The Maasai and Kenyan tourism

kenya07-058_optIt is not everyday I get the opportunity to sit under an Acacia tree in the middle of the Masai Mara, listening to Maasai men, women and children, discuss their future. The famous black dots of the Wildebeest are interspersed with the equally world renowned red robes of Kenya’s Maasai people, drifting across the Mara plains, to take part in today’s meeting under the tree.

 

I have been invited here by The Travel Foundation, a UK charity funded by leading tour operators. It runs sustainable tourism projects in popular tourism destinations such as Kenya. In January 2006, Dr Cheryl Mvula came to the Masai Mara on holiday, and decided to take a cultural tour of Enkereri, a Maasai village. She paid $20 and watched it being given to the village elders. After her tour, she was shown the women’s craft work, or ‘curios’ as they are sometimes called. But it was the curios that got Cheryl curious. The women appeared really desperate to sell, and she knew instinctively that there was something wrong with this picture. After all, her tour group had just given them $100, but there was not a lot to show for it.

 

A responsible tourism consultant who specialises in community development, it didn’t take long for Cheryl to investigate. One source inside a well known Kenyan tour operator told her, “When you are off looking at curios, your driver guide takes the money back from the elders. They leave them $4 out of the $100. That’s how it’s been working here for thirty years”.

 

But not anymore. Within weeks, Cheryl had received funding from The Travel Foundation to take on this exploitation and returned to Enkereri. She spent days and nights talking with the Maasai, who nominated two junior elders as representatives. Cheryl’s first question to Ben Rramet and Ben Longisa (now fondly referred to as Big Ben and Little Ben) was “Why did you put up with this exploitation for so long?” They told her that the driver guides, employed by tour operators, deserved the money because, as far as they were aware, the drivers had to ‘press gang’ visitors to come to the villages. “Tourists think we have typhoid and HIV, and are afraid to come here. But we need them to buy the curios”. Appalled by this lie, Cheryl showed them tourist brochures full of photos of their people telling them, “The Maasai are famous. People want to meet you, as long as you are happy for them to do so.” And this was the moment the Kenyan worm turned.

 

For the next year they worked together, learning about the workings of the tourist industry, business record keeping, banking, community development, health and hygiene, crafts development and marketing. The villagers’ hunger for knowledge and willingness to learn far outweighed any bitterness about the exploitation of the past. By May 2006, the work had stretched to four other villages, and the creation of the Mara Triangle Maasai Villages Association. Each village opened a bank account, nominated Finance, Tours and Marketing Managers and together they were ready to take on the big boys. They knocked on the doors of lodges and tour operators who, in the past, had turned a blind eye to the unethical practices.  The Maasai presented record books, showing visitor numbers being sent by each lodge, and proof of how much money was being given and taken back by their drivers. The lodges were no longer able to deny it. Big Ben told me, “We were not even allowed in through the gates before. Now we are sitting around the conference table doing business. It is wonderful”. 

 

Most of the lodges in the area are now using the Maasai’s new system. Tourists buy a $20 voucher from the lodge for a cultural visit to one of the villages (rotating visits to avoid favouring one village).  The drivers don’t have access to cash anymore, just their larger than average salaries for Kenya, and tips to boot.  At the end of the month, one hundred per cent of the tour money is lodged into the villages’ bank accounts.

 

Which is what brings me to be sitting under this tree in November 2007.  It is the Mara Triangle Maasai Villages Association’s first AGM. The two Bens and Cheryl present details of the Association’s progress in a year. This amounts to $43000 from tours alone, an 800 per cent increase in just a year. The applause and cheers must be heard all the way to the Serengeti. The men hold hands and smile proudly and the women translate to their excited children. Enkereri has extended its school and pays two teachers’ salaries. Each village has built a long drop toilet for visitors, with plans to build one for villagers. However, tradition dictates that this should be positioned in the privacy of the bush, at a distance from the village. Such hygiene improvements should help combat common illnesses such as diarrhoea.

