they enter the water they become a different species; graceful, elegant and beautiful. I could have watched these little guys all day, but sadly there were many other animals to see!