2016 is almost over and it seems apt that I reflect on the year that’s passed and the adventures that have made up my first year of catmacwalks500isles. “Your first year? I thought this was just a 2016 blog?”. Well yes, that was the idea. But when you’re from Scotland and you live in London (so you’re not leaving the British Isles any time soon), and you still haven’t blogged about Edinburgh, your favourite place of all, never mind the many other towns, cities and islands that you’ve yet to visit, you decide it might make sense to keep this blog going just a bit longer (/forever/at least until we get to 500 blog posts).
So what were the highlights? What did I learn? And what conclusions have I come to this year?
(1) Holidaying in the British Isles is expensive
Even if you are super organised, book your transport months in advance, travel midweek, stay in a self-catering apartment, only visit one destination, I imagine your holiday will still be comparable in price with a Ryanair jolly to Prague. Holidaying in the British Isles is not the cheapest option. I remember starting my road trip in Ireland with zero money because I was still paying off the island-hopping trip I’d taken around Scotland two months earlier. Ok, so those two trips were particularly ambitious in terms of number of destinations, and in a “normal” year, I’d probably only have done one of them, but still, I speak truth: holidaying in the British Isles is an expensive business!
(2) There is a vat of significant, life-altering history in the British Isles and I barely know any of it
We Brits like to think of ourselves as being a model for democracy, but this has not always been the case. In industrial Manchester, I learned more about how the context of the Industrial Revolution played an important role in the right to vote being offered to everyone, irrespective of wealth. Did you know that the current status quo, that enables both males and females over the age of 18 to vote, only came into play in 1969?
In more recent history, I was appalled to learn during my time in Jersey that the UK, the country of my birth, had abandoned the island and people of Jersey during the Second World War, leaving it to be occupied for five years by the Nazis. Five years. I guess that’s something we like to keep quiet.
Boggling my brain even further was my trip to Orkney in February where I was in awe of the number of ancient archaeological sites on the island, particularly Skara Brae, a stone community settlement, which is believed to date back 5000 years. Can we just take a moment to fully appreciate that number? Forget looking at photos of the original Edinburgh trams (RIP Edinburgh Trams 1871-1956); this is hardcore history right here.
(3) I love being a full-blooded islander
Let’s face it, the only reason I’d ever want to have international relatives is so I could have some cheap and cheerful holiday destinations. Otherwise, being a full-blooded Scottish islander is pretty cool. On my much-anticipated, heritage-tracing, Scottish island-hop, I travelled to whisky-famous Islay, the island of my grandmother’s birth; Tiree, the emerald, native isle of my grandfather; and Lewis, the island where my father was born and where many a MacArthur still bops around in Carloway and the surrounding area. I was able to meet with many relatives from both sides of my family tree, visit houses and landmarks that were and continue to be significant for my family, and understand more about the context in which my grandparents and parents grew up. In case you hadn’t clocked, I love being from Scotland.
(4) Island weather is unpredictable but it is possible to get sunburnt in Scotland
On the 28 April 2016, Tiree had its biggest snow deposit in recent history. Bear in mind, I was due to visit Tiree mid-May for my “summer holiday”. Needless to say, I was a bit concerned.
(photo taken from lifeontiree.wordpress.com)
Two weeks later, Silvia and I somehow found ourselves lost in some boggy marshland on the island, on a scorching summer’s day, resulting in some hearty sunburn that scarred us for the rest of the trip. Who could have anticipated that? I wasn’t so lucky with the weather on the Aran Islands in Galway, where I found myself cycling across Inis Mor in torrential rain. Ah, the unpredictability of island life.
(5) Knowing people is very handy
Back in February, on our baltic adventure to Orkney, Sara and I were very fortunate to be able to stay in Chris’s holiday home, proving that sometimes it pays off to go on holiday in the low season. Then in March, I ventured south to West Sussex to visit Arundel, a very middle-class and well-to-do town where my flatmate Sophie grew up, and where a very pretty castle claims many a tourist visit. I’m so glad that I now know from personal experience that East Sussex is the superior Sussex. And then there was Ireland in July where Viv and I were given a mini tour of Dublin by Nico and Joseph, and then reunited with our long-lost-Japan-pal Neil during our stopover in Cork. I really enjoy having friends.
(6) Having a job is also very handy
One of my first blog posts back in January documented my time at Celtic Connections – a traditional music festival that takes place in Glasgow every year (and is essentially the reason I’d potentially like to move to Glasgow in the future). I was in the city for a work ceilidh and had managed to tag on an extra night to live my dream. Thanks, work. Later on in the year, my job took me to Northern Ireland for three days as part of another cultural trip for students. There was great weather which made the already-beautiful scenery look even more beautiful, and I was able to tag on another extra night which enabled me to have lots of reunions with university friends. It was just what I needed after the worst referendum result of 2016.
(7) Wales is always left out
There was one week towards the end of my time teaching in Japan when I was drafted in to teach a social studies lesson about the UK. As part of the lesson, I had to explain the context of the Union Jack and I remember eliciting sympathy from the students for Wales as it has no representation in the flag. Little did I know that several years later, I would be imparting the same level of injustice in catmacwalks500isles. What am I talking about? My biggest fail of the year is that I didn’t visit Wales. Weeell, that’s not strictly true; I did find myself in seaside Swansea one day in early February for a job interview but that was a highly stressful experience and therefore does not count. I’m sorry, Wales. You’re on the priority list for 2017.
(8) I love the British Isles
The photos speak for themselves:
Until next year!