 

Little Ben tells Cheryl that they are waiting for her to tell them what else to spend it on.  “This is your money. You decide”, she says and sends them off into their village groups to discuss it.  An hour later they return to the main tree and share their thoughts. There is a strong common thread of welfare and community. They want to build bore holes to gain access to clean water so the women don’t have to walk several kilometres to collect infected river water. Next on the wish list is more local schools, and college funds. They all agreed on a need to replace the current firewood  fuel system; “The women have to go further and further into the bush, risking attacks by elephants or lions”. I marveled at some of their business ideas like using cow dung as fuel, and possibly even supplying this to lodges. As their lives revolve around cattle, there is no shortage of resources. But I couldn’t help thinking that issues such as access to clean water is a basic human right, not something that they should be paying for out of tourism income.

 

The Maasai’s achievements in one year are awe inspiring, not to mention their strength, honesty and determination. But this is just the tip of the termite hill. There are still hundreds of Maasai being ripped off in Kenya. Cheryl plans to take this new system elsewhere, starting in the New Year with twenty villages in the Sekanani area of the Mara. This time she will be helped by two consultants contracted to lead workshops and set up systems. Enter the two Bens, now skilled facilitators in their own right.

 

Meanwhile, there are still thousands of tourists being lied to. As I returned to my lodge in the evening, I realise that many are not interested in the Maasai. Conversation starters are invariably, “Did you see anything exciting today?” “I saw a crocodile eat a wildebeest”, “How wonderful, I saw a cheetah maul a lion cub”. “I listened to the Maasai talk about having hearts full of pride and gratitude” was usually a conversation stopper. A retired insurance broker from the Shires proudly announced, “The Maasai get plenty from us, and still they are after our money. I don’t know how they live like that.  It is God’s gift to be born an Englishman”. I defended the Maasai’s intentions as being honourable, and explained that their traditional lifestyles were unique. He only became interested when I pointed out that ‘Englishmen’ were being lied to about the Maasai’s income. This made him put down his binoculars and listen.  

 

On my various visits to Maasai villages I heard the word “welcome” a thousand times. They take  visitors into their homes without judging, mistrusting or insulting them. Why can’t tourists do the same thing? Luckily, many visitors are more open minded than this. If you want to meet the Maasai, best to do so through one of the lodges in the Mara Triangle, or use a KATO tour operator, which signs up to the voucher system from January 2008. If you are travelling elsewhere in Kenya, don’t give cash to drivers for cultural tours and ask for proof of a transparent system. If none of this is possible, visit the villages anyway, but don’t give money to the elders until the end of your visit. That way the drivers can’t take it back from them again.  And when they thank you, just say “you’re welcome”. Because if anyone understands and practises the true meaning of this word, the Maasai do.

 
For more information on the work of The Travel Foundation see www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk

 

Catherine stayed at Olonana Camp, Masai Mara, one of Abercrombie and Kent’s Sanctuary Lodges, which is soon to subscribe to the Mara Triangle Maasai Villages Association’s visitor system. See www.abercrombiekent.com for details.

 

For information on Mara Triangle Maasai Villages Association, see www.katokenya.org or email: cdmvula@aol.com

This article was first published in The Observer, 11 May 2008

On the rails

catherine-and-louis-holyhead-london-train_optI used to hate travelling back home to Ireland at Christmas. A cold slow train from London, the Holyhead hall of hell and then, of course, the ferry.  Never a good start to the season of joy and goodwill. Then budget airlines were born onto us.  They cried “Oh come all ye faithful”, and we followed the star to far-off airports to guide us home, and all was well with the world.

 

Until I went and got me a conscience. My 2007 New Year’s resolution was to swap the plane for the train whenever possible. So far so good, until the impending Christmas trip home and the ghost of Christmas past reared its ugly head. It was hard enough when I was travelling alone, but now I have two young children. Just  as my finger hovered over the ‘check flights’ button, my eco-warrior son Louis reminded me, “No train no gain, Mum”. I had to have faith in the Virgin. Train that is. Not prepared to risk ruining Christmas, however, I did a test trip in September for my son’s birthday.

