Posted in Travel

A Summer of Extremes: From Ithaca to Inverness

This post about my summer holidays first appeared in the Tetbury Advertiser’s September issue.

Photo of an Ithacan beach with clear blue sky
Soaking up the sun beside the Ithacan sea

I shall remember this summer break as the holiday of two extremes – scorching, dry sunshine and chill, torrential rain, as I flitted from Ithaca to Inverness.

Bust of Homer on a pillar on Ithaca
Statue of Homer on Ithaca at daybreak

Our trip to Ithaca was a busman’s holiday for me. I was helping to run the Homeric Writers’ Workshop and Retreat, so called because the island was the start and finishing point of perhaps the most famous journey of all, that of Odysseus, as chronicled by the ancient Greek master storyteller, Homer.

Our Scottish trip was occasioned by my husband’s own odyssey – to climb all 282 Munros, the Scottish mountains of 3,000 feet or more, named after the man who first mapped them.

On Ithaca, the weather was idyllic: constant sunshine, cornflower-blue skies, refreshing sea breezes, all day every day. The locals apologised that there were clouds in the sky – tiny Persil-white puffballs – apparently not usually seen between June and September.

A few days later, when we flew into Inverness to meet my husband (already there in our camper van, with 20 more Munros crossed off his list before we arrived), steady rain was falling from steely skies. As we headed west for Ullapool, the clouds became more leaden. Linen sundresses, so comfortable on Ithaca, were supplemented with leggings, t-shirts, cardigans, shawls – all at once.

Steely-skied Aberdeen beach with sign listing all the hazards there
Not quite so enticing – the beach at Aberdeen

On Ithaca there are constant reminders to conserve water, always in short supply on this tiny island. In Scotland, there is evidence everywhere of the abundance of local water: high and raging rivers, waterfalls and landslips beside the roads. New flood defences are under construction wherever we go, and not a moment too soon. If there’s ever a global shortage of water, Scotland’s a dead cert for world domination.

Yet as we retreated southwards, I realised that my two holiday destinations weren’t so different after all, and not just because they both prompted us to haemorrhage money on dubious souvenirs.

Both have a vast diaspora, thanks to economic migrants driven to North America, Australia, and South Africa by the Highland Clearances in Scotland and by the 1953 earthquake in Ithaca.

Both landscapes are scarred by the ruins of abandoned, simple stone houses, surprisingly similar in structure and appearance.

magnetBoth populations departed with a deep love of their homeland imprinted on their hearts. Whenever they can, they return. Australian, American and South African accents abound on Ithaca. In Scotland, 2014 has been declared Homecoming year, to mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, at which the Scots trounced the English. (By chance, my husband hails from Bannockburn.)

I feel privileged to have been able to holiday in places that so many people, all over the world, will always regard as home. Yet I’m also glad to return to the Cotswolds, which, as a small child on holiday there, I resolved I would one day make my home.

Because as Homer himself once said: “Nothing is sweeter than home”. At least, that’s what it says on my Ithacan souvenir fridge magnet.


Posted in Travel, Writing

Like Buses… A Second Post on the Writers’ & Artists’ Website

Cover of 2014 Writers' & Artists' YearbookJust a couple of weeks ago, I posted here an announcement that I’d started writing for the esteemed Writers’ & Artists’ website (the 21st century manifestation of the the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook).

And like buses, as soon as one post opportunity came along, a second swiftly followed.

All About Writers’ Retreats

My second post went live at the end of last week while I was off in the Forest of Dean with my daughter’s school residential trip, (oh, the magic of modern technology!) This one shared my take on writers’ retreats – that they shouldn’t be seen as self-indulgent holidays for writers who want to hide from the real world, but as valuable opportunities for ambitious authors to improve their art, focus their ideas and build their confidence. “Constructive escapism” is how I preferred to phrase it.

As I type this post, my guest article is currently featured on the Writers’ & Artists’ homepage, with an illustration of a Greek beach. Why the Greek beach? That’s because the post includes a reference to the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop that I’m helping to run on the island of Ithaca at the start of August. Not only does that setting offer blissful escape from the pressures of the modern world, making it easy for the authors taking part to focus on their art – it also includes the notional presence of perhaps Greek literature’s most famous author: Homer, whose Odyssey focuses on the mythical Ithacan isle.

Image of setting for Homeric Writers' Retreat

My post will be bumped off the Writers & Artists’ blog’s top spot after a few days as new articles are added to the site. (A few more are coming from me over the next few months.) After that, you’ll find my post in praise of writers’ retreats here:

The Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop

If you want to find out more about the Homeric Writers’ Retreat and Workshop, check out its website here – and lose yourself in the gallery of Erika Bach’s stunning photo gallery of Ithaca. And in case you missed it, here’s my previous post about writing for Writers’ & Artists’.