 

We got off to a bad start just booking the trip. It was a logistical nightmare until I discovered the wonderful SailRail agency. So I advise you to avoid all cyber conniptions and go straight to them, talk to helpful humans who tell you all you need to know and then actually book it for you.

 

We left London Euston at 9am and within minutes were lashing through luscious English countryside. We had reserved seats facing each other, and settled into our warm, comfortable nests for the four hour journey to Holyhead. A fellow Dub, travelling from Edinburgh, told me she no longer flies home. “It’s better for my head. I like to take time to think about where I am going, what I am going to do when I get there”. On this journey, we chatted, planned the birthday party, played cards and read. As he took in the sights, Louis asked “Why don’t grown ups look out the window Mum? Is it just a child thing?”  I looked at everyone wired to some device, determined to shut out the world around them, and switched off my mobile.

 

This was a direct train and soon after lunch (the sandwiches are almost gourmet compared to the processed cheese of yesteryear), the sea came into view. I kept a nervous eye on the waves which, despite the calm, were not enough to quell my memories, and I stuffed sea sickness remedies down all our throats. We arrived with plenty of time to board, and walked off the train into a clean and modern terminal. A Donegal man who makes the trip six times a year, told me, “It breaks my heart. We had all been begging for a new terminal for years. Now it’s here and it’s empty. It was a cattle market before, dirty and full of drunks”. Sounds like Stanstead on a bad day, I thought.

 

As we checked in our luggage, (no more hauling your bags around the boat), I didn’t have to remove shoes, belts, hand in bottles of water or expensive handcreams. And no queue.  We walked through a covered walkway to the boat and boarded the vast Irish Ferries’ Ulysses, with cinema, restaurant, shop and endless rows of comfy seats.  The waves were kind to us, and we all dozed off only to be woken by a cacophony of ringtones telling us were welcome to Ireland.

 

Up on deck, the site of the red and white chimneys as we coasted into Dublin, dead on time at 17.25, invited a round of the Irish rugby anthem from my boys, at gloriously full volume into the wind. It was one of those cosy ‘good to be home’ moments, which you definitely don’t get on the plane. Nor do you get home so easily. We had hired a car for the weekend, and Dan Dooley, the only rental company at Dublin port offers a ‘meet and greet’ service. We disembarked, had bags in hand five minutes later, hopped into the car (I tried to get a hybrid, but none available to date) and were home in time for the RTE news and cup of tea.  

 

After a successful weekend of partying, we sped off on the Catamaran at 9am Monday morning. My sons were the green ones this time, sick bags held tightly to their faces for the duration.  Luckily, the journey was quick and the minute we stopped they were right as rain, not hesitating to down a couple of Holyhead hot chocolates as we sat out the hour long wait for the train. This time the train had one change. At Crewe. An elderly Galway man announced, smiling, “Ah sure, I wouldn’t feel I’d been in Ireland if I didn’t have to change at Crewe”. It was a quick turnaround, and the waiting room was warmer and cleaner than I remembered. We got to London ahead of the rush hour, jumped on a tube, and were home in time, again, for tea.

 

One carbon calculator tells me that my rail/air family footprint would have been 1.31 tonnes, compared to 0.42 for rail/sail to Dublin. A significant difference. I do believe that our dependence on short haul flights has got out of hand. But my efforts to be a more responsible traveller have taught me one more thing. Time is of the essence. Taking more of it, that is. As we snuggled up on the last leg of the journey, told stories, played chess and, yes, just looked out the window, I vowed to book the Christmas trip as soon as we got home. The ghost had definitely, been put to rest.  

 

 

Catherine travelled with Virgin Trains, Arriva Trains and Irish Ferries. See www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk, www.virgintrains.co.uk and http://www.irishferries.com for details.

 

For Rail Sail Bookings from on any Irish route, see www.sailrail.co.uk, or phone UK number + 44 8450 755755.  Note, there is no Irish office, so you need to give ten days for postage of tickets.  Adult return sail/rail fares from £52 for adult and £13 for a child.

 

For ‘meet and greet’ car hire at Dublin port contact Dan Dooley, Tel: +353 62-53103 or see www.dan-dooley.ie

 

(This article appeared in Ireland’s Sunday Tribune, 28 October 2007)

 

 

Confessions of a tree lover

 catherine-climbing

People find solace in different places. For some the sea provides the necessary force to sweep away the pressures of everyday life.  Others escape to the remoteness and anonymity of islands, where comforts are close, but reality is kept a boat ride away.  I find tranquillity in trees. I spent my childhood climbing up to secret hideouts high in the Oaks and Cedars of an Irish boarding school. I have planted them to mark births and deaths of loved ones.  I covet my seventies copy of The Observer Book on Trees but still fail to recognise an ash from an elm in situ.  But let’s get one thing straight.  I have never, and will never, hug one. In fact, my relationship with trees is worryingly familiar. I love them but never quite understand them, I try to respect their space, not pull them down to my level, escape to their protective shelter at times of need and, and in the case of my kids, support them as they grow.  But I am just not huge on hugs.  Can you get tree counselling these days?  Maybe I just need a break.

Ten ways to branch out this summer:

  1. This is tree climbing, Jim, but not as we know it.  For those who like island getaways and trees, New Zealand arborist Paul McCathie has set up Goodleaf Tree Climbing Adventures on the Isle of Wight.  He sends a shiver of arborial amour down my spine when he says things like “Trees are amazing and I love being able to spend time in them. Everyone tends to get more interested in trees when they’re 20ft up in the foliage.”  Fitted with harnesses and hats, you are guided to the top of an ancient sixty foot oak tree.  Goodleaf gives a 5% reduction to climbers who leave the car at home, and use public transport, walk or cycle there. It also supports a local conservation charity as well as a forestry charity, Trees for Life. They will even lay on a picnic or birthday champagne treats if you fancy something special.  See www.goodleaf.co.uk.  Climbing costs £25 (children) and £35 (adults) for two and a half hours. Definitely worth a day trip to the island or see www.greenislandtourism.org for great information on green accommodation.
  2. Kadir’s Tree House Hotel in Olympus, Turkey, looks like a hurricane hit it. But that is its charm.  The wooden houses are perched up in the aromatic pines at the foot of the Taurus Mountains.  The rickety staircases have a ‘thrown together by Grandad’ feel about them, although this methodically constructed hang-out is run very much by the young.  It is one big tree party and with a veritable meze of activities from canoeing to rock-climbing, or a one mile forest walk to the sea, this is the perfect place to let out the tree lover within.   Prices from £8 pppn.  See www.kadirstreehouses.com for details
  3. A coppicing weekend sounds like and is a dirty weekend. Of sorts. Coppicing is more about separation aimed at survival.  Without getting heavy about it, coppice management is the cutting back of young trees, often hazel, in order to speed up their re-growth. The coppiced wood is then used to create woodland products such as charcoal or thatch.  It is a highly-skilled way of managing forests, and experienced coppicers are rare.  If you want to get down, dirty and coppice, you can book one of a variety of UK woodland management breaks with www.responsibletravel.com.  Prices start from £40 (2 days) to £250 (28 days) including food and accommodation.
  4. I warned you – first you are hugging it and next thing you know you are sleeping with it.   The Mighty Oak Tree Climbing Company in St. Columb Major, Cornwall not only guides you skilfully up the tree, you then have the option of staying up there for the night. Tree camping involves the use of tree boats, especially-designed four cornered hammocks suspended very safely up in the tree. There is no danger of a rockabye baby scenario as you are tied in at all times by rope and harness.  An early morning breakfast is sent up to you as you swing serenely to the sound of the Cornish dawn chorus. Tree camping and guided climbing session from £140.  For green travellers, nearest train station is Lostwithiel. See www.mighty-oak.co.uk
  5. How about a weekend bodging in Bath?  Leave the 21st century behind and escape to the peace and quiet of Cherry Wood, a sustainably managed woodland where its owner, experienced wood craftsman Tim Gatfield offers green woodcraft workshops. This refers to all of the traditional woodcrafts such as chair making, charcoal burning, and shelter building, which take us back hundreds of years. The main focus at Cherry Wood is bodging, or chair- making using ‘green’ or unseasoned wood, which has been cut only days before use.  From advanced green woodwork courses, to family woodland weekends, this is an opportunity to understand and enjoy wood and all its uses. You can camp on site, or there are a number of B&B’s nearby if the compost loo and earth oven is getting too close to tree hugging territory.  Family woodland weekends cost £145 for adults and £70 for children including lunch, plus £3 a night to pitch your tent. See www.cherrywoodproject.co.uk for details
  6. I watched a group of middle-aged business men going ape once in a forest in Norfolk.  All those helmets and harnesses, swinging and beating chests – Maybe this growing chain of tree adventure hangouts, cleverly named Go Ape! should be called Treestosterzone, with its maze of tree canopy walks, zip slides and boisterous boys toys.   Bravado soon gives in to concentration and fear as they take in the 40 ft drop to the forest floor. Luckily these activities do no damage to the trees, as Go Ape works hand in hand with arborists, and all structures are designed to allow trees to grow unrestricted and oh, no, just when I thought I was safe, they tell me “We even give them a cuddle from time to time”. Although all a little more ‘corporate’ and mass produced than Goodleaf or Mighty Oak,  This is a great day out for young and old (minimum age is 10 and maximum weight 130kg) and costs £20 (10-17 year olds) and £25 +18 years). The GoApe website provides a list of accommodation in or near the forests where they are located.  See www.goape.co.uk.
  7. You can support the important work of The Forestry Commission in the best way possible, by holidaying with them.  Hire a wooden cabin on the shores of Loch Lubnaig at the foot of Ben Ledi in Scotland’s Trossachs National Park and let yourself be engulfed by this dramatic landscape, so wonderfully preserved by your hosts. Forest rangers can guide you around or you can explore by foot, bike or horse. You can even listen to the night owls from your hot-tub. Cabins start from around £109 for a long weekend and £164 with hot-tub. You can also choose a cabin from other Forestry Commission sites in Cornwall or North Yorkshire.  See www.forestholidays.co.uk for more details
  8. If the only French you can remember is “Le Singe est dans l’arbre”, you might struggle here.  The Var region of the south of France, 70 per cent of which is forested with an immense range of species, is a tree lover’s heaven with enough guided walks to keep you there for weeks.   You can walk for miles with experts in charcoal making, bark stripping, chestnuts, mushrooms and other edible foraged delights, as well as moonlight walks to gain a greater understanding of French poets and their relationships with….trees.  Only in France. The brochure, Le Var, Balades Nature Accompagnées can be downloaded from www.tourismevar.com.
  9. Bewilderwood – A theme park with a difference in Norfolk. The theme is boggles and twiggles, characters from a book written by Tom Blofled, co-creator of this wonderful day out for children.  Set in ancient woodland on the family estate, this wooden play area takes children on a journey over suspended wooden bridges, through mazes constructed with reeds, and down giant slides accessed via rope ladders up to beautifully crafted tree houses.  Buy the book after your visit, and the memories of this magical day out stay with you all for ever. See www.bewilderwood.co.uk for details
  10. The National Trust still evokes images of being dragged out on a Sunday for a walk round a stately home and a ‘lovely bowl of soup, dear’.  But this year it celebrates forty years of working holidays, the first one being the restoration of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal towpath in 1967.  The National Trust offers working weekends to all ages and depending on your interests you don’t even need to go near a stately home.  You might be glad of the soup though, after a day’s work clearing felled trees from the steep-sided wooded valleys of Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire.  This is one of the vast array of short (and long) energising breaks, and costs £40 including food and basecamp accommodation. See www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

(This article was first published in Metro, 13 August 2007, click here for details)

 

 

 

 

 

A greener shade of Wight

shack3Gone are the purple rinses, the Isle of Wight is the new black. Or should I say green. It surfs, it sculpts, it sings, and it’s shouts sustainability.  It was also the guts of a hundred quid to go there by car ferry on the weekend I wanted to travel, which certainly encouraged me to go green. It was cheaper to travel by train from London with a family railcard, and so began our pickings from a rich menu of green offerings on the Isle of Wight.    It even has a green tourism website with endless suggestions on how to enjoy this beautiful island without destroying what it has to offer.  A website which adds ‘chilling’ to its list of activities wins my green vote straight away and so we started as we meant to go on.

 

I booked a cute little beach shack a few miles from Cowes, booked bike hire through a company which delivers and collects wherever you want, in this case at the ferry terminal, studied cycle maps into the early hours and obsessed over five day weather forecasts.  One small backpack each, no packing the car with ‘stuff’, no stopping on the M25 to adjust our dodgy bike carrier, and no arguments over directions.  So far so chill.  Two and a half hours after leaving home, we were lashing across the Solent on the Red Funnel high speed jet. This is not the cheapest option, but it is only a twenty minute crossing and worth the look on my children’s faces as we took off. It was so fast, I was slightly concerned it wasn’t going to stop.  But we settled gently into the quay at West Cowes, where John, the bike guy, gave us our bikes and took our luggage, to be dropped to us later at the shack.  The Island is cyclist heaven. Just enough hills to push yourself, or your bike and tagged on four year old in my case, varied landscapes of coast, forests and estuarine marshes.  We took the coast road from Cowes, through Gurnard, up quite a few steep hills and, about forty five minutes later, down a dusty track to the sea, and our shack. dscf0169

 

The shack is a gloriously simple wooden summer house, painted in pastel blue and white, overlooking a buttercup filled meadow dipping down to a quiet sandy beach.  The children leapt onto the swingseat hanging from an oak tree in the garden and I had to blink twice to check I was not on the set of a Boden photo shoot.  Our dusty backpacks and sweaty trainers suddenly looked out of place among the collection of carefully chosen vintage bric a brac and funky fifties furniture. . But Helen, the owner with the enviable designer eye, is not precious about her vision – it is a place for having good old fashioned ‘Enid Blyton’ fun.  She leaves antique board games, binoculars and even a copy of the Famous Five itself, for sticky sandy hands to explore. With its solar powered lighting, no electricity, wood burning stove amply supplied with driftwood, composter, recycling, and environmentally friendly cleaning products provided, this ticks many of the green boxes. And the solar powered mobile charger is inspired.

 

A pre-ordered hamper of Island goodies awaited the hungry cyclists, enabling us to prepare a gastronomic evening picnic watching the sunset over the bay.  The menu included locally made organic pasta served with the Island Garlic Farm’s Confit de Tomates.  To drink, a chilled rosé from Rossiters Vineyard, and local apple juice.  The cheese course was a coup.  A blue cheese from the Isle of Wight cheese company which was recently awarded the Fortnum & Mason Best English cheese award 2007.  We finished off with cake and biscuits baked only a few miles away and the children used the, now nearly empty, canvas style bucket (ordered instead of traditional hamper, as it was easier for us to bring home) to collect driftwood. You can also order a splendid breakfast hamper, with local muesli, bacon, sausages and eggs. The strapline here should really be ‘fill before you chill’.

 

It would not be difficult to fill your days doing nothing at the shack.   Buckets, spades and fishing nets were provided, the boys cycled safely up and down the lane, chased butterflies across the meadow, and swam several times a day.  But I couldn’t resist some of the other Island activities on offer.  One day we took a two mile cycle to riding stables for the boys’ first horse riding experience. Hugo, my younger boy,  had been talking for weeks about riding on a white unicorn, so when Faye the farmer led the most perfect white pony towards a seldom silenced four year old, there was no explanation needed for why it didn’t have a horn sticking out of its head.  As far as he was concerned, his dream had come true.

 

There were many such highlights on this trip.  Putting coffee on to brew, and hopping down for an early morning swim watched only by onlooking oyster catchers and curlews.  Cycling in nearby Parkhurst Forest and spotting red squirrels.  Or shopping at the superb weekly Farmer’s Market in Newport, and picnicking along the offroad (and gloriously flat) Medina estuary cycle route nearby. But the big high was saved for last.  We took our final view of what had by now become our new favourite place in the world, from the top of a sixty foot ancient oak tree.  The Isle of Wight is one of a handful of places in the UK where you can go recreational tree climbing.  Guided by New Zealand arborist, Paul, who confesses he would rather preserve and climb trees than follow his original career path of cutting them down, we donned our harnesses and helmets, and I prayed for a head for heights. There was no reason to fear. In this remote field, located a few miles from East Cowes, Paul gave us detailed tuition in the art of tree climbing, mastering ropes and knots as well as a greater appreciation of the ancient gem which supported our weight throughout.  I watched Louis, my eight year old, climb gracefully from branch to branch, handling knots and carabeener clips like an expert.  louis-climbing It was like watching a dance performance as he climbed, then swayed, and finally swung gently upside down to a soundtrack of nothing but birdsong.  My climbing was more baboon than Bussell, but I finally caught up with my little elf lying high up in a tree hammock eating the chocolate eggs which awaited him.  We lay in the hammock together, swaying gently with the breeze and the world seemed to stop for a while.  Under Paul’s constant supervision, we absailed gently back to earth, where we landed on a picnic rug laid out for afternoon tea. Paul pointed out that the milk was from a farm only a mile away, and the homemade cakes from a local bakery.  I realised that people here don’t just promote Island produce because they have to, but because they are proud of it.  They have every right to be.

 

After three hours of climbing, absailing, chatting and eating, we headed back to the boat.  We locked our bikes by the jetty, and waited for our bags to be delivered back to us. They were running a bit late, stuck in traffic apparently, happily not something I had experienced in the last few days.  Nor was I worried about catching the boat as they run every half hour.  In fact, I realised that something had happened to the uptight London timekeeper in me.  I really didn’t care.  Or, as they say on the Isle of Wight, I had finally chilled.

 

Catherine and family travelled from London to Southampton with South West Trains, www.southwesttrains.co.uk, and to West Cowes with Red Funnel, see www.redfunnel.co.uk.

 

To stay at ‘The Shack’ see www.vintagevacations.co.uk.  Weekly stays from £375 and weekend stays from £175

 

Catherine hired bikes from Wight Cycle Hire.  Adult bikes £30 (children £20, Tags £15) for three days. Baggage collection free of charge. They deliver and collect from anywhere on the Island. See   www.wightcyclehire.co.uk

 

If you bring your own bikes, you can store or transport your luggage with www.bagtagiow.co.uk. £6 per bag

 

Micha the white ‘unicorn’ can be found at Romany Riding Stables, Porchfield, tel: 01983 525467. 

 

Order top hamper for treats on arrival from www.wighthamper.co.uk.

 

For the best ever trip to the treetops with Goodleaf, see www.goodleaf.co.uk – 2.5 hour climbing experience costs £25 for children and £35 for adults. 5% discount to anyone arriving by public transport, pushbike or by foot.

 

(This article was first published in The Observer, 10 June 2